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Taj Frazier: An Evolving Media Environment Open To Black Republicans, Crunk Feminist Collectives And Many Others

[I recently asked these four questions. Below is one reply, from Taj Frazier. Please join the conversation either by tweeting @Digital_Du_Bois or by leaving a comment at the bottom of this or any other post on]

In his last decade, Du Bois conveyed an extreme frustration with the state of American dominant media. He argued that by way of “suppression of truth, omission of facts, misinterpretation of news, and deliberate falsehood on a wide scale,” media institutions misled the American public and cultivated a media environment monopolized by private corporations and political dole. “Mass capitalistic control of books and periodicals, news gathering and distribution, radio, cinema,” he asserted, “den[ied] knowledge of truth to the average man” and rendered “democratic government nearly impossible.” These shifts were producing an American public “with no opinions…not prescribed by the gospel, according to Life, Time, and Fortune.”

Du Bois maintained that this media landscape alongside the increasing power of American big business, and Americans’ adherence to discourses of American exceptionalism and US globalism abroad was vanquishing the radical politics of black cultural production and political critique. The defense of black Americans’ civil and more importantly human rights required a global outlook and a commitment to ensuring both social and economic justice. But Du Bois added that this could only come through the development of a global proletariat movement led by the “darker races of the world,” a collective body that came to embody Du Bois’s historical materialist, Third World, “global model of race. In this formulation, people of Asian and African descent were encouraged “to close ranks against” into “Pan-Colored” partnership.   

Considering this argument from a contemporary view compels an investigator to rethink what the call for a “pan-colored partnership” and more robust, global black public sphere might mean in an age of digital technologies, the Internet, and social media. Du Bois’ “pan-colored” proposal brings into question what is meant by “black issues”? For instance, does this mean only issues that impact bodies identified as black? Over the past two decades, as black Americans have become an ever more active and knowledgeable demographic within the use of the aforementioned communication technologies the intellectual spaces of past media formations of the black public sphere have experienced vast change. Numerous black sites and sources of information and exchange are now dominantly reliant on multinational capital for outreach, finance, and distribution—an industry model that to some extent clashes with past generation black media’s goals of autonomy, self-reliance, self-determination, and public service and which suggests that increasing numbers of these media sources are not black owned.

As various scholars have noted, black production, adaptation, and usage of Internet technology alone have nonetheless led to a boom in numerous black virtual communities, communal spaces organized along more plural axis of membership and what blackness constitutes. What emerges is an evolving media environment open to different formations of race, gender, and class, where black Republicans, diasporic hip hop activists and journalists, black baby boomer bloggers, Crunk feminist collectives, Afro-punk musicians and fans, radical black political standpoints, and scholars and writers interested in the intersection of race and media, and others can be in dialogue and can engage in grassroots and international organizing. Also significant is that these spaces are organized around what Anna Everett describes as the “technological hybridization of speech or orality (conversation) and literacy (writing),” as well as visuality and sonic aesthetics, where neither is privileged over the other but rather operates through aesthetical fusion. Through this system, black users and producers, she explains, build on “various traditions of black technocultural syncretisms.” 

Moreover, Du Bois’ “pan-colored” push for a transnational geopolitics of race suggests a landscape of information and knowledge where black Americans are concerned about world relations, that is to say where they view the global terrain as composed of collectives whose problems are not disconnected but rather interrelated and shared. It is the cultivation of a global praxis, namely a politics and critical consciousness grounded in developing an evolving analysis and engagement of the interaction and imbrications of the local and the global. Despite corporate domination and expansion of this evolving digital and social media landscape, the aforementioned contemporary examples are part of growing waves of efforts to demystify and diversify the racial and cultural landscape of digital media and engage the reality of a multicultural world. As Everett again notes, “Not only do national borders increasingly disappear in cyberspace, they are replaced by new kinship structures.”  But it is also important to interrogate the role the Internet’s participatory culture plays in enabling particular problematic ideas about race, racial difference, and the nation to proliferate and become widely accepted. As scholar Yuezhi Zhao notes, the Internet has played a leading role in “the reemergence of nationalistic consciousness” throughout the world. Critical reflection over how individuals and groups perform their national, racial, gender and class identities online can thus produce more meaningful opportunities to unpack how cybernationalism, racism, and hegemony are articulated and legitimized.

– Taj Frazier

Robeson Taj P. Frazier is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at USC Annenberg.  His research and teaching examine race, cross cultural exchange and traffic, social movements, and popular culture.

Essay References:

Anna Everett, “The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere,” Social Text, 71 (Volume 20, Number 2), Summer 2002, pp. 125-146.

Yuezhi Zhao. Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict. (Lanham: Maryland, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008).

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