Category: History, Living consequences, Race and Ethnicity Tags: Douglas Blackmon, Racial discrimination, Racial identity, Soledad O'Brien, Traces of the Trade
Update: On Monday, December 17, our Katrina Browne will appear on “Huff Post Live” at 12:30 ET to discuss the topic of “White in America,” in a segment entitled “Is It Time To Ask What Being White Means?”
This weekend, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien debuted the fifth installment of her provocative series, Black in America. This time, in “Who is Black in America?”, O’Brien explores the nuances of racial self-identification in the United States, as well as the pressures put on individuals by the ways others categorize them.
The episode raises such difficult questions as whether there is a separate bi-racial identity in this country, or whether those of mixed black and white ancestry may, or must, self-identify simply as “black.” (For more, see Cheryl Contee’s essay at Jack & Jill Politics.)
In a fascinating response to this series, Sharon Toomer argues, in her column “Race Talk from My Stoop,” that it’s long past time for the media to begin exploring the topic of “White in America.”
Toomer explains that she wants to see:
An examination, exploration, insight into White America’s issues -from a historical context to today- and how those issues factor into everyone else’s cultural, economic, political and social issues. I believe we –all of America- will glean and learn revealing information from that examination.
To illustrate what she means, Toomer offers two examples, one of which is our own PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North.
The other example she uses is Douglas Blackmon’s excellent book, Slavery by Another Name, about involuntary black servitude in the South for generations after the Civil War, and the recent PBS documentary based on the book.
Toomer notes that mainstream news organizations have not seen fit to focus attention on the nature of whiteness in this country’s history or contemporary reality, instead interpreting discussions of race as being about everyone except white people.
Toomer correctly observes that race and racism are not simply the problems of “other people,” but encompass all of us, including white people. While no one alive today is responsible for the sins of previous generations, we are all enmeshed in a system that is racially biased. And whether we realize it or not, we live every day with the consequences not only of lingering prejudice, but of the disparate resources and opportunities that result from past discriminatory practices and their impact on institutions today.