Letter to the Editor: The Return of the Emancipator

I’m just not sure I would say that without black people there would be no democracy at all,” Chris Wallace asserted during a recent discussion with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones about now-not-anymore existing CNN+.

The exchange said it all and crystallized the reason The Emancipator had to exist. Wallace, an affable white man who has found unchallenged success from his version of America – a mythology – underscores why audiences need an alternative to petrified ideas reinforced by traditional news media. Wallace forgetlessly glossed over the abolitionist era and the mid-century civil rights movement that pushed America toward a truer version of itself, as our founders intended. Today, we launch a comment-driven digital publication inspired by the Black experience as we reinvent the nation’s first abolitionist newspapers and reshape the conversation about ending racism.

Just as abolitionist publications in the 19th century called for the end of black enslavement, The Emancipator will amplify grand ideas and solutions for the realization of a racially just society. As we center the roots of anti-blackness, we will explore the intersections that entangle us all, regardless of ability, race, class, religion or other ways of being. Shared insights will show how to create systems where some win and others lose and what we can do about it.

We believe that historical context is often missing from daily reporting. As seasoned journalists, we’ve fed the media machinery that often doesn’t leave enough room for deeper digs. We’re left with surface coverage that follows the same tropes, bending to the attention and needs of established power at the expense of underserved communities that need information and analysis – to live. Given how news organizations struggled to accurately label the January 6 riot, why is the media so reluctant to label it “racist”? The division now sweeping the country proves that we need to think more about what our next steps will be: The path of the emancipator is to use intelligent, incisive commentary from a range of voices that put humanity and justice above all else place.

This disturbing tête-à-tête between Wallace and Hannah-Jones, a black woman and member of our Advisory Board, is actually telling for our mission. Hannah-Jones matched his energy joke for joke: “You can’t call yourself the greatest democracy and the greatest democratizing force in the country while you’re violently and brutally repressing democracy at home. And that has happened to millions of Americans.”

Observing this revealed a peculiarly American tendency to dissect, to take the bite out of the harm that racism causes, to prioritize the comfort of the very people affected by racist systems and social norms that undermine this toxic and fundamental keep power alive. Wallace suggested that perpetuating a heroic myth of returning soldiers from World War II was more important than pointing out the dangers of racism that persisted in the country after the war. But this kind of comforting omits so much of the truth of the American experience and is why the media talk needs a course correction.

What we do know for sure: The 2020 police killing of George Floyd, which sparked the largest US social justice protest of all time, and (for some) revelations about racial inequality from the coronavirus pandemic have pushed more people to do it all over again to reconsider. While there are those who aim to destroy our country through actions such as storming the US Capitol to overthrow an honest, fair presidential election; decreasing voting rights; and oppress the LBGTQ community, many more people across a range of differences want to learn more, do more, and be better advocates for the America Freedom Project.

The abolitionist movement was a multiracial movement whose major voices include: William Lloyd Garrison, a white man who edited the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator in our hometown of Boston; Frederick Douglass, a freed black man who founded The North Star; and Maria Stewart, the Black women abolitionist and women’s rights advocate who informs our debut series, We Can Solve the Racial Wealth Gap. Let’s not forget Elihu Embree, a white abolitionist in Tennessee who founded the original Emancipator in 1820. As we explore historical lines, we all have the opportunity to be informed of their ideas, their energy, and their values.

Now we use Black Liberation as an entry point into fundamental ideas about freedom and democracy. Our contribution to the solution is to bring together deep evidence, science-based and community-informed evidence to explore ways to stop racism from perpetuating its harm. And we mean anyonewhether you are Asian, Brown, White, Indigenous or Black. Our country is polarized by a dangerous lack of context and depth that threatens the gains we have made in creating an inclusive society. As we look at the continuum of progress as well as setbacks, we are encouraged that the challenges we face represent a moment in time. We have a chance to drive a paradigm shift by building a newsroom that combines racial justice with democracy as our priorities.

When the nation is pressured to live up to its ideals by appealing to people underserved and abused by social policies, laws, and norms, history shows that everyone benefits. As co-editors of The Emancipator, we are at the service of emancipation – from disinformation, ideological ignorance, oppression, bondage, extremism and hatred.

It’s emancipation time. Let’s go.

Deb & Bernstein

Associate Editor, The Emancipator

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