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December 11th, 2012
01:41 PM ET

Youths explore colorism, black identity in poetry

Editor's note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says or by something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday.

(CNN) - "Who is Black in America?" explores how color affects identity. In this video, slam poets Kai Davis, Hiwot Adilow and Telia Allmond from the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement perform a poem, "Team Lightskin," about their experiences growing up as light-skinned black women.

Black in America: It's not just about the color of your skin
December 9th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Black in America: It's not just about the color of your skin

Editor's Note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says or something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, December 15.

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - What is black? Race. Culture. Consciousness. History. Heritage.

A shade darker than brown? The opposite of white?

Who is black? In America, being black has meant having African ancestry.

But not everyone fits neatly into a prototypical model of "blackness."

Scholar Yaba Blay explores the nuances of racial identity and the influences of skin color in a project called (1)ne Drop, named after a rule in the United States that once mandated that any person with "one drop of Negro blood" was black. Based on assumptions of white purity, it reflects a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

In its colloquial definition, the rule meant that a person with a black relative from five generations ago was also considered black.

Your take on black in America

One drop was codified in the 1920 Census and became pervasive as courts ruled on it as a principle of law. It was not deemed unconstitutional until 1967.

Blay, a dark-skinned daughter of Ghanian immigrants, had always been able to clearly communicate her racial identity. But she was intrigued by those whose identity was not always apparent. Her project focuses on a diverse group of people - many of whom are mixed race - who claim blackness as their identity.

That identity is expanding in America every day. Blay's intent was to spark dialogue and see the idea of being black through a whole new lens. FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • Documentaries • History • How we look
December 8th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

For young Americans, what's black is gray

Editor's Note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says or something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, December 15.

By Michelle Rozsa and Soledad O'Brien, CNN

(CNN) - Seventeen-year-old Nayo Jones has chestnut colored skin and wears her curly hair in a small Afro, but she doesn't "feel black".

“I was raised up with white people, white music, white food, so it’s not something I know,” says Jones.

She sits in a circle talking about black culture and what makes someone black in 2012, surrounded by a group of diverse teens and twenty-somethings. They grew up with a biracial president who identifies as black.  They will not have to fill out a census that demands they check just one racial box. And they are part of a generation that has a growing number of mixed-race relationships and people.

In 2010, 15 % of new marriages were between people of different races or ethnicities, double the number from 1980. Also, the number of people who self-identify as mixed race is growing.

Census: More people identify as mixed race

For Jones, who has a black mom, but was raised by her white dad, black requires a certain type of experience. She rejects identifying as black because, “It's kind of my lack of the black experience, or what other people would say is my lack of a black experience.”

Many of the 50 or so young adults in the room view race differently from their parents, and from one another. For them, race is fluid, and they get to decide their identity. FULL POST

December 7th, 2012
01:48 PM ET

African slave traditions live on in U.S.

By Adeline Chen and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN

(CNN) - Along the lush sea-islands and the Atlantic coastal plains of the southern East coast of America, a distinctive group of tidewater communities has stuck together throughout the centuries, preserving its African cultural heritage and carving out a lifestyle that is uniquely its own.

The Gullah/Geechee people are direct descendants of West African slaves brought into the United States around the 1700s. They were forced to work in rice paddies, cotton fields and indigo plantations along the South Carolina-Georgia seaboard where the moist climate and fertile land were very similar to their African homelands.

After the abolition of slavery, they settled in remote villages around the coastal swath, where, thanks to their relative isolation, they formed strong communal ties and a unique culture that has endured for centuries.

"The Gullah/Geechee Nation is an extremely tightly knit community," says Chieftess Queen Quet, who was chosen to represent the Gullah/Geechee people in 2000. "It is as tightly knit as a sweet grass basket that's sewn together and as tightly knit as a cast net is sewn together - there's strength in it and that means if you pull on it, you can't just get it to break apart."

FULL STORY
December 7th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Soledad O'Brien: Who is black in America? I am

Editor's Note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says, or something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT this Sunday, December 15. 

By Yaba Blay and Soledad O'Brien, CNN

(CNN) - Yaba Blay, Ph.D. created the (1)ne Drop Project, a multiplatform endeavor that hopes to challenge perceptions of black identity. Blay, a consulting producer for "Who Is Black in America?" spoke to hundreds of those who may not immediately be recognized as "black" based on how they look, including CNN Anchor Soledad O'Brien.  In this edited excerpt from her forthcoming book, Blay spoke to O'Brien about what makes a person black, and why the conversation is important.

Yaba Blay: How do you identify? Racially and culturally?

Soledad O'Brien: I’m black. I’m Latina. My mom is Cuban. Afro-Cuban. My dad is white and Australian. And I think because of my job, often a question like "How do you identify?" is really not about the question. It’s always "What side are you on?" "What perspective do you bring?" FULL POST

December 6th, 2012
06:12 PM ET

Your take on black in America

Editor's Note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says, or something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT this Sunday, December 15.

By Jamescia Thomas, Special to CNN

(CNN) - CNN invited iReporters to share their thoughts on being Black in America in 2012. Some said they had to work twice as hard to remain competitive. Others said a strong racial identity was vital and societal views on being black were too narrow to fit the entire race. Here are five perspectives from African-Americans on how they view the definition of black in 2012. What would you add?

Comfort in being a minority

Antwon Chavis grew up without much of a cultural identity, outside of the acknowledgement of his race. The 27-year-old medical student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of the few black kids in his school. He remembers being called on often to make photos seem more diverse or to voice his opinion so that the minority perspective was heard.

He identified more with his white peers and remembers being rejected by his black peers. For a while, he realized he didn’t fit in with any race and thrived only after he acknowledged that was OK.

Chavis opted to go to historically black Meharry Medical College. He said he chose to go there because he found himself becoming too comfortable as the minority and needed to explore “black culture,” which he often avoided.

“If I could choose to sit at a table of black strangers, a table of white strangers, or a table of both black and white strangers, I would pick the white table all day, everyday,” Chavis said. “I was the duck that forgot it was a duck until it separated from the swans and saw its reflection.”

Now in his final year of medical school, Chavis said although he never grew up facing any hardships, being a black man in America is tough. He said he feels as though he is constantly fighting against the societal box for a black man.

“Being black in 2012 means different things to different people,” he said. “And to me, it means being who I am. And for once, who I am is just right.”

FULL POST

December 4th, 2012
02:57 PM ET

Access to elite education, but feelings of exclusion for some students of color

Editor's Note: In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin ... by your family ... by what society says ... or something else? Soledad O’Brien reports “Who Is Black in America?” on CNN at 8 p.m. ET/PT this Sunday, December 9.

By Kiran Khalid - CNN

(CNN) -  High school is tough for any teenager, but for Albert Anderson, it was the subtle looks and unspoken words that made him realize he was different.

“High school is when people start with the judging,” he said.

Anderson grew up in the projects of New York City’s lower East Side, and commuted an hour each way to attend a  prep school in the affluent upper west side of Manhattan. No one said anything offensive, but he missed out on experiences, and was never felt fully accepted.

“It’s possibly the best high school education you can get,” he said. “I’m grateful I could attend, but the social part goes with that.”

He spoke about his experiences in “Allowed to Attend,” a revealing documentary that tells the stories of  five of Trinity's students of color who navigated the socioeconomic and racial planes at the elite private school.

It’s a conversation being had at several prestigious prep schools, some for the first time. But Trinity took the rare step to address the sometimes loaded topic of inclusion by turning the spotlight on itself. FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • Education • How we live
December 3rd, 2012
05:53 PM ET

The rise of the "black nerd"

(CNN) - The image of the black nerd has changed.

Steve Urkel, the nerdy character on the popular sitcom "Family Matters", is not the only "blerd", or  black nerd,  in popular culture these days.

Author Eric Deggans and CNN's Carol Costello discuss how "blerds" have become cool, and now include comedian Donald Glover, rapper Kanye West, and musician Questlove.

Opinion: It’s time to free Rosa Parks from the bus
December 1st, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Opinion: It’s time to free Rosa Parks from the bus

Editor's note: Danielle McGuire is the author of "At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance-a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power." She is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Wayne State University, and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. She lives with her husband and two children in metro Detroit.

By Danielle McGuire, Special to CNN

(CNN) - In 2011, Rosa Parks was in the news, six years after her death. An excerpt from a breathtaking essay she wrote in the 1950s about a “near rape” by a white man in Alabama was released to the public.  The handwritten narrative detailed Parks' steely resistance to a white man, “Mr. Charlie," who attempted to assault her in 1931 while she was working as a domestic for a white family.

It was late evening when “Mr. Charlie” pushed his way into the house and tried to have sex with her.  Having grown up in the segregated South, she knew all too well the special vulnerabilities black women faced. She recalled, for example, how her great-grandmother, a slave, had been “mistreated and abused” by her white master.

Despite her fear, she refused to let the same thing happen to her. “I knew that no matter what happened,” she wrote, “I would never yield to this white man’s bestiality.” "I was ready to die,” she said, “but give my consent, never.  Never, never." Parks was absolutely defiant: “If he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body,” she said, “he was welcome, but he would have to kill me first.”

Civil Rights icon dies at 92

Does that sound like the Rosa Parks we know?

Some of the guardians of Parks’ legacy have said it is not, and insist the essay was fiction. But by dismissing the writings as fiction, it retains the popular image of Rosa Parks as a simple seamstress whose singular and spontaneous act launched the civil rights movement that brought down the walls of segregation.

This popular presentation of Parks as a quiet but courageous woman, whose humble righteousness shamed America into doing what was right has become a mythic fable present in nearly every high school history textbook, museum exhibit, and memorial.

December 1, 1955: Rosa Parks arrested

She has been imprisoned by this tale, frozen in time as a silent and saintly icon whose only real action was to stay seated so that, in the words of her many eulogists, “we could all stand up.”

This overly simplistic story makes it impossible to imagine her essay about Mr. Charlie as anything but fiction.

But what if we knew more about the real Rosa Parks—a militant race woman and sharp detective whose career as a human rights activist spanned seven decades?

It’s time to free Rosa Parks from the bus.

FULL POST

November 28th, 2012
06:14 PM ET

Transracial adoptees navigate identity

By Sheila Steffen, CNN

(CNN) - Rachel Noerdlinger says she felt "a big void" when she was in her 20s and went through an identity crisis.

"My parents thought we could be color-blind, and they raised us in an environment where we didn't talk about race," said Noerdlinger, who is black.

'My parents were color-blind'

Adopted by white parents and raised in New Mexico, she grew up without any knowledge of where she came from.

"It was hard. I went through a lot of different confusions."

She is quick to point out how grateful she is for her adoptive parents. And although she would not change her experience, she offers this advice: "At the end of the day, the most important thing to your child's well-being is that he or she is around diversity."

Thirty-nine percent of adopted children in America have parents of a different race or ethnic group. Domestically, transracial adoptions were made easier by the Multiethnic Placement Act in 1994, which essentially keeps race from being a factor in adoptions. Still, the majority of transracial adoptions are international; others are from foster care and from private adoptions. FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • How we look • Who we are
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