Category Archives: Magazines

Our Future is Cyberspace

Black Issues Book Review Nov-Dec 1999 cover“Outsiders” have often dictated the trends of African American Culture, sometimes doing the job themselves, sometimes using what authors John A. Williams called “surrogates.”  Both W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington accused each other of being manipulated by outsiders.

With the introduction of cyberspace, younger writers have the ability to reach audiences unheard of during the sixties when African American writers produced broadsides and saddle-stitched chapbooks.  As access to cyberspace becomes less expensive, more voices will be heard and this period, the most prolific in the history of African American Literature, will rise to worldwide prominence, no longer having to obey the tastes of the outsiders in power or the dictates of the establishment-manufactured Talented Tenth.
Ishmael Reed (Black Issues Book Review; November-December 1999)

During the period Ishmael Reed wrote this I would have agreed with him.  A year earlier, I’d started with just that belief in mind.  But I was naive, and today I strongly disagree with the statement.  I wonder if Ishmael disagrees with it now too.  I will reach out to him, and see if he is willing to share his thoughts here.  He is active on Facebook so…

“Cyberspace,” or the World Wide Web, as it is more commonly known today, has actually made it easier for “Outsiders” to dictate the trends of African American Culture. Nothing has changed indeed it has gotten much worse for us.

Market forces drive us to conform to the dictates of the “Outsiders” referred to by Reed. The most popular “Black” websites are not owned by Black people.  The ones that are owned by Black folks take their marching orders from the white owned sites they minick, in an attempt to attract visitors.  Anyone who has been online for 5 minutes knows about the-celebrity-scandal-click-bait content that drives our most popular, so called, Black sites.

Sure there may be more Black writers with the potential to reach more people, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard, unless of course they are cosigned by one of the massive sites run by “outsiders”; which then of course requires conforming to their dictates.

Despite all of this virtually free access to the web and numerous tools to publish content, we do not drive the narrative, rather the “outsiders” created narrative drives us.  Anyone attempting to do something other than what the “outsiders” have prescribed will fail or struggle miserably.

I often read old magazines for a historical perspective.  I subscribed to Black Issues Book Review (BIBR) for it’s entire run.  The issue from where I transcribed Ishmael’s quote was brilliant.  I’m unaware of any other magazine that comes close to producing the content  Black Issues Book Review did during it’s prime.  Both the magazine and the associated website are long gone.

Part of the problem is the we simply do not work in our own self interest.  Sure there are some great exceptions, but not enough to really make a difference.  When I was a corporate employee, this was not apparent to me, but the minute I became a business owner it became very obvious. It is very sad.

For example, I would listen to Black writers give Black Issue Book Review, a lot of grief for not paying them enough, or fast enough, for the articles they wrote.  Of course if you say you are going to pay someone, you need to pay them.  But I also observed some of these very same writers proudly write for the Huffington Post for free!  Just the idea of having a HuffPost byline was enough compensation. There was never as much pride in having a BIBR byline.

Today we have fewer websites dedicated to Black books.  One would think there would be an uproar, but media, like a BIBR, who would report on this problem, no longer exists.  I’d image the general public has no idea a problem even exists.  Even saying there are few Black book websites, would not mean much absent a historical context.  Meanwhile, the “outsider” has sold us on the idea popularity on their platforms is the only meaningful measure of success.

Sites like who are inclined to report on this issue, an issue that does not conform to the “dictated the trend,” defined by the “outsiders,” have to fight to be heard. Trust me; it is a fight. Social media is pay to play, and search results skew away from Black independent websites.  But most importantly, our people will not sacrifice to support, no invest, in our own platforms.  Paying a bit more or clicking away from a massive social media site is apparently too much of a sacrifice for us to make, to control our own narrative.

Black websites certainly don’t matter to the massive corporations who control the World Wide Web, but based upon our behavior they don’t matter to us either.

Our future may be cyberspace, but that future looks pretty bleak.  I hope to tell a very different story in 15 years.

Are Negro Girls Getting Prettier?

Ebony February 1966, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p25

The article focuses on the improvements in the beauty, health and personality of African American women. According to a survey, the African American women are considered to have improved in their charm and beauty. The medical specialists think that better nutrition and the grooming knowledge have contributed to the improvement in their beauty. Edward W. Beasley, a pediatrician, states that dancing is good for the development of limbs and is thus advisable for women. Abstract from Ebsco.

“Experts say better nutrition, grooming, know-how have brought improvement.” Gone, “…are the spindly legs, sagging bosoms, unruly rumps and ungroomed heads that marred many a potential lovely of yesteryear.  Such common flaws have been displaced by a feminine refinement, both facial and physical, that has elevated today’s young lady of hue to a place of prominence among the most pulchritudinous.”

In the April 1966 issue of the magazine, Ebony shared several letters to the editor in reaction to “Are Negro Girls Getting Prettier?” article.  Some of the letters Ebony published, to Ebony’s credit, were quite scathing (Click the image of the letters below to view a larger version).


Judging Ebony’s 49 year old cover article, from a 2015 perspective, would be unfair. However, given the reaction of some of the readers, during the period, it is clear issues of beauty are no less controversial then as they are today.

What is most remarkable is that these issues persists to this day and continue to be exacerbated by Black media.


Even through natural hairstyles are becoming increasingly popular among Black women, rarely do these sisters grace the cover of magazines.

At least the days of cover stories like this have past, but we still have a long way to go.  One of the Ebony magazine readers, in 1966, put it best, “…you should view the ‘sisters’ through your own eyes and not through the eyes of a ‘Chuck’ and his standards.”

Of course no blog post would be complete without a book recommendation. Vintage Black Glamour (Rocket 88 Books, February 18, 2015) is an gorgeous archive of glamor photographs covering a 100 year period with diverse images of Black beauty.   This volume will demonstrate, for those who had any doubt; Black women were ALWAYS beautiful.


Vintage Black Glamour Includes over 150 stunning black and white and color photographs — including many rare and unseen archive images.

Using rarely accessed photographic archives and private collections, inspired by her family history, Nichelle Gainer has unearthed a revealing treasure trove of historic photographs of famous actors, dancers, writers and entertainers who worked in the 20th-century entertainment business, but who rarely appeared in the same publications as their white counterparts.

Alongside the familiar images and stories of renowned performers such as Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin are photos of literary legends such as Lorraine Hansberry and Maya Angelou as well as images of less well-remembered figures such as Bricktop, Pearl Primus, Diana Sands. Vintage Black Glamour is a unique, sumptuous and revealing celebration of the lives and indomitable spirit of Black women of a previous era.


Although talented, successful and ground-breaking, many of the women in these
pages were ignored by mainstream media, but their life’s work and attitude stand as
inspiration for us still, today. With its stunning photographs and insightful
biographies, this book is a hugely important addition to Black history archives.

vintage-black-glamore-still vintage-black-glamor-still-3


There is a Lack of Unity Among Black Websites

Over the last year, I’ve invested a lot of effort informing the public about the adverse impact of the corporate take over of the web and how this is hurting independent websites, particularly Black owned ones.


Buy This Button from The House of Nubian

I have, however, not been very critical of the Black owned websites themselves.  Part of the reason for my lack of critique is that I’m very sensitive to the environment and in many ways understand when websites choose not to cooperate or work in unnecessarily competitive ways.

For example, Google, the most popular search engine, is now in a position to dictate to webmasters how to design their websites—what content can be published and how to link to other sites.   A webmaster does not have to comply with Google’s rules, but if they want their website to rank high enough to be found in Google’s search results, they have no choice.

Complying with Google’s mandates is not always easy.  The rules by which their search engine ranks websites changes constantly and no one outside of Google (few inside I suspect) completely understands how Google’s search algorithm works.  As a result, there is an entire industry of search engine optimization (SEO) experts ready to help webmasters with a wide range of tools and techniques to help sites rank high on a Google search result.  The most unscrupulous of these “professionals” will guarantee a number one ranking for a website, or even worse utilize “black hat” techniques (sophisticated ways of cheating) to obtain a higher search result ranking.  These techniques can leave a website worse off, by being penalized by Google for attempting to game their search algorithm and reducing the quality of the site as more emphasis is placed on the SEO than content.

As a consequence of SEO, webmasters now have an incentive not to link to other websites, or when they do link they are encouraged to use rel=”nofollow” which essentially tells Google’s search engine to ignore the link.  Google does not want webmasters to swap links with other websites or to be financially compensated for a link to another site without using rel=”nofollow.” Some webmasters, being overly cautious in avoiding Google’s warth, have gone a step further and have stopped linking to other sites altogether.

Before Google was invented swapping links was one way sites were discovered.  Today, when independent websites are harder to find via search, linking to other sites is even more important, but sadly it is done less frequently.  Many, Black owned, independent websites are not linking to each other in meaningful ways, and we are all harder to find as a result.

ebony-magFrustrated by having to spend more time and effort jumping through Google’s hoops, I’ve decided to more aggressively, and directly, support independent websites.  I visit these websites—not their social media platforms—and share their content, engage others on their discussion forums and comment on their articles.  I encourage everyone to take similar action, but I try to lead by example.

One of the entities I’ve been promoting is Ebony Magazine.  I subscribe to the magazine and have been enjoying Michael A. Gonzales’ Vintage Vision, column on Ebony’s website.  I’ve been promoting Ebony Magazine, as well as all of the Black owned magazines I’m aware of on Huria Search (an advertisement-free website dedicated to supporting Black owned websites).  I also promote Ebony’s website on my listing of the Top Black Websites.  I even have a collection of Ebony Magazine issues going back over 60 years.  I’m a fan and a supporter.

The last issue contained an informative article about Black Americans exiled in Cuba.  It was an interesting article and I learned quite a bit.  I shared my enthusiasm on Twitter:

Recently, I posted the following comment on an article Ebony shared from the, NJ Star-Ledger, about Amiri Baraka’s recent passing.  The comments expressed’s shared grief and a link to a short documentary we produced highlighting Baraka’s work.

Ebony marked the comment as spam!!


Now I understand if Ebony does not want to link to a another site (as explained in great detail above), but they did not have to hurt by marking the post as spam.  They could have simply not allowed the comment to be seen.   Not only was the comment the exact opposite of spam, one could argue that Ebony, or at least their visitors, would have benefited from the link.

nothing-foundI do not support Ebony Magazine because I expect anything in return.  I learned long ago that the biggest websites are the ones least likely to reciprocate.  I do not support Ebony because I like I everything they do.

I support Ebony because what they do is increasingly rare and more important than ever to the Black community.  Their coverage of books in the last issue was good too—not the usual diet of celebrity books many magazines and websites feel obliged to focus on.  In fact, I tweeted about their book coverage as well.

My motivation is not to call out one magazine on a trivial slight, no one would have know about unless I mentioned it.  My goal is to highlight a symptom of a much bigger problem that manifests in numerable ways across the Internet landscape.  The fact of the matter is we are simply not working together, as well as we must, to survive.

Individually, none of us have a chance to compete, over the long term, against the huge corporations taking over the World Wide Web.  Embracing social media is not the answer.  Collectively, we provide FAR more support and promotion of social media platforms than we do our own and we continue to lose.

Unless we bind  together, support and uplift each other, we have no chance of retaining ownership of our voice on the web.  When we lose our voice, we see articles focusing on our scandals rather than our triumphs, we see content that is the most marketable rather than the most important.  We also lose our ability to create business and generate revenue online. We have already lost so much, but we still continue to willingly relinquish what little we have left.

I’m fighting to reverse this trend.  Will you help?

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