I started my writing career in the 70s and 80s. Those were the decades after the racial turmoil of the 50s and 60s.
Those preceding decades saw the fight for racial justice and civil rights reach a crescendo of protests with marches, sit-ins, sit-downs, boycotts, and other actions designed to reach the ear of an America long used to ignoring the cries of desperate and oppressed people.
As I’ve noted before, my writing career was inspired by the brilliant and brave protest writers of the 60s and 70s whose angry, but truthful voices, were finally demanding, not pleading, for America to live up to the promise of its much vaunted constitution.
They were ready for some freedom, justice, and equality as promised by Jefferson and the rest of the powdered wig crew who had formed a new nation nearly two centuries earlier.
For once, it seemed America was finally listening to the agonizing voices of Black Americans who had been begging and pleading for justice and equal opportunities for decades since manumission.
During the 60s and 70s, even the white media, long a thorn in the side of black progress, seemed to have boarded the righteous train to black deliverance. White newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and even broadcast news came riding in like the cavalry to chronicle the jarring story of the Civil Rights Movement.
The white media throughout American history had played an integral role in both the propagation and support of slavery through its active participation in promoting the slave trade. This was done through their publishing of slave advertisements as well as their overall support for black bondage.
The white media later continued their support for slavery by running ads for runaway slaves who had escaped the South to try for freedom in the North. This same support continued through the Jim Crow era when many white newspapers supported lynching, police brutality, black disenfranchisement, and other segregationist policies.
For decades after the end of slavery many white newspapers, especially those in the South, refused to afford Blacks any sense of dignity and humanity… refusing to refer to them as Mr. or Mrs., refusing to capitalize their names, using racist tropes and stereotypes, hyping up lynchings like they were just another sporting event.
For a brief period in time it seemed white media had finally gained a soul as it courageously reported on the Civil Rights Movement and the violent backlash to it by white mobs backed up by corrupt law enforcement officials. The unleashing of vicious police dogs and high-powered water cannons on peaceful protesters that included women and children was an atrocity not even white media could ignore.
Seeing the heads of peaceful protesters bloodied or innocent little Black girls blown up while attending Sunday school was a bridge too far for many Whites.
There was a new day of racial awareness dawning in America.
And, when young white Americans came from eastern cities to join Freedom Riders in the South and were brutalized and murdered with no distinction from the black souls they’d come to support, white media felt it had no choice but to intervene.
Sadly, this come-to-Jesus-moment wasn’t to last.
Though white media made a brief foray into truth telling and fairness by giving a voice to the many Black protest writers and activists that offered compassionate and powerful rebuttals to white violence and supremacy, soon they were back to their old ways.
The old ways included stereotyping Black people, ignoring the legitimate needs of black communities, playing up black lawlessness while downplaying white violence, soft pedaling police brutality, and censoring or ignoring the thoughts, opinions and ideas of Black writers who refused to accept the status quo.
By the 80s, even the era of blaxploitation films and literature had waned. Sweet Sweet Back, Shaft, Foxy Brown, Super Fly and the Mack had all faded into obscurity and Blacks were still seeking some real and lasting gains.
Most of the brilliant black writers of the 60s and 70s had also faded into obscurity by then. It was now easier to shave a grizzly bear that to prick the conscious of a nation now obsessed with the American Dream of materialism, individualism, and personal aggrandizement.
Blacks, too, were all in on this new goal. Many were sick and tired of being sick and tired. Others wanted that white picket fence and two-car garage far more than they wanted self-determination.
The sacrifices of those who had suffered for their salvation were largely forgotten.
Making a buck became the rallying cry. Bling-bling replaced self esteem. “Got to get mine” replaced “Black is Beautiful” and “Power to the People”. “Just do it” encouraged us to throw caution to the wind and jump sight unseen into a cesspool of greed and individualism. “Have it your way” served as a slap in the face of “united we stand” and encouraged selfishness.
This new mindset was the unfortunate bastard child of segregation and our new quest to prove we could be as white as White people.
By the 90s, aside from allowing a Black writer or two a year to be heard, the white media had essentially returned to the old days of media segregation.
Hundreds of articles have been written since the dawn of the 21st. century detailing the paucity of black writers, reporters, editors, and behind-the-scenes people in meaningful positions in white media. This exclusion includes all areas of white media. From newspapers to magazines. From television to the film industry.
In much of white media today Black voices are either being white- washed or censored.
It’s as if they feel we’ve reached some color blind society and they can now go back to their old ways.
But, of course, we know this isn’t the case. White supremacy and systemic racism still exist in all its virulent and destructive forms. Police brutality and voter repression continues unabated. Black Americans are still searching for that freedom, justice, and equality long promised , but never delivered.
When I began writing for a living in the 80s I found a place for my writings in both black and white media outlets. But over the ensuing years the market for truth dried up.
As Lorraine Hansberry wrote… like a raisin in the sun.
The attributes of a culture that had brought us through slavery, segregation, and unrelenting oppression and violence were mainly cast aside in pursuit of the holy grail of the American Dream.
While we can’t blame the white media solely for our perilous slide into consumerism and its accompanying pitfalls, we can certainly blame them for their relentless push of the material over the spiritual. Greed over altruism. Individualism over community.
Lies over truth.