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April 13, 2007

Fading Black


Racial tensions have been in the news this week. Don Imus of CBS Radio was fired for his slurs against a women's college basketball team.  And the three Duke lacrosse players who were facing charges of sexually assaulting a black woman had their charges dismissed.

Jil Williams is a Chicago-based dentist who knows firsthand what it's like to live with race front and center in her life. Jil describes herself as a "brown-skinned black woman. " Her husband and children have even lighter skin. Despite their complexions, they still found themselves not fitting into an all-white neighborhood where they once lived.

Yet they've also experienced racism in less predictable places: within their own urban black community. Her daughter was born with blonde hair and blue eyes, and her son is often mistaken for someone from the Middle East. 

Jil tells Dick Gordon how difficult it is to feel unaccepted in both communities.

I thought it was because whites weren't use to seeing a different kind of black family. But then I realized that blacks also had lost touch with a different shade of black. All I want is for Americans to recognize us, as they did in the past.
-Jil Williams


Dick recently talked to Tim Brooks about his CD called "Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry," which won a Grammy this year as Best Historical Album. Tim pointed out that these recordings aren't simply archival. They had a huge impact on the musical landscape of their own day, including on the European composer, Antonin Dvorak. 

That program inspired Katarina Cerny to e-mail The Story:

When I was a child growing up in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 60s, my father sang Negro spirituals every night to me and my sister. Even though I did not understand the words, I (like Dvorak) loved the melodies. I always wondered why my father, who trained as an opera singer, was so drawn to the spirituals…
-Katarina Cerny

Katarina's father recorded himself singing some of his favorite spirituals before he died of cancer. Katarina talks to Dick about how much it means to her now to hear her father sing, and how the spirituals touched his heart.

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