Mass Media and African Sovereignty
It is always appropriate for a people to question the status of their sovereignty. It seems especially timely during the month of August, or as some refer to it, Black August; the time when we commemorate the Black liberation struggle, prison reform movement and political prisoners. This past week the question of African sovereignty was again raised during a panel hosted by the Association of Black Psychologists. It is an important question, one of sovereignty, for as Lia Bascom said recently, the powerful battle over nationalism has largely subsided while the liberal politics of assimilation have simply taken over.
The panel touched on any number of vital elements all of which currently work to inhibit the sovereign aspirations of anyone – and especially Black people – around the world. Culturally, economically, politically and psychologically African people are under assault, and in new ways, some never-before experienced not the least of which is the damaging presence of Barack Obama as an imperial president. My own focus remains and is at times myopically focused on media, communications, propaganda or simply put; psychological warfare. For how are a people to be free if oppositional ideas are so easily and powerfully disseminated among them?
This question of communication forced Huey Newton to amend his ideas of nationalism recreating these into the internationalist perspective he called “intercommunalism.” His concerns included the ability of imperial powers to control mass communication and, therefore, to have inordinate ability to breakdown nearly all tendencies of colonized people to be sovereign. The single super power dominance of the United States which wields its media intentionally as a militarized weapon with atomic capabilities to dominate the globe renders all other claims to nationalism meaningless. Decades later his political opposite would agree. Zbigniew Brzezinski would write that this country’s imperial reach will outlast other pretenders to that throne precisely because of its control over “popular entertainment and mass communication.” And he may have been right. Perhaps, given today’s small but important shifts in state power our understanding of imperial power may need to be disassociated from any particular state and be seen more as an amorphous international elite. But the point remains that an ability to be sovereign requires an ability to communicate that need, to make it a popular idea among a given community, and to protect against the psychological assaults from hostile entities.
And just where are we with that today? As we have routinely reported here, in the United States, from within the seat of global power, we have very little room for these discussions to occur. Worsening the already horrific state of media affairs for Black people here is the recent sale of legendary Black radio network Inner City Broadcasting to a private-equity firm headed by White male billionaire Ron Burkle, just after, of course, the move of even the liberal and bourgeois Johnson Publishing Company to the JP Morgan empire. And even my beloved mixtapes, hip-hop’s original mass medium, are becoming more and more the source of promotional work for record companies as opposed to the liberated medium they once were and still are in their many varied but lesser popular forms.
Our current ability to defend against the media weaponry of imperialism is as weak as at any point in our history. Just consider for a moment the ability for major imperial media to immediately assign blame for the recent massacre in Norway as an Arab/Muslim “terrorist” attack and then upon learning of the killer’s super Whiteness redefined him as the “lone wolf” which, particularly for young men of similar origins, has been video-gamed into a powerful compliment. Remember the “Army of One” campaign? It is practically code for “hero” or “thank you!”
But this poor state of media power is only the reflection of an equally poor state of nationalist organization or of even nationalist fantasy. Fanon once wrote that, “The settler’s work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler.” It would certainly seem they have done their part but as for us… ?
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. On the web visit us at BlackAgendaReport.com.
Dr. Jared A. Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore and is the author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto (AK Press). He can be found online at: IMIXWHATILIKE.COM.