Tag Archives: magazine

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 AALBC.com 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 AALBC.com 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.

2015 Year End Thank You!

Coming in the New Year

newbookscreenshotThe biggest news for the new year is our website upgrade. We are redesigning AALBC.com from scratch, and we have the benefit of 18 years of content and experience, to bring you a world class website, celebrating Black culture through literature.

Without getting too technical, we are developing a customized CMS, which will allow us to present information about books and authors in a way that no other website can. Our new website is, mobile first, faster, more easily navigated, and less cluttered.

We now offer more flexible book buying options, including links to publishers (as with Just Us Books) and other independent booksellers, to bring you the best deals while offering publishers better opportunities to profit from their books. In some cases, as with the Go On Girl! Book Club’s reading list, commissions from book sales are donated to charity.

Speaking about book clubs, we are greatly increasing our coverage of book clubs, not only to help book clubs attract new members and share ideas without other clubs, but to help readers discover the great reads book clubs have researched and uncovered.

This is just the beginning; we still have a lot content to migrate and have not settled on a layout for our homepage, but you can review our progress, in real time, on our development website aalbc.org.

Our upgrade is a massive project, which we plan to complete in the spring 2016. Your ongoing support is crucial to the success of this effort, indeed to the survival of AALBC.com. Here are 5 things you can do to help:

  1. Share our content.
  2. Purchase your eNewsletter subscription.
  3. Buy books through our website.
  4. Share your thoughts in the comments on each page and join our discussion forums
  5. Keep reading!

The Power List & Huria Search Will Be Decommissioned

Decommissioned websitesHuria Search’s goal was to support and showcase independent Black owned content producers and book websites by making them more discoverable. The spirit of Huria Search will continue on AALBC.com. We have already migrated most of Huria Search’s content to AALBC.com, including our information on Black Bloggers, Black Newspapers, Black Magazines, Black Bookstores, Black Book Websites, with more to come.

The Power List was a collaborative effort to fill the void, left by Essence Magazine and Blackboard, for a bestsellers list covering African American literature. However, AALBC.com’s best selling books list, with our newly increased focus will be a suitable alternative next year. The new website design has made it possible to add a children’s bestselling books list and we will be able to produce a new list every month.

The freeing up of resources, previously dedicated to the Power List and Huria Search, will allow me to focus more intently on improving AALBC.com.

A Very Special Thanks to These AALBC.com Supporters

news-troyWhen one compiles a list like this, important people are invariably left off. To you I truly apologize. However I feel compelled to acknowledge a few people and institutions, who in 2015 lifted me spiritually, financially or through deed. Without your support AALBC.com would simply be impossible. In no particular order:

Dr. Elizabeth Nunez, Christopher D. Burns, Akashic Books, Kimberla Lawson Roby, SmileyBooks, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, The Center for Black Literature, Dr. David Colvin, Good2Go Publishing, Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, Robin Johnson, Connie Divers Bradley, Victoria Christopher Murray, Sherrie Young, Mike Cherichetti, Fertari Netsuziy, W. Paul Coates, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lynda Johnson, Pamela Samuels Young, Gwen Richardson, Charisse Carney-Nunes, Queens Public Library, Baruch College, Kam Williams, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Carol Taylor, HICKSON, Google, Martha Kennerson, M. D. Williams, Robert Fleming, Rita Williams-Garcia, Tony & Yvonne Rose, Ramunda & Derrick Young, Jamie Blatman, Kalamu ya Salaam, HICKSON, Mike D’nero, Bernard Timberlake II, Cordenia Paige, HARRY BROWN, my “Bookends NYC” crew, anyone else I failed to recognize.

Finally to my wife and daughters who bear, involuntarily, the struggle I have taken on without complaint and with love. They support my effort, of celebrating Black culture through literature, simply because it is my dream.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Peace & Love,
Troy Johnson
AALBC.com Founder and Webmaster

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AALBC.com Co-Hosts the Annual Black Pack Party Which will be Held in Chicago in 2016

 

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.

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“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).

ebony-letters-to-the-editor

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.

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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 AALBC.com 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.

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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.

lorraineandmaya

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.

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