24 July 2008

response to CNN's "Black in America"

So I watched CNN's special report on "Black in America" last night - the first part on "The Black Woman and Family" with Soledad O'Brian. I figured it would be problematic but it was worse than I had imagined. I expected it to be this expose on "Black America" and for it to help its audience (white America) to "understand" Black people better. I expected that it would be heteronormative and only deal with male/female relationships. And yes - it did all those things, while also perpetuating racialized stereotypes... But it was worse than what I expected because it was incredibly regressive in the sense that it re-presents the Moynihan Report (1965) as the way to understand the Black experience in the United States - with all kinds of new statistics presented in ways that continue to pathologize Black people and Black people's lives. Furthermore, Soledad fails to offer any analysis of her research or any social, political, or historical context for the so-called "struggles and successes of Black America." There are so many issues with the two-hour segment that it could take me all day to write them down and I'd still have more to talk about... so where to begin?

Let's start with the notion that marriage is the answer to Black women's problems: the single mothers in "alarming" numbers who have "children out of wedlock" (we were reminded of this constantly throughout the show - "70% of Black children are born out of wedlock" - with no comparative data to other racial groups in America) and the professional women who in "alarming" numbers are "unmarried and single." ("Alarming" was the key phrase of the show - perpetuating all kinds of fears about "those" single Black mothers and unmarried Black women.)

Problem A: So for the sake of argument, let's assume that Soledad and her CNN producers/writers don't mean ALL Black women, but since they traffic in generalizations and this report is framed as "The Black Woman and Family" - they are in fact lumping Black women together and the implication is that "Black women" in the statistics are all straight and want/desire to be married. Perhaps some of these women in the "45% of Black women have never been married" statistic are not straight! or they just don't want to be married! The idea that some women may not desire marriage and/or are lesbian/bisexual is not even an option. The implication then is that half of Black women in the United States are suffering and in search of a good Black man (who don't exist or are in jail), and when all else fails, they may have to (OH NO!) date outside their race - which of course means date a white man - not a Latino or Asian man, nope.. cause America is just black and white...

Problem B: Married Two-parents households are better than single parent households: the assumption that Black single mothers would be better off (i.e. economically and socially) with the fathers of their kids. Maybe these women don't want to be with the father of their kids. Maybe alternative family structures and extended families are working for these women. That is never explored and the implication here is that children of Black single mothers won't make it and are in the "achievement gap" between Black and white kids (again just Black and white) because they have no fathers and are poor. Then Soledad brings in Harvard economist Roland Fryer to share his "expertise" on educating Black kids... His "experiment" is paying kids to learn - and this "shows" that Black kids just need reinforcement (i.e. money) to do well. Roland says that Black kids in 'the inner city' don't have role models - and this is what they need to do well in school... (WTF!) First of all, this guy is an economist so why in the hell is he talking about education like he's an expert??? Second of all, there are many after-school programs operated by Black (and non-Black) people all over this country that don't pay kids to learn... AND there are many scholars (non-Black and Black) who could have offered more insights and real expertise into education and the disparities in the education system - for example, the show (i.e. Soledad during her ONE YEAR of research) could/should have addressed the lack of resources in schools, segregation that continues in the school system, teachers not getting paid enough, and the fact that the U.S. education system is failing for most kids not just Black poor kids.

As me and a group of my friends watched this last night, I asked the room, how many of us come from Black single parent households and earned college and graduate degrees... most of us raised our hands - because why - believe it or not, some of us are raised by single Black mothers and grandmothers (and fathers, grandfathers, aunties, & uncles), and we have role models in our families (single parent and all...) and we are inspired and encouraged to do well and succeed. And some of us have! On the other hand, this report implies that middle class and upper class children (from two parent households) will make it - as if there is some guarantee... which leads to:

Problem C with the show: lack of any analysis or critique when discussing class, socio-economic status, or colorism (among other topics they tried to address like Health and HIV/AIDS).

There is so much more to say... and there is part two tonight... so expect more rantings from me tomorrow or the next day...

please share your comments and reflections on conscious vibration.

peace & soul,


And sometimes Why said...

Hi pretty lady!

I honestly haven't even watched it, half out of not having extended cable, and half out of fear of disappointment. I really wanted to wait and read this until after I'd watched the program later on, but I couldn't resist! In sticking to your reputation as a great scholar/writer, you wrote a piece that captured my attention at the begining so I read it all the way through (against my will, I should add)! I'll watch it when it re-airs; with biased eyes, I suspect. Excellent analysis by the way! You make me want to come back to Gainesville and enroll in one of your classes. :)


Luminous said...

"...should have addressed the lack of resources in schools, segregation that continues in the school system, teachers not getting paid enough, and the fact that the U.S. education system is failing for most kids not just Black poor kids."

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought they did even if only briefly, basically saying that funds for schools are tied into the money raised from property taxes in the areas in question.

I tried to watch the whole special both nights, but I honestly enjoyed the panel discussions that they held last week. (Big fan of Cornell West). This just wasn't as thought provoking, interesting, or even entertaining as I had hoped it would be. A bunch of regurgitated information that anyone who is at all self-aware would already know, and in much more detail. While I love the idea of people of different races coming together as family (the opening) the special was basically down hill after that.

I look forward to your critique of part two and that god awful Hip Hop section, cause you know I always have plenty to say on that front.

Angelique said...

that brief comment about property taxes did not fully address the structural problems in the education system... like most of the show - if they mentioned something that made sense it was quickly brushed over while they moved into another topic or brought back the damn economist...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis of how much CNN resisted any type of any real examination of alternative family structures, and was the program being sponsored by some marriage group or what. Remember the brother who was helping his sister, or the step father who was helping to raise his wife's child.