CNN anchor gives lecture about the portrayal of race in the media
O’Brien’s speech was the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture, which is sponsored by the Association of Black Students (ABS).
In her remarks, O’Brien addressed her personal experience with racism in America, both personally and as a journalist, and stressed the collective responsibility that Americans have to bring racial reconciliation to modern society.
She spoke about the power she has as a journalist to capture and give a voice to the marginalized stories of all Americans.
“For me, the opportunity to tell these stories is really the opportunity to remind us of our shared humanity. My goal has been to capture that humanity in stories, and hopefully teach people that diversity isn’t really about difference, but really, diversity is kind of about what we share, what we all do in our own different ways,” she said.
O’Brien shared her personal history with the audience, recounting stories about her meager beginnings in the journalism industry after dropping out of Harvard. She later returned to Harvard to complete her degree.
She continued with stories about jobs interviews for positions that she was rejected from for vague racial reasons and spoke about how her parents taught their six children to stand up for what they believed in.
“The bigger lesson for me and my sisters and my brothers was really about envisioning a life as you felt it should be lived, minimizing external voices and having a certain bravery about how you lived and then kind of tuning everybody else out,” she said.
Despite great strides, O’Brien argued, racism and segregation still have a strong presence in America, especially among populations of children, where minorities are growing at the fastest rates.
According to O’Brien, the key to addressing racial issues is embracing commonality.
“We know that segregation exists today in schools; we know that segregation exists today in our churches; we know that segregation exists today in our housing. And why does it matter? Because we’re never going to be able to come together to solve the problems that affect us as a community together if we don’t receive these problems together,” she said. “If we see ourselves as separate and different and unequal, we will never come together to solve these problems.”
In addition to speaking about the power and responsibility she has as a journalist, O’Brien went on to address the responsibility that all people have to work toward racial reconciliation.
“If you can capture these stories accurately and fairly, then you have incredible power to tell that story well. And ultimately, for me, I think it’s about bringing real and tangible change and real racial reconciliation, because it’s going to require some of those hard conversations that people don’t really want to have and genuine leadership by people who really do want the solution,” O’Brien said.
She spoke of the long road to racial reconciliation in America, but stressed the importance of forging on, despite challenges and adversity.
“We have made some steps forward, but we are not a post-racial America,” O’Brien said. “It does not exist today, and we are not close to it today. And to get there, we all have to decide that we are going to, in a shared fashion, move forward and take responsibility for conversations that bring us closer to racial reconciliation.”
The speech was followed by a question-and-answer session and later by a reception and book signing in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge.