Sixteen years ago, me and my boy Charles Isbell met Henry Louis Gates, Jr on a street in Cambridge MA. We were encouraged by his open and friendly attitude when we told him that we were putting together a black history database online. He didn't know anything about the technology but he would put us in touch with somebody who was working on a similar project. It turned out that project was the multimedia package Encarta Africana. I have the CDs around here somewhere.
Of course Charles and I were a bit dismissive. CDs could never be as interesting, exciting and expansive as online precisely because online is interactive. The black history database we made didn't make us rich or famous, but we did have the distinction of being first.
Way back in those days a number of us on the cutting edge of black cultural production were greatly enthused about such projects, the most significant of which was the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. But while we were, it seemed, in accord with the value of authoritative historical information and its salutary effect on the mass of blackfolks, we were not in accord with regard to the prospects for online. It doesn't take much of a stretch for you to presume that I was very frustrated with the attitude of black academics with regard to their dismissal of online and their insistence on the impermeability of the so-called 'digital divide'. So please forgive me if I now consider the introduction of Gates' new website 'The Root' with something less than a standing ovation.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Washington Post Co. (WPO) (WPO) launched a new online magazine Monday aimed at a black audience, featuring commentary from leading black writers, along with information on genealogy.
Called "The Root," the Web site is the brain child of Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, serves as editor in chief of The Root. Lynette Clemetson, a former New York Times reporter, is the magazine's managing editor. Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, also owned by the Post Co., helped develop The Root.
"We see ourselves as a daily black newspaper in a magazine format with three channels - news, views, and roots," Gates told The Associated Press. "And it's the roots channel that ... makes us completely unique.
I have practically exhausted every amount of critical theory about black culture and politics that I have been able to muster online over the past 15 years since I began pontificating on the Web, and five years prior to that in proto-web online bulletin boards. So while I wonder if there is anything to say to the new Root folks that won't bore me to tears, I still think I may be able to muster some enthusiasm. At least I can point a new aggregation of readers to the content of Cobb, and by extension, the Race Man's Home Companion, Boohab's Factotum, the Cool Zone, Cobb Vision, Vision Circle, The Conservative Brotherhood and the rest of my collected online creations. I suppose that could yield some sense of satisfaction. But I know the real deal is going to be interactive, not just linking. So you'll see me trackbacking as well as mouthing off in the fora for some time.
As for the genealogical stuff, well. Let's hope that it's more than just a marketing honeypot for the DNA industry. We've been over that scandal before. But they're going to have McWhorter and Gladwell onboard so it can't be all that bad. In fact, appropos Gates' signature and style, The Root is guaranteed some measure of respectability in that it will stir any number of progressives to a higher pitch. Gates is so very PBS and you know how that drives some people crazy.
If you don't know, now you know. The Root is online.