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Mayor Kenneth Wright

Black Opinions

From The Publisher: What Portsmouth’s Mayor Wright Said

By Brenda H. Andrews
New Journal and Guide

Last week I traveled to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio to participate on a Black History Month panel entitled :The Black Press: Is It Still Needed?”

That’s an important question to me, as the owner and publisher of a Black newspaper that for 116 years has been charged to inform, enlighten, engage, and serve as a watchdog for a people who historically have been excluded from the mainstream of society. A community of Black lives whose thoughts, feelings and concerns historically have not mattered much outside of the people within its borders.

Our paper strives weekly to bring forth those news stories of inclusion that support the struggles, accomplishments and very being of Black people living in an American society marred by a history of racial division and conflict dating to the unresolved issues of enslavement.

There were three of us on the panel—two member publishers of the Black Press and OH Professor Emeritus Patrick Washburn—and about 300 mainly School of Howard-Scripps communications students.

Washburn has researched, taught and spoken on the Black Press extensively. His late 1980s research book entitled “A Question of Sedition: The Black Press During World War II” should be required reading for anyone seeking to better understand the history of the Black Press. He also appears in the Stanley Nelson documentary on the Black Press, “Soldiers Without Swords”.

Washburn gives focus in this book to concerted efforts by the federal government during and after World War II, under the direction of FBI darling mastermind J. Edgar Hoover, to discredit and neutralize the power of Black newspapers. Their crime? Black newspapers were giving voice to the story of Black military men fighting for democracy abroad that they could not enjoy in their own country.

Hoover sought to cast Black papers negatively as anti-government. He succeeded in leveling a blow to the rising popularity of Black newspapers, but he failed to silence them.

Recently, the New Journal and Guide had the occasion to offer a voice to Mayor Kenny Wright of Portsmouth. It was a voice that we did not challenge, dismiss nor dispute as he gave his perspective on the sources of much publicized infighting on Portsmouth City Council that has cast a negative eye on his city.

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The Mayor’s views about Portsmouth politics and the shift in the balance of power and decision-making from the vantage of historically White privilege in the city to the nouveau Black majority interest on city council hit a few raw nerves. Not only did the message and the messenger come under irate scrutiny by his opponents but even the newspaper was challenged and chastised by a writer for the daily paper for not asking the tough questions.

What the daily paper fails to understand is that the Black Press came into being for one purpose on March 16, 1826 and as we prepare for our 190th anniversary next month, that purpose is still clear. “For too long others have spoken for us; now it is time we speak for ourselves.”

The job of the Black Press was a lot easier in the past. Then, racial injustice and racial inequality needed no explanation in describing the America we lived in. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were firmly entrenched–even accepted and valued as a preferred way of life in parts of our country, including Virginia. People knew their places—good or bad.

But the Black Press has never agreed with the assigned place where those who disagree with us would have us stay. Simply, we will not stay in any place we have not accepted for ourselves nor will we acquiesce to bullying by those who refuse to believe us when we think and speak differently from them.

Asking the so-called “tough questions” by many news reporters is often only a guise that allows reporters to challenge, dismiss and neutralize views contrary to the majority view which explains why many people of color distrust the majority media.

Many Americans today have never experienced a society of overt racial discrimination such as having to sit at the back of the bus or drink from separate water fountains delineated by signs marked “For White Only” ..and “Colored.”

Schools designated as “Colored” or “White” that were legally built, staffed and equipped as racially unequal do not exist, although public schools are as racially segregated today as in the past in most urban cities, including Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Hotel chains and restaurants today welcome the dollars of Black citizens as a normal way of doing business. In fact, the only thing that keeps Blacks from enjoying any public facility is the ability to pay for the services.

Employment and career opportunities are endless, although the unemployment rate for Blacks tends to remain double that of Whites.
But this racial progress appears today as racial regress to many.
Over the past two years in America, our country has been shaken by a series of protest marches, rallies, and town hall meetings in cities throughout the nation, including our own.

The impetus for these activities surround the killings of unarmed black men—Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland—by white police officers. These deadly cases are not isolated.

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Racial unrest has shattered illusions that we are living in what many have dubbed a post racial society.
While the recent outbreaks have caught some off guard and in disbelief, for others of us who follow the racial, social and economic trending in our country, and read the New Journal and Guide, we know there never was anything post racial about our nation. Black Americans are still more disproportionately affected by social maladies than are Hispanic and Caucasian Americans.

The data shows that Blacks are nearly three times as likely as Whites to be poor, almost six times as likely to be incarcerated, and about half as likely to graduate from college. The average wealth of White households in America is 13 times as high as Black households.

Racial issues and racism are more subtle and hidden from view than before but no less potent. And when the discussion of race begins, many Americans are confounded by this condition where racial inequality continues in the midst of racial change and diversity.

Understandably, many Americans refuse to even consider the idea of solutions to racial problems when the privilege of power they hold is threatened. Frederick Douglass said it best: “Nothing concedes power without a struggle.”

The New Journal and Guide is looking beyond the noise of Portsmouth City Council’s infighting with an eye to dispelling the privilege of ignorance about the role of race in politics. It will take more not less courageous conversations like Portsmouth’s Mayor to uncover and dismantle the not so obvious truths that some would like to ignore.
To the question, “Do we still need the Black Press?”
The answer is a resounding yes.

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