From email@example.com Mon Jul 3 17:17:35 2000
The Demise Of Emerge And The Ethics Of Black Capitalism
By Ron Daniels <firstname.lastname@example.org>, The Black World Today, 29 June 2000
Over the past several years, under the stewardship of Editor-in-Chief George Curry, Emerge Magazine developed into a highly respected, hard hitting publication with social commentary on critical issues affecting Black people in this country and the world. Curry, recently elected President of the prestigious American Society of Magazine Editors, is the first African American to hold that position. Therefore, the announcement that Emerge would be suspending publication came as a real shock to those of us who hold George Curry and the magazine in high esteem.
The word came from Keith Clinkscales, the Chief Executive officer of Vanguarde Media Group Inc., the publisher of Emerge. Mr. Clinkscales indicated that a new lifestyle magazine would be launched next year targeted at the affluent African American market Emerge was designed to serve. He said, our goal is to publish an entertaining magazine with insightful commentary that will inform and empower our communities. However, the bottom line appears to be that Emerge which had a relatively small circulation with 160,000 readers was either losing money or not sufficiently profitable. Clinkscales expressed the view that a change in editorial strategy will broaden the readership and improve our business prospects.
It is important to note that Vanguarde Media Group is owned by B.E.T. Holdings Inc., the parent company of Black Entertainment Television cable network. Robert Johnson, who is apparently in line to operate a Washington D.C. based airline because of the proposed merger between United Airlines and US Airways, is of course the President/CEO of B.E.T. Mr. Johnson is widely regarded as one of the most savvy and successful entrepreneurs in Black America, a consummate businessman who has made it clear, however, that he is not particularly concerned with mixing racial and social concerns with business. Ironically, as a social and political activist in Youngstown, Ohio, some years ago, I distinctly remember being called by representatives of a start up venture called BET to mobilize Black people to demand that the local cable company carry the programming of this embryonic network. Out of a sense of racial pride and social commitment, we did just that, and I am certain that scores of communities across the country did likewise.
The decision to suspend publication of Emerge would not have been made without Mr. Johnson's knowledge and approval. The casualty of this decision is a magazine which had carved out an important niche as a publication with a social conscience and commitment, precisely what Africans in America need given the assault on Black interests and aspirations over the past two decades.
What Johnson and Clinkscales apparently have in mind is a watered down version of Emerge at a time when we need the kind of strong, forthright and insightful commentary, which had come to be expected during George Curry's tenure. I am reminded that John H. Johnson did a similar thing with Black World magazine, which was edited by the late Hoyt Fuller in the 70's. Black scholars and activists were outraged by Mr. Johnson's decision at that time because of the critical role that Black World played as a journal of critical Black thought. However, protests could not win out over concerns for profitability and Black World was lost. Emerge seems to have suffered the same fate, and it is highly unlikely that any amount of protest will influence the outcome.
All of this raises interesting questions about the ethics of Black Capitalism. During my independent campaign for President in 1992, the commitment to a socially responsible economy was a key component of my platform. The concept of a socially responsible economy was intended to convey the idea that in a just and humane society businesses, large and small, have a moral and ethical obligation to contribute to the well being of the community as a whole, that profitability and social concern must go hand and hand.
Capitalism is an amoral economic philosophy, which admits no obligation to social responsibility. Its motive force is profit, property and the acquisition of material wealth by any means possible. Out of the civil rights/human rights/ nationalist/pan-africanist movements of the era of the 60's distinct schools of thought emerged which urged Black people not to become amoral entrepreneurs emulating the greed oriented ethic of Capitalism. The goal was not to embrace capitalist values and behavior but to adopt humanistic alternatives based on the traditional way of life of African people. Indeed, it was in this spirit and with this objective in mind that Dr. Maulana Karenga authored the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles of the Black Value System, which include Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility and Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics.
It occurs to me that righteous social and political activists must once again articulate and advocate for an African centered economic and business ethic with the values of humanism and social responsibility as its fundamental pillar and priority. In that regard, one would think that the profitable business empire Robert Johnson has built is such that he could well afford to maintain a publication like Emerge even if it is not highly profitable. Such a commitment could and should be made to meet a real need in Black America. It should also be forthcoming out of a sense of social responsibility to a people, Africans in America, who have every reason to expect that their heroic struggle for liberation has spawned a new kind of African businessperson.
Ron Daniels can be reached at <RONMAE@aol.com>.
Editor's note: The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Black World Today.
Copyright (c) 2000 The Black World Today.
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