The creation of the Internet and the emergence of social media platforms is a mixed blessing. On one hand we applaud how this development broke the corporate hold on news and political expression. Indeed, the vast majority of information we receive via American media (and from which we develop opinions) comes from five corporations: Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and News Corp.
By disrupting this old boy media monopoly, the Internet has undoubtedly helped common citizens to realize and broaden their free speech and free press rights. This development has facilitated worldwide unfiltered, on-the-ground news coverage to which we previously had no access. We now have undeniable proof of police misconduct; activists have a quick and reliable way to communicate, organize and mobilize; previously voiceless groups now have platforms for speaking their own special truths; small business owners can promote their goods and services to target audiences without six-figure marketing budgets.
However, this blessing doubles as a curse. An Internet connection, webcam, and smartphone is all anyone needs to craft journalism and post clips providing commentary available for view throughout the world. This has encouraged millions of people in the U.S. to create radio shows, YouTube channels, blogs, and webinars. Some are impressively well done. Others are……not.
In the Black community, we see the meteoric growth of social media commentators providing streams of opinion, analysis and prescriptions for Black empowerment and liberation. Some of these social commentators are well-informed and experienced. This group provide us with a virtual classroom or newsroom without walls that we have access to at any time. In these times, a young (or old) Black person can receive tons of information on just about any topic, free or at nominal cost.
But there is another group of Black social commentators who provide/promote inaccurate information, flawed analysis, reactionary and fundamentalist ideas, and half-baked theories. “What’s the big deal” you ask? At minimum, such people become yet another distraction for Black people seeking relevant and alternative information. At worst, such people mislead and misinform Black people which inevitably adds to our ignorance, disunity and suffering. In some cases the situation is so egregious that one wonders if some of these self-proclaimed gurus are actually agents for the FBI. In this context, I unashamedly demand that Black social media political commentators qualify themselves through knowledge and experience regarding the issues they address. In fact, I filmed a clip showing our people how to determine social commentators they should take seriously.
Some (usually incompetent and irresponsible social commentators) feel that my demand for Black social/political commentators to be “qualified” is elitist and condescending. I beg to differ. Simply put, would you trust or value the opinions of someone speaking on heart surgery who has little or no education and experience in this field? Or a person with no mastery of mathematics speaking on engineering? Or a person with no pilot experience flying you to another country? Or a person who hasn’t studied law representing you in court? Or someone with no background in finance, business or tax matters being your accountant? No you wouldn’t (if you have sense).
Why? Because we RESPECT heart surgeons, engineers, airplane pilots, lawyers, and accountants as serious and valuable professionals. Also, we understand that our dependence on people who are incompetent in these fields, would result in disastrous outcomes for us.
That we do not extend this wise and practical thinking to people speaking on our history, or providing political or economic analysis and action plans, sadly implies that we do not see Black leadership as a respected profession/vocation which impacts our lives significantly. Demanding that we properly prepare ourselves through education and experience before making public analysis of our condition is not being elitist or condescending, it’s being respectful of Black people and Black Liberation! Finally, I am not naive enough to believe we can mandate anyone to do anything. Some of these people are motivated by financial gain and status. They will not “stop their hustle.”What I’m really asking is for Black people to be discerning and demanding with the social media content they consume…
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School and the YouTube channel Black Liberation University.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org