-Senior Correspondent-

( – As I watched the well-told, well-produced CNN report “Black in America,” I wondered if I wasn’t living in some alternative universe and I wished for its speedy conclusion. But then I thought, maybe I’m just getting older, and don’t understand the modern American racial dynamic.


The photography, the special effects, were all reminiscent of the best in contemporary filmmaking and broadcast journalism. Those are the kindest things I can say about the effort. History has not been rewritten by this CNN effort.


One scholar I spoke with said he did not see the program. By way of explanation, he said he doesn’t watch much television at all. Maybe that too is my problem with the program. I don’t watch enough other TV.

In my view, the report seemed to borrow stylistically from some of television’s more successful formats. In alphabetical order the things which stood out: Each segment was introduced by what seemed like a BET or MTV-wannabe. A young man spoke during segment transitions in faux-rhymes, as if to only slightly suggest a muted, and very toned-down hip hop artist, articulating his message rather than rapping it.

Host Soledad O’Brien seemed to be a kind of Oprah-in-waiting, charming, friendly, helping participants recall decades-old experiences, even taking them back for nostalgic strolls down memory lane, helping make their worst dreams come alive again.

There was even a Jerry Springer-show-like confrontation between an absent father holding his one-year-old daughter, while his baby’s mama (now pregnant with twins fathered by another man) accused him of neglect.

It was theater, meets journalism, meets reality-TV, all in one.

As far as the substance is concerned, the show reflected what must be the “New Breed” of Black thinkers and leaders: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson instead of Dr. Cornell West or other militant intellectuals; comedian D.L. Hugely but not Dick Gregory or Bill Cosby; filmmaker Spike Lee was in, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was not; and the report seemed to be centered around Little Rock, Ark. (which doesn’t even have a major league franchise in any popular sport), and not Atlanta, not Harlem, not Chicago, not Detroit.

And what was most offensive to me concerning the program’s content: There was only one, very, very oblique reference to the most important change-agent among Black men in 20th Century America–the Nation of Islam–and that came by way of a brief mention of the poor commercial success of Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X.” In that regard, there were many, many church scenes, including one in which the pastor is now known by an African name, but there was not one mention of the life-changing work of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his followers and supporters.

The report began in 1968 with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how young Black men responded in Little Rock, but it did not include any mention of Vietnam anti-war resistance, Muhammad Ali, the Black Panthers, Mr. Muhammad or the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, all of whom were major figures on the national Black American scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s and beyond.

And sure, there was much deserved attention to Black men in prison, mostly petty criminals, even those who committed felonies. But where were the Black political prisoners in this report? George Jackson, members of the Black Liberation Army, members of the Republic of New Africa, were major figures in the 1970s. Beginning in 1981, Mumia Abu Jamal was and is an important figure, a political prisoner, along with countless others still behind bars.

Granted, 1968 was a long, long time ago in this country where youth is prized above wisdom and right guidance. But not a single word about the miraculous work and unmatched achievements of the Nation of Islam? That is a major credibility problem in my book.

And viewing this report through the un-erring lens provided by hindsight, then there is no reason why Islam (which has increased exponentially, and not decreased in its importance in this country over the last 40 years) and the question of Black Identity, and reparations for slavery were not a part of CNN’s discussion, except to say, “It was not that kind of a party.”

It seems to me that CNN invested a lot of money and resources into “tweaking” the history of Black Men in America during the last 40 years to more resemble a series of unfortunate circumstances for some Black men, while others–who were willing to “act White” and pursue educational opportunities–were able to “make it” by getting nice jobs, nice cars, and nice homes in nice integrated neighborhoods.

In so doing, CNN was able with this report to make what many Black men had rejected as the “American Nightmare,” appear now to be the “New American Dream.”