“You’re too light-skinned.” Those were the words Soledad O’Brien once heard from a producer while interviewing for the one position open for African Americans.
by Brittany V. Fitzpatrick
Special to the Tri-State Defender
Soledad O’Brien, second from right, was the center of attention during a visit to the University of Memphis on Wednesday night. (Photos by Earl Stanback)
Those were the words Soledad O’Brien once heard from a producer while interviewing for the one position open for African Americans.
She recounted her journey from the girl who started out removing staples from the bulletin boards at a local news station to a famous, award- winning journalist at the University of Memphis’ Rose Theater Wednesday night.
Her speech centered on the topic of leadership and resilience to accompany the school’s Black History Month celebration “Not Broken” theme.
As a multicultural woman, race has had a significant impact on O’Brien’s life.
Her mother, who is black and Cuban, and her father, who is white and Australian, married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, during a time when interracial marriages where illegal in their home state of Maryland.
According to O’Brien, they were told not to have kids, because “interracial kids would not be able to find a place in the world.”
Five kids later, María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien came into the world. From the beginning, she said her parents taught her to “minimize external voices,” and not to let anyone define her.
Discussing race relations today, O’Brien believes that racism has just become “more insidious.”
“Ultimately I think it’s about bringing real and tangible change. Real racial reconciliation means having those conversations people don’t want to have,” she said.
O’Brien encountered many obstacles trying to break into the business, even being told to change her last name. She refused.
She learned from her parents’ example to ignore the opinions of others and to go with her gut.
Inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she now views her success as an opportunity to effect change.
Borrowing a quote from “Dante’s Inferno,” she said, with thunder booming through the auditorium, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintained their neutrality.”