The online ghetto

I began thinking about this by asking whether President Obama owes African-Americans any special attention.
My answer is yes. My solution is that he will focus on our issues to the extent that we do.
Despite the so-called debate between Tavis Smiley and Al Sharpton about whether the president is responsive enough, the answer has been stated by him all the way back to his first campaign speech.
It isn’t about him, it is about you.
Policy only moves when the public makes a concerted effort to educate itself, communicate its concerns and hold leaders accountable.
The construct that President Obama or any other elected official would take some steps that the community has not prioritized is unrealistic.
The National Urban League just released its latest State of Black America report, a highly respected and authoritative source covering the whole gamut of issues.
Are African-Americans talking about it?
Even the historic debate over health care found no groundswell of community discussion that would counterbalance the overheated rhetoric in opposition, although our community has a great deal to gain from expanded coverage and addressing health disparities.
So what are we talking about?
March Madness is understandable, as we are swept up in the national passion, although black legislators in South Carolina and Alabama keep raising the issue of whether we should compete on behalf of universities which don’t have an open door to most black students.
The governor of Mississippi is trying to consolidate three historically black colleges and universities into one; and the governor of Minnesota just vetoed funding for a black history museum.

Live News Chat at
I recently, against my better judgment, joined In my normal fashion, I detailed a litany of various activities that I’m involved in in hopes that like-minded people might find reasons to connect.
Nowhere in the process did I suggest that I was looking for a soulmate, seeking suggestive photos or just wanted to chat for the heck of it. Since I’m proud of what I do, there was no need for a nickname to hide my identity or to convey some sense of false bravado.
Although I have treasured friends on the African continent, the notion that I would seek romance in Burkina Faso or the Central African Republic is somewhat impractical. Brazil, I had to think about for a minute.
It’s only been a week, but I’m struck with the sense that at such a transformational time in history, when the very future of our species is at stake, that so many of us are consumed in meaningless b.s.
There has never been more thorough communications between African-Americans as mobile phones have closed what used to be considered the digital divide. Everyone is online and practically everyone can communicate in real time.
What we’re missing that our forebears had is a purpose to communicate. They had to develop elaborate codes in spirituals, leave signs in swamps and hide in carriages and ships to get a message around.
As an historian, I often look at the writings of fugitive slaves from the 1830s and 1850s when there was no formal education for blacks at any level. The penmanship and grammar is exquisite.
They used those skills to craft thousands of petitions to end slavery, a cavalcade which eventually bore fruit.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to sneak his letter from a Birmingham jail out through visitors, as did Nelson Mandela.
The current record we’re leaving for historians is not nearly as inspiring.
Now that we have people who are willing to listen, what do we have to say?
Did we rally on behalf of Van Jones or Desiree Rogers?
Two African-Americans have had to drop their nominations for the head of the Transportation Security Administration as soon as conservative objections arose. That reflects the sense that they could not count on anyone to rally in their favor.
As dedicated as our civil rights leaders are, they are hard pressed as leaders of organizations to make an impact unless they can call upon an army of folks who are willing to follow up with phone calls, letters and emails. And they do ask for them and make it easy to do.
Just remember the impact that one million black men made during the Million Man March. Now, on any given day, one million African-Americans could ask the President and Congress what they will do about the 15 percent black unemployment by simply sending texts and instant messages.
Since about two million African-Americans are unemployed, the best question is why aren’t they?
Frederick Douglass said it best: “you may not get everything you ask for, but you will certainly have to ask for everything you get.”
In the interest of bringing sense to the online ghetto, I’m beginning to offer Live News Chats on Blackbird, the African-American browser at There are lots of people who have important things to say. I hope some of the rest of y’all pay attention.
As the speeds of broadband accelerate, we need to pick up the pace of our discourse. Even a pre-teen can say something that the President might quote, such as the youngster at the signing ceremony for the heallth care bill. Let that be our standard when we go online.


4 thoughts on “The online ghetto

  1. Your words are very encourging. It gives me great joy to see that someone else thinks there should be more thought provoking discusions among African Americans, well, American alike. I will be sure to add to the discussions on BlackBird. I thank you for taking a stance and being proactive!

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