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Race Talk: It Is Time For an Examination of 'White in America'

Posted: 12/12/2012 1:28 pm

I watched CNN's latest installment of "Black in America." Over the course of the last four years, this series has explained and examined the experiences of Black people in America. This most recent installment aired on Sunday, and covered the subject of race identity, "colorism," (dark skin and light skin) within the Black community. The program's central question: "Who is Black in America?"

My takeaway: It is time, long overdue, for news media to explore a comprehensive examination of Whites in America.

In its race-ethnicity series "In America," CNN has examined Blacks (exhaustively), Latinos and Asians. I believe, and I am not alone, that an as extensive series examining Whites in America (the United States specifically) should be brought to the public. 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.

Wall Street Journal writer Douglas A. Blackmon explored a critical facet of White America in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another Name. The follow-up PBS documentary, by award-winning producer and director Sam Pollard, was as compelling as the book. You should read and watch both presentations of facts. I have, and the subjects, many who are White and who tell unflattering truth about their ancestry, are gripping.

In Traces of the Trade:

Producer/Director Katrina Browne tells the story of her forefathers, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Given the myth that the South is solely responsible for slavery, viewers will be surprised to learn that Browne's ancestors were Northerners. The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England's hidden enterprise.

But mainstream news organizations, like CNN, have not done an examination of Whites in America. Instead, they have focused exclusively on almost every other race group in America. I single out CNN because it happens to be the news network to take on this topic, for its In America series. That examination of race groups should be expanded to include Whites.

How do we get a comprehensive portrait of race and ethnicity matters, and all of the social, cultural, economic, political 'isms" embedded in that topic, by not examining a central group -- White Americans? I don't understand how there can be a complete story without that perspective, in its full context.

Truth is sometimes ugly, and dysfunction is messy.

Racism is ugly, and the dysfunction and chaos that comes from it makes for a messy society. Race talk is uncomfortable and inconvenient -- for some, not all. If I were not on the receiving end of racism -- and sexism -- I too might convince myself it is the problem of other people in this country, go on about my life, and hope the others work through, figure out their issues. That would not make me a bad person. It would make me a detached human being, in a greater society that I am a part of, contribute to and benefit from.

But race and racism are not only a thing for black, brown and those who are nonwhite to work through and figure out on their own. Race and racism includes us all. The argument, "I can't help or do anything about what happened 400 years ago," or " What else do you people want from us," is an easy out.

In the United States -- globally too -- the legacy of colonization affects all of us. First, Native Americans and then the rest of human life in this country. Some of us are beneficiaries of that system and some of us are victims. That history has messed with the soul, mind and spirit of all of us -- then and now.

There is a clear, undeniable connection to the institutional, structural, cultural, economic and social mayhem colonists imparted, and whites (generationally) are affected by that system. Ignoring or dismissing that fact does not erase it. And to honestly address, prod, probe all race issues born of colonization, an examination of White America has to happen.

As a whole nation, we would be better off, not worse off, by such an examination.

I am a believer that to get to the other side, that place of collective understanding and maybe healing (my vision when it comes to race in America), we have to plow through the mud and mess -- not some of us, but all of us. And, that process has to insert a perspective that has not been fully examined. Focusing exclusively on the others, leaves out a major part of the whole.

The Process: we are in the mud and it will get worse, before it gets better.

With any social ugliness and dysfunction, the plow through the mud is harsh, caustic and downright nasty. There is fussing, cussing, finger pointing, indifference, deflection, denial, more fussing and cussing, frustration, resentment, anger, and then, more fussing and cussing. I know, because we are in the depths of it right now.

You need to look no further than any comment section on a news website or social media platform that inserts any element of race. The unfiltered comments are abrasive and damning. It is easy to dismiss those comments as the thoughts of lunatics, kooks or "racist." And, yes that element of humanity roams in search of a forum. But the comment section also contains revealing perspectives, even when those thoughts are hastily scripted or are not articulated cohesively.

Race -- from either side -- touches emotion, and that is a good thing. We are working it out. We, All of us, are plowing through the mud, whether we know it or not. Still, that missing piece -- a comprehensive presentation of White America's role in this social and cultural dysfunction and chaos needs airing.

In the same breath that I criticize media for its failure to examine the whole, I am acutely aware of its power, reach and influence. It is why I believe journalists -- mainstream journalists, like CNN -- should produce and air an examination of Whites in America. Just like they have with the others in America.

It is time for an examination of 'White in America.' That would be a step in the right direction. Let's all watch that news-documentary series because it matters, it is relevant and it is an integral part of the greater discussion.

Sharon Toomer for BlackandBrownNews.com

 

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