Monday, July 27, 2009

CNN’S Black in America 2: Today’s Pioneers

I have a new post up a Global Comment

CNN has aired the final part of its new four-hour documentary, Black in America II. Out of all the Black in America segments, this one was the most incoherent. It seemed as though the network was attempting to shove as many random facts as possible into one episode without making any significant connections.

The first part of the segment began with a focus on marriage in the black family. It was reported that in 1963, 60% of black families were headed by a married couple, while today, that figure measures at less than half. It focused in on the efforts of the Wedded Bliss Foundation to encourage communication in marriages.

The foundation’s services are completely free of charge and are open to those considering marriage, as well as those who are currently married. While the subject matter was interesting,  there was no discussion about why the destruction of the patriarchal family amongst African Americans was necessarily detrimental. To add to the problematic depiction of marriage as the ideal formation of a household, no same-gender loving families were featured. If one is truly concerned about “the black family,” acknowledging all of the ways in which it manifests itself should be a priority. This episode seemed to be more about enforcing heterosexuality as the preferred example of coupling.

In what was perhaps the most informative segment of the entire special, Soledad spoke with Dr. Lisa Newman of Michigan University Hospital. Dr. Newman’s work centers on studying triple negative breast cancer or what is known as TNBC. It seems that it is harder to detect because, unlike other cancers, the traditional markers do not exist. TNBC also overwhelmingly affects African American women. Fifteen percent of White women and thirty percent of Black women diagnosed with breast cancer suffer from TNBC.

To understand why this virulent form of cancer is attacking Black women, Dr. Newman travels to Ghana, where 60% of the women with cancer have TNBC, to collect DNA samples, which she then compares to African Americans. African Americans are used to having their health care needs ignored and to see a woman dedicated to ending the suffering of Black women is absolutely inspiring. Dr. Newman’s work is essential and she certainly deserves as much support as we can give her.

From the illuminating work of Dr. Newman, the documentary reflected on incarceration by focusing on the life of Chris Shurn. Shurn got his GED in prison and had started taking college classes. He promised before his release that he had no intention of ever being incarcerated again and planned on completing his education. As an ex-con, Shurn was not entitled to either subsidized housing or welfare. Through a program entitled Project Choice, he was able to secure a job. However, Evert Highbauer, the lead caseworker, had serious doubts about Shurn’s ability to succeed, considering that his girlfriend was pregnant with a child and the couple was already supporting several other children.

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