As an historical entity, the Black press has not only offered critical commentaries and political critiques of the sempiternal racism of the modern world, but correctives as to how white newspapers, opinion-makers, legislators, and most importantly the white public sought to justify their complacency towards and support for anti-Black racism and the sexual brutalization of Black men, women, and children. Today, however, the post-Obama lullabies of racial détente and the progressive liberal passivity of Black intellectuals have allowed the structural and ideological manifestations of white supremacy to remain unquestioned despite their persistence alongside the growing realities of Black death. For example, when Trayvon Martin was killed, Melissa Harris Perry thought it prudent to use the tragedy as a moment to teach white folks “how to talk about Black death”—she literally created a checklist for whites rather than deal with the horrors facing young Black men and boys in their communities.
Currently, the post-racial idea has contoured Black news into a narrow politically progressive ideology. This ideology is thematically geared towards convincing the Black public that the symbols of racial progress are in fact actual progress. This contest over “symbols,” rather than exposing the propaganda of the liberal endeavor, allows Black academics to retreat into their own ideologically predetermined blog’s rendering of “Black” events, so that their views, be it feminist, leftist, or progressive, are legitimized. Meanwhile, the Black public remains victimized by the political interests of multiple entities; each with their agenda rooted in de-radicalizing Black consensus and normalizing Black deaths, specifically the death of Black men, as having nothing to do with racism, merely accidental rather than systemic. As I have argued previously, Black academics and news personalities are rewarded for pimping out “the delusion of hope” to Black people while racism increases alongside the normalization of their death, incarceration, and poverty.
Has the Black Press Lost Its Way?
Since slavery, Black abolitionists, ministers, and revolutionaries understood the need for “Black perspectives,” on the racist evil that plagues America. The Christian theology that justified the horrors of slavery was indicted, and the white Christian, the earliest imperialist, was not held to be the savior of civilization but its greatest detractor whose abuse and degradation of Blacks was rooted in their imperial lust for power and profit. As David Walker says in Article I of The Appeal
“I have been for years troubling the pages of historians, to find out what our fathers have done to the white Christians of America, to merit such condign punishment as they have inflicted on them, and do continue to inflict on us their children. But I must aver, that my researches have hitherto been to no effect. I have therefore, come to the immoveable conclusion, that they (Americans) have, and do continue to punish us for nothing else, but for enriching them and their country. For I cannot conceive of anything else”
With the rise of Freedom’s Journal, the Black press took on the radical mission of liberation that up to that point was confined to pamphlets, and the now revered slave narrative. The Black press, its editors and writers, were among the most notable Black thinkers of the 1800’s and beyond. T.Thomas Fortune’s (1856-1928) The New York Age was the training ground for no less an intellectual than W.E.B. DuBois. It was a publication where Fortune’s radicalism which advocated for Black self-determination and security, even by armed resistance if necessary, was center stage. It not only gained him notoriety among Black journalists but earned him the admiration of the young Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) who would continue to develop his political philosophy of agitation and help build the first civil rights organization for Black rights; the Afro-American League. This radicality was present in most of the Black journalists at the turn of the century. Henry McNeal Turner and John Edward Bruce exemplified a political tone that was only matched by the radicality of the 1960’s and 1970’s in the founding and growth of the Black Panther Party and the journalistic accounts of the Black Power Movement. As my student, Ms. Judith Bohr, points out in her master’s thesis “A People’s History of Philosophy: The Development and Ideological Segregation of Black Nationalism,” the violence against Blacks in society, be it at the hands of police state militarism or the prison industrial complex, necessitates a compliant and complacent account of reality. As she states,
“The media assists in this erasure of police violence through their portrayals of African Americans as a danger to society…Whites’ fear, however, is for their privilege and not for their safety…Propaganda in the media functions through erasure and through distortions of the state’s as well as the public’s motivations for racial violence” (Bohr 2011, 30).
Thus, the de-radicalization of Black news and the complacency of the Black journalistic endeavor—its commodification into predetermined categories, that ironically have academic currency despite being driven by political interests—does little to inform, much less improve, the conditions of Black people. The silence of mainstream Black news on the systemic political and economic divisions, divisions made necessary by the militaristic racist endeavors of the U.S. government, even under a Black Obama administration, is imperative in preventing the Black public from engaging the concrete American condition confronting Blacks, immigrants, and the poor.
Most recently, SiriusXM decided to change Sirius 128—The Power to urban driven entertainment programming under the new title of the Urban View. In doing so SiriusXM eliminated ReddingNewsReview, an independent Black political commentary dedicated to exposing the contradiction between Black political representation in the Obama era and Black political exploitation under Obama’s administration. The change in the lineup effectively changed the Power 128 from the “News and Issues” category to the Urban View 110 a “African American Talk and Entertainment” channel. Reacting to this change, Wade Simmon wrote a splendid editorial asking, “Is SiriusXM Trying to Undermine Black Power?” The effect of this censorship could be isolated, but it again begs the question as to why independent Black radio and press that dares to question the status quo of America’s race problem is so easily engulfed by liberal reformist agendas that take Obama’s symbolism to be of more importance than the actual economic and political viability of mass Black agendas.
Despite the criticisms one may make of Redding, the reality is that Black Americans lack a non-partisan interpretation of the Black condition that does not retreat into the ideologies of the blogosphere, where select academics, married to predetermined paradigms of reading Blackness, meet and greet. The Black public is usually deemed irrelevant in these deliberations from the outset. They are to be “spoken about” authoritatively, but rarely “spoken from,” since these Black people are outside the academy, and lack the supposed knowledge/education to “understand” the complexities of Black life. Independent Black radio, reaching back to the Ralph “Petey” Greene and radicals like Robert F. Williams, sought transgressive messages against empire and racism. Whereas today, many Black elites, the Melissa Harris Perrys of the world, confine discussions of racism to their specific opportunities to gain social capital and recognition from whites; choosing to ignore both the material consequences of the liberal agenda for Black people at home and its militaristic program against darker peoples abroad. ReddingNewsReview, like that of Voxunion, sought to disrupt that narrative.
The same way Ida B. Wells-Barnett decided to report the horrors of Black reality, anti-Black violence through lynching, and the weakness of Black leadership in the 1890’s, so too did Redding in the 21st century. At the very bottom of Black politics, there is a need to recognize that the manipulation of Black media—the Black press and radio—to further the political agendas and social legitimacy of specific parties, namely the democratic party’s claim that they represent the Black/Browning of America, does nothing to arrest the imperial agendas this presidency like all presidencies before it continue to engage in the world over. As Dr. Jared Ball argues in his talk on “Colonialism and Media Psychological Warfare,” media, or rather propaganda, is at the heart of America’s white supremacist empire.
Race-crits, critical sociologists, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous scholars cannot continue to embrace the symbolism of progress without making those symbols resonate with the actual economic, political, and extra-legal conditions of Black existence. There is a very real contradiction between the symbolism of Obama’s reign and the worsening plight of Blacks under Obama’s reign. Rather than being at odds with the type of progressivism that perpetuates the poverty, the apparati of state sponsored violence, and social repression, the Black press has taken to excusing it—pointing out the extraordinary cases of violence that shock us most, but leaving the racist narrative written into the foundation of America’s democracy, militarism, imperialism, and capitalist lust untouched.
This is an important post and for me especially that Dr. Curry points to the radical Black Press past in the likes of David Walker, Ida B. Well, Freedom’s Journal etc.
He did miss the always informative (fiery) Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder & editor of the Chicago Defender.
Once you eliminate those Black organs that have closed, there is not much left of this radical past and to pull in the African American intellectuals who have a platform with the so-called “white media” and trounce on them is quite tricky.
One does not have to agree with today’s Black talking heads such as Professor Melissa Harris Perry, but they do not own and control that places where they work and to lump them in with the radical Black press and acuse them of not carrying on the tradition of that social movement is a very complex argument that can’t be made herein in such limited space.
This reader would like to know, exactly, what Professor Curry includes in his listing of the Black Press in light of the fact that so many of these outlets have closed and / or have been sold to Whites.
Thanks for reading Earl, and I don’t really have a great reasons for overlooking the Chicago Defender especially given Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s publications and activism in the Chi’.
My point is not to simply “lump” Melissa Harris Perry into the “non-radicals,” but to simply provide at least one example of how the liberal/progressive message continues to interpret Black tragedies for the white public, without first and primarily attending to the lost and fear such actions bring to Black communities and young Black boys. Though your point is taken.
To be honest, most of the “news” I read Voxunion, ReddingNewsReview, and I check out the root and the grio from time to time, but again am not sure I support the ideologies used to decide specific focuses.
You are not going to find a “Black owned and operated” mainstream news venue so I try to sample the perspectives of multiple fronts radio personalities/academics and Black activists.
Peace, Brother Tommy.
Important topic. Agree with the basic premise that too many Black writers seem to be more content with defending Obama than with demanding justice for Black people and challenging the structures of white supremacy. Some of your details were a bit unclear for me. I think your target is journalists and the Black press but at other times you mention scholars and academics, yet you seem to mush them all together as if they are interchangeable. These categories aren’t identical so I think it would be important to flesh out those details more carefully. Perry, of course, is both a scholar and is now employed by a major network but all journalists are not academics. Also, Perry is certainly Black but I’m not certain if she should be counted as part of the “Black press” given that she is employed by a white corporation. The generalized corporate takeover of media outlets makes it really important that we develop, seek out and support and truly independent Black media at home and abroad. Last, while I agree that Black radical voices like David Walker are a vital and long-standing tradition carried forth today by Tommy Curry, Jared Ball, Jemima Pierre, Imani Pierre, Jaha Issa, Bruce Dixon and many others, its also true that there have, for centuries, been moderate and status-quo Black thinkers and activists. kzs (kwame zulu shabazz)
Thank you so much for your comment. I think you are correct. When I initially conceptualized the piece I was speaking to the enterprise of the Black press which I see as being dominated by Black progressive academics and liberal/progressive news personalities. I should have taken more time to articulate my description of the Black press as I conceptualized it.
I think MHP like Tavis Smiley represent very specific articulations of Black concern. They become false idols in many ways. This is one reason I think Cornel West and his alliance with Smiley over poverty continues to be represented/ visible in the “Black press” with their push for the class unity agenda, since this is within the purview of American democratic sensibility, while remaining silent on the white supremacist racist foundation of the same democratic sensibility, as the focus on racism would alienate liberal whites.
As you say “The generalized corporate takeover of media outlets makes it really important that we develop, seek out and support and truly independent Black media at home and abroad,” I agree wholeheartedly, and believe that the MHPs of the world are part of the effort to further coopt Black political thinking through the symbolic inculcation of liberalism and neo-liberal accounts of social organization.
Thank you for the comment.