Professor Donald Tibbs joined CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien and a panel of speakers to discuss “Who Is Black In America?” a CNN documentary examining the lives of several individuals of mixed heritage struggling to define their racial identity.
Following an advance screening of the documentary, O’Brien moderated the panel, which examined the racial identity question. Tibbs, whose expertise focuses on the overlapping issues of race, law, civil rights and criminal procedure, was joined by fellow panelists Yaba Blay, assistant teaching professor of Africana studies at Drexel University; Michaela Angela Davis, editorial brand manager and creative image and brand consultant for BET Networks; accomplished poet, Perry “Vision” DiVirgilio; and, former editor of Billboard and Vibe magazines, Danyel Smith.
As the documentary illustrates, the struggle to define one’s self racially is an “age-old question,” and one that has a profound impact on individuals throughout their lives, Tibbs said. Not everyone has the same experience defining his or her racial identity, Tibbs added, for some it is harder than for others. DiVirgilio, who is featured in the documentary along with his poetry class comprised of several students of a mixed racial background, agreed. Defining racial identity is a process, he said, with each individual coming to his or her own conclusion on his or her own terms.
Smith commented that racism can play a role in the identity process. Blay agreed, sometimes when defining one’s racial identity, an individual feels pressured to choose one race or another, for fear of being ostracized by his or her friends or community.
Davis commented that self-image also factors into the racial identity question. O’Brien, who narrates the documentary and interviewed several individuals of mixed heritage, found that almost all individuals who struggle with racial identity are searching for a role model, someone or something to aspire to or be part of.
Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Africana Studies program sponsored the event. The documentary will air on Dec. 9 on CNN.