The Problem With the ‘Black in America’ Premise.

The NYT’s Neil Genzlinger on CNN’s “Black in America 2:”

So come to this program for some heartening examples of people who are responsible for relatively small efforts against big problems. But expect only one revelation: that the “Black in America” concept needs to be put out of its misery. When poor urban children are crammed under the same umbrella as rich debutantes, as they are here, it’s a good sign that you have an artificial construct. Being black, or anything else, in America is far more complicated than one demographic characteristic.

This was basically our issue with the first installment. How do you cover “blackness” — broad, vaguely defined “blackness”? It would be impossible to do well, which is why I’m so surprised that people are so disappointed with it. What exactly were they expecting? (CNN’s planned “Latinos in America” doc will almost certainly have the same problems. )

Does anyone outside of the groups at issue even watch these? Would you trust any conclusions about Group X that they  gleaned from it? Should said viewer even be attempting to draw any conclusions?


17 thoughts on “The Problem With the ‘Black in America’ Premise.

  1. Grump July 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm Reply

    Okay, I’m confused…
    So are e arguing FOR a definition of “Blackness” that includes the varying classes that we occupy? Or, are we saying that it can’t be done the way that CNN is handling it because there wouldn’t be enough time to cover all of the class issues? I jst think that given the time limits, things are going to be lumoed together with the intention that those viewing would have the sense to see the intricacies a little bit.

    • G.D. July 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm Reply

      I think Genzlinger was using the examples on the subjects from different social and economic backgrounds to point out that the umbrella is way too large to be of any real use in storytelling.

      (You could argue that it’s too broad to be useful in real life, too; a black kid might from Harlem might have more shared cultural touchstones with a Latino kid from Washington Heights than she might have in common with another black kid from Portland.)

  2. ladyfresh July 23, 2009 at 4:27 pm Reply

    oh boy a latinos in america

    somehow this precludes being black in america

    or will there be a separate blatino in america show

    • Winslowalrob July 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm Reply

      Oooh, will they let half-bloods in like me?

      • ladyfresh July 24, 2009 at 12:39 am Reply

        we can only hope winslow…we can only hope

        or maybe there will be a half bloods in america

        • ladyfresh July 24, 2009 at 12:39 am Reply

          oh wait isn’t that the same as being black in america…hrm

      • shani-o July 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm Reply

        I think you’ll have to wait for “Beige In America,” sweetie.

        • the black scientist July 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm Reply

          lol. good one.

        • ladyfresh July 24, 2009 at 2:39 pm Reply

          *waits for a coppery tone with golden highlights in america*

          • Winslowalrob July 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm Reply


            and shani, ‘fine in america’ would be more appropriate for people like us :).

            but yeah, the whole idea is stupid. I could probably do a primer on how not to inadvertently piss off black people:

            a) don’t touch the hair
            b) know the difference between shea and cocoa butter
            c) thats about it… where is my show cnn!

            • shani-o July 24, 2009 at 9:33 pm Reply

              ‘Fine in America’ … I’d TOTALLY watch (and be featured in) that. 😉

              • ladyfresh July 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm Reply

                and it better be about how fiiine we are
                doing AND looking

  3. Angela July 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm Reply

    I thought the stories last night were interesting to watch, but that’s pretty much where it stops for me. I agree– Blackness in America has too many moving parts. Besides the fact that class is just ONE of countless ways that blacks are diverse, I’m concerned with their definition of blackness in the first place. For instance, what about African immigrants? Will they get a special? What about East Coast blacks vs Southern/Midwest/West Coast ones? I’m sure there are differences there too.

    Even if they kept exploring this issue for another 4 years or so, in that amount of time plenty aspects of “blackness” may shift. CNN has a branding issue with this series. They’d do better to call it “Black Experiences in America” or some other name that doesn’t suggest a hard and fast definition. I enjoyed last night’s show, but I was able to because I didn’t think of them as anything more than stories of a handful of black folks living their lives.

    • G.D. July 23, 2009 at 4:43 pm Reply

      right! one of the things that people often forget in conversations about culture is that there is a huge temporal component to it; any given black culture will look different ten years on than it does now.

    • Winslowalrob July 23, 2009 at 10:47 pm Reply

      Dang thats a good point.

  4. Adrienne July 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm Reply

    @ladyfresh – that was my first thought when i saw that. are they going to have a separate special for blacktino’s in america?

  5. Steve July 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm Reply

    LATINOS IN AMERICA is coming in october lol

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