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tv   Who is Black in America  CNN  December 9, 2012 8:00pm-9:00pm PST

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how we treat our fellow men, and we are still trying to learn that lesson, and what there is in the human mind that makes it difficult to learn i don't know, but it's part of the emotional impact that it has on me and my family and my wife, because i have to teach this. it's a history lesson. history is important. >> i am don lemon. have a good night. why is your hair so good? why is your skin so light? i get requested like are you
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hispanic or are you mixed? >> a lot of people think i am black. >> just because you are black doesn't mean you are african-american. i used to identify as pamerican. >> it's always been weird trying to figure out who i am. >> irish, italian, arab. >> black and white for a lot of my life, and black was something i rejected. >> you must have been told you are not really black? >> blackness is big enough to hold every shade. >> i am a black woman and these are my black daughters who happen to have a white father. >> i am black. it's never been a question, it's as simple as a beating inside of me. >> i am -- >> i am -- over the last five years in
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this series we have explored what it means to be black in america. my mother is black and cuban and my father is white and from australia, and when i was born in the mid 1960s the census doesn't even track the number of mixed race children, because my mother was black eye always considered myself black and when i was a kid my mother would tell me don't let everybody tell you you are not black, and more often the question i was getting was, what are you? with the 2010 consensus, more people are grabbling with that question and their racial identity. we follow two women who struggle with their racial identities and who were sick of answering the question, what are you? ♪
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>> if i had like a word to describe me, it would most likely be corky. i am in a band and we do progressive alternative rock, kind of. at first when people meet me, they don't know what i am. people will ask me, what are you? >> 17-year-old nile jones is a singer, a talented poet and high school senior. but that's not what people want to know. >> i had an experience, and i was writing things and becka deals with the same things, and let's make this a group piece. >> becka is nile's best friend. they do spoken word poetry together. >> it's like, girl, you are so pretty, what are you? a question for a tanned-skinned girl and a soft kinky curl that
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doesn't seem to quit. they can't handle my racial figure. it helps them sleep at night if they can -- >> the young women are being asked to categorize themselves racially. it puts people in one of two boxes. black or white. can you decide if you are black and white? >> when it comes down to it it's what i say about myself that is most important. >> perry coaches other young boths in the philadelphia youth movement, and many are struggling to define themselves. >> like, literally. >> he is also a spoken word poet with some fame in the city where he is known as vision.
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>> i am the artistic director here. >> he is teaching a poetry workshop. >> how many folks have been asked what are you? >> you talk about how you identify yourself versus how others identify you and whether you are okay with that. >> it's a challenge he has experienced himself. >> white boy, half breed, what is he? the things i am reading right now, i don't have memorized because i am running from it. i won't lie. i am running from that poem. >> he is running from his passed that that divorced parents, his father is white and his mother is black, and he says she hates her skin color. >> she doesn't like being darked skinned. i have not talked to her in year. i think ub consciously it made
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it okay to not be comfortable in your own skin. i didn't want the curly hair or light skin and i wanted to blend in and be like everybody else. i used to live here with my mom. my father is white and lived in a black neighborhood. my mother is black and moved us to a white community. i got jumped literally right here on this pavement because i was black. and they would make comments about my mom, and make monkey noises. >> to the white boys, he was not white enough. >> my father's house, this is home. >> to his father's black neighbors, he was not black enough. >> always jokes here and there and light-skinned boys think they are this and things of that nature. >> high yellow meaning light skinned. it's one of the many taunts over
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the years he felt rejected by the black community. >> light skinned is more valued by -- >> this professor wants to get people of all shades working together to end colorism. instead of pointing fingers at one another. it's why this dark-skinned woman began the project that looks at the experiences of light-skinned people and what it means to be black. she plans to turn it into a book of photos and essays. >> once i really started as my own personal inspiration, and it helped me to kind of think differently, if you will, and reflect on the assumptions that i was making about people of lighter skin. >> she believes colorism divides the black community creating identity issues for light-skinned blacks and self-esteem issues for those that are darker skinned.
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she's felt it herself. >> i had a friend or somebody that i considered a friend, light skin and blue eyes and she got engaged and i said hello, where is my invitation, and she said, girl, my mama would pass out if you came to my wedding. >> because you are black skinned? >> basically i was too dark. there has always been anxiety of about what white people think about us. we don't want them to give them more ammunition. we are quick to point fingers and blame and say i had this experience because of somebody that looked like you. >> what are you darker people doing in the yellow circle? >> like the professor, she believes color divides the black community and it is why she
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teaches grade school kids. >> hopefully them knowing where it comes from, they will be less likely to perpetuate these behaviors. >> i heard somebody over here saying i want to be dark, dark, dark. who said that? >> me. >> why? >> because it's ugly. >> why is dark ugly? >> i don't know. >> so if you were darker you wouldn't like yourself? >> huh-uh. >> vision hears the same thing from the teenagers he mentors, on twitter under hash tag team light skin and see comments like light skin is the right skin, or there are few dark-skinned pretty girls. >> why are we putting ourselves through this? >> so vision is focusing on a
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conversation about skin color and identity with about 50 other young poets. among the questions they will be tackling, who is black? >> race is a social construct. you are who you say you are. >> what makes you black? >> is black struggle? >> who determines who is black? >> the irony is who is black is determined not by black people. >> and how does skin color divide black america? >> we are very aware from our lived experiences that skin color matters. >> these are uncomfortable, often painful questions. >> you have to stop trying to push people in boxes that we are not comfortable in. it's not about me. it's about the paths. >> the journeys down these paths are just beginning. >> why are you so reluctant to
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how i look on the outside doesn't mean i am the same kul kh culturally the same as somebody that looks like me. >> around this room, there are a bunch of signs on the wall. a bunch of identities on the walls on the pillers, on some chairs. walk around the room. you can only choose one. walk around the room. find out the classification you think you fit that you identify with most, and stand there. go. let's go, let's go! let's go! let's go! >> vision is asking each student to choose an identity.
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>> has everybody identified? is everybody comfortable? >> when somebody walks up and says, what are you? this is how you identify? correct? everybody have a seat. >> i went for female. because everything else feels like i am not a person. >> honestly i copped out. i will readily admit, i was like okay i will walk over to other and maybe that's not how i feel, i don't feel like "other." >> your mom is? >> black and my dad is white. >> tell me about your mom? >> not much i could tell you because there's not much i know. they got divorced when i was really young and after that i did not see her. >> do you think you are black? >> i don't necessarily feel black. i was raised with white people and white music and white food, and it's not something that i know.
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>> why are you so reluctant to say i am black, deal with it? >> because i have black hair and brown skin -- >> personally, i feel like i don't -- i don't really feel black, you know? it's a part of me, but it's not everything. >> so is nio black? >> she can idea how she chooses. if we didn't know each other, i would assume she is a black person. >> and the rest of the society will remind her of her blackness in a middle subtle ways, and the fact that she was embedded in white culture will not prevent her from having a black experience in a racialized system. >> he has written books on racism in america. >> color and who qualified as black or white has been policed
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not by those who were the targets of oppression but those who set up the system of oppression as a way to dole out the goodies where color has been the dividing line of opportunity. >> how are you? >> good. >> today the professor is speaking to vision's workshop about one drop. historically it's the concept to define who is white and who is black. by 1925 nearly every state had a form of the one drop rule on their books. it gandbegan during slavery. >> you guys are coming in the middle and you don't look like white man, so what are you? >> they were, for the most part, children of rape. white master, black slave.
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>> historically, whiteness has been defined as pure. the government then came to define blackness as anybody with any trace of african ancestry, any trace. so this definition of blackness has come to be defined as the one drop rule. what would happen if we were to take some black paint, just one drop, let's see, and let's shake it up and see. oh, here we go. here we go. owe. that once pure water to quench your thirst has now been contaminated and what this has come to mean in history is 1/32,
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all you need is one person five generations back who is black and that's enough to make you black. take a guess when it was ruled unconstitutional. what year? 1967. >> it was an attempt to save the white purity of the white race. >> why do so many black people hold on to the one-drop rule? including me. >> racist as it is, it gave us parameters for our community. we knew who was black and we knew who wasn't and we knew who our issues were. >> and i hate the one-drop rule because of the historical significant of it. >> what do you check when you have to fill out a form like a consensus? >> i check black now. i am not white. america let's you know real fast that you are not white. i have never been jumped and called cracker or honky.
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i have been jumped and called monkey or anythinger. >> i am bi racial, and i am no different than any historical figures who are bi racial who are in our black history. >> for rebecca, it's not that simple. >> i think i am from africa. i know i am from of africa. but the black kids don't seem to really want me and the white kids don't really want me. ] ♪ ha ha! ♪ well, if itmr. margin?margin. don't be modest, bob. you found a better way to pack a bowling ball. that was ups. and who called ups? you did, bob. i just asked a question. it takes a long time to pack a bowling ball. the last guy pitched more ball packers. but you... you consulted ups. you found a better way. that's logistics.
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all visions workshops end with an assignmenassignment. for jones and becka, it's difficult. >> so what you feel inside, what you feel you are, how you identify yourself is what you are writing right now. i want to go from your heart. we will make our way up to the third floor in the drama studio. >> i don't have a race. i am now and forever my own race. i am tired of rabbit holing. why hide in the ground with everybody else when i can be myself and fly. [ applause ] >> black mother, white father,
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refuses to put herself in anybody else's box. >> when those white kids say i am one of them i can't say i feel welcome. black has always been the color of my bones. black like heart and mind, black like me. [ applause ] >> i am black. i am african-american and i am accepting of that and proud of it. >> becka's roots are in africa, north africa, and her parents were born in egypt. >> you feel you are african-american? >> yes. >> that's been a struggle for me. >> egypt is in africa, right? >> it's in fake africa, not real africa. and most egyptians don't identify themselves as african-american. >> becka proudly calls herself black but not everybody in the
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work shaup shop is buying it. >> egypt is in africa, but i feel like there's a difference between being from africa and being black. >> so you think that you don't get to choose what you are? >> i don't think you get to choose. i think while we would all love to get to choose who we are and how people see us, you don't always get the chance to explain how you identify. >> what makes somebody black in your mind? >> i think how people see them, a certain amount of experiences. >> so there's a black experience? >> i think so. >> what is the black experience? >> you know, i would probably have to deal with racial profiling, and becka would not. >> you think those differences are the difference between what
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makes you black and not black? >> i think so. i mean, black, yes, african, no. >> my father is from guinea and my mother is from liberia. growing up, i was aus straw sized. people would say, you know, you are not black -- >> people would say you are not really black? >> growing up. that's what they would tell me for a significant portion of my life. >> both of my parents are considered light-skinned blacks, but what makes me black and what makes them black is the culture. >> michaele angela davis is a former editor for "essence," a black magazine for women. she writes on race and image. >> the music, the spirit, the food, the way we love and the way black people have soul.
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>> i think it's a combination of all of it. i think it's skin tone. i think it's experience. i think it's culture. i think it's a mindset. if you claim black that's what you are. >> i think there's a understanding in the particular rationized society, you have to be seen as black so when we walk into a room they know i am black but might question what you are so it has to do with do people see you as black? if people don't see you as black, you're not black. >> at first glance very few people see her as black. >> i have always felt like i am a black woman. >> daniel joined the one drop project in 2011, about a decade after the two women met in grad school. danielle's mother is white, and her father is black.
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he died when she was a teenager. >> i made so many assumptions about daniel that i thought she was that type of light-skinned chick, that she thought she was too good and stand offish because she didn't fool with us regular folks. what was going on she had an experience growing up in the middle of pennsylvania in men anight community -- >> danielle felt like she didn't belong in the only world she knew. >> it was this quiet ignoring that i often felt as though people just didn't really want to mess with me, you know, they -- you are good, and stay over there. >> how did you get through? >> i left school. i stopped going. >> you dropped out? >> i didn't officially drop out. they sent a tutor to my house
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and that's how i finished my junior year. >> she got through that year and the next and graduated and went to temple university where she studied for her master's in african-american studies and she said she had a deep desire to connect with her blackness. >> my family is very important to me. my white family is who i grew up around but even with them i feel as though i am black, i am not the same as them. i have always felt that way. i know where i feel most comfortable and the way that i want to identify, and the beating that is in me is blackness, it's blackness. there's no question about it. >> that's not the case for nio, who like danielle grew up with a white family. she says i don't feel when i am
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around black people that i am black. is she black? >> i would say she is black. i would think that maybe she has an idea of what a black experience is, and doesn't identify with that experience, and so therefore she doesn't think that she is black. every one would say i didn't have a black experience. but i -- i had my own kind of black experience. there isn't just one. >> her search for identity is about to open old wounds. >> this is gross. >> it's not gross. there's nothing gross about healing. phillips'. music is a universal language. but when i was in an accident... i was worried the health care system spoke a language all its own with unitedhealthcare, i got help that fit my life. information on my phone. connection to doctors who get where i'm from.
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i self identify as black and grew up as the son of a black father, and my mother is white and i never saw mixed exclusively excluded. they were building their own cultural traditions in america, i feel a connection to white culture is an alien concept to me. >> it's a poem about her life, but jones is struggling to recite it. >> she calls her poem other, or the bi racial poem.
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it's about being bullied by black kids. >> i became ashamed. >> now the tough part, she has to perform it at the first spoken word poetry competition of the season and it's painful and she can hardly get through it pfp. >> no black mother to explain how this tall white man ended up with this short chestnut skinned girl. >> you got it. i can tell you why you are not remembering it, you are not connected to it. i wrote it. i am done. that's the beginning. >> they always call me white girl. i was never ashamed of myself until they taught me to be ashamed. i won't be white girl any more
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and i won't be mixed girl any more either. i have come far enough where i am not ashamed but i refuse to be defined by itself. >> don't. don't. >> this is gross. >> it's not gross. it's not gross. there's nothing gross about healing. >> i am just so frustrated. i don't know. >> it's okay. and it gets easier. i promise you it gets easier. >> come here. come here. let go. it's okay. it's all right. you got this. claim who you are tonight. that stage tonight is for you. it's all right, sweetie. >> these are the wounds of colorism.
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>> wounds often first inflicted on the playground to both light skinned and dark-skinned kids. >> they lived in the same neighborhood. they were even in the same grade. >> her passion is educating children about colorism. >> tell me about that. why did the teacher not call on him? >> because she is ugly and black -- >> law shawn tay is seven years old and her mother is worried her daughter is getting the message dark skin is bad. >> i think my skin is ugly? >> why do you think it's ugly? >> because i don't want to be dark. >> you don't want to be dark? >> no, i want to be light-skinned. >> why? >> because light skin is pretty. >> you think so? >> yes. >> is there anything else?
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>> yes. >> what? >> that i like to be light, like you. >> and you know what, i want to be pretty like you. >> so we both have something we would wish for. >> can somebody tell me what that means? >> my stance is teach the children what it is and show them the history and make them aware of this issue so when they go to school and out in the world, they are armed with this information. >> because he wants to buy her, because her skin is lighter. >>. >> caller:ism was something that plantation owners used as an instrument to divide and conquer their own enslaved persons. by extending to lighter skinned enslaved persons, more privilege hreup >> you have to sit in the back. >> even among 6-year-olds, she
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is not afraid to shock. today the brown paper bag test. she showed us that dark skin had to sit in the back and light skin had to sit in the front. i didn't think it was fair. >> do you think you are less privileged because of the color of your skin? >> 18-year-old washington, one of vision's poets learned the
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same harsh lessons? when she claims her life is harder, than either of the other two young women, because of her skin color. >> she has a basis for that claim. >> there's a lot of evidence that would be consistent with her saying that. >> dozens of study show differences in skin color have huge consequences, including a 2008 study that shows light-skinned black women have a better chance of marrying than darker women and a 2006 study that shows that dark skin color can affect earning potential. >> we found that darker skin and medium skin toned black men suffered a 10% to 20% penalty in wages relative to white males but lighter skinned males had no
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slam night at the franklin institute in center city philadelphia. 20 young poets competing for the win, and jones is about to face them and her fears. >> give it up. >> she not only has to be better than the competition, she has to expose old emotions and confront painful questions about her identity. >> they always called me a white girl. i was never ashamed of myself until they taught me to be ashamed. i was never keen on splitting hairs. a mixture of all beautiful things -- >> she rushes to finish. >> i have come far enough to know not to be ashamed of what i am. but i won't let them define me by it either. [ applause ] >> it was so fantastic just to get it off my chest.
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i did not stutter or stumble and forget the words which was really great because i was so afraid i would forget the words. >> i know that she can dive so much deeper into the poem and she can tap into that and really get free. >> he forces me to do the things that i would really rather not do, but sometimes the best for you is kind of hard to do. >> for her, getting through this first slam of the season is a relief. for becka -- >> biting the hands of every guy -- >> it's phenomenal. >> we bark, growl, and tara part the portraits you painted and we paint our own for the paint you had no use for we will re-paint ourselves as women, holy once more. >> the winner of the evening. give it up for becka.
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>> what was that like? >> awesome. i never have one anything before. it was a really wonderful feeling. >> becka khalil feels black. she wants the world to see her that way, too. >> i never thought being black was synonymous to your color because i thought that was racists. who wants to be racist is our society? every one does, apparently. because -- because i am not dark. i'm not black. >> so who determines whose black? >> the important thing to do is to, of course, define yourself however you wish and that's your own right and freedom and you should exercise it but it's also
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important for people to keep in mind how the larger society is likely to see one. >> the u.s. government has a say when it comes to identity. the u.s. census bureau, white, a person having origins in any of the original peoples in europe. you are defined as white according to the census. >> yep. >> she is not white. so the question really goes to the u.s. government. why are people from north africa white? what purpose does that serve? how did you come to make that decision? they are on the continent of africa, and why not be black? >> will she be viewed as white by anybody else as the census taker. unless the police officer or loan officer or teacher or employer for whom she is trying
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to get a job views her that way and it's unlikely they will, she will be, at the very least, a woman of color. >> what role does family play in all this? that's unclear. >> look how pretty that is, dad. >> i think a lot of it is how you are cultured. what is the dominant culture in your household. >> for her it's white. >> so there you go. who loved you? who took care of you? >> while she is reluctant to embrace her black roots it's a different story for her 14-year-old sister. >> i feel more comfortable when i am around people that are black. i think that i fit in more with black people. she likes different music than i do and dresses differently and hangs out with different people. i like more hip-hop, and she likes -- she hangs out with more
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white people are people that act white. i hangout with black people that act black. >> same mother, same father. sisters living on opposite sides of the same wall divided by views on culture and identity. but for nio, that might basketball to change. >> there were certain things about to change. i was thinking how come i have to be the odd one out in this situation? it went out today... i'm happy. what if she's not home? (together) she won't be happy. use ups! she can get a text alert, reroute... even reschedule her package. it's ups my choice. are you happy? i'm happy. i'm happy. i'm happy. i'm happy. i'm happy. happy. happy. happy. happy. (together) happy. i love logistics. if we want to improve our schools...
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i am a black woman and these are my black daughters who happen to have a white father. >> i see my daughters as gifts from god who come from a heritage of german ancestry, irish ancestry. we're raising them as black women because i think that's how the world sees them. i think the united states, we still abide by a one-drop rule. we are not overemphasizing anything but just being who we are. >> application center. okay. create new account. >> it is senior year, which means it's stressful and it's
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extra stressful for yio. >> what are you doing? >> college stuff. they are making me select my primary ethnicity. american indian, asian, asian, black, african-american, and -- >> becka kahilil is also filling out college applications. >> i don't want to sit and have a long conversation about what bubble i should fill in about my ethnicity. i think i am african-american. >> what box do you check? >> i check white. >> you check white? >> yep. so that i can avoid any troubles with getting into college. i am applying for theater. >> she fears checking black could mess up her chances of
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acceptance. >> you have an image in your head and then when you meet me because i have to addition for the schools and you meet me and now they don't have any black girls, you know. >> 20 years from now what will you be? >> i want to say 20 years from now i will be like i am black, and people will be like, that's what's up. >> i am a firm believer in the ability to self identify. becka says she is black, and i would agree she is black. >> give me a positive about bi racial? >> maybe these girls get to help tkae solve these boxes. >> they have to say for themselves, they have to define what is beautiful and who is black and who is not by sharing images, by sharing stories, by sharing culture. >> the final workshop is all about sharing. >> write down ten things that
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identify you. write a group poem about the theme of what you have in common. >> black, ambitious. >> educated. >> i have bi racial, female, student, poet, short, musician, afro'd. >> it was like female, poet, black, and i am wondering how come i have to be the odd one out in this situation? i don't have to be the one out. it's like i can be like, yeah, i am black, too. >> we are the man go queens. >> we are the blossoms of the man go tree, the black woman, the beautiful black tree, the beautiful black woman. >> we are the mango tree. >> today she said i am a black
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woman. >> i asked her if she knew she just called her black woman? >> there was a huge smile. she said i did, and she hugged me and shook me a little bit, and it was pretty cool. >> it wasn't life altering, like i am from now on black. it helped open my mind up a lot, and i don't think it will completely, like, change everything. but it's a milestone for me. >> after poetry work shaup she makes a mad dash to choir performance. she is a soprano, a featured soloist. she sees herself as ambitious, talented. will there ever be a time when the world sees her only as that?


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