Yvette Carnell: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Isn’t Black Enough, But President Obama Is?


by Yvette Carnell

Funny thing. Right around the time Soledad O’Brien started buzzing about her “Black in America” special, entitled “Who is Black in America?”,  she was barraged on Twitter by purists, accusing her of not being black enough to have that conversation.

Lately I’ve been trying not to really comment on colorism because I think, no I know, it’s an antiquated discussion.

When Zoe Saldana was tapped to play Nina Simone, I spoke up because that selection represents a standard set by Hollywood, one which has all but eliminated darker skinned women from leading roles. And I would be the first to admit that Hollywood’s penchant for fairer skinned actresses,  which resulted in Saldana’s casting,  is at work in other vocations, including media (maybe even CNN, although I see no indication of that).

So I have no problem with anyone criticizing media, Hollywood, business, or whatever. What I will never do, and what I have a sincere problem with, is black people berating other black people solely based on the color of their skin.

There are certainly cultural distinctions between Ghanaians, Nigerians, Afro- Cubans, Brazilians, African-Americans and so on. That’s up for discussion. I have, previously, even made the argument that President Obama’s “up by your bootstraps” ethos is more accurately reflected in African immigrants than African-Americans. But Obama is still black, and so is Soledad O’brien.  Which is why I was stunned when one of the trolls who  dismissed  Soledad O’Brien as not black (actually calling her white) named President Obama as one of their most favorite people in the whole world. The only difference between O’Brien and Obama: One has darker skin than the other. And to allow that to be the standard for what is and  is not black in America is utter insanity.

Listen, Soledad has a rich history, which includes an Afro- Cuban mother and a white and Australian father, but most African Americans are not pure bread. That is our history. That  is our struggle. And anyone who cannot intellectually grapple with  that, who has some sort of purist ideal, who continually berates our history, or foments division within our ranks, should catch the first thing smoking back to “Mother Africa.”

I’m not going to go into what was said or by whom. I don’t feed the trolls. I don’t give them light to see or air to breath. I certainly don’t give them a place to shine. If you’re determined to know, just check O’Brien’s twitter feed from this morning. My point is that, with the fiscal cliff on the horizon,  African-Americans are facing serious issues which we need to get a handle on. We need each other.  And in order to help each other,  we’ve got to stop hating each other.

Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Yourblackworld. You can reach Yvette via Twitter @YvetteDC or on Facebook.

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  1. Soledad O’Brien’s one drop of blood may make her black but that does not mean she relates to African Americans. I once heard her comment that there was no inequality in regards to race in this Country and that minorities are afforded the same opportunities as Caucasians. I agree that African Americans are afforded more opportunities today than our Ancestors in history’s past but inequality still exists. I think she needs to sit down with Rev. Jesse Jackson and let him enlighten her without becoming offended this time. If she had embraced her blackness out loud Rev. Jackson would have known that she was African American before their interview. I think she has a lot to learn about the plight of African Americans in this Country.

  2. Soledad is a great Afro-American lady. She has the means to get the black American view point on air and she certainly does that every day. The Black community have a valuable person at our disposal. One who’s highly dedicated to her race and extremely educated. She takes on all comers in her profession. I applaud you, Soledad, and will forever be a fan of yours.

  3. Everyone knows she isn’t the best person to hold these discussions, but these days the media isn’t really doing a bang-up job at ‘justice for all’ either. Most of CNN’s AA TV journalists are ‘light, bright damn near white’ anyway, so I am not sure who would fit the bill to host. Blacks need to start creating their own dialogue instead of relying on a weekly show from Ms O’Brien to do it. I recommend start watching MSNBC where Rev Al Sharpton has a show and he makes a lot of sense.

  4. She should do a series entitled ‘cubans in amerikkka’ and stop portraying us Black people, as the only culture with problems.

    ALL people of color face the same kind of discrimination here in racist amerikkka; therefore, she should stick to her side of the coin and do some journalistic work on her culture! A REAL Black woman should be doing this series to show the POSITIVE side of Black amerikkkans.

    What most Blacks don’t OVERstand is that we are the ORIGINAL inhabitants of this country, and we WERE NOT SLAVES!!! The drunken white, murderous pilgrims (jailbirds), who england did not want, were BOUGHT by caucasoid amerikkka!!! They came here and STOLE OUR LAND, then claimed it.

    The bottom line is this…crackers are euro-anglo-amerikkkans; they are not indigenous to ANYTHING because they were nomads, who stole other people’s land and possessions aka ni*ggards!!! They are the ORIGINAL ni*ggaz!!!

    REAL TALK!!!

  5. I asked CNN to do a couple of shows on being white in America, then we would be on to something. The story of blacks told in America can hardly be told without white supremacy being examined. America needs to be enlighten on how white privilege works in America.

    In addition, President Obama cannot be compared to many bi-racials. He is not trying to define himself as mixed. He marked his ethnicity as being black and he did not equivocate– he married a dark skinned woman that was smart and black. We can look at our successful men from way back to know that they almost always married light skinned women. Lately, they have just kicked it up a notch and marry white more than is statistically normal.

    • Thelma I love you for that…which is why I love Barack no disrespect for lighter women, but I prefer darker women which is what my wife is. Barack instead of trying to make the strain lighter went and married a sure enough pedigree.

    • No disrespect. But not every dark skin man with a lighter skinned (anywhere from Nia long complexion on down) has a color complex. If thats the case then we can say Michelle married Mr.Obama because she wanted her kids to come out lighter then her. Yes I know there is a color complax issue that exist. But not everyone is living in that bubble. A dark skin man or women with a light skinned spouse is not always trying to "erase" their color or identity.

      The same thing with more light skin ppl in coporate postions than dark skin. Lets be honest theres only a handful of us in those companies anyway. I see just as many light skin blacks as dark skin blacks, which is few to none. White ppl dont like light or dark no more or no less.

  6. black is black….Obama is not black he's colored…and so is she….my mother is colored…my father I my color…I am deep dark brown…now my mother… mother and father was of color her father being jet dark skin black and her mother being Indian brown….but she turn out light brown skin.. which is colored…..Obama daughter is going back to black…..now if this lady have a white man her kids will be going towards white…..and that's just the way it go's…i'm sorry for you people who believe this b.s. when you can see clearly….I know this lady and she is as brown as I am and she say she is white…..and like I tell her the black race do not need any one the do not want to be black….brown…dark brown and darker brown and black is going back to the color which we come from any thing else is colored or going to the colorless pink or what they call white…and I know we all hate this slavery thing and being in the condition we are in still under the white European in real world power….it will be a better day…they use drugs to make black look bad to the point other blacks want to disown them…I know they got black women in corporation playing with their clitoris and have learn or been taught control and this have turn a lot of them against blacks…but there will be a better day….I love being black and my kids are black not colored or half white colored….every race was dark skin until white mix with them through force and turn them light almost white….get the real facts and stop these lies.

  7. And so the Willie Lynch indoctrination lives on as our people perpetuate Lynch’s conspiracy of divide and conquer among Blacks:Get light And dark complexioned Blacks to hate each other thus eroding unity among us. How is one’s Blackness measured?

  8. When are we going to stop internalizing our own oppression and discriminating against ourselves? But I'm happy that we are talking about it. You can't effectively treat an illness until you realize that your are sick. The African Disapora has been struggling with Internalized Oppression and Colorism for several hundred years. It's not working in our best interest. I hope we can committ to put the same effort into changing the destructive beliefs we have about each other and healing ourselves.

  9. It was a long time before Soledad admitted publicly her biracial heritage I beleive durning the 2008 election and her black in America series on CNN that she gave a birds eye view of who she really is and I for one am glad that she freely talk about it now my question is why did she wait so long to reveal it? and my guess is perhaps her career maybe many journalits are from biracial parents but are either ashame or afraid too talk about it but the hair is always a good indication and for me it was Soledads hair that gave her away a long time ago as far back as her years with Miles O’brien on CNN

  10. We, as a people, are just too dumb. We need to think about things that matter, like who needs food, who needs shelter, who needs shoes and clothes. Then we should do what we can to help, no matter how little it is.

  11. If Senator Warren of Massachusetts can be a Native American, surely this young woman can claim to be whatever she wants.

  12. People stop relying upon others to define you. Take charge! Define and name yourselves without seeking the permission or approval of others.

  13. The bottom line is this woman is NOT black. She has more in common culturally with the Hispanic or white community. IMO she only acknowledged this cultural part of her heritage to gain favor in a white racist media that would prefer a light skinned woman who isn’t black calling herself black. Many white Americans have african heritage in them even though they don’t aknowlege it. I wonder if she had blond hair and blue eyes would her black defenders still say it’s fine to call herself black to gain a high token position as top negro at CNN. She was giving the choice assignment of Black in America solely because she’s NOT black. If anything she exploited the racist mentality of white media that would prefer a woman who isn’t black calling herself black.

  14. When comparing The President to Soledad, the president married a black women and attended a black church in Chicago, whereas Soledad didn’t marry black which is her choice, however her stance just seems to be aligned with a white anthropoligist doing research on black people, sort of like she is on the outside looking in and forming her opinions. She doesn’t present a passion for her mother’s identity or heritage, except for resume purposes. She may be like this because CNN promotes that style just as they promote the “paper bag test” upon hire. If not the paper bag test, then you must be gay or both.

    • Nothing more needs to be said…thank you Soul Sista!

    • @Soul Sista, you’re nuts. Do you know how many white women the president has dated? Betcha didn’t know that all of his girlfriends prior to FLOTUS have been white, did you? The only reason the president married a black woman is because he’s running for office and Soledad isn’t. If he’d taken the business route, he would’ve married a white chick years ago. Don’t be so naive. And when has Barack ever shown passion for his Kenyan father?! I’ve seen Soledad on TV with her mom. Don’t be an idiot!!!

  15. Well, the writer doesn't truthfully share the fact that first , she's not a Obama supporter , I thought Soledad was married to a white man, so I was wondering what knowledge could she possibly have about black men.Now, I know they'll be some want to be blacks or so-called blacks saying what does that have to do with it but it speaks volumes to me.I always considered her merely experimenting to make herself feel good.

  16. Totally insane, when we will ever stop hating one another. So sad.

    • Trina Runnels Holloman

      Yes Christine, it is sad & ignorant …. Sigh, but one day things will change. It's gotta be within our own race.

  17. We have it bad with tearing down the very same beauty we want others to recognize. Adding to the list of reasons we have not progressed further…

  18. The bottom line is this woman is NOT black. She has more in common culturally with the Hispanic or white community. IMO she only acknowledged this cultural part of her heritage to gain favor in a white racist media that would prefer a light skinned woman who isn't black calling herself black. I wonder if she had blond hair and blue eyes would her defenders still say it's fine to call herself black to gain a high token position as top negro at CNN. She was giving the choice assignment of Black in America solely because she isn't black. If anything she exploited the racist mentality of white media that would prefer a light skin woman who isn't black calling herself black.

  19. So if you are light skinned you are not a Black person…..Is a Mulatto a Black person….or if you are a mulatto and your skin is brown or black then you are a Black person like Obama…

    • That's why I'm asking. This categorization of race goes off the one drop law. Whites been denying mixed blood for hundreds of yrs and nobody says anything about them. And regardless of skin color, you can deny your biologicalmakeup.

  20. Its cool who you identify with but why does no other race with mixed blood take heat for not classify mixed race people into there racial groups. I mean Obama has white blood also so he is Afro and European not just solely black.

  21. Trina Runnels Holloman

    I'm shocked anyone that she was white! Shades are so OVERRATED…. Some of us are light, some are dark, in America, no matter your hue of Blackness or kinkyness of tresses or lack there of, BLACK IS BLACK & we should support our brothers & sisters of color that have chosen to explore & promote our positivity, financial circumstances, heritage & political stances & opinions. Each one Teach one! Big Ups & Much continued success Soledad!

    • @ Holloman, I hear you and mostly agree. My concern is that I don't think she experienced life as a black women. Does she really know and understand what the average black women go through. I really don't think she can totally relate. I'd like to see someone more like a Melissa Harris Perry who's been more invested in black culture speak on black issues.

    • James Wilkerson It's precisely that kind of attitude that leads to the problem! Who are you to say what her experience has been? And who are you to discount her walk? Your premise is ridiculous, because at the end of the day, SHE"S STILL BLACK!!

    • Trina Runnels Holloman

      We don't know what her life has been like but it has been as a Black person from birth! Some say I live an extraordinary life as a Black woman sply b'cz I was a teen mom & wife who married my love @19 & now we travel the world & mk more $$ than many Cleve educated folks. They don't know my struggle, just as we don't know Soledad's. women of all shades of color have their personal struggles to overcome… It doesn't mean they are not Black ENUFF. Whatever That Means?????

    • James Wilkerson That's a scocio-economic issue, not a issue of her being a black woman. I was born & raised in Jamaica, but I wasnt exposed to a lot of what some see as normal, does that mean I'm not Jamaican, or not a black Jamaican woman – absolutely not. Skin shade is only one part of the equation. If her parents lacked finances/social connections she would be like every other "poor" black American.

    • Alberta Young-Pabon

      James Wilkerson What in her history makes her relate less than MHP? Any student of a group can relate. You really don't have to immerse yourself into a culture to know and appreciate it.

      For a friend (who is White), I kept her two adopted bi-racial boys most weekends for three years. Hanging out with my family, going to church with some of us, reading together for hours about Blacks and contributions toward life as we know it that most people have not heard about gave those two boys a deep and intense knowledge about that portion of their heritage. More than that, they gained a respect for and a "real" connection previously not held.

      These boys took this information into their classrooms and astounded their teachers and classmates. As a result, I bonded not only to them but to their teachers as they began asking for me to share my books and to visit their classrooms.

      These boys were adopted at birth by a White Christian woman and her White Jewish husband. That couple were happy that the boys learned so much and could regale and educate their friends and neighbors about the positive aspects of "Blackness."


    • Again, socio-economic differences. You or your daughter, in as much as she may want to be close to some of her "less well off" has to understand that at that level it's not about colour. My daughter had some similar reaction but she didnt care because she wanted to be progressive in the society in which she live and create a different life for her self. Some of them catch up, especially when they have kids and want better for them, some dont.

    • I always thought blacks were called "being white" because they adopted and acculturated seriously into the white culture. They want to hang exclusively with the white kids as opposed to being with the other black kids that ARE doing well in school and make the grades and articulate as well, of course, with less of the nasal whine affected by "want to bees'. have seen this malady of the ones accused of "being white" too many times.

      It is mandatory that our children learn how to think critically, speak and express themselves, but they can do this without acculturating into white cultural and ignoring their own culture. Here I'm speaking of our culture's strengths and weaknesses, victories and failures, and our contributions to world history. Our pride in African history needs shaping up. For exampe, if they can articulate Napoleonic wars, then why can't they discuss Toussaint L'Overture victory in Haiti? Or Nzingha fighting the Portuguese for almost 40 years against European slavery?

      In 2012 we are still hearing 'negroes' talk that foolishness that they have never been to Africa , they're black and they're Americans.
      When I speak of black culture I am not talking about the dropped pants, walking and rocking from side to side, holding their pants up and yelling 'ni***r to the top of the ceiling. Al of this mess is an abomination to our culture and interest. Blacks should be so a shame of themselves for buying those drop-a** pants. Shame on us for not watching over our children. Let me go I get carried away with the love of my people.

  23. We've always known about "Black Intraracism". I really cant think of a more baseless or for that matter a more ignorant position. She's Black period! I've always been criticized for being on the opposite side of this argument, Im supposedly too dark… To Soledads and my critics I give a resounding and vehement "gone with that bull…t"

  24. As one that was greatly in this ladies corner all the way from the Today show I must say lately she has been not my favorite. This morning she sit and criticized a black teacher with and all white panel. If you ae going to criticize black people there she be a black person there to defend themselves.

  25. Pale-boy here ain't pure, neither, even if he DOES know where the mothership is. I know it's not my place to spout off here….but I work for a black guy. Best boss I've ever had. I've heard coworkers bust out with that b.s. and it was all I could do not to bust a nose. I have strong ties to this community, and it PISSES me off when friends X of mine hurt friends Y of mine with this "not black enough" b.s. Who under heaven elected "YOU" to say who is and isn't whatever? So mad props to Ms. Carnell for calling this out.

    • It all stems from slavery and the Jim Crow Era. The field negro put down the house negro because he had an easier life, more priveledges, and better spoken. There was a division amongst the 2 groups of slaves. The jim crow era, blacks that struggled in impoverished situations hated the blacks that could pass into mainstream America labeling them white. Those idealogies still exist just like soul food does. Black culture is slave culture because we are only 1 or 2 generations of being literally free; 1980s.

    • Dead on the money, Mr. Fatherly. There are a LOT of people on my side of the "can't tan with a uv lamp and a flamethrower" line who don't know that neo-slavery only ended *officially* in the deep south in the 40s, and unofficially a generation later, and who *still* don't understand just how bad it got, north AND south. But there were black men who managed to make their way through in spite of the bullshit, and w/o doing it by "passing." Those guys are black too, right? I mean, part of the legacy of being black is slavery, but also the absolutely heroic examples of people who got shat on non-stop and STILL achieved in spite of it.

      I dunno. I got my pack of issues, and they're different ones, so it's not my place to spout off. But I do wish we could all just be more *human* to each other, rather than letting ideologies and preconceptions run us like a computer program from hell.

    • Brenda Helton Ginn Worley

      Don't worry in a few generation's we will be one race , we won't be able to tell on race from another.

    • Really Brenda? With the majority still being white, what's that gonna look like?…and will we no longer speak the white american language 'english' (perhaps some sort of mixture of Afrcan, Chinese, Arabic and Hindu to porportionately represent all diverse languages)? Should we adhere to the laws established by the white forefathers, ask others conform to whwhite standards, etc? You know better. As long as white, anglo-saxon culture is considered the norm, blacks (and other ethnic groups will feel second class-regardless of the shade). It's a win win for white society, a lose lose for blacks. We see the "game plan", and it ain't gonna work!!!

    • @Russ Mitchell, Those that passed did not help black interest. They hid out in their whiteness and did not speak out because they were afraid they would be caught. They are just like the few blacks who fought for the Confederate during the Civil War to gain their own personal freedom. And that freedom was at the pleasure of their master. So they might or might not have been freed at the end of war. We know the other black would not have been freed. Hotep

  26. "…in order to help each other, we've got to stop hating each other."

  27. She's black? I honestly didn't know this.