Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Discovering The Negro Digest Online: "I'm Liberal, I Think Some Whites are as Good as Blacks"

There is so much being said in this great editorial cartoon. I will leave its meaning in the Age of Obama up to you all to arbitrate.

I mock and deride the Internet as necessary. It has created and legitimated a culture of narcissism. At its worst, the Internet gives power and truth to pseudo-events. Social media has helped to create a whole generation of people who covet fake friends on Facebook, believe that they are "photojournalists" because they can take pictures with a cellphone, and are more comfortable playing in virtual spaces than actually interacting with their fellow human beings in a direct, face-to-face manner.

I am not a Luddite. And as much as I worry about digital democracy and how the Internet could be hurting our ability to communicate in a substantive way, there are moments that bring smiles and hope.

As I discussed with the great and generous Brendan Koerner in this week's podcast, I am very concerned about the ephemeral and transitory nature of digital communications and knowledge creation. I am also excited by how the Internet can make heretofore very specialized and hard to find information much more available to the public, the curious, experts, teachers, and scholars.

The Negro Digest, an African-American publication (1942-1976) which featured news, arts, and letters, from some of the Black Diaspora's most important cultural figures is available on Google Books. Back in the not so distant past, one would have to find like publications in archives, libraries (if you were lucky), or at Afrocentric bookstores. 

Stumbling upon these great finds online is a beginning of learning as they spark curiosity. These finds are not substitutes for the contextual knowledge which tells a person why what they are looking at is important. Nor, does the find or artifact come with an explanation for the other relationships it is signalling too. Mature epistemology is about context; rarely, does one discovery become the beginning and end of that process. 

Nevertheless, random finds online do constitute a start to a potentially productive longer journey. 

I can easily imagine a website or digital collection that includes a master biography or a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy type of compendium where one could click on a title and a series of links and screens would pop up that would take the reader farther down the rabbit hole. While some would suggest otherwise, finding materials online are no substitute for advanced training in the university, attending seminars, working through how knowledge is created (and regimented) with one's peers and mentors, or the type of spontaneous moments that come from being in class/lecture or making a great find in the archives or stacks. 

Finding materials such as the Negro Digest online, are however, a nice complement to those other processes. 

In an age of austerity, limited public resources, and a backlash against "wasteful" spending for intellectual work which does not directly support either the military industrial complex or "business," low-cost digital platforms may be something that those who are guardians of knowledge and information may have to reluctantly accept as facts on the ground.

Are the options this limited: Adapt, die, or become like the the dodo bird?

Neoliberalism is creating a set of horrible options for the academy and knowledge workers. Survival may be dictated by getting ahead of the curve and staying there. Why lie to ourselves about what has/is already coming to pass?


Shady Grady said...

Yes. Definitely Old School. =)

The Sanity Inspector said...

Yet another opportunity for people to be informed of the trove now available via Google Books. The books and journal articles on race relations from a century ago make for profoundly stimulating reading.

chauncey devega said...

Any particular finds to share?

The Sanity Inspector said...

Several, of interest to me at least. I told you a while back about that poll of black folks in 1900, as to how hopeful of the future they were. There was one book by an elderly white man, who had been in Virginia's army during the Civil War but who at time of writing in the late 1800s was dedicated to what he perceived as black uplift. There was another by a northern black newspaperman from the 1910s, scoffing at the worth of white people's goodwill. Most every white man in most every lynch mob, he declared, knew at least one black man whom he thought the world of. There are plenty of essays by W. E. B. DuBois in the weekly magazines of the early 1900s, in one of which he explains how sick he is of being called "an exception". There's an investigative book of Atlanta's race relations, written a few years after the riots of 1908. There are government inquiries into the riots in Chicago, in Elaine, in Cicero, in Wilmington--even Congressional hearings into the troubles of Reconstruction, with testimony from freedmen. Lots of hateful racial fulminations, of course...but also lots of hopeful writings by blacks themselves, poignantly so, in light of what was actually in store for the remainder of their lives into the 20th century.

Just go to Google Books and type "negro" and whatever other keyword you want. Then under the search tools limit the results to Free Google Books. That's where the really old full text material is.

chauncey devega said...

email me some links and a few comments if so inclined and I will feature them. You have done some groundwork do share.

Mary O'Grady said...

Thank you! This reading is so valuable.

chauncey devega said...

Than you your reading is valuable too ;)