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React: CNN's "What is Black In America?" Documentary

Written by amyelisakeith

Posted 12/10/12

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What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the dialect in your voice, the make up of your family, your gender, the intimate relationships you have or the generation you were born into?

These are just a few of the questions posed by CNN’s special “What is Black in America” produced by Soledad O’Brien. As we watched African-Americans wrestle with colorism, we were brought to tears and educated at the same time.

This documentary, the veteran news broadcaster’s fifth installment with the cable channel, explores colorism—the idea that lighter skin affords biracial and black individuals with lighter skin tones privileges, special treatment and experiences that blacks with darker skin tones are less likely to receive. The documentary’s main characters, bubbly best friends Nayo Jones and Becca Khalil, helm the project with their gripping expressions of poetry, reflective of their struggles to identify themselves among the rest of the world.

From the one-drop rule to the paper bag test and the economic disparities evident across the color spectrum, we were reminded how much complexion still plays such a large role in society, and surprisingly among the younger generation.

While the documentary did not set out to solve or rectify the issue of colorism, we had hoped that Nayo and Becca would reach a level of acceptance and comfort in their own skin. In a sobering turn, the two young women do not come close to resolving their racial anxiety. Nevertheless, perhaps that was the point. Perhaps the goal of O’Brien’s documentary was to provoke and to point out and to pose the difficult questions.

Taking to Twitter during the Sunday night airing, O’Brien fielded comments from those questioning her fixation with the topic of race and those who praised her work. Pioneer music industry exec Sylvia Rhone tweeted, “Colorism has divided our people for generations. Thanks @Soledad_OBrien for confronting the sad reality that still exists.#BlackInAmerica.” Meanwhile, as Essence editor Wendy L. Wilson watched a young girl tell her mother that she wanted to be light skinned because dark skinned girls like her were not pretty, Wilson tweeted, “We’re no longer on the plantation so why are little girls in 2012 still think dark skinned is ugly? #blackinamerica.”

The conversation got us thinking: What does it mean to be black in America as we approach 2013?

And what does it mean to be CocoaFab? While placing boundaries or creating definitions can be prohibitive, we think it’s safe to make a few character assumptions. Being CocoaFab is being bold, dynamic, beautiful, vivacious, smart, sophisticated, passionate, powerful, introspective, spiritual, hilarious, enterprising, fashion-forward, aspirational and global. Period. No further explanation necessary.

TELL US: What did you think of CNN’s documentary? How do you deal with colorism?
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2 Responses to “React: CNN's "What is Black In America?" Documentary”

  1. Tamron Hall Takeover? | CocoaFab

    […] Word on the street — and depending on whom you ask it changes nearly everyday — is that new CNN boss Jeff Zucker wants the morning show to have more of a Good Morning America feel to it. Soledad O’Brien currently hosts Starting Point, but she’s leaving to produce news documentaries under her own company. […]


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