Monday, October 5, 2009


As black culture moved closer and closer to becoming the mainstream of American culture, as issues pertaining to black people began getting more and more attention from all sectors of the mainstream press, Ebony and Jet stood in place. Soon these two publications started to look old, stiff and severely out of touch. I remember Ebony running ads for skin-bleaching cream throughout the 1980s. To say that Ebony and Jet came to be stuck in a time warp is a massive understatement.

Ebony and Jet are most certainly cultural symbols of historical importance. The magazines represented the pioneering vision of John H. Johnson, who built a publishing empire out of thin air and who, along with Berry Gordy, came to embody the image of the black media mogul at a time when most black people couldn’t even get a drink of water in a public place. Johnson’s magazines served a mighty purpose, documenting the lives of people for whom invisibility had become the norm. The magazines often cast black life in a uniquely glamorous light that was very much ahead of its time, and they also featured news about everyday black people who would have never made anyone else’s pages. Where else could you read about black people who had won the local lottery and got buried in a coffin made to look like a Cadillac? Yet, as with many black institutions from that era, when the walls of segregation began crumbling and then falling, Ebony and Jet struggled to keep up with the new pace.

Like historically black colleges and universities that once had a lock on enrolling most of the best black athletes, desegregation meant that these perpetually underfunded institutions suddenly had to struggle to compete for talent that had been theirs by default. Many would complain about how desegregation robbed these schools of their own resources. But such whining undermined the massive gains that access to mainstream educational institutions afforded future generations.

While the old heads were still crying over what they lost because of desegregation, black culture was slowly seeping into previously hostile sectors of American culture. From the 1980s forward, black culture imposed itself on the mainstream in such a way that would make publications like Ebony and Jet obsolete.

The potential sale of Ebony and Jet is really not that big a deal. Though many may bemoan the sale, it’s time to come into the present. In the era of the first black American president, such heirlooms need to be put to rest or at least viewed in a way that is consistent with the times in which we live. In that sense, the potential sale of Ebony and Jet signifies not so much a loss as an opportunity.


No comments: