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Soledad O’Brien Speaks On Racial Issues At Eisenhower Lecture

CNN anchor and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien spoke to students at Eisenhower Auditorium on Wednesday night as part of a tour discussing her documentary series Black in America.

Black in America examines the state of the black race in our country and has taken a look at police brutality in America’s cities.

Given the the sensitive topic, O’Brien broke the ice at the start of her presentation by addressing the fact that many people are uncomfortable talking about race. The journalist went over statistics including unemployment rates, the wealth gap, and police practices that demonstrated the oppression that black Americans face everyday. Yet she noted that the current status of blacks in America is a very complicated issue and one that can not be expressed through charts or statistics.

When Americans finally do have conversations about the “messy, but necessary racial issue,” O’Brien said the conversation is rooted in topics like education, housing discrimination, and the economic climate. Her series Black in America works to showcase the stories rarely told.

For example, one episode in the series showcased Capital Prep, a high school in Hartford, Conn. The primarily African-American and Latino school has a 100 percent college success rate. Yet not every episode is this positive: A separate clip introduced the audience to a black 19-year-old college student who matched the description of a suspect in a different crime. Living in New York City, he had experienced the police practice stop-and-frisk over 100 times.

“The issue is perception,” O’Brien said at the end of her speech.

During the presentation she showed a clip of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who, in so many words, claimed that America did not have a systemic problem with racism. O’Brien noted that the biggest problem, aside from perception, is the notion that the victimization mentality in the black community exists. However, as she reiterated, this is far from the case.

After the speech, O’Brien opened the room for questions. Fellow panelists Alderman French, Tom Morello, Julianne Malveaux, and student Jada Hill, President of the Penn State Black Caucus, joined O’Brien in the open forum.

Undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and members of the community came forward to ask the panel about about a variety of issues. Hill was asked about her involvement with last semester’s protests. The demonstrations were in response to the St. Louis Grand Jury’s decision to not indict the white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, who fatally shot an 18-year-old black high school student, Michael Brown, along with other incidents of police brutality.

“A group of student leaders came together in the light of the indictment not happening. There was definitely unrest,” she said. “That Tuesday that we did the die-in, there was a lot of backlash.”

After the demonstrations, many students took to Yik Yak and Twitter to share their thoughts on the protests. Dozens of racially insensitive yaks and tweets were written that specifically targeted the Penn State black community.

When asked about the backlash, Hill said that she wasn’t shocked, but instead disappointed “because I expected more from my peers.”

Tom Morello, musician and activist, advised Hill and other audience members.

“Whoever you are and whatever you are doing, if you believe in a more just world, you are likely already doing it,” he said. “Show us what you can do.”


About the Author

Claire Marchon

Contributor for Onward State, from the San Fransisco, Bay Area. I am probably the biggest Simon & Garfunkel fan you've ever met; I might also be the only Simon & Garfunkel fan under 50 you've ever met. Either way I think it is very important you know I love Simon & Garfunkel.


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