As interesting as Ebony’s November 65th anniversary collectors issue was I often wonder about the status of Black magazines in general. Ebony came about in a period when there were no national Black magazines. They showed that they were proud to have an African-American publication, and were unapologetic about the fact that they were a Black magazine. Black Enterprise was a celebration of the titans of Black businesses, the movers and shakers in the business field. It showed us that Blacks were successful as businesses other than automobile dealerships or owners of fast food franchises.
Yet nothing that those early Black publications, television shows or movies could offer before the eighties could compare to the assault of the mainstream culture by the hip-hop culture. Suddenly everything that mattered pertained to hip-hop. Rap music was the official theme music of Black people and those at the top of the hip-hop game were the leaders and messiahs of Black youth. Things have changed since then, and hip-hop is not all knowing, omnipresent, or omnipotent anymore. Young Blacks listen to other forms of music instead of just hip-hop and the climate of urban music is returning back to that of the early nineties, before hip-hop had dominated the airwaves and people actually listened to other forms of music. People are finally forthcoming about the rock music that they listen to, and where Beyonce dominated the pop charts five years ago artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are just as important. I am sure that somewhere, somehow, young Black kids even listen to the likes of Taylor Swift.
Can we find success through other means though? A lot of Black people are online and the means through which Black culture is spread has shifted from the high school antics of MySpace and Black Planet to serious discussions about the issues on YouTube and blogs written by us for us. When I first started off on Twitter I hardly saw any other African-Americans there, now the overwhelming majority of my followers share my skin color and a lot of them are half my age. We were supposed to be locked out of the Internet because a lot of us did not have computers or high speed Internet access, yet you can always find us in a public library somewhere, and more than a few of us have laptops and netbooks and take advantage of free Wi-Fi.
Times have changed, but is anyone really paying attention to Black magazines these days? Vibe magazine was an interesting cross cultural publication but it would seem as though people are looking for that genuine article. I see The Source and XXL, but I would rather read GQ, Interview, Esquire, Time or Newsweek. In fact I still read Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise or even Jet when I am browsing at a bookstore. But I haven’t had an actual magazine subscription in well over a decade.
While it is true that when I actually slow down and take out time to read a magazine I usually read it for hours I haven’t felt the need to read a magazine in years. I am addicted to the idea of having 12 windows open and switching back and forth between websites. I also love checking Twitter to see what my followers are up to. Magazines do not feed my restless mind like the Internet does. On the other hand, magazines often offer a depth that is rarely found online. Typically the best articles I have found are reprints online of magazine and newspaper articles. The Black experience seems to be multi-dimensional and richer than it used to be, even though the romanticized novelty of being Black was lost a long time ago. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that Black culture is not found in any one place online, but is spread thin throughout cyberspace. If you were looking for that particular “Black experience” online you won’t find it, rather you will find a lot of young Black kids online that aren’t particularly hung up about “being Black”, as my generation often was …