Soledad O’Brien brings a dialogue on race to Knight Theater

Journalist Soledad O’Brien says the discussion about race in America is one that never seems to end.

Charlotte will be one of her stops Tuesday on her “Black In America – Town Hall Tour” at the Knight Theater sponsored by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and PNC Bank.

“People say, ‘Aren’t we done talking about race?’ There are a lot of issues we’re still working through. I don’t think it will be ever be solved, but we can talk about it,” she says.

O’Brien, 47, comes to the discussion with an unusual racial and cultural pedigree. Her mother is Afro-Cuban, her father is Australian Irish, and she identifies as black. She grew up in an all-white suburb on Long Island.

“Back in that day, there was no mixed category. We were so not white. If your mom was black, you were black.” Dating white boys in high school? Never happened.

Her parents met in college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore but could not marry in Maryland because mixed marriages were illegal. They wed in nearby Washington in 1958.

Her mother, a Cuban native who taught French and English, did not teach her children Spanish. “She wanted her kids to blend in and not speak Spanish.” Now, a generation later, multi-ethnic defines many Americans, O’Brien says. “That is the definition of America today. America is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic. That’s only happened in 35 years.”

O’Brien’s presentation opens with a video about the state of race in the nation, some of it drawn from her CNN specials, “Black in America.” A panel discussion with audience input will follow.

A mini-controversy over the Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial, which showed citizens singing “America the Beautiful,” some in the tongue of their native lands, is a good example of why the dialogue should go on, says O’Brien.

“Though the two sides may never agree, you can make some ground in expressing your opinion, exploring the question of why does that irk some people? That’s a great example of helping people understand their visceral reaction to what America is.”