As I stated on my previous post about part one of CNN’s “Black in America” series, I had additional feedback to offer for part two. I started this post the day after the second segment aired, but I didn’t get around to finishing it. This one’s a little late, but here it is:

Well, I’ll be John Brown! If I didn’t know that CNN’s “Black in America” series wasn’t already pre-recorded, I’d think that they actually listened to some of the complaints y’all had in my previous post. The second segment, focusing on Black men was actually pretty good. It wasn’t great. But it was much better than the mess I saw in Part 1. Talk about doing an about face.

For starters, I appreciated the (somewhat) diverse field of Black men CNN chose to conduct interviews, with them placing particular emphasis on men who achieved success (there’s the key word) despite facing their obstacles. This spoke more to the surviving spirit of our people; a notion far less implied in the first segment. Many of the men interviewed discussed their tumultuous upbringings, their poor decision-making, the cost of that decision-making, and how social and economic conditions contributed to their plight. As with before, the segment definitely failed to hit the entire range of Black men in this country; but I wasn’t looking for that. There is only so much ground that can be covered in two hours. But in all, I’d say that Part 2 of this documentary redeemed itself (to an extent) by giving much more definition to certain factors which contribute to the disparities that exist. If you want to accomplish the feat of showing the world what it means to be black in America, you have to have a balanced assessment. Not so much the case with the first segment; more to the point in the second.

Another interesting aspect of the second segment surrounded the whole “acting white” issue. This struck a certain personal chord with me; given that I have dealt with this exact issue numerous times growing up. Everything from my dress, to my taste in music, to my speech has been criticized and ridiculed because people proclaimed that it wasn’t “black enough.” Being exposed to this narrow-minded view of blackness often caused a great deal of confusion for me growing up. Being measured against that limited social view of blackness, identifying myself, and gaining acceptance within “my own people” was stressful, frustrating, and hurtful enough as a teenager. As a man, it has become far more complex. Not only does this racial identity impact my social circles, but it also affects my professional life. Further, one of the most frustrating aspects of being black (in skin) — and a point that CNN FINALLY got right — was that many of us are left to deal with the social consequences of the imagery produced by a FEW black men, even when our stories are as far away as east is from west. White America is never dictated to by a particular subset of its people. Yet, that is exactly what happens to black people on the daily. I’m glad someone from the MSM finally picked that up.

I could’ve did without the segment on Michael Eric Dyson. Don’t get me wrong: I like him and I appreciate his work and his undeniable intelligence (the dude is BAD!). Furthermore, I appreciate the complexities of his and his brother’s polarized stories of success and failure. But I was hoping that during this “investigative reporting”, there would be more insights and perspectives from folks outside of — what Gina McCauley called — the “Chatlin” circuit.” Whenever discussions about race surface, you can be sure that the same voices of black conscious are going to emerge. So having the likes of Joseph C. Phillips on to offer a new and different perspective was definitely a good look by CNN.

I think that a greater emphasis on the impact of social environments would have also been useful during this segment. How many of the 50% of black men who are not graduating would do so if they were raised in environments (homes, schools, recreational facilities) conducive to learning? It would have also been refreshing to have a collective panel of young black men who represent every different walk of life (from you college grad to your gangbanger). Sharing their differences in thinking as a think tank may have helped getting to the root of things.  But again, you can’t expect much in a segment that only covers a little less than two hours.

Overall, I’d say that part 2 — though having noticable shortcomings — came closer to addressing the challenges faced by black people in this country. It did not allow us to conviently discount personal responsibility; but it did provide a reasonable balance between that and the causative factors contributing to certain plights.

That’s what I think anyway. What about you?

– ACL

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