CNN Blows It

This afternoon, CNN aired a brief segment as part of their “Black in America” segment. This program has focused on important issues like Dr. King’s assassination; however, in this segment they missed an important opportunity to talk candidly and honestly about race in America.

The CNN program went to historically Black North Carolina A&T University to talk with students there about their perceptions of what it means to be Black in America. Anchor T.J. Holmes (pictured here, photo from CNN) promised viewers that “[these students] answers might surprise you,” but rather than surprising viewers by offering a cogent analysis of these students’ perceptive awareness of the realities of racism, Holmes’ broadcast disingenuously cast African American college students as swayed by misguided elders and partly responsible for perpetuating racism.

In his interviews with the students, Holmes stressed that while all the students felt that America remains a racist society, none acknowledged experiencing the racism of their parents’ and grandparents’ era. That is, no students reported facing overt segregation or separate-but-equal facilities. Yet Holmes seemed shocked that the students remained convinced that racism exists in American society. He suggested that many of their attitudes were passed down in discussions with parents and other elders, who transferred their own perceptions of racism to these students. That the students chose to absorb these views despite never having experienced overt segregation made them, in Holmes’ opinion, part of the problem in perpetuating racism. Holmes suggested as much outright when he concluded his segment by sharing that he asked all the students he interviewed if they considered themselves Black first or American first. In hearing that the students considered themselves Black first, Holmes concluded that they acknowledged that they were in fact part of the problem.

It’s really too bad—but not surprising, in contrast to Holmes’ claims—that CNN chose to mischaracterize and distort the reality of racism in this country. It’s not shocking that these young students, many of whom were born in the 1980s and 1990s, haven’t encountered openly segregated facilities. Why would they? Any cursory review of an abundance of social science literature could have enlightened Holmes to the fact that racist practices today are often (but not always) much more covert than overt. Holmes also might have done some basic background reading to learn that these students’ sense that racism still exists in America is simply a fact of American society that has been extensively documented by sociologists, psychologists, economists, and many others. Careful empirical research points to racial inequities that privilege whites in the housing market, the criminal justice system, the legal system, and—though this might shock TJ Holmes—the educational system.

Given this history and ongoing present, is it really that shocking that these college students might maintain what brilliant sociologist W.E.B. DuBois described as a sense of double consciousness, viewing themselves as both Black and American with “Black” taking precedence? Maybe instead of blithely criticizing these college students for perpetuating racism because, unlike him, they are aware of its existence and manifestations in society, T.J. Holmes might consider taking some college level courses on Race and Ethnic Relations himself.