Thursday, July 24, 2008

Youth examine Black in America

Editor's note: CNN devoted two nights of coverage July 23-24 to being Black in America. The news coverage was the subject of discussion and writing done by young participants in Youth Speak South Shore, a Chicago-based media literacy and writing program. The pieces were edited by program director and founder Richard Muhammad.

Black in America misses the ‘why’
by Stephen Gardner

The cable television program “Black in America” focused on several different socio-economic issues that affect African-Americans in today’s society. Aired on CNN, host Soledad O’Brien takes the viewer on a journey through various neighborhoods; effectively shedding light on dark issues that have plagued Black America for some time.

Issues such as education, marriage, pregnancy, and violence in different communities throughout the country were highlighted, giving the viewer insight into a plight that only the Black community often feels. While O’Brien did a fantastic job telling the stories of various individuals she interviewed, little emphasis was placed on the story behind the story. Not much focus was given to the “why” in these particular scenarios.

In a country where racism is still alive, it is important for White America not only to see, but also to understand our story as well. For too long only a partial testament been given to the adversity that affects millions of our people on a daily basis.

Take an inner-city Houston education scenario as one example: An effort put forth by the community to try and enroll drop outs back in school is a fantastic effort; one which O’Brien brings to the forefront of her program with adept ease. Here she is with television crews, interviewers, and community activists petitioning at a doorstep for a boy to come back and enroll in school.

However, we fail to analyze the context in which this Black boy is placed. A 17-year-old male stands outside with no shirt on, gawked at not only by several people at his doorstep, but also interviewers, television crews and producers as well as the millions of Americans who will watch him through their television screens.

And that is exactly how they see him – a young shirtless male, with an apparent disinterest in returning to school, emphasized by the fact that he turns immediately on his heels and walks back into his house.

Now readers please ask yourself this question – how would you react if complete strangers and showed up at your house in the afternoon, bombarding you with pleas to return to your job? Under the gaze of television cameras and reporters that just so happened to be there as well?

Most likely you would walk back into the sheltered safety of your humble abode. Why wouldn’t you? It’s safe from prying eyes, is it not? No one can intrude on your personal space there, broadcasting all of your personal business on the public airwaves for millions to see. Of course we do not consider this, with just the mere fact that the boy is finally persuaded to (1) put a shirt on (2) return to school and enroll a full month late and (3) finally as his story closes, we see that after only a day in school, he drops out once again.

Surely if only his persistence to drop out were as strong as his desire to learn, he would definitely be at the top of his class right? What could it be that would cause him to drop out not only once, but twice? It is these questions that O’Brien should have been asking the boy before his image was faded to black, written off as nothing more than a typical failure.

To quote O’Brien and CNN, “Almost 50% of Black males do not graduate from high school and only 3% graduate from college.” The only thing this statistic makes me think about is why we are not asking these youth, “why do you want to give up?” It is not enough to show an interest in a perceived failure. More focus must be put on the facts so he is not misunderstood. And better yet, someone should take the time to find the “why.”
It is this question that millions of people never ask.

And with a television program whose audience must surely constitute a sizable number of White viewers, it is key that this question and its answer be provided. It is not simply that all people are narrow-minded; many are just ignorant of the plight of the Black race. Just think, if the same program were aired in Portuguese, would you be able to relate to it without subtitles? The concept is not far from the same here.

An argument can be made that there are completely different schools of thought coming from Blacks and Whites alike regarding issues such as education, healthcare, wealth, and pregnancy. Surely there are a percentage of Whites who feel the same socio-economic effects as Blacks do in impoverished areas, but still they are missing a key factor, and sadly enough it is the color of their skin. It is not just that they deal with these same issues, but more the perception of those who see them. Surely everyone in this economy has been hit hard by its recent stagnation, but how many Whites actually ever had to consider leaving their own neighborhood to buy fresh produce?

These are the kinds of things that tie in directly to the worsening socio-economic condition of Black people all across the country. Not every school is the same. Those schools that lack resources in poor inner-city urban areas cannot produce as many graduates as the magnet school across the river without adequate staffing and funding. But these are the kinds of school we find in most inner-city urban Black areas.

In a world full of choices, not enough emphasis is put on the reasoning behind them. Everyone has a reason for the choices they make, but if no one ever bothers to find out, we lose a key aspect in finding a solution to an overwhelmingly large problem. And that is the answer to the question “why?”

O’Brien’s presentation was not one with very many holes, besides the missing whys and a few choice commercials, it was somewhat flawless. However, I feel I must be responsible for challenging the intellect of its viewers. Next time you see such a program, simply ask why something is the way it is.

Stephen Gardner, 19, attends Hampton University and is a participant in Youth Speak South Shore.

CNN considers the African-American experience
by Ashley Shaw
Being Black in America was a program stating things that Black people go through on a daily basis. It covered everything from Black and White families becoming of one to how some Blacks have to travel hours at a time just to get vegetables.

The program opened up July 23 with the Rand family. After many years a member of this Black family decided to take the time and trace her family tree and discovered that the family line was racially mixed. The woman decided to email one of her White distant relatives and they discussed getting together.

The Black side of the Rand family of 300 members gets together regularly for family reunions.

The next portion of the show talked about one parent households. It simply stated that when a Black child grows up in a one parent household, it will tend to grow up in poverty and stay in poverty. CNN interviewed Eric Kennedy, a father raising his son by himself. He is trying his hardest to raise his son to the best of his ability. His son Eric Jr., a 4th grader, stated that he doesn’t like the fact that he had to constantly move from home to home. But he’s trying to be very considerate because of the simple fact that his father is trying to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Eric Jr. attends a school in Brooklyn called P.S. 138. At this particular school fourth grade students can get paid up to $250 just by getting good scores on tests. Eric Jr. states that with the money he makes from school, he wants to help his father pay bills. He also wants to use the money to buy games and save up for his college fund.

The next person interviewed was Ira Johnson. She talked about how she’s a single mother with five children and how she’s barely making it. She works two jobs. She starts work every day at sunrise. When she was 17 years old her mother died and her father was never really at home, so she had to watch her baby brother—though she was still a child herself. By the time Johnson turned 29, she was a single mother with four children.
Every day instead of worrying how she’s going to make it she decides to worry about if her children have the things they need and or want. She was behind in rent and got kicked out of her house.

CNN also covered the story of a boy named Brandon, who was a high school dropout. A group of people got together and came up with an idea to get dropouts back in school. Brandon was one of the students they visited. They went to his house and asked to speak with him, he came outside. Brandon ended up going back into his house. The people would not leave off of his porch until he signed up to go back to school. He signed up and he went back to school for one day after missing a month of school already. After that one day he didn’t go back. He dropped out again.

In this program, there was also talk about biracial marriages. CNN interviewed a bi-racial married couple named Tom and Kennedy, who were married for 20 years. They are happily married and they had one son. In their interview, they shared how when they had a child, people, especially whites, made a lot of negative statements about the child. They complained about how he was mixed. Kennedy said more Whites had something negative to say about the situation than Blacks.
The next subject was HIV/AIDS. CNN reported that AIDS is an epidemic. Blacks make up the most HIV/AIDS cases in Washington, D.C. AIDS is the leading cause of African-American females between the ages of 25 to 34 in this country.
Ashley Shaw is a 17-year-old Chicagoan and participant in Youth Speak South Shore.