I have waited for about 15 years for someone to post this!
So much has changed in the 20 years since I wrote about now-known-as “legacy media” Black Entertainment Television, Radio One, 1190 WLIB-AM and WABC-TV’s Like It Is! Turns out the “new Black media” I ballayhooed in my very-flawed doctoral dissertation back then was waaaay premature! Nowadays, my study seems more like the “last Black mass media” story, not a “new media” story. After all, the Web was under 10 years old when I graduated and Web 2.0 was just on the horizon.
(The jury might still be out on whether my promoted ideological perspective [Black media has two prongs: it fights white hegemony and reinforces Black/African spirituality] and formula have current value, but since individuals can do what they want to do now, based on their own (grounded) theories and phenemological-based values, those might be equally obselete. Shhh! Don’t tell my Seton Hall University “Mass Media and Minorities” students this! LOL! )
From my vantage point, the de-massified media world we live in now comes from a combo of cheap-to-free tech, increased corporate hegemony and, frankly, the need and want of individual or collective championing or branding, depending on ones’ perspective and/or agenda. The three factors combined can be admittedly dangerous, but I wanna see the content first before I judge.
(Between the development of these new digital networks, and the great series and book on the digital transformations of Black journalism, all happening within the last two years, I definitely feel like a scholarly and journalistic dinosaur. And perhaps that description’s accurate: Hell, my professional 2021-onward goal is still to write something as good as Gay Talese’s now 55-year-old Esquire narrative classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” or James Baldwin’s 60-year-old Harper’s feature “The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King,” articles only a little older than me! That shows you where I’m at! LOL!)
The loose, unresearched chronology I have seen and now see:
1970-1980s: Black people created grassroots and/or national newspapers and syndicated print columns in Black newspapers, public-affairs shows and syndicated radio commentaries (and BET, which, it can be argued, comes out of both Black radio’s tradition and its white hegemonic corporate conglomeration, beginning roughly in the mid-1970s).
1980s-1990s: Black people created a) print magazines, then b) syndicated radio shows, then c) websites.
2000-present: Black people attempted all of the above, and then added radio and TV networks (Cathy Hughes’ TV One being the most prominent). Then website TV and podcasting, micro-blogging (FB and Twitter), social media TV and podcasting, and now, thanks to YouTube’s and now Zoom’s, and Crowdcast’s, etc., tested viability, the new era (and this time I think I’m right :)) of Black people creating their own BETs!
In my view, this chronology exists because of two reasons: the tech to produce and distribute became cheap or free and corporate America stepping to get every market they can.
It’s a golden era, really. As long as everything is archived and everyone is to the left of Larry Elder ;), I’m fine with it!
As 1968 draws to a close for the second time, I have only passing thoughts to add to the word avalanche.
- Will Credit-Card Biden really fulfill the abandoned visions of pre-Vietnam Lyndon B. Johnson and the economic-bill-of-rights Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Although I would not suggest anyone hold their breaths, Pooh’s head would hurt to see so many re-thinkings in America.
- My friend Jared Ball’s new book, The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power (now free for The People!) breaks so many patterns of thought, pushing away from the mythical “buying power” and toward economic redistribution. It has to be part of the Black discussions on how to approach that redistribution. An excerpt: “What magnifies the impact of buying power claims is that they are largely promoted by, and even the product of, a Black commercial press who would transform the original concept into one designed to specifically target Black audiences. Beginning with John H. Johnson and carried throughout commercial media to today via the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Target Market News, through popular journalists, academics and media personalities such as Tavis Smiley, Tom Joyner, and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and also traditional Civil Rights organizations, including the Urban League and the NAACP, the myth has been propagated for two primary reasons. First—less known and garnering far less attention in the overall conversation—is that buying power is used as a means to attract advertising revenue by convincing White corporations of the potential of the Black consumer. Second, for so heavily propagating the myth—far more popular and far more mythological—is as a means of collective uplift or empowerment. Buying power largely then becomes a way for contemporary leadership or punditry to rebrand particular and far more conservative traditions of Black political struggle absent a meaningful examination of the history of these claims, their shortcomings, or criticism.”
- Smiley, Joyner, and Malveaux have faded from the scene, but replaced by an army of Black liberals, ready for their 8-minute MSNBC segments. There is not one conversation on American “justice” since James Baldwin died that doesn’t lead to liberal democracy and capitalism.
- What ideas from 19th and 20th century America are going to join those Confederate statues into history’s dumpster? This period seems so exciting, but Black radical anger has quickly faded before. At least we will have a real March on Washington this time.
To be alive is the most extraordinary thing there is. To be Black and alive is to be stalked by danger. To be Black, alive and daring to love is to court that danger. To be Black, alive, in love and fighting for freedom is the most powerful danger to be in. This is what Barry Jenkins understands from James Baldwin, and he delivers, in picture, word and tone. A melancholy masterpiece.
I celebrated my birthday six days early by going to the movies. Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro” and Jamal Joseph’s “Chapter and Verse” were on the Black indie bill.
Peck is my kind of Black artist. All I really know about him is that he made “Sometimes in April,” “Lumumba” and now this. For me, that’s enough. The Haitian filmmaker used the access he got from James Baldwin’s estate well: he was able to use the outline of one of the writer’s unfinished works, “Remember This House.” Using that piece was an interesting choice, because it meant that the film was not about Baldwin, but about that outline’s subjects: Medgar, Martin and Malcolm. Peck takes that outline and Baldwin’s many recorded interviews and speeches as a base and, with the help of narrator Samuel L. Jackson, seamlessly expands into the essayist’s seemingly entire body of work. America and its mythologies are explained in ways that, yes, cliché though it sounds, are still relevant today. (His and Peck’s quick, time-travel dismissal [sort of] of the Obama years was amazingly well-done; in 40 years, Baldwin scoffs, mocking Bobby Kennedy, “if you’re good, you can be president.” And the Obamas flashed on the screen, symbolic of the instant they occupied, before the film returns to the struggle.) Peck, in full control of his “missing” Baldwin (audio)book, shuttles back-and-forth in time so smoothly that, for an instant, the viewer is confused which period she inhabits; a black-and-white Trayvon Martin fits well into the historic flow. For a writer who used the words “frightening” and “terrified” so much, Baldwin was actually quite fearless. He could say that whites acted like monsters, like he does here, and somehow can get away with that. I miss that level of courage in Black people today. Peck, who succeeds in salvaging and presenting that heroism, pushing it into the Trump Era, has the kind of intellectual clarity that Baldwin would appreciate.
I guess Joseph would wince and give me the side-eye if I said “Chapter and Verse” was (just) “Boyz ‘n’ the Hood” for the millennial generation, starring a new-jack Socrates Fortlow. But that’s what it is, and there is nothing wrong with that. Joseph wants the entire Black community to be his audience, so he has something for everyone: for youngsters who crave ‘Hood violence, check; older people who will identify with Loretta Devine, who anchors this film, check; images of historic Black leaders in the background (are they sad angels, witnessing the 21st century Black dysfunction?) for the “conscious” filmgoer who knows he’s watching a film about Harlem done by a Black Panther, check. It’s the sum of its parts, no more and no less. And that’s far from a crime. It’s ambitious only in its theme that the survival of the many takes real planning and real sacrifice by the few.