CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien discussed her family’s tribulations and triumphs after her parents’ interracial marriage and the power of engaging in uncomfortable racial conversations at Tuesday’s 11th annual “State of Race” event.
O’Brien began by questioning what the state of race is in America.
She said the common way to approach race relations in the 21st century is to encourage conversations on people’s differences.
“It’s just the wrong question,” O’Brien said. “As demographics change, things get more complex. The question we really need to think about how to answer is how we treat each other, how we talk about each other.”
O’Brien addressed ways to alter the state of race in the United States.
“[Changing the state of race] begins with engaging in conversations and including in conversations,” O’Brien said. “Because if you don’t begin with that, you will never actually get to any kind of resolution.”
In 1958, O’Brien’s parents — a black Cuban woman and white Australian man — married. Living in Maryland, where interracial marriage was illegal, the two wed in Washington, D.C. and proceeded to reside in Maryland as an illegally married couple.
“The lesson that they were living for their kids was about envisioning a life that they thought America could give,” she said.
Although interracial marriages are no longer illegal, she said there are still people who use “code words” to express negative attitudes towards married couples of different races.
Among the examples O’Brien used to characterize these negative attitudes included people saying “they’re not a good fit” and “they don’t quite work in the environment” as verbal indicators of disapproval towards interracial marriages.
America has a history of seeking groups to discriminate against, O’Brien said.
She added that as a journalist, she has had unique opportunities to engage in the conversation of race-relations.
“What I really loved ... was the power of my position to ultimately bring about change just by focusing a camera on someone and their story,” she said.
O’Brien credited Martin Luther King, Jr. as an individual whose vision for community aimed to help all people, not just oppressed blacks.
O’Brien quoted King, stating, “I want to be remembered for loving people and for trying to save humanity.”
It is often worse to stand by and watch as an injustice occurs than to be the person committing the unjust act, O’Brien said.
She noted that King mobilized people through his moral authority.
“In a modern-day context of what Dr. King did, we have the opportunity to do the same thing,” she said. “The real magic to Dr. King was that he was a regular man.”
Her speech was followed by a question-and-answer session, during which audience members asked her about homosexuality, the n-word and the Tea Party.
“My personal opinion is no one should use the n-word. I think it’s undermining for everyone,” O’Brien said.
She responded to a question about how the Tea Party can increase diversity within their party.
“It’s not a matter of what do you do to include more diversity; it’s what’s your platform that will make more diverse people want to come and be part of you,” O’Brien explained to the audience.
College Council (CC) President Shifali Baliga said she was pleased with the event attendance, as no one was turned away, yet Glenn Memorial Auditorium filled almost to capacity.
In addition, she said she believes the audience responded positively to O’Brien.
“[O’Brien’s] speech was really funny and inspiring,” Baliga said. “If you can come and have a good time and remember at least two important lessons that impact your life, then I think we’ve done a good job with ‘State of Race.’”
CC, the Center for Ethics and the Office for Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) sponsored the “State of Race” event, with approximately 1,500 members of the Emory community and the general public in attendance at the auditorium.
Read the Wheel
's interview with Soledad O'Brien here
— Contact Christina White.