If You’re Gonna Criticize, Get It Right

By Barney Blakeney

A friend recently sent me a link to a story noting that a Charleston Chronicle story led to the hiring of a local Black owned firm to do business with one of the presidential candidate’s campaigns. I’m low tech/no tech so when I pulled up the link I found myself on a page that displayed Chronicle reviews and recommendations. One comment read, “Quite frankly, this paper is derisive and usually bordering untruth. Not everything is about race, and yet you seem to make it that way. It’s sad.” That pissed me off, ya’ll!

Now I don’t own The Chronicle. I don’t even run The Chronicle. I just write for the paper. I get a check (small as it may be) just like anybody else who does work for a company. Just so happens I believe in what this company does. I believe its work is vitally important to the Black community. I’ve spent a good portion of my life contributing to that work.

I don’t always take it upon myself to defend other people’s stuff. I catch enough hell defending my own stuff! But I’ve been a principle writer for this publication a lotta years. So I took the comment personally. I’ve learned not to take criticism personally. I try to take criticism constructively, whether or not it’s meant to be.

The first thing I did was try to determine whether the critic’s points were valid. I looked at stories covered in several recent copies of the paper. Didn’t find anything particularly derisive. Bordering on untruth? How the heck can anything border on untruth? Either it’s true or not true. Sorta like being a little bit pregnant. Not everything is about race? I beg to differ. I believe dang near everything perpetuated by mankind is about race. Wish it weren’t so – otherwise Black folks wouldn’t be here – but it is. And about the paper’s editorial position being sad – what’s sad are people who are unwilling to face the glaring realities of our society. Things never will change until we recognize things for what they are.

I’ve said before, I would love nothing more than to use my gifts to write about daisies, daffodils and damsels. But as Marvin Gaye sang in the song ‘Trouble Man,’ “I come up hard.” As a product of 1950s and 1960s America I chose to follow the paths of Black writers who came before me. And this is why.

The Black Press began in 1827 when John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish started Freedom’s Journal in New York to communicate their views on the various social, political and economic issues that commonly confronted them and their respective communities. The usual channels of public media – particularly newspapers – were denied to them. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the established press routinely denigrated African Americans in print to the extent of questioning both the integrity and morality of the entire race.

During the 1920’s and 30’s when major papers virtually ignored black America, the glory days of the black press began. Major papers usually wouldn’t even run African-American obituaries. Black papers became the primary means of group expression and a community service outlet reporting on job opportunities, retailers that didn’t discriminate. Black papers covered charity events in uplifting society pages with pictures of dignified black people enjoying each other’s company. Politics, sports, money and social issues were reported from the perspective of black readers.

The careers of Lena Horne, Little Richard, Paul Robeson and many other entertainment greats were promoted in their early stages before major media took notice. Editorial writers crusaded for open housing, quality schools, voting rights, fair employment, and equal accommodations—demands that later formed the civil rights agenda. They published stories written by America’s leading Black activists and intellects—Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Langston Hughes in The Chicago Defender and W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Marcus Garvey, and Elijah Muhammad in the Pittsburgh Courier. Today in Charleston, The Chronicle is that publication.

Some folks wanna think we live in some post-racial America. Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States didn’t end racism in America. America today probably is more racist than before Obama’s election! The Trump administration threatens to take America back to a time of racial discrimination and segregation unknown to the current generation of Black folks.

I recently read an op-ed written by Dr. William Small published in the December 25 edition of The Chronicle. In part Dr. Small, one if my newly adopted mentors, in writing about Christmas said, “The spirit of this special time of year, when we extend ourselves and our budgets to be our ‘best selves’, is nevertheless short lived. ‘One night of love does not make up for six nights alone’ (Waylon Jennings). When we hear Santa’s sleigh on our roof tops, if we listen closely, we can hear U.S.-made war machinery raining terror on roof tops in Yemen and Afghanistan.

“Ideally, while we harbor images of our children falling asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, we are reminded of the images of immigrant children sleeping on aluminum blankets separated from their parents and secured by fencing because they and their parents sought relief from the misery and threats to life and safety that is often, in major part, created or reinforced by U.S. policies.

“As people are rioting in Hong Kong, Baghdad, Cairo, Bamako, Tripoli, Kashmir and other places abroad and while violence, hatred and physical insecurity become increasing problems at home hopefully we can hear our brothers cry, feel our neighbor’s pain and share the joy as we commit to seek common solutions to heal the land.  Hopefully in that space we can slow down enough to understand that the world has become our collective neighborhood.”

With that kind of writing from such esteemed scholars, I don’t think this publication is derisive or inaccurate in its depiction of the events which occur in our community. Does it always get it right? Of course not. But I think it merits attention and support. And it pisses me off that some supposedly intelligent people won’t make the effort to deal with that.

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