“WE MUST SUPPORT THE BLACK PRESS”
By Lloyd Daniel (October 5, 2004)
The Black press is no joke. It’s no game. At a time when the Bill of Rights is being undone. At a time when millions of people, especially children, are going with out health care. At a time when our hard earned tax dollars are being wasted in foreign wars of aggression and occupation. At a time when hundreds of thousands of working families are slipping into or deeper into poverty. At a time when thieves and liars are being portrayed as legitimate leaders. At a time when there’s an ocean of young people who read even less than their parents. At a time when so much is going on, it would seem reasonable to recognize that among people of color in the media, there are many issues to be discussed and seriously debated. But not the petty and personalized concerns of recent public confrontations, the tenure of which only serves to entertain those who are amused by our fighting one another and only pleases those who are wary of the potential power of our unity.
All of us in the media stand on the shoulders of and owe a debt to the Black press people who came before us. The struggle that made it possible for there to be celebrities of color in the corporate media was led by a number of institutions. But none was more important than the Black press. When many of the most gifted, articulate, witty, eloquent, and degreed Black writers were only allowed to clean the floors of most of America’s newsrooms, the Black press employed them and published their articles, essays, commentaries, cartoons, poems, letters to the editor and a letter from a jail in Birmingham, and their obituaries.
One of the most important contributions of the Black press has been its consistent focus on issues of consequence to a diverse nation of Black Americans. In the mid-1800s, during the Civil War, the Black press boldly triumphed our willingness and encouraged Black men to engage in armed struggle to win our freedom, with front page banner headlines like “IT’S NOW OR NEVER!” and “WE MUST FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” Over 250,000 Black men identified with the message and heeded the call. Women also responded. One of the most noteworthy was Harriet Tubman who engaged in espionage, sabotage, against the Confederacy, and became the first woman in the United States to lead American combat forces into battle. In the 1930s and 40s, it criticized lynching and the politicians who refused to do the same. It supported unions, including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, America’s first Black union. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the Black press covered and advocated for the civil rights, student, anti-war, and Black power movements that were sweeping the nation.
Every observer has a bias. The question is what is their bias and are they prepared to admit it. The Black press has been biased in favor of justice for all. In each era most Black journalists dropped the phony, so-called “journalistic objectivity” that allows a journalist, to live in denial about whose side they’re really on. If it’s not the side of honesty, accuracy and truth, then it’s the wrong side. Because it was often a matter of life and death, they advocated for, and often collaborated with, those challenging the status quo. On occasion, I’ve had Black journalists candidly admit to me that, from their point of view, their personal interests far outweigh any interest they might have in working class people outside the use of them as a backdrop for their antics. This is not our tradition. In the 90s, the Black press and the Black independent websiters brought millions of men and women out to the Million Man and Million Woman Marches. Across the country, our communities still have real weaknesses and problems. But there are also real strengths and solutions. Those marches helped to accelerate and enhance many of the most positive aspects of our lives. We can look at the dramatic upsurge in voter registration, the creation of small businesses, the adoption of children, the gains of unions, especially in the service industry, and other assorted positive spin-offs and carryovers.
Popular attempts to make this country a better place to live are not over. It was a life and death struggle in the past, and it is now, especially for those with no public voice. But this is often easy to forget in the rarefied air of Mt. Celebrity. Black writers, including those who write and perform raps, must recognize our influence and power and use it within the context of our traditions to show leadership. There are profound realties and issues facing this country, facing Black people. Let’s respect and support Black writers, the Black press and other independent media outlets. As in the tradition, let us be known for standing on principle and heeding the call. In this spirit, let’s focus our energies on working to improve our craft and accepting our responsibility to tell the unvarnished truth.
Let’s make ourselves mouthpieces for the many. Let’s work together and make ourselves truly useful. Let’s be prepared to highlight and advocate for the community-based and mass movements that are in motion and building momentum today. Groups and organizations like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, TransAfrica, the Black Adoption Project, the United Negro College Fund, and the various new mentoring, skill development, job training and placement programs are all good investments and worth ink and footage. One of the best examples of one of the newer movements is the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and it’s stop the violence, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote efforts. If we need something to debate, let’s in our conversations and writings debate how we can best support an unfolding movement, primarily funded by Russell Simmons and largely coordinated by Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, that has already registered over 3 million people. Most of those being registered are first time voters. If well supported, this multi-ethnic movement, mainly made up of young adults that virtually no one is expecting to show up at the polls, could very well play a crucial swing vote role in several key states in the upcoming Presidential election and beyond. Let’s subscribe to, advertise in, and purchase Black media. Let’s be wise and act creatively, today, in the tradition. END
Editor’s Note: Lloyd Daniel is a writer, educator, and former member of Missouri’s House of Representatives. His website address is www.lloyddaniel.info