CNN anchor and “Black In America” correspondent, Soledad O’Brien, recently released a new book entitled, The Next Big Story. In her memoir, O’Brien recounts several anecdotes from her years in the news business, including an unsettling run-in with Jessie Jackson.
Apparently, the civil rights leader didn’t think O’Brien counted as one of the network’s Black anchors. In a 2007 meeting, Jackon and O’Brien met to discuss the dearth of Black news personalities on CNN. O’Brien, who’s biracial, was rightly disturbed by Jackson’s comments. In an excerpt, she reminisces,
“Today he is angry because CNN doesn’t have enough black anchors. It is political season. There are billboards up sporting Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper. He asks after the black reporters. Why are they not up there? I share his concern and make a mental note to take it back to my bosses. But then he begins to rage that there are no black anchors on the network at all. Does he mean covering the campaign, I wonder to myself? The man has been a guest on my show. He knows me, even if he doesn’t recall how we met. I brought him on at MSNBC, then again at Weekend Today. I interrupt to remind him I’m the anchor of American Morning. He knows that. He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right had. He shakes his head. ‘You don’t count,’ he says. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I don’t count — what? I’m not black? I’m not black enough? Or my show doesn’t count?
I was both angry and embarrassed, which rarely happens at the same time for me. Jesse Jackson managed to make me ashamed of my skin color which even white people had never been able to do. Not the kids in the hallways at Smithtown or the guys who wouldn’t date me in high school. I remember the marchers behind me at the trial about the black youth/kid who beat the Latino baby. The folks that chanted ‘biracial whore for the white man’s media,’ even they didn’t even make feel this way. I would just laugh. Biracial, sure, whore, not exactly, white man’s media, totally! Whatever. But Reverend Jesse Jackson says, ‘I don’t count?’ “
After the meeting, O’Brien called Jackson to remind him of his comments. During their conversation he claimed not to know about her racial background. Convenient.
If anyone should know about the wondrous and mixed up history of Black folks, it should be Jessie Jackson. For him to deem Soledad O’Brien not Black enough speaks volumes about his mindset and his politics.
What does it mean when we strip our fellow brothers/sisters of their Blackness just because they don’t fit the conventional view of what we think it means to be Black?