I have a new post up at Global Comment. I will be addressing the second part of this series shortly.
Last year, CNN presented a four hour documentary by Soledad O’Brien entitled Black in America. The first part was called The Black Man and the second part was the Black Women and the Family. Much criticism was levelled at the documentary for the ways in which it erased so many members of the African community, as well as how it played on stereotypes instead of fact. It appeared to be a documentary made to educate Whites who rarely interact with Backs, rather than a critical refection on the diverse experiences of African Americans.
In its second attempt to encapsulate the African American experience, CNN stayed with its binary understanding of African Americans by dividing the show into affluent versus poverty stricken. The first part of the segment focused on Malaak Compton-Rock’s Journey for Change Program. The goal of this program is to take students from Bushwick Brooklyn to Soweto South Africa to widen their understanding of the world. For Malaak, it is important for these students, who have been on the receiving end of handouts, to be a part of giving for a change. They must then commit to a year of service in their community to pass on the lessons that they learned.
Malaak makes it clear that she could just write a check but she believes that mentorship is the best path to success. Though the program has had great success, using Africa in this way is extremely problematic. Africa is far more than its impoverished population and this kind of trip once again reinforces the view of the so-called backwardness of African peoples. It teaches these children that Africans need to be saved instead of revealing to them what and who is really responsible for the impoverishment of South African Blacks. Unless this trip is properly contextualized, the students will not really come to terms with the lessons on privilege that Malaak is attempting to teach.