Who is Black in America? | Soledad O'Brien

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 13:00 p.m. EDT, 30 August 2013

Model: Trudyann DucanUNITED STATES - On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," America has been forced to reconfront the issue of 'colorism' in our society. I am purposely not using the word race because there is only one race, the human race.

However, in America and South Africa in particular, and in other countries to a lesser extent, the issue of color is complex and problematic, and is often the sole measure by which people are defined and relegated to particular groups in society.

I have faced the issue of color and acceptance most of my life. Most recently after the birth of my son whose father is not American, but German; I am constantly reminded of how limited the options are for people of mixed or biracial heritage when confronted with documents and other census gathering transactions that seek to categorize people by race.

With regard to organizations requesting the race of my son, I choose to enter 'other' or write in 'biracial.' In reviewing his records, I have often been chagrined to discover that an institution has subsequently change his assignation to Latino. In fact, most people who interact with my son and view him as Latino, emphasize their perception by pronouncing his name with Spanish accentuation, often changing it to 'Javier' though it is clearly not written as such.

This perception remains in force until they meet me, and then his race is changed to African-American which is wholly inaccurate. This lack of clarity and inability to fit neatly into 'white' or 'black' culture has caused my son to question me about why he is so light and I am brown? Why his hair is straight and mine is curly?

And at one point he identified himself as 'white,' until I emphasized the fact that he is biracial like President Barak Obama, and that he should not only be proud of his dual heritage, but should correct people who mistakenly believe him to be otherwise.

People often believe that I am Ethiopian or Somalian, and because my father though born in America has lived in Africa for the past 40-years, and I spent my childhood there, the cultural nuances of these societies resonate with me more than Black American culture.

As you can see from the video below, my struggle and that of my son is all too familiar to many people of color in this country where black and white cultures are perceived as monolithic, thus stifling any acknowledgment of the multitude of diversity that exists within either group, as well as in America as a whole.

I would encourage you to watch the video below which is both provocative and informative. Hopefully, it will provide greater insight into 'colorism' and the concomitant expression of racism in America.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWcs7YsZVuY]

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New York, New York Fisticuffs

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 12:16 PM EDT, 28 September 2012

Empire State Building, New York, Photo by Rebecca WilsonNYC, New York - As human beings have progressed from hunter gathers, to agrarian, to industrialized societies dominated by technology, we have become increasingly tamed through societal norms enforced by political correctness.

Today, men and women effortlessly obliterate the livelihood of others, often plunging them into difficult situations which sometimes leads to suicide.

But, these anonymous transgressions accomplished through machinations such as manipulating financial markets, enable the victimizer to emerge physically unharmed.

There are still those who operate in the netherworld of criminal enterprise, who get down and dirty by causing their victim's pain and death, but within the rarefied world of corporations and government, this type of physical violence is infrequently exhibited.

Yet, some could argue that the ruthlessness that men employ to decimate their opponents in trying to close the deal, secure the corner office, achieve more prestige, garner more money, or simply in pursuit of female companionship, is just as aggressive but usually accomplished through calculated effort.

This is why the video showing two men dressed in business casual, battling it out in Manhattan over a cab ride, is noteworthy.

It is worth watching once, if not twice, to see these men engaged in fisticuffs over who would get to ride in the cab during a time of day when unoccupied cabs are difficult to find. All that is missing in this atavistic encounter are animal skins and wooden clubs.

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Ugandans Leverage Viral Activism

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:54 PM EDT,  23 April 2012

Evelyn, she was one of LRA leader Joseph Kony's child brides, Photo by Sean SpragueKAMPALA, Uganda - The Joseph Kony video that revealed gross human rights abuses in Uganda, particularly with regard to the kidnapping of children who were subsequently pressed into war as child soldiers, is not without its critics. Many Ugandans feel that their involvement in fighting against the ills that plague their war-torn country were portrayed peripherally if at all.

In the video below, the Ugandan people want the world to remember that they are like other people living in conflict areas around the world - they are inherently resilient, dedicated to conflict resolution, and involved in creating solutions to the problems which afflict their country and society.

This does not mean that The Kony 2012 video which went viral was not positive, only that it didn't go as far as it could from the perspective of the Ugandan people. There are many Ugandan activists on the ground making a difference, in fact, we recently featured a post on 'Victoria Seeds | Josephine Okot,' who is working to reeducate and train women to become successful farmers and businesswomen.

Africans are no different from most people engaged in life or death struggles. They are people of great courage fighting for the right of self-determination like groups in countries across the Middle East, fighting for the right to live in a conflict free society as are people in other countries across Africa, and for economic or religious equality as do people in Asia, Europe and the United States.

The difference usually lies in how the media portrays Africans versus these other cultures. Unfortunately, Africans are often portrayed as victims instead of victorious survivors, capable of effecting positive, lasting change in their societies and communities without external intervention. Though the Kony 2012 video is not guilty of this bias, many Africans through force of habit and historical experiences, reacted to the video with lukewarm response.

Thus, the first video features Ugandans telling their stories in their voices about their lives and the many challenges they face in their country including Kony. They share with us how this conflict has affected them, but also how they are persevering, thriving, and succeeding.

The second video is a response by the producers of the Kony 2012 video to its many critics, and documents the genesis of the project, the original objectives, and the utter surprise that this video project would garner so much attention and support.

Whatever side of the discussion you find yourself on, this video has done more than most in bringing the genocide that is occurring across the Continent front and center to the global consciousness. It is both inspirational and instructive because it demonstrates that each one of us is capable of making a profoundly positive difference, and if we just have the courage of conviction to follow-through on our dreams, we may be surprised at the global impact our vision coupled with action can have.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvcWdNUujmg&feature=player_embedded#!]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=c_Ue6REkeTA#!]

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Population Me

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:40 PM EDT, 21 January 2012

I first heard this song as I was driving home the day I lost my job. My position was abolished due to a 'reduction in work force.' I was comfortably numb as I packed the detritus of an eight year tenure into the boxes maintenance provided.

I hastily bid adieu to the people with whom I had worked before descending to the garage to get into my car and drive home. The office where I worked was adjacent to a major homeless shelter in Washington, DC. Everyday, as I arrived at work I watched homeless people exit the shelter to fend for themselves until evening when the doors reopened.

Many of these people loitered in and around the building where I worked, and I would pass them by with little or no notice. In the years that I worked at that site I may have, and this is a generous estimate, given a total of $50 in loose change to some of these people. My experience living in Africa desensitized me to beggars so I overcompensated by engaging street people with direct eye contact or the common courtesy of polite conversation.

These niceties cost me nothing, yet made me feel beneficent, as if I had increased the citizenry of my 'population me' universe. I had done nothing to improve their lives nor enrich mine, but because all of my needs were met, I was able to care for my family and take care of my mother, I didn't give it much thought. But God and the Universe requires balance and an accounting for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

Now it was my opportunity to experience life on the outside looking in and it was a sobering reality. I realized that I was now being given the opportunity to reassess my life, to embrace my purpose, and to expand my consciousness. In the coming months I would come to rely on the largess of others to survive, as well as suffer the indignity of becoming persona non grata to some people whom I had known for nearly a decade.

Thus, I circle back to the beginning. The sun is shining brightly, I am driving with my rooftop open and XM Radio blasting, then this song comes on and silences the storm that is brewing in my heart. It was then that I realized I had been granted a great gift through this small life course correction. I was being granted the privilege of learning from the error of my hubris and generously been given time to live a fuller more compassionate life.

Mother Theresa said it best in her quote, “Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” This song helped me to realize that I must, we all must, expand our lives to accommodate more than just 'population me.'

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9Yasgzjc0w]

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