SHAME ON CNN: A commentary by Susan Graham.
CNN aired a show hosted by Soledad O’Brien Sunday called “Who is Black in America?” I have been disgusted with the public misunderstanding of multiracial people on so called news shows in the past, but this one wins the prize for the absolute worst.
First, let’s not forget that Soledad O’Brien is an entertainer and not an authority on the news. Her game is simple: ratings. She does not believe that people get to choose their own identities. But neither she nor anyone else should ever question someone’s racial self-identification.
O’Brien’s mother is black and her father is white; her mother told her not to let anyone tell her she’s not black. So she self identifies as only black, denying half of her identity. She has that right and that opportunity. I feel that everyone should clearly have the right and opportunity to choose to be multiracial, too. But she has clearly brought her identity into her job this time.
This CNN special tells the story of several multiracial people who identify only as black, and are coerced into identifying as black to be on the national news. Some “experts” are thrown in who simply are getting free publicity for their books or are holding on to their academic jobs by writing and talking about the advantages of self-identifying as black if you happen to be unfortunate enough to have been born to parents of different races.
There is a sub-story line to the show about how performing slam poetry can make a multiracial person black, what they “really” should be. They are mentored by a “spoken word poet” who helps them realize if they are multiracial, as he is, they can identify as black, as he does. They proudly succeed with one woman who says being able to be black is “a weight off my shoulders—a milestone.”
This show is, in my opinion, the most misguided show in the CNN “race” series to date. It’s a propaganda piece for every multiracial person to identify only as black; they should not even have a choice. Ms. O’Brien even tries to completely nullify multiracial advocacy by stating that you may only choose one race on the US Census. That statement has been absolutely untrue since the 2000 US Census.
I was almost physically ill when a teacher was showcased for teaching young children about the brown paper bag test used at the height of racism in this nation to distinguish whether a person was light enough to enjoy all those advantages of white people, whatever they might be. For example a teacher—usually white—could hold a brown paper bag up to a student’s skin and separate the class into those lighter and those darker than the bag—a kind of segregation in itself. Those with lighter skin received something better than those with darker skin. The teacher said, “The more shocking the lesson, the better.” Is this really the way to teach anti-racism to a seven year old? No. It’s a way to make white people the enemy, which is really what this show concluded in its own media kind of way.
The show fully embraces the one-drop rule—if you have one drop of “black blood,” you are monoracially black—and as evidence, one young woman is urged by Ms. O’Brien to stop identifying as biracial and become black. How in the world is this a balanced documentary?! It should not be titled “Who is Black in America,” but rather “You, too, should be Black in America!”
Only one white father on this very biased show says that his daughters should have the option of being biracial.
There are plenty of people who will publicly—on the Internet anyway—applaud Ms. O’Brien for whatever reason and it will give them a chance to spout more hate against the multiracial movement, Project RACE, and me. I’m used to it after 23 years of fighting for the rights of multiracial people who wish to embrace their entire heritage. What is more recent is the new hatred against white people who are being blamed for what happened so many years ago and who fostered the civil rights movement.
A certain radio talk show host is a prime example. This was her recent statement during one of her shows: “Historically white people have had the resources to help and opinions of people of color were NEVER taken into account…yes ideas were stolen but opinions were not counted.” NEVER is a pretty powerful word, especially when capitalized. It’s also a racist comment. I believe that “people of color” can be just as racist as anyone else. One of her devoted fans answered, “White people should go teach white people [about racism] cuz they don’t seem to be listening to me.” Why would anyone of any color(s) listen to this guy?
I wonder how people would feel if Project RACE stated it is imperative that only multiracial people teach about racism, or that the black population has sole responsibility to erase racism. Every one of every race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, and religion has a responsibility to fight racism—not just whites.
It reminds me of when I was a teenager and met and befriended a foreign exchange student from Germany. Being Jewish, my parents were openly hostile toward him. Huh? He did not do horrible things that Germans did to Jews and that occurred before he was even born. He was not responsible for wrongs any more than I, as a white woman, was responsible in any way for slavery or racism.
There seems to be some kind of backlash going on to hold all white people accountable for racism and to believe that they should be held responsible for what ALL white people have done forever. I believe that ALL people choose their own identity and we should all be concerned about passing down racist ideas to our future generations.
In fact, I have been taking the heat lately from some anti-multiracial bloggers. They single me out as a white woman who has actually gotten things done in communities, states, federally, and in the educational and healthcare systems for multiracial people and then attack me just for being white. One of their main issues is that since race is a “social and not biological construct,” we should stop trying to get more medical research done to find out if multiracial people really do have certain health risks that other groups do not; in essence, we are put down for trying to help save lives.
It has finally occurred to me that if race really is not a biological construct in the eyes of those anti-multiracial racists, I should be willing to meet them halfway. I was born in Detroit—yes, Detroit, the city, not the suburbs—to a white man and white woman, was raised by a black woman, was married to a black man for 24 years and had two multiracial children, so I am more socially multiracial than white. I “get it” enough to finally declare my identity as multiracial: biologically white and socially black. That should make them happy. As for CNN and Soledad O’Brien, they can bask in the fact that they probably did turn some viewers against multiracial people and white people in a one hour program designed to elevate ratings.
Susan Graham is the executive director and co-founder of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally). The views in this commentary are her own and not those of ALL of the membership of the organization.