Saturday, June 25, 2022

CNN’s ‘Almighty Debt’: Exploring Black People Once Again Tomorrow Night…

October 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Money, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( I received an e-mail from someone by the name of Van. I think that Van works for CNN and his job is to promote the netowrk’s latest ‘Black in America’ special. This special is referred to as ‘Almighty Debt,’ which digs into the financial condition of the African American community and the consequences that arise from the fact that we are technically broke. Van must be doing his job well, because nearly anyone who is anyone has gotten clips and advanced copies of the latest ‘Black in America’ specials, so I appreciate the fact that Van has done such a wonderful job.

I am not sure what to make of the whole “Black in America” series that CNN has promoted quite heavily since the Henry Louis Gates debacle last summer. I know that Soledad O’Brien is great to watch and incredibly capable and articulate. I do wonder, however, why CNN has chosen to put a microscope on all that is wrong with black people. Are they working to seek  change? Are they trying to create public awareness? Are they using us for entertainment? I’m not sure what to think.

After watching a few clips of the upcoming show, which you can watch at this link, I noticed that there seems to be an effort by CNN to dig deeper into this intriguing institution called “the African American church.” In one of the clips, they focus on a pastor who is teaching his congregation about the dangers of falling into debt. I agreed with much of what I saw, except I’m always trying to figure out why I hear some pastors talking about money more than I do. I figured that as a Finance Professor, talking about money was my job. I guess I was wrong.

I also noticed that in the “Almighty Debt” special, CNN took the additional step of bringing scholarly analysis into the fold. Dr. Julianne Malveaux did a wonderful job of explaining how slavery and Jim Crow contributed to the wealth disparities which exist right now. I was absolutely furious after seeing that in their last release of “Black in America,” the producers mentioned the wealth disparities, but seemed to imply that this was simply a phenomenon that was born and raised in the African American community. It went back to the simple-minded notion that “Black people are poor because they are just not as disciplined as everyone else,” thus feeding right into the beast of white supremacy.

I am hopeful that as CNN approaches this huge responsibility, they utilize their platform to educate the public on issues that matter, and also work to affect meaningful change. The last thing that African Americans need is yet another series designed to make fun of us. Additionally, if they are going to attack important topics like education, the criminal justice system and financial empowerment, leading black scholars in these fields should be consulted to ensure that the work is on track. The inclusion of Dr. Malveaux impressed me because she is a scholar with a strong knowledge of finance and economics. While it might be easy to presume that Dr. Malveaux’s expertise is no different from the many financial advisors we see on television, the nasty truth is that Dr. Malveaux learned more in one semester of doctoral study than most of the other “experts” learned in four years of college. In fact, she and I both have taught thousands of students who are now considered to be financial experts themselves. This is not to minimize the depth of expertise that other public figures bring to the table, but I have to be honest and say that getting my PhD in Finance was the most difficult, yet insightful thing I’ve ever accomplished (my program took 400 applications and accepted only eight students. Many of them never graduated). I made this sacrifice in order to bring the knowledge back home to my people, and so did Dr. Malveaux.

If we are dealing with complex issues, we need complex minds. Racism is not a simple problem with simple solutions. I hope CNN remembers this when they are trying to get enough viewers to impress their corporate sponsors. I also applaud the fact that they seem to be genuinely interested in noting the disproportionate number of foreclosures, bankruptcies and job loss being experienced by black America. The Obama Administration should take a note as well, given that economic inequality will likely not go away without bold government intervention. We cannot remain silent about these issues.

I’ll be watching “Almighty Debt,” and I expect it’s going to be better than the last installment. At the very least, I am hopeful that we can grow and learn from the project and not find ourselves perpetually frustrated. I’ll tell you what I think when it’s done.

Written By Dr. Boyce Watkins

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