A Renaissance for Black Voices and Spaces

Date: 22 Sep 2022 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

“What I am ultimately arguing in the book is that the failure of media is to tell a complete story of Blackness and Black people,” Brandi Collins-Dexter explained on this Building Local Power episode. The decline in Black-led and run radio shows, journals, newspapers, and publications has diminished the ability to create a complete narrative or a shared story. Instead, dominant media outlets tell a narrower story, in the process selecting only popular voices to be heard. So what are the consequences?

Brandi Collins-Dexter, author of Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and our Political Future, and Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of ILSR, lay out the stakes in a riveting conversation spanning the monopolistic tendencies of political parties, the domination of mainstream media by Big Tech, and the future of Black-owned and led businesses in America.

Find Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and our Political Future at your local, independent bookstore.

“We are taught to believe that folks that diverge from the traditional Black political voter identity are the outliers. And what I’m arguing ultimately in the book is that the failure of media is to tell a complete story of Blackness and Black people.”
– Brandi Collins-Dexter

“I found myself thinking about Harvey Milk, the great gay rights activist who was active in San Francisco in the seventies and who owned a camera store. He was a local retailer in the neighborhood. From that vantage point it created space for conversations, to organize people, and to have a certain measure of independence.” -Stacy Mitchell

Buy Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and our Political Future at your local, independent bookstore.

Black Skinhead Book Release Event

Watch Black Panther

Find News For All the People by Juan González and Joseph Torres at your local bookstore!

Find Black Labor in Richmond, 1865-1890 by Peter J. Rachleff at your local bookstore!

Brandi: When you look at a lot of historical Black papers, old Black radio stations, even modern radio shows like the Breakfast Club, you’ll hear all the different political identities I talk about in the book represented. You’ll hear a Black conservative, a Black leftist, a conscious non-voter, Black feminists, Black nationalists, everything that runs the gamut, but we don’t really hear those stories in mainstream media. We are taught to believe that folks that diverge from this traditional Black political voter identity, that they’re the outliers. And what I’m arguing ultimately in the book is that the failure of media is to tell a complete story of Blackness and Black people.
Reggie Rucker: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, dedicated to challenging corporate monopolies and expanding the power of people to shape their own future. I am Reggie Rucker, and today we are talking about a brand new book, Black Skinhead: Reflections On Blackness In Our Political Future. It was released on September 20th, which also happens to be my birthday. This year was my 40th, so a lot of big reasons to celebrate, but enough about me, back to the reason why we’re really here today. Black Skinhead examines Black political identity in the United States, the fragility of Black voters in the democratic party and the decline in Black owned and Black led businesses. But before we get into all of that, let me bring in my cohost, Luke Gannon, Luke.
Luke Gannon: Thank you Reggie! My name is Luke Gannon and today on the show we have the pleasure of speaking with the author of Black Skinhead, Brandi Collins-Dexter who is an author, a visiting Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, a member of Economic Liberty’s board of directors and much, much more. We are also delighted to welcome Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Stacy Mitchell. Welcome Brandi and Stacy.
Brandi: Thank you for having me on.
Stacy: Yeah, so nice to be here and be a sidecar to this conversation.
Luke Gannon: We are so excited to have you both today. So, I’m going to jump in and Brandi, I’m going to start with you. So the title of your book is Black Skinhead. And in the beginning of the book, you lay out three ways in which you define this title. So, I’m wondering if you can describe your three definitions and how this characterizes the ensuing content of the book.
Brandi: Yeah. In the intro, I introduce black skinhead as being defined three different ways. So, one is a disillusioned political outlier, that feels underrepresented in mainstream media discourse. Second is a voter defined by their voting history and not necessarily their expressed ideology or beliefs. And third, someone who rejects their societal value or cultural identity, being defined by their willingness specifically to vote for the Democratic party. And so, part of what I’m speaking to here is this fetishized notion of Black voters as capital D Democrats, the most conservative Democrat as well, who is expected to vote a certain way, to favor certain candidates, to favor certain policies, and the way in which at times, that can be actually pitted against what could be the best economic agenda for Black people at scale, or the ways in which it just doesn’t even adequately represent the broad base of Black voters and what our different interests are, what policies we support, how we may identify as Black people culturally, in a way that’s distinct from this idea of the Black voter.
And so, I’m unpacking a lot of that throughout the book. I interview Black voters between the ages of 18 and 108. Or I say Black voters, but it’s Black people about their politics because there’s definitely people in there that I speak to in the book who have made an intentional choice, not to vote for a number of different reasons, or people that have organized for left wing candidates. One person I was talking to was doing a write in candidacy for Nina Turner when I interviewed her going into the 2020 election and Black Trump supporters. So, really tried to cover a lot of ground in terms of both how Black voters think of themselves in the greater political context, but also people who are moving away from these traditional ideas of what Black voter behavior can and should look like.
Luke Gannon: Thank you for that definition, Brandi. So, you talk a lot about how white Democrats have a long held assumption that Black voters will always vote Democrat. And like you said, through all of these interviews, you really explain that and lay it out really nicely. One example that comes to mind is of Joe Biden on The Breakfast Club. And one of the things that it made me think of is how the political parties in themselves can be seen as monopolistic. So, I’m wondering if the Democratic and Republican party, if you think they are monopolistic and in which ways they might be cornering people out of their politics and the harms that this might have had.
Brandi: Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely a couple of ways to approach that. So, I mean, I think broadly as a country, regardless of ethnicity or culture, we are in this position where we’re told that we have two parties and two parties only, that we have to vote for. And when you talk to anybody, I wrote this book specifically talking about Black voters. But if you talk to anybody, there’s the full range. Even within the Republican party, you have libertarians who actually might be considered quote unquote, socially progressive on certain issues, but their I guess, economic leanings push them into the Republican party. And then you have family values people, who favor certain individual rights, but not necessarily others, like reproductive, justice rights or other things like that. And so, you have all of these people residing in this one party and the Republican side.
And similarly, when you talk to people in the Democratic party, you have people that really run the gamut in terms of what their policies are and what they believe in, candidates that they would ideally support. And so, in that sense, I’m not sure if that would be … is that a duopoly. That would be two corners of the market in this forgotten history of a time in which we had a number of different parties within this country that were influencing politics and policies.
I think as it pertains specifically to Black voters, we have for a while now, been in this position that is absolutely a monopoly for all intents and purposes, in terms of where and who we cast our votes for. And if you think of a monopoly as something in which it’s like, you can set your own pricing structures, you can decline to negotiate for certain types of policies or candidates. You can offer diminished quality of product and still at the end of the day, people just have to take that and go with that. I think that’s certainly, at least what I’m arguing in my book, a position that I think Black people have had to take with the democratic party time and time again.
Reggie Rucker: So actually, Stacy, I’d love to follow up with you on that point. To what degree have you seen this through monopolization of the political parties affect a broad range of policy issues, but maybe even specifically some of the work that we do around anti-monopoly work, antitrust issues and things of that nature.
Stacy: I think there’s this additional dimension to this, which is the fact that both political parties for decades now have really shared an underlying framework for how we got to organize the economy. And that’s been not something that people have been able to challenge. It has been so understood and so ingrained. And this sort of idea that we should have greater consolidation, that bigger is better, that the large corporations deliver and that the ways that it’s framed by Republicans and Democrats is a little bit different in terms of how they talk about it. But they really share that.
I mean, we often talk about how Reagan came in and undid the antitrust laws very deliberately. But if you go back and look at the history, a lot of that really started with Carter deregulating the airlines. A lot of that thinking was really already underway before Reagan came in and it certainly continued under Clinton, who dismantled a lot of the policies that kept the big banks in check and then continued as well under other presidents, including Obama, who really stood up for big tech companies in a lot of ways and protected their interests and furthered their interests and that unified idea about the really big, underlying questions of how we organized the economy, has been true for both parties and really not something that anyone who you challenge was always marginalized by both parties. I think that that’s really been quite damaging, that monopolization of thought about political economy.
Reggie Rucker: Spinning off of that maybe slightly, there’s the political space, but then there’s also media spaces and Brandi, this is something you touch on in your book where you talk about the importance and the power of Black media spaces and how they allow … and I’m quoting here, “The articulation and processing of divergent Black political thought.” So, can you tell us about that, about the importance of these Black media spaces and how that allows for a diversity of voices to be a part of this political conversation and other conversations in our political discourse?
Brandi: Yeah. Sorry, not sure if you could hear the church bells, but when you’re in Baltimore, you’re never far from a church just going off.
Reggie Rucker: Amen, take us to church, Brandi, take us to church.
Brandi: A couple places I want to start. I consider this in a lot of ways, a media justice book, because that’s the background that I’ve come from, a media rights access and representation. That lens was really my entry point into political consciousness, I would say in my career. And so, understanding the ways in which framing matters and who tells this story, how they tell the story, who owns the pipes, who owns your data and your identity, have all of these different cascading effects. I remember when I used to talk about this a decade ago, or however long ago it was, oftentimes when we would put something out there, first when I was at Center for Media Justice, now Media Justice, and later at Color of Change, people would always say, “Well, who cares about the media? That’s not what’s important. You should be worried about economic justice. You should be worried about criminal justice.”
I think one of the things that Stacy alluded to a couple of minutes ago is that if you have this story of what the economy should look like, or who gets to participate in the economy, or what sorts of policies are best for the public good and that story is told through narratives and how stories are framed in news, how stories is framed in movies and music, it’s the cultural change that precedes the political change, that fashioned grumpy thing that some of us like to go back to where Breitbart, if you’re right wing, says similar thing, who drives the culture, drives the politics.
And so, media as a shaper and driver of culture is ultimately really important to our ability to build a successful economic and political and social agenda. And so, that beginning understanding was a huge part of what shaped how I told this story and particularly how I told this story of Black people in America. And one of the things that was an aha moment for me, was that Black culture, as something beyond a census categorization is something that’s in a lot of ways a 20th century or creation. It’s something that in a lot of ways, couldn’t be true, pre certainly Civil War, because a lot of it depends on a shared story, an ability to understand who we are, how we identify as a nation or a culture, and what it is that we’re fighting for as people. And a lot of that was driven by Black newspapers, by Black radio.
At one point in time, in Illinois alone, I think there were over 150 Black newspapers in the early part of the 20th century and those were the mechanisms by which we created a shared story. We created an ability to advocate for ourselves, to understand truths about ourselves that were outside of mainstream media, things like lynchings that would not be covered in mainstream publications or the disappearance of local Black business owners or local Black businesses. Having those stories be told in media and the ability for us to argue across different ideological lines. And so, when you look at a lot of historical Black papers, old Black radio stations, even modern radio shows like The Breakfast Club, you’ll hear all the different political identities I talk about in the book represented. You’ll hear a Black conservative, you’ll hear a Black leftist, you’ll hear Black conscious non-voter who’s happy to tell you all the reasons why they do that. Black feminists, everything that … Black nationalists, everything that runs the gamut, but we don’t really hear those stories in mainstream media. And we’re taught to believe that folks that diverge from this traditional Congressman Clyburn, Black political voter identity, that they’re the outliers.
And what I’m arguing ultimately in the book is that the failure of media is to tell a complete story of Blackness and Black people. And it is to our detriment on a number of different fronts, be it economic, social, and even our ability to embrace or understand Black culture as something that isn’t just merely this traumatic experience, if that makes sense?
Luke Gannon: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I love what you said, Brandi, what drives the culture drives the politics. Who drives the culture, drives the politics. I think that’s a really important line that I want to emphasize. And culture means so much, it’s the radio stations, the businesses, the news outlets, the journals. So, Stacy, I want to ask you recently in the past couple of years, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, what impact have monopolies had on these spaces?
Stacy: Yeah, we’ve seen just incredible consolidation across so many parts of the economy. And one of the things I just really love about Brandi’s book is she has this great, incredibly moving and very real and grounded analysis and discussion of why local businesses, the spaces that they create in communities, whether it’s the grocery store or the hair salon, or the bank, or the music venue, just talking about media, the more diversity and number and local and rooted in all kinds of communities, created by all kinds of different people, the better off we are. And we’ve just seen such a huge collapse in so many ways of all of those things in recent years. And it’s been obviously a trend that’s been running for a while.
It became really accelerated by the financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed from that in 2008, particularly grocery stores as one example, we lost a lot of grocery stores, particularly Black-owned grocery stores in those years and opened up a lot of places that lack full service grocery stores, and then had influx of dollar stores instead. And this very extractive kind of model in the loss of those community-owned spaces, the bookstores, banks. And it’s been written off and then this goes back to the ideology of the two parties, it’s been written off of, “Oh, well, small just can’t survive, and that’s old fashioned and this is the way of progress.”
And none of those things are true. I mean, that’s just a story that’s being told in order to maintain systems of power that benefit the few. And Brandi’s discussion of why those spaces, it’s not just about the diversity of ownership that matters, that’s a big part of it, but it’s also that the kinds of conversations and connections and organizing and sense of knowing your neighbors and the building of collective power, is really comes from, and it’s actually a key ingredient of democracy at the very local level.
Luke Gannon: Thank you, Stacy. I want to touch on that collective power and building collective power. And you mentioned the Obama administration earlier, Stacy and, Brandi, I know you have a whole chapter on Obama. And one of the things you mentioned is this community organizing that went into the 2008 campaign. And something I’m really interested is in how that community organizing and how these beauty shops that you talked about, and Black-owned restaurants, how they actually build local power, how that plays out. Can you talk about that, Brandi?
Brandi: Yeah. I mean, there’s a number of different ways. I was actually thinking about, when Stacy was talking, one of the stories that didn’t make it into the book. There were a lot of different stories on my mom’s side that actually ended up getting cut from the book. But my dad and my mom have very two different, quintessentially Black American multi-generational stories. And so, my dad grew up extremely poor. His family moved from Mississippi up to Syracuse. Up until he died, he thought he was the first person in his family to own land. And it actually turned out that his family had owned land in Mississippi, in the 1800s that was stripped away. And so I talk about that in a book, but on my mom’s side, it’s a completely different story, where they had that history, where they actually still have family land that they’ve had since the 1800s, where they were growing tobacco, where they had a Black business in Chicago. I believe my great, great grandfather had the first mechanics license by a Black man in Chicago or Illinois and opened up a mechanic shop.
And one of the reasons why I was thinking about this as Stacy was talking was because when I interviewed my great-aunt who’s in her 90s, she had this funny story of talking about how she didn’t realize that the Great Depression was happening because her family, at that time, they were business owners. They had a home, but she had this very distinct memory of people coming to her mom’s back door and her mom had a garden and she would make goods and she would give food to people as they came through the door, or sometimes people would stay over, or work in her dad’s mechanic shop in exchange for a place to stay, or food, or different things like that. And so she was like, “Yeah, I knew there were a lot of people that were coming around, but I didn’t even know there was a Great Depression.” I’m trying to say this in my most pristine, great-auntie voice as possible.
But one of the things that story really reminds me of is the role that Black businesses have throughout time consistently had in our communities. And that’s they’ve always served multi-functions. They’re not usually just about the thing and that they primarily operate in, whether you’re talking about grocery stores or bookstores or other things. Often, they’re a place where people who have criminal records, or may not be able to get jobs and other businesses, are able to be employed and make certain types of wages.
During COVID, a lot of businesses reported, Black and Latino businesses reported, turning their storefront into places where they could get resources out into the community, like extra masks and extra food and all of these different things. And in fact, a lot of Black business and Latino business owners that were polled in the early days of COVID, said that despite the fact that they didn’t have enough federal funding, weren’t able to take advantage of money that came through PPP and probably weren’t going to be able to keep their businesses open for longer than three months were still A, trying to keep their business open to serve community function. And B, were willing to take that chance, as opposed to fully opening up their business and returning to business as usual, if that meant risking their community.
That’s something that I think was really important aspect of this, is the work that you guys talk about. This is the stuff that I think about. It’s one of the reasons why it’s particularly devastating that 50% to 60% of black wealth was lost in the 2008 recession, and a lot of that was land. And so when you talk about these spaces for organizing in the Obama for America chapter, I talk a lot about how Black barber shops and beauty shops became places for organizing. And part of that is because a lot of Black people engage in quasi political discourse for different reasons. One, because of the historical surveillance aspect of Black people. As political beings, we’ve learned to have to encode our language or to have conversation in more casual environments. And also, because that’s just the natural places where people come together and discuss politics and discuss all of the personal and the cultural, all in one realm.
And so, the Obama for America model really took advantage of that, or really understood that. The organizers were really creative in terms of going into churches and building, not just get the photo with the pastor, but building with the church lady in the first pew, who had connections into the community. They were really good with repurposing houses for local campaign headquarters and house parties and a number of different things. And then going into barbershops and talking to people in these of spaces of sanctuary. And that work was really crucial to convincing a lot of Black voters who were breaking for Hillary at that time, to actually began moving to take a chance on Obama, this unknown figure.
And then when you look at where we are now, like I said, in between that time 50% to 60% of Black wealth was lost. COVID was extremely devastating. I think I read recently that nearly half of Black-owned businesses closed, or will soon be forced to close because they didn’t get the federal funding that they needed, and the supports, and a number of other things. And we saw all the articles that talked about the bump in support of Black businesses during 2020. A lot of that faded away, ironically or maybe sinisterly, Meta actually released a report recently, Facebook, I don’t know why I said Meta, because I hate calling them Meta, let me call them who they are. Facebook released a report recently that said that over half of Black-owned businesses are experiencing record low sales. And I say ironically ,or maybe more sinister means is because a lot of the ways in which big tech has been super destructive to local businesses is part of how we got here. So there’s something that’s disingenuous. I could throw a bunch of words at it for Meta releasing that report, but the damage is still the same. And I know Stacy, I’d actually be curious to what you think about that because I feel like I’m moving quickly into your territory here.
Stacy: I mean, we see the same stuff with Amazon. They’ve got all this small business propaganda that they put out, and ways in which they’re supposedly helping small business, and they feature a lot of business owners of color in all of that stuff. And of course, you actually look at what’s going on on the ground and not at all. I mean, this is Amazon, this is one of the biggest, or if not the biggest destroyer of small businesses in the country. And what’s just astonishing that lack of shame these companies have in terms of what they’re out there saying. I find myself thinking about all the places in American history where locally owned businesses have really mattered to various movements for human rights. I found myself thinking about Harvey Milk, the great gay rights activist.
Harvey Milk: The day Nixon invaded Cambodia, was the day I had to speak out against world profiteers, large corporations, and so forth.
Stacy: Was active in San Francisco in the ’70s, owned a camera store. That was his profession, was he was a local retailer in the neighborhood. And from that vantage point, could create space for conversations and to organize people and also to have a certain measure of independence, to be able to speak up and in a way that other people who were working in jobs where they could be fired for being gay couldn’t. The independence of owning his own business was really a big part of that.
Reggie Rucker: We will be right back after a very short break. As an organization seeking the end of corporate control and local communities, you’ll understand why our commercial break sounds a little different. There’s no corporation selling you something in an ad. Just me, thanking you for listening to our show. And if you’re enjoying this episode, which if you’ve made it this far, I’m assuming you are, I definitely encourage you to go check out more of our work to build local power and support independent businesses at ilsr.org.
And for those particularly interested in learning more about monopoly power, we suggest you go check out a recent article published in the Atlantic, where our very own Ron Knox discusses Amazon’s dangerous new acquisition of the iRobot and the Roomba, where Amazon is seeking to vacuum up all the data in your home. It’s incredibly scary stuff, this is why we exist. And so if you want to join us in this fight against monopoly power, head over to ilsr.org\donate to make a contribution. Any amount is deeply, deeply appreciated. If you’re looking for additional ways to support, please rate or leave a review of this show, wherever you listen to your podcast, these reviews make a huge difference in helping us reach a wider audience. Okay, that’s our break, thank you so much for listening. And now, back to the show.
I’m going to go back to the conversation we were having around the power of media to influence a political discourse or to tell a story that’s more than just entertainment. So, Black Panther 2 is coming out this fall, I cannot wait. I almost cried when I saw the trailer release. It’s the whole thing. But Brandi, in your book, you talk about this very real conversation of there’s the movie story of who the heroes are and who the villains are but then there’s a deeper conversation around who the actual heroes are and who the actual villains are. And there’s a case to be made that Wakanda had this monopoly power and they were able to decide the fate of local community. Can you just talk a little bit about how you got into that conversation and got to a conclusion that maybe others weren’t originally seeing when they first saw the movie?
Brandi: Yeah, I mean, it’s so hard. I debated, I was like, “Am I going to do this? Am I going to go there in this book?” Because it’s so hard. Because it is such a beautiful movie and like you, I’ve watched the trailer for the second one. I’m obsessed with watching people react to the trailers, just because seeing that type of joy, especially in these devastating times, to just see, especially kids or different people, Black people, experience this joy and pride, seeing such an iconic figure like Black Panther really become this cultural force. I hated to be the one that’s like, “But wait a minute.”
But I actually think the good news is that I believe that Ryan Coogler and the different writers that have created Black Panther have intentionally embedded a certain critique in the idea of Black Panther. I think it’s a bit more encoded because Disney be controlling things like CIA was live tweeting it when it first dropped. So, obviously we got to be encrypted with our stuff. But I mean, when you take this kind of Genesis story of this secret kingdom in Africa that has access to all of these resources, all of these powers, are able to build weapons or create medicine that saves people from the brink of death, and all of that’s hidden away from the rest of the world, from the rest of society.
And then you find this figure in Killmonger in the first one who is part Wakanda and part Black American, grew up in Oakland, which I think had a lot of significance. One, the director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland, but also when you look at the history of Oakland, the infrastructure, the organizing the role of local business and economy, and then the ways in which that was destroyed and the ways in which organizing infrastructure was intentionally destroyed by the FBI, local law enforcement, and large business owners.
You have this kid, Killmonger, who grows up there, hearing the stories about this wondrous place, but he can’t touch it. He can’t feel it, he can’t access it. And so he grows up with this desire that not only is he going to crack that ceiling and get into that space, but he’s going to make it so that those resources get distributed around the world. And he’s the villain in the movie.
And again, I think if you talk to a number of people, Reggie, I’d be curious what you think. I know I talked to a lot of Black people that walked out of there like, “I kind of feel Killmonger.” I know people have actually been hoping that it turned out that he wasn’t really dead and that he comes back in the second movie, even though he does all of these various villainous things, he’s not necessarily a good guy. I think he kills his … Spoiler alert, I think he kills his girlfriend in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
So, it’s clear that he’s a villain, but this idea that he would want to redistribute Wakandan wealth around the world is, and if you ask me, a very aspirational thing and the fact that that was met with ultimately in the end, again, spoiler alert, sorry if you haven’t seen Black Panther in the last, however many years it’s been out, I don’t know what to tell you, but at the end of the movie, Wakanda and Black Panther, the late Chadwick Boseman, realizes that they have to share some of their wealth with the rest of the world, but they really dole it out in these really specific, controlled, contained ways, like a monopoly, giving you a little bit to wet your palate, a cup of water, maybe not access to the full waterfall.
And in the end, Oakland, where Killmonger is from, is left with a community center. People are getting displaced. Housing prices are crazy in Oakland, if you know in real life. I actually moved out of Oakland because we were getting outbid on houses over a hundred thousand dollars by all cash buyers, and they were not moving into those houses. There’s just been a lot of devastation in a lot of ways there. You see people encamped around Lake Merritt, if you ever go there. And all of these tech bros coming in with their white Teslas or whatever, and all there is to show for it is this Wakandan community center. And isn’t that how a monopoly is operate in our community? But I don’t know. Reggie, was Killmonger … what were your thoughts initially?
Reggie Rucker: He was absolutely a sympathetic character. So, my family and friends who saw the movie felt very much the same way where it’s like, I mean, of course, Black Panther, he is a hero on screen and off screen. So, there was all of that. And there was no denying that Michael B. Jordan’s character was also a hero. For us, a lot of the conversations we had, it was the MLK versus Malcolm X thing where they’re often pitted against each other were really, they’re two sides of the same coin, fighting for the same type of justice, but just in different ways. Yeah, there’s very much that conversation. I did want to say, if you have not seen Black Panther to this point, you deserve all the spoilers we’ve just given you because you should have seen the movie.
Brandi: You should have seen it. You should have seen it.
Reggie Rucker: Should have seen it already.
Brandi: Give your money to Disney, okay.
Reggie Rucker: Absolutely.
Brandi: Or not. Actually, if you could get it for free somewhere, that would be better.
Reggie Rucker: We’re going to have to invite you back to have that conversation, because it’s an important one. Stacy, I do want to throw to you just on this idea, I mean, that’s the point, right? It goes back to the conversation we had earlier who owns the spaces in which these stories are told. And so how a Disney can force a producer, a writer, story tellers, to tell a story in a way that is acceptable to the audience that they’re trying to reach as opposed to having the diversity of voices and diversity of channels to tell a story. So anyways, if you could jump in and tell that monopoly story, as you hear it in this case, that’d be great.
Stacy: It’s television, it’s movies, it’s books. We have a handful of publishers that dominate and then layer it on top of that, you have the tech giants, whether it’s Facebook, or Amazon, or Google that are these intermediary, these uber intermediaries between us and everything that we see. And we were talking earlier about the loss of local newspapers and news outlets. I mean, there’s plenty of advertising money out there to pay for local news. It’s just that because it’s all … People are connecting to news through Facebook or through Google and those companies control the advertising, they’re just pocketing all that revenue while they’re displaying the content that’s been reported by the local newspaper. And so obviously, eventually that newspaper has to lay off reporters and they disappear.
Part of, I think, what’s gone on with the tech companies have created this story of, “Oh, well we moved from print to online and that’s what happened, not that we just took all the money and put it in our pocket.” But that in fact is the real story. And we see this across all of the big media outlets. It’s that gatekeeper role that is … it’s such a key part of what the anti-monopoly movement has to do is to really focus on that. And that type of power is particularly dangerous. In a democracy it’s particularly dangerous to our culture for all the reasons that I think Brandi talked about so beautifully.
Luke Gannon: Thank you, Stacy. Brandi, your book just gave me a new perspective, not only on Black Panther, but on political discourse on Kanye West, which I can’t believe we don’t have a question about Kanye here. I’m just realizing that. Why don’t didn’t I write a question.
Stacy: I think it’s like we have too many questions about Kanye to get in here.
Luke Gannon: I’m really curious about, and I want to highlight Black-owned media spaces and radio stations and content. I’m curious what the future of those spaces look like to you in America in the next five, 10, 20 years.
Brandi: It’s so hard to say, because I feel like so much has changed so rapidly. On one hand, I think we’ve seen Black people, communities of color, one of the things we always used to say back in the day with the net neutrality fight is that we’ve always been the fastest adopters of new technology. Whenever there’s an opportunity for communications technology to be in the hands of people in order to shape, move and define their own story, our groups are often the first in line to experiment with newspapers, experiment with radio, experiment with the internet.
Charlton McIlwain has a amazing book, Black Software, Andre Brock talks about Black technic culture. There’s this really rich history of Black people going back to, I would say, really early internet and computer, even Civil Rights movement I’m talking about, grappling with how we harness the power of technology and communications technology in particular.
And so, one of the things that we’ve seen, that was even interesting about the phenomenon of Breakfast Club, which was on for a long time before all of a sudden these soundbites started going around and it jumped into more mainstream discourse, is that a lot of people in Black radio were actually at the forefront of figuring out how to optimize their content online for public shares and became quite savvy at that. And that’s part of the reason why The Breakfast Club had this breakthrough. Some people didn’t even realize it was this morning show in New York because they only knew the sound bite circulating.
And we’ve seen Charlamagne tha God, who’s one of the hosts of The Breakfast Club. We’ve seen people like Roland Martin, Melissa Harris-Perry, like Marc Lamont Hill, a number of Black journalists and media makers and people that got their start on radio, being able to experiment with innovative models online, and so that’s the hope. What we’ve also seen is that every time something’s getting off the ground, whether we’ve seen this Pac-Man style of big tech sweeping in and buying small media companies, and then pulling them into their orbit, or whether we’ve seen changes in ad marketing and surveillance in a number of other things, that then hinder the ability for those different projects to thrive. That’s always the thing that we have to be wary of.
I know that the FTC is really looking into these things in a way that they haven’t before, shout out to Lina Kahn. I would love to see Congress move something, y’all can tell me if that’s actually a realistic thing or not. But I think now’s the time where, absent that government regulation and stepping in and really making sure that some of the things that we were able to do, like the passage of the LPFM licenses in the early 2000s, that allowed for a lot of local community radio stations that have played a critical role today, actually in dealing with myth and disinformation in communities and different languages and helping to deal with crisis and disaster relief. Whether or not we can make sure that the FCC, FTC, and these other regulatory entities step in to preserve diversity of opportunity, I think that will dictate what the future of Black radio and Black media is.
I think we’re always going to innovate. We’re always going to figure something out. If we don’t have that relief of pressure, we’re always going to find ourselves unfortunately hitting up against the wall. At least what I think about it.
Reggie Rucker: Love it. So, Lina Kahn, you heard it here first, you have your marching orders. We need that additional guidance regulations to protect these Black voices in particular. So yeah, you got your marching orders. We want to close it out with our final question we always do at Building Local Power. And it’s a fairly broad question, we’ll give you a second to think about it. What is a book that has impacted the way you think about the world and your work? Brandi, you want to go first?
Brandi: One book is hard, but I’m going to sound like a broken record. Joe Torres, Juan González, News For All The People, was one of the most important books for me when I was starting out trying to understand the landscape negotiating. I always remind Joe, because I consider him a mentor of mine now and he does a lot of amazing work around media reparations, I went up to him with the book when he was going around on tour and I was like, “Oh my gosh, Joseph Torres, he’s so amazing.” I asked him to sign my book and he spelled my name wrong and all of this stuff. So, then over 10 years later he had to come back and resign it, so it’s scratched out. But that book, hands down, is the one that I just always go back to, for sure.
Reggie Rucker: That’s so great. How about you, Stacy?
Stacy: I always have trouble with this question because I just end up defaulting to whatever I’m reading now. I go back to all the books and I’m overwhelmed. So, I’ve been rereading a book that I read in college, but haven’t read since then and so I don’t really remember it very well. It’s great, it’s an academic history book. It’s called Black Labor In Richmond, 1865 to 1890. It’s by a historian named Peter Rachleff, and who currently runs the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minnesota.
And it’s about this movement in Richmond after the Civil War. And it’s organized by this labor group called the Knights of Labor and it includes both Black and white workers, but also workers and small businesses. And it’s this very revolutionary challenge that they pose to the whole political structure of the city, and the way the economy is run. Not only organizing for better conditions at workplaces, but organizing in order to control who makes those decisions and putting forward co-ops, and ultimately creating a political party that takes over the city council. And it’s this multiracial thing, and also this thing that spans both workers and people who are considered business owners or sole proprietors of their trade. What’s really great about it is I think a lot of these great stories and progress that was made at various points and the strategies, I think our system of history and how the dominant narratives, they bury those stories. And this is a book that really unearthed it in a way that I think is quite eyeopening and offers a lot of that we can learn from and use today.
Reggie Rucker: All right, thank you so much for that Stacy. As we always do, we’re going to put links to these book recommendations and all of the references that we’ve made throughout today’s show on our website. The thing I love about today’s conversation, I have no doubt five years from now, even a year from now, when people get the same question, what book influences the way you think and the way you work, Black Skinhead: Reflections On Blackness In Our Political Future by Brandi Collins-Dexter will no doubt be on that list. So, grateful for you, your thoughtfulness, your time. Thank you so much, Brandi.
Brandi: Thank you so much for having me.
Reggie Rucker: Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to everything discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode, that is ilsr.org.
Luke Gannon: We have tons of ways for you to get involved in our work, sign up for the independent business newsletter called the Hometown Advantage and connect with us on social media. All of your reviews, likes and donations help produce this very podcast and support the research and resources that we make available for free on our website. This show is produced by Reggie Rucker and me, Luke Gannon. This podcast is edited by Drew Birschbach. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunctionale. And before we end, go to your local bookstore and pick up Black Skinhead: Reflections On Blackness And Our Political Future. Thank you for listening to Building Local Power.



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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: Worcester Youth Collaboratives 

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Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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As Communications Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Reggie develops communications strategies and leads campaigns to build public support for ILSR local power initiatives. Contact Reggie with media inquiries.

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