Author Topic: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character  (Read 3326 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« on: December 21, 2010, 12:39:30 pm »
from THE BLACK SNOB:

Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
Monday, December 20, 2010 at 8:00AM

This weekend the Twitter alerted me that CNN's Soledad O'Brien and Howard Kurtz had mentioned my site on Reliable Sources on Sunday. They were talking about the online debate about O'Brien's ethnicity and how she defines herself and Kurtz mentions a quote by "a blogger by the name of Black Snob." My befuddlement went from mild amusement to WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON when I realized I was kind of, sort of being accused of saying O'Brien wasn't black enough to report on black people.

Which was insane considering the cited piece where I was accused of this was from a lengthy post where I defended her and other light skinned people from black litmus tests by the self-appointed, online racial police. Somehow my musings on colorism were a misinterpreted as an endorsement of the colorism I loathe.

More after the jump.

From CNN:

A blogger by the name of Black Snob who said -- who wrote or blogged -- "Can Soledad O'Brien embrace blackness while not looking black, not sounding black and not being married to a black man?"

The quote was one sentence from a much longer piece I wrote in 2008 in response to grumbling online about O'Brien not being "black enough." Long-time readers know that it bothers when people routinely have their blackness questioned based on how they physically appear or their mannerisms. I've written a lot of posts about it. The post I wrote regarding O'Brien was an abstract look at the arguments I thought those who were challenging her on her race were making and the absurdity of them. Of how these accusations of "black is, black ain't" is all part of the larger psychological game routed in dividing black people.

But out of context ... well, out of context it's just a series of questions posed left up to interpretation. In this case, my questions were presented as an endorsement of being one who picks and chooses who to accept as black based on some abstract set of criteria.

For instance, this is the passage referenced by Kurtz and that was quoted in the book:

Can Soledad O'Brien embrace blackness while not looking black, not "sounding" black and not being married to a black man? Can she embrace it with blond, blue-eyed children? Have the rules of blackness changed, or are we still playing the same psychological mind games we've always played when it has come to race in America?

I often say in America you are what you look like? But if you look white but call yourself black, what are you?

But, here's the main argument I make in the lengthy piece, which was about racial identity in our so-called "post-racial" America:

After decades of the "one drop rule," where blackness was based on the slightest amount of African heritage, it seemed odd to argue over a woman who openly embraces both sides of her family and talks candidly about being raised black, but also being biracial. It seemed odd to determine that this was some form of betrayal if she used the term multi-ethnic in reference to herself when she is, in fact, multi-ethnic.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama describes himself as a black man of mixed heritage and no one questions it, but Soledad O'Brien does it and it's somehow contradictory. I have come to believe this is only because she looks white enough to pass and is married to a white man. These signifiers are used to strip her of her right to call herself a person of color. They are a way to reject her for having the gall to be born not looking black in an age where half-black people who don't look black often choose to declare themselves otherwise.

So, per my own post in its entirety, it's about the absurdity of accusing Soledad of not being black enough. It was a defense of her and other biracial, multi-ethnic people.

On the show, O'Brien was talking about her new book "The Next Big Story," where I'm also mentioned in the chapter "Not Black Enough." In the span of few paragraphs, O'Brien sums up some online criticism of her not being black enough to report her "Black In America" series for CNN. The only problem is the examples she uses are pretty unimpressive. But maybe that was by design to point out the ridiculousness of the arguments.

She references a post from The FreshXPress, but there is no mention of the author. (The FreshXPress is a group blog with tons of different contributors, similar to Huffington Post.) But the post in question was directly critical of whether or not O'Brien has the racial agency to report on black people. The second was a mention from my joke blog "The Secret Council of American Negroes," from a parody post praising people who could pass for white, but don't. That one was more silly and embarrassing than anything, because, in my opinion, that was one of the least funny things I wrote for the site. For those who don't know, the Secret Council was a joke/political satire site I created in 2008. It features plot lines about celebrity babies acting as spies and Mitt Romney as a double-agent. It's not intended to be taken with any degree of seriousness.

Then, finally, comes the quote from the last two paragraphs of my original blog post in 2008. But it isn't quote from the Snob blog or Racialicious, were it was reposted at the time. It's referenced to Zimbio, an online magazine news aggregate site. This tells me that my story was likely found in a random Google search and no real effort was made to look at the piece in its entirety or its original context. There wasn't even an effort to find out where it came from.

Altogether, the section on bloggers criticizing whether she was black enough wasn't well sourced and only featured one post that was actually critical about her racial affiliation. The SCAN post was satire and had no mention of her ability to report on black people and the blog post I wrote that was cited to Zimbio was completely taken out of context. And in that piece I still did not criticize whether or not she had the right to report CNN's Black In America. I criticized those belly aching online about her.

In all actuality, the few paragraphs about the blogosphere's reaction to her ethnicity seemed pretty much like a dispassionate afterthought thrown together after a dull Google search that found most people, outside of anonymous commentators, didn't really question her race. But that these scant results were needed to prove a larger narrative. You can't say people are attacking you online if you can't demonstrate evidence of an attack. It's just the evidence was rather underwhelming. But, again, I think it was underwhelming by design to make the arguments look as absurd as they are.

As for my reaction to all this, I'm not going to lie. I was a little disappointed. Mostly because I've written extensively about colorism, about light skin/dark skin debates and how I feel biracial people should be able to define themselves. I've written that you can be both black and Latino. And the piece I wrote about Soledad was the result of my own outrage and confusion that black people were still having this argument in chat rooms online. Or that people still feel the need to quantify statements like "I'm normally not into light skinned dudes like that, but he's cute" or "She's cute for a dark girl" and other such nonsense. But I could see how if someone didn't read the whole post or didn't read it closely could misunderstand my intent.

And to be honest, while I was initially freaked out by what I thought was an accusation that I was being critical of her right to self-define, once I saw Reliable Sources and once I read the passage in the book two things became very evident:

1. She probably never read that full post in its full context on either my personal site here or Racialicious.

2. This was all pretty much an afterthought in her effort to create a larger narrative about people accusing her of not being black enough.

So for those two reasons: This is not that big of a deal. I'm bummed that I'm misrepresented, but it was so small, so much of a throwaway that it's more comical than anything.

But, I'm mentioned in a book! And got named dropped on Reliable Sources. That counts for something, right? Only I'm accused of something awful, but not really, because the quote I made wasn't particularly damning, my name wasn't mentioned, and it was a set up to present what I wrote, and what others said, as crude racial arguments in an internet vacuum.

Live by the blog. End up misquoted in books by the blog.

Funny thing is, I still like Soledad despite the confusion. So if you were under the false impression that there was some beef going on, let me be the first to shoot that down. Reading the book confirmed for me that she's likely never read this blog or has any clue who I am. She just thought I was some random, anonymous commenter on the Internet, pissing into the virtual wind. I wasn't a fan of Black In America. I was sometimes harsh, even. But that was because I thought the series lacked depth and was a little pandering and voyeuristic in parts. But, again, that had nothing to do with how she looks. It had everything to do with the limitations of doing a documentary about African-American culture within the limits of a cable news network.

I honestly do think it was all a misunderstanding.


Offline Battle

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2010, 02:38:56 pm »
I'm not sure what to make of Ms. O'Brien. I remember Soledad 12 or maybe years ago when she was a internet technolgy co-host of a show whose name I can't remember on C/NET. Today, she's front and center on Cnn, so her success is somewhat of a surprise to me. I've seen profiles of her in magazines like Essence or Ebony where she identifies as a black woman when all the while, I thought she a Latina!

Offline Rockscissorspaper

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2010, 06:45:51 pm »
I thought she a Latina!

Heh heh. I remember she used to be on the Today show. Never crossed my mind that she "wasn't" white.
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Offline Battle

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2010, 07:32:01 pm »
I hope no one quips that she's the female 'Bryant Gumble'!

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2010, 10:24:44 pm »
I hope no one quips that she's the female 'Bryant Gumble'!

Soledad makes Bryant Gumble look like Griselda Blanco!

Offline Redjack

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2010, 12:20:53 am »
You can be black AND latina, y'know.
Soon you will come to know. When the bullet hits the bone.

Offline Princesa

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2011, 11:19:24 am »
You can be black AND latina, y'know.

Gracias.

Offline Battle

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2011, 12:04:40 pm »
>>>RedJack & Princessa
I am very aware of this which is exactly my point:
Ms O'Brien can easily be mistaken as Latina when she is not.
Heh... where I reside, there are scores of Native American communities, by appearance,  that remind me of Puerto Ricans that live in New York!
Because of the issue of white skin priviledge that is prevalent in North (and South) American television, you never see black latinos but I KNOW they exist.  ...and there are black Native Americans!

Offline Princesa

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2011, 02:37:54 pm »
>>>RedJack & Princessa
I am very aware of this which is exactly my point:
Ms O'Brien can easily be mistaken as Latina when she is not.
Heh... where I reside, there are scores of Native American communities, by appearance,  that remind me of Puerto Ricans that live in New York!
Because of the issue of white skin priviledge that is prevalent in North (and South) American television, you never see black latinos but I KNOW they exist.  ...and there are black Native Americans!

Actually Soledad's mom is a native Cuban. She is Black and Hispanic.

Offline Battle

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2011, 04:55:38 pm »
>>>Princesa
Well then, I stand corrected.
I was right the first time!  :D

Offline Cheirel

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2011, 10:27:57 pm »
She is one of these 1/8 of everything people. It definately didn't hurt CNN's ratings with her claiming that she's African American. I'm just saying.

Offline BlackRodimus

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Re: Soledad O'Brien, the Snob and the "Context" of Our Character
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2011, 07:34:37 am »
I guess I'm having a hard time figuring out why Soledad didn't at any point confront Black Snob. That would have solved a lot of problems, namely that she found the quote out of context.
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