The Fight For Black Media Ownership

I don't observe Kwanzaa, but I respect and appreciate its seven principles. I concede that in an age of antipathy, it is nice to see blacks in this country come together for such a celebration. Ujamaa, cooperative economics, strikes me as particularly powerful. Unfortunately, the idea that African Americans should contribute to our own economic uplift by supporting Black-owned businesses has not completely taken root.

In a recently published editorial on AOL's Black Voices, Alexis Stodghill asserts "Black Ownership Doesn't Matter in the Online Space: It's About Black Control Over Content." To illustrate her point, she details her experience working for two media companies which catered to the Black audiences but were not Black owned: (now owned by Radio One) and AOL Black Voices.

She writes about the "horrible" negative stigma attached to her first employer:

Many people at the time compared the launch of under a mostly-Asian management team to the stereotyped situation of "the Koreans who own the corner store in a black neighborhood." That kind of horrible statement makes you wonder: what group might also have some race issues?

With this statement, the author willfully ignores the continued exclusion of Blacks from media ownership on and offline and the historic commodification of Black culture. Yes, African-Americans do have some "race issues" because we've seen how rich our words, images, and music have made everyone but us. And promoting the same pattern of cultural appropriation in the digital space can do nothing but harm.

Most disconcerting is Stodghill's pointing to Media Takeout, World Star Hip Hop and BET as reasons why non-black ownership may be better for Black people.

I think we can have more black-owned Web sites, and I don't knock the black-run Internet entities that are a success like Bossip and Media Takeout. But when you look at the type of content produced by some of the top black sites (I'm looking at you World Star Hip-Hop) -- it almost makes you consider black ownership a bad thing.

That's interesting. I've yet to hear anyone cite Perez Hilton as a reason why Latinos or homosexuals shouldn't be media owners. Or heard the same racialized concerns of countless other repulsively misogynistic and hate-filled blogs or TV channels owned by White men.

It's unfortunate that the most trafficked Black blogs are entertainment/ignorance focused, but to ignore the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of quality Black-owned media outlets is an egregious oversight.

So Ms. Stodghill may be right to ask

Are we sometimes the first in line to sell our people out?

We are often the first to sell each other short in defense of the status quo. You may be happy with the way things have always been, but that does not make it best for "our people."

I'm most concerned that these types of statements embolden the conservatives who would have us do away completely with initiatives and legislation that provide support and funding for would be minority media owners.

In 2007, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called the rapidly declining presence of minority media owners a "national disgrace." Even still we continue to backslide in the arena of broadcast media.

And now that consolidation has become standard practice in the digital realm, independent online publishers face a new crisis in trying to stay afloat.

Ownership matters. It matters in hiring. It matters in outreach, and it certainly matters in content.

There simply are not enough Black and Brown faces calling the shots, and this will not change until we abandon the labor mentality and adopt one of ownership.

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Kimberly Foster (@kimberlynfoster) is the Editor-in-Chief of For Harriet.

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