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December 5th, 2012
11:42 AM ET

CNN's Soledad O'Brien examines provocative questions like, “What are you?” in her "Who is Black in America?" documentary

In the United States of America in 2012, what does black look like? Who defines black? And why is there an argument – or disagreement at all – about who counts as black? Can someone choose to be black? Isn't race assigned at birth, just like gender? If race is a choice for some people, why pick black? Why not? What does your choice mean for your future? What does it mean for the future of your children?

CNN's Soledad O'Brien examines these important and provocative questions in an hour-long documentary, "Who is Black in America?" She follows two 17-year-olds, Becca Khalil and Nayo Jones, on their journeys to find their racial identities. "I'm from Africa, says Becca, whose parents were born in Egypt, "but the black kids don't seem to really want me, and the white kids don't seem to really want me." She says Egyptians are dismissed as Middle Eastern or Arab, but she is neither of those things. Nayo Jones was raised by her white father, and doesn't really know her black mom. "I can say that I'm African-American, but I see being black as being more of a cultural thing," she says. "I was raised in a. white environment, and a mostly white neighborhood." She insists that makes her less black. The man guiding Becca and Nayo is Perry "Vision" DiVirgilio, a spoken word poet who calls himself a "biracial black man." He struggled with his own identity issues for years.

Soledad O'brien's “Who is Black in America?” premieres this Sunday at 8 PM ET/PT.

Filed under: Black in America • Race
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Orange Blossom

    Wow, I have to say today was the very first day I have ever watched Soledad O'Brien's Starting Point show.....and it will definitely be the last as well. I watched while she spoke to a panel of guest speakers highlighting her shock and disapproval of GQ's decision to create categories of hottest chick based on race. I felt like she was taking a non-issue and was trying to incite outrage and anger. Honestly, we don't need journalist to perpetuate the racial tension in this country over silly little things like this.
    As a white woman married to an Indian man I LOVED the idea of them creating World's Hottest Indian chick, or World's hottest Sri Lankan chick. There was nothing offensive, and certainly nothing racial about Soledad was not so subtly suggesting. I liked the fact that GQ recognized the different versions of beauty. Beauty does come in all colors. I loved it and hope they do it every year!
    I loved how when she opened the topic up to her panel no one else was offended. I especially loved that one of the young gentleman brought up exactly what I was any reference to race or ethnicity is now racism??
    What a ridiculous concept! Soledad should be embarrassed...and I think that she actually was, because after he pointed this out she certainly did some major backtracking.
    There are certainly better journalists out there than she. She needs to go off air. She's boring and ridiculous.

    January 17, 2013 at 9:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Arik Fetscher

    I still wonder whether having someone say they are black was a step for the girl or other people, I understood the idea of one is what they choose to be but didnt understand why saying one was black was a step? I get the idea that saying that removes a stigma attached to the difference between light and dark skin but that would seem to help everyone, not her specifically and if thats true then she should be made aware of why that was a step and for whom. It would seem just as important for her generation to identify however they want rather than along racial lines but saying Im black too is empowering those around her more than assisting her personal worth.

    December 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. mia buggar

    Enough already. Can't we end thisa black/white thing and move on. Only a few reporters and the President care about this. We are beyond this crap.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. bernard and india walker

    this show is perfect for this season. SANTA is white snow is too. and the money we shop with is green. Our president is black well maybe. what deos katy perry and rihanna qualify as. Or Eli manning and joe biden. How would the lady teaching this class start the discussion.

    December 9, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Barry Hussain

    I guess we have all our concerns covered. If it not Soledad then it is Edward James Olmos, Kanye, or Cornell West. That makes me feel wonderful given the complexity and uncertainty in the next few years. Instead of jobs, investment bankers, future funding sources, we are still concerned with who is more brown than the other. My point is don't let these folks be the only voices shaping the discourse. Say something. Do something. Learn something. Anything. How brown you are (or are not) still plagues our rationale. When was the last time you heard someone say he is not white enough. Or, he is not American enough.? Is this the ubiquity of our slave legacy?

    December 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. lgvalentin

    Here she comes again (Soledad O'Brien) with another starting point about "Blacks in America". Can we please move on and get new subjects?

    December 9, 2012 at 8:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Wrathtard Blaze

    I'm glad someone is finally addressing the alarming increase of poor eyesight in America. If people can't distinguish between David Bowie and Evander Hollyfield, how can they be expected to obey traffic signals or pilot aircraft safely?

    December 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. sdfdsfsdfsd

    Anyone with Afro Curls is...

    December 7, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. independent

    typo: A very...

    December 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Casey S

    I think our president is a perfect example of the question.
    He grew up in rich, white, upper class america. Never had to pay a bill in his life. Never was part of the 'black' experieince. Had zero contact with his kenyan father growing up. Had almost no contact with black america growing up in a wealthy enclave of Honolulu.
    Yet he is considered black. The first Black President. Too me, personally, he's just anouther wealthy white american.
    But thats why this whole nonsence about what 'color' a person is such utter nonsence. And maybe the question of who is 'black in america should be limited to those in this country from south asia.How's that for an answer. Until we can get away from labling people because of the color of their skin, we're stuck with asking such crazy questions as 'Who is black in America?'. We all are. And nobody is.

    December 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mississippi librarian

    I agree that a person should have the option to define themselves. However, that is not how things usually happen in America. I also think that sometimes when we are asked questions about ethnicity it is not always negative on the part of the person asking. There is no colorblind society, would be nice, but it does not exist. The most you can do is continue to define your own self and do your own thing. It is o.k. to identify with one aspect of your ethnicity more than another. Generally bi-racial (black/white, or black anything) children end up having to make a choice simply because America is going to treat you a certain way if your outward appearance is perceived to be Black, you can fight against it or you can accept it and move on. Nayo, in the piece, just looks like a light skinned Black girl, she actually does not look bi-racial, I work on a university campus so see girls with her coloration and hair texture every day who consider themselves 100% Black, while Becca looks more mixed. In the end you have to be happy with yourself and your choice and embrace the culture where you are most comfortable.

    December 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Rhope

    I cant wait to watch this...

    December 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. MacAttack70

    Welcome to the club girls! I've been dealing with my own black identity crisis since 1970 🙂 1st generation melado. I can't wait to see what my future kids will look like. Then I'll have to enrich and educate them about their heritage. Fun fun fun!

    December 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Marcia Jackson

    That word (Other) goes way back. When the census was recorded for White families the Family names were listed and then that word (Other) would appear listing the servants that worked for the Family. Blacks have come across that term when researching the Genealogy of their Families. From Marcia in Boston

    December 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Richard Shank

    Here's a quote for your study. The quote is mine and is a culmination of what my mother taught me when I was 4 years old.

    Any damned fool can tell a black person from a white person. It takes a person of character to tell a good person from a bad person.

    Your character is what matters, not your race. You were born into your race, you didn't accomplish it. Taking pride in your race is empty. Your character is what separates you from everyone else and what makes you special. Take pride in your character as it was truly your accomplishment.

    December 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Aston Mattis

    I am a black man in America, a registered nurse, and I have infused many, many bags of blood into people over the years; never has anyone ever asked whether the blood was from a black or white person.The question of race in America surrounds that 'drop of blood' phenomenon, of course.

    December 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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