Ebony/Jet were print media designed to keep Black people abreast of what was going on with Black people. Ebony was the Black version of a Life magazine, focusing the majority of the time on the positive aspects of Black life. Jet was a news recap that we could read to keep up with what was going on with Black people all over the world. The Chicago Defender was the local newspaper that kept us informed on a daily basis of the news that was of interest to Black people.
As all of these entities waned, older Black people knew of their importance, yet our voices and concerns were overpowered by younger Black people, who pointed to social media as the wave of the future. Commentaries like, “get with it!” and “Nobody wants to be carrying around a piece of paper when I can see the same thing on my phone” were often mouthed by the savvier generation. Plus the illusion that the news was going to be free over the internet also played a major role. Why pay for something when the internet was going to provide it at no cost?
However, one of the major things that got overlooked in all of this is the old saying that, “We can’t do what they do.” The verb “do” can be replaced with a number of other verbs to form derivatives of that statement that can be applied to any situation involving Black people.
I was thinking about both things as I watched several news reports regarding missing Black people. Out of anger and frustration, the relatives of those who are missing were quick to point out how the Gabby Petito case generated nationwide news stories, but their missing loved ones’ stories barely became a blip on the news radar. And of course, the race factor became a major subset of the commentaries.
Personally I can’t deny that race is a factor. But there’s also the laziness of journalists who were able to search Gabby’s social media accounts and come up with different angles on the case. Gabby also had a huge following who involved themselves in the search as amateur detectives.
Knowing that Black people can’t get the reporting out of the media that others do, and that our Black media was allowed and even encouraged to become a wayside, what can we do now to get the nowhere-to-be-found stories of our missing Black people out?
I place the job of coming up with the solution to that dilemma at the feet of the younger generation. They need to build a comprehensive online presence that we can turn to in order to address the serious issues others ignore. Too much emphasis of the internet has been placed on the fun aspect, with little consideration to the serious issues at hand.
The solution to our stories getting overlooked is simple. Rather than lament on what “they” don’t do, let’s focus on what “we” can do.
Arlene Jones is an resident of Austin and writes a weekly column in our sister publication, the Austin Weekly News.