Black is the New Black in the Media

Black is the New Black in the Media

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 After months and months of immigration-focused, Arizona-focused, mid-term election-focused, Lindsay Lohan-focused, World Cup-focused and BP-focused news coverage, mainstream newspapers and the broadcast and cable networks, apparently, have rediscovered Black people.

Seriously … it seems as though we really are "back." Not necessarily "back" in a positive way yet, but clearly “back.”

A few weeks ago, the media were convinced that it was "impossible" for a largely unknown, reportedly incompetent, virtually homeless, 32 year-old Black man named Alvin Greene to have actually won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary election in South Carolina.

This past week, however, the same skeptical media outlets had to admit that Green actually had amassed a 13-year history of service in the U.S. military, including the South Carolina Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force, the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army.

Then they reluctantly had to report, much to their chagrin, that he actually holds a degree – in political science, no less — from the University of South Carolina.

Probably most damaging to the convenient and irresponsibly biased case they had built was the discovery that Alvin Greene really does have all the appropriate records to prove that the $10,400 primary election filing fee they believed he absolutely did not have was paid for with his own money, from his own bank account, from his own savings.

All of a sudden, the Alvin Greene story didn’t seem to have the same kind of appeal for our friends in mainstream media, and the histrionics and knee-jerk negativism — even, and especially, on the part of Black reporters/pundits at mainstream cable outlets and on radio (you know who you are, Don Lemon, Roland Martin and Tom Joyner) — appeared last week to lose steam.

Next came the round-the-clock showings of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) videos and the charges that Eric Holder, the nation’s first Black attorney general, had been reluctant to prosecute the NBPP for “intimidation” of white voters at a polling place, at 1221 Fairmount Ave., right here in North Central Philadelphia.

Actually, it was the Bush Justice Department headed by Alberto Gonzalez that declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence.

I must admit that I don’t know the New Black Panther Party very well. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that I have always understood their motivation when they’ve shown up at rallies and demonstrations focused on jobs, economic development and housing issues for Black people.

At the same time, I'm finding it hard to believe that those two men, one of whom, it turns out, was an elected Democratic Party committeeman, went to a North Central Philadelphia polling place, situated on the first floor of an overwhelmingly Black-populated senior center to intimidate white voters.

It seems that if that was, in fact, their purpose, if they really wanted to find white voters to intimidate, the NBPP could have found a great number of such voters a lot more easily at polling places in parts of South Philly, in the Greater Northeast, in Center City, in Manayunk, Chestnut Hill or in the river wards.

I mean … if that’s what they really wanted to do…

Then there was the story that the NAACP at its national convention had passed a resolution condemning the fiscally and socially conservative Tea Party organization for condoning racist membership and activities. That move, by a national civil rights organization that until recently had been very reluctant to address Black-specific issues and that has been even more reluctant to ask the president of the United States to do so, came out of left field.

So surprising was this announcement, in fact, that people wondered if the public condemnation was really a product of the NAACP’s own agenda or whether it was a project assigned to them by the “recently-interested-in-retaining-Black-votes” Obama communications team. Didn't poor Ben Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, look as though he was reading someone else's words that day?

Deep down inside, I’d like to believe that the NAACP’s own rank-and-file members finally grew tired of the racial ambivalence of its national leaders, and that they really were the ones who forced that “Tea Party move." But then I remembered that Jealous’ friend, Barack Obama, opted not to personally attend the NAACP’s national convention this year, and received no public “pushback” about that decision from the organization, or from Jealous himself.

Hey, maybe Ben Jealous woke up last week and realized that there still needs to be a national advocacy organization for Black-specific interests after all – especially given the fact that all of the other “colored people,” or “people of color,” already have such a group of their own, and maybe he decided to make the NAACP relevant and productive, again for African Americans.

We’ll see.

Finally, just when I was convinced that we couldn’t possibly see another single national Black-focused news story for at least another six months – bam!--the Census Bureau issues its “Preliminary Estimates of Business Ownership by Gender, Ethnicity, Race and Veterans Status, 2007."

Predictably, they put the usual “significant minority growth rate” spin on the survey results. Consequently, most news coverage led with items such as the fact that the number of Black businesses grew from about 1.2 million to about 1.9 million (60.5 percent), over the five-year period.

If you'll recall, the same kind of upbeat news releases accompanied distribution of the 2002 data, the last time the survey was done.

Just like the 2002 report, however, those headlines painted a grossly misleading, overly optimistic picture of Black participation in the overall economy.

For example, even though Black-owned firms constituted 7 percent of all U.S. businesses, only 5.5 percent of those businesses (106,779) have any employees at all, and the 1,815,128 Black firms without employees (94.5 percent of them) generated average gross receipts in 2007 of just $21,271.

In addition, even though the sales receipts by African-American-owned businesses did increase, from $89 billion to $137 billion over the five-year-period, that total still represents less than one-half of one percent (.45 percent) of the $30.2 trillion in sales generated by all publicly-and privately-held businesses in the U.S., in 2007.

Also disturbing is the fact that, over the five-year period, the average annual sales receipts of Black-owned firms actually decreased, from $74,000 in 2002, to $71,000 in 2007.

To make matters worse, many believe that in far too many cases, the growth in Black business start-ups isn't necessarily a reflection of people with a solid business plan and a burning desire to "run their own show." Rather, more and more they are simply people who have been laid off, who can't find work and who have turned to printing their own business cards as a last resort.

Also noteworthy is the fact that these most recent Census data were compiled during what was arguably the most robust U.S. economy in modern history. Those conditions absolutely no longer exist.

In fact, David Hinson, director of the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency, commenting to a Washington Post reporter, predicted an increase in bankruptcies and failures for minority firms, especially those run by African Americans, if special, preventive steps aren't taken soon.

There is no question that whatever steps we decide to take, we should certainly include an effort to concentrate more of the Black America's annual $900 billion in spending power within our own community, as the Asians and Hispanics already do so well. Perhaps, that's why, with nearly 400,000 fewer firms than Blacks, the Asian business community is able to generate nearly four times as much annual revenue ($513 billion vs. $137 billion).

Whew! Once, again, there's work to be done.

Before I get started, again, however, I'm going to take a little break.

I'm learning that a man can only stand so much national, Black-focused news during a single week--especially when it's not all good.