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Where’s Africana? The End of Black Online Independence

Africana.com the online news and educational website aimed at people of color recently merged and was subsequently subsumed by AOL Time Warner becoming a part of AOL’s Black Voices channel. Earlier this year the premiere African American magazine for black women Essence was bought out by Time Warner.

These examples of two well known black publications being bought by white owned corporate conglomerates present a problem for the independence of black media. These along with the selling of BET to Viacom a few years back leaves very few places where we can control our image in the media dominated by negative images of black people. The Internet as a media should be a place where black people can control the news, the image and the perception but that is compromised when the ownership of the content changes. How radical can these publications be? Can they speak to corporate abuse and mistreatment of minorities? Can they criticize hiring patterns and speak out against employment discrimination?

Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise, said that before selling to Time Warner, the owners of Essence magazine should have allowed Blacks companies to make an offer to purchase the company. Black owned corporations like Radio One could have been a great partner in the growth of Essence. But this mindset is the reason why we as a group do not succeed. We do not look to each other for growth and opportunity as other ethnic groups have in the past and present. Robert Johnson sells BET to media giant Viacom but not a possible consortium of African American business and media giants like Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Russell Simmons and Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs.

Websites that are not white owned and or owned and controlled by the giant corporate media allows alternative views to what is commonly fed and repetitively forced or brainwashed into the American psyche by other news-entertainment companies such as Viacom (CBS, MTV et al.) Disney (ABC, ESPN, et al.) AOL Time Warner (CNN et al.) GE (NBC), News Corporation (FOX, DirectTV). Thus the issue over white ownership of African American content is not a difficult one, it is about who controls the perception, who controls what African Americans look like, what type of content is fed akin to information control.

Being free online is about allowing the free flow of thought unfiltered by an overseer. Africana.com was co-founded in January 1999 by Harvard University educators Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah, along with Harry M. Lasker III, to enhance educational and economic opportunities for blacks in America and around the world. However now instead of exploring black academia, black thought and culture what we have now is the black version on US Weekly or Entertainment Tonight, discussions about spring wardrobe and celebrity gossip not exactly the mission of Africana. But rest assured web audience you still have a place for independent black political thought. And I don’t think as Dave Chappelle says, they are going to come take me away anytime soon. (BlackState.com March 2005)