Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CNN Looks At Black America

I just wanted to give people a heads up about this two part documentary series that starts this evening. I'd love to hear from anyone who gets a chance to watch it! The New York Times has a piece about it in todays' paper:

"The notion that there is something called “black America” is a subject of debate. But in a year that marks both the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Barack Obama’s rise to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, CNN set out to explore how black people are feeling, thinking and doing.

That 18-month effort, which involved extensive research and a comprehensive national poll, has been spun into two two-hour documentaries, to be broadcast this week. “Black in America: The Black Woman and Family” will be shown Wednesday night; “Black in America: The Black Man” will be broadcast Thursday.

While viewers will catch sight of a few celebrities — Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, Russell Simmons — most of the reports use ordinary people to flesh out topics like the education gap, the state of the black middle class, the AIDS epidemic, single parenthood and black men behind bars.
“I was sent out to do stories that are underreported,” Soledad O’Brien, the reporter for the programs, said in an interview. “It fit with personal interest.” Like Mr. Obama, Ms. O’Brien, a 42-year-old CNN anchor and special correspondent, is biracial. She has a black mother from Cuba and a white father from Australia.

“I think people are very interested in a conversation about race; part of it is Barack Obama, part of it is Katrina,” Ms. O’Brien said. “Especially among young blacks we interviewed who considered themselves leaders, they said it’s time to take the reins and figure out where we go from here.”

The series began in April with Ms. O’Brien’s two-hour investigation into conspiracy theories about King’s assassination. Mark Nelson, vice president and senior executive producer for CNN Productions, said the project was born of the channel’s diversity initiative.

“We question ourselves; we look at the stories we are doing,” Mr. Nelson said. The channel’s executives concluded that too many reports in the news media about black lives were told in mostly negative snippets and deserved a bigger platform. “What’s a more complex story in America than race?” Mr. Nelson asked. The project has a Web component,, which features excerpts from the series and interviews with some of the experts and subjects. The programs will also be available on iTunes.

In Wednesday’s program, Bishop T. D. Jakes, the pastor of the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member church in Dallas, talks about single-parent homes. The number of black children born to unwed mothers has almost tripled since the mid-1960s to almost 70 percent of births, Ms. O’Brien says. “It’s detrimental to boys because a father kind of gives you some sort of preview of where you’re going,” Bishop Jakes says, adding, “but for girls it is dangerous, because they are enamored with male attention to the degree that they’ll do anything to get the love of a man that they should have gotten at home.”

Ira Johnson, a single mother of five teenage children (one adopted), talks about having had four children by the same man by the time she was 29. Why not get married, Ms. O’Brien asks, as Ms. Johnson recounts her hardships. “I was young,” Ms. Johnson says. “But I was also depressed, and I didn’t know I was depressed because I didn’t know about depression. But I knew something was wrong with me, and I just didn’t tell anybody.”

Some of the problems seem tied together, says Julianne Malveaux, the president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., talking about the statistic that 45 percent of black women are unmarried, twice the number for white women. She looks at the mismatch between what some women require in mates and what exists. “There are a couple of things we should look at,” she says. “There are a million more black women working today than African-American men. If employment is a requirement, there’s already a gap. And so we know that exists. If education is a requirement, that’s a gap.” Ms. Malveaux was referring to the statistic, cited by Ms. O’Brien, that there are nearly twice as many black women in college as black men. (Read all about it here)