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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Recently, I found myself taking the time to watch CNN’s “Who’s Black in America?” hosted by Soledad O’Brien. I watched the show curiously, gaining deeper insights into the struggles of both light and dark-skinned African Americans who live in a world where not being “black enough” can be just as bad as being “too black.”
Soledad, as usual, did a wonderful job of hosting the show. I’ve never questioned Soledad’s blackness, since a) it’s not my right to do so, and b)there are numerous ways for a person to express their blackness. But with all the respect I have for Soledad, I had to remember that she operates in a world that is not so idealistic in the way it perceives black and brown people.
So, I asked myself out loud, “I wonder if Soledad would have her job if she had dark skin?” I can’t answer this question myself, but when I look across the network, I’m hard pressed to find CNN anchors who look like Wesley Snipes. I asked my friends, I asked the people who follow me on Facebook and searched the depths of my brain, unable to find any anchors who have dark skin. In fact, I dare to argue that if President Obama was a dark-skinned black man, he would not have been elected.
When I think about Tony Harris, TJ Holmes, Don Lemon, Fredricka Whitfield and the other black faces I’ve seen on the network that has yet to let an African American permanently host any prime time show, I could only come up with black people with the kind of complexion that makes white people feel most comfortable. It is historically documented that lighter skin is preferred by both blacks and whites, so it’s not surprising that the network would have this sort of bias.
I’m hardly one to say that I don’t benefit from any colorism on network television, since I’ve been on CNN more times than I can count. But I dare to openly question the persuasiveness of an investigation into colorism by a network that doesn’t seem to have been able to overcome it’s own racial preferences. Maybe CNN needs to do the next documentary analysis on itself.