You can scratch another Black-owned media company off your list of enterprises. The Root, which was founded in 2008 and today reaches an average of 5 million visitors per month according to Comscore has been acquired by Univision Communications. The Root was founded by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Donald Graham, CEO and chairman of Graham Holdings Company, in January of 2008.
The deal repeats a familiar pattern of Black audiences supporting media entities (see Essence, BET, WLIB Radio) that are initially Black-owned but ultimately sell out to non-Black conglomerates. And while these deals economically enrich the founders, may fuel “collaboration and exchange” and champion diversity efforts, they further diminish the existence of truly Black-owned businesses.
Our diverse communities are continuing to define the fabric of the country, from buying power, to social influence, to elections,” said Isaac Lee, president of News and Digital for UCI and CEO of Fusion.
In an era when African American consumers spend over $1-trillion annually; influence global trends in fashion, music, sports and entertainment; and even have a sitting U.S. President it remains virtually impossible to expand ownership within the media and communications space.
Black communities suffer the highest unemployment, the lowest median family income, and the highest debt. Yet African Americans still outspend all other minority groups, in all categories, spending over $1 trillion dollars annually on goods and services that are purchased primarily from non Black-owned businesses.
The research also proves that companies hire people that look like the owners. and the most impactful way to lower unemployment within a group is to increase the number of business starts (see the Asian community in the US which has the lowest unemployment rate and the highest percentage of business ownership).
There has been a growing conversation amongst some in the Black community regarding the assault on Black-owned media. Television, radio, magazines, newspapers are struggling mightily and closing up shop on a weekly basis. People like Bob Law, Dr. Claud Anderson, Jim Clingman, Sara Lomax Reese and others believed the online and digital space presented an opportunity to level the playing field and insure that our unique messages and stories could be told in an uncompromising fashion.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently issued an apology for a decision to censor his celebrity-genealogy series Finding Your Roots. In this particular segment subject Ben Afflect didn’t want the viewing audience to know that his Savannah ancestors also owned 25 enslaved-Africans. You have to wonder if this would have been an issue for a media entity that was truly Black-owned. We may never know the answer.
The changing diversity and demographics of America are well-documented. In spite of all the nostalgic rhetoric, emotional connections and economic disparities media is all about business. Until Black consumers, community leaders and educational institutions collaborate and uncover new strategies to better leverage their biggest asset, consumer spending it will continue to be used to build generational wealth for other communities.
It’s not a time to be mad it’s a time to be smart. Our war-chest for acquisitions and funding of our own enterprises is currently weak. However if the desire is strong enough, the demand is created, and the business opportunities are shaped we could see a Black America in the 21st Century that becomes an economic competitor. Knock knock.