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FREEDOM IS NOT FREE

Oh freedom
Oh freedom
Oh freedom over me! 
And before I’d be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free…

            “Oh Freedom” indicates the price many 19thCentury Black Americans were willing to pay for their freedom.  Later, others paid their “Freedom Fares” by revolting and running away from plantations; protesting, preaching, publishing, and praying; sitting- in, standing up and speaking out; and engaging in a host of other non-violent and violent forms of resistance.  Today, Blacks must continue to pay their “Freedom Fares” in order to make good on the roles “we the people” play in establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity as indicated in the Constitution.

To be sure, the vast majority of Blacks experience problems that are so long-rooted, multi-faceted, and structural in nature that Blacks cannot simply lift themselves up by their bootstraps.  Assistance is needed from federal, state, and city governments; educators; corporate leaders; private foundations; and community agencies.  To be equally sure, however, the realization of Blacks’ freedom is also significantly their personal responsibility.  As a case in point, consider the “Modern Media Complex’s” (television, movies, newspapers, magazines, computers, DVDs) virulent impact on Black children.

The June 2011 Northwestern University report, “Children, Media, and Race Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American Children,” indicated, “Black, Hispanic and Asian 8-18-year-olds consume an average of four and a half more hours of media a day than White youth do...”  The report also noted, “…Differences in media consumption are especially pronounced with regard to TV, with Black youth… watching an average of nearly six hours of TV a day on various platforms…” 

Black children’s exceptionally heavy use of the media is especially alarming given the content of Children and Television: Fifty Years of Research which reviewed television viewing’s impact on a very wide range of outcomes for children, e.g., self-esteem, violence, cognitive development, racism, sexism, fears about ethnic groups and religions, gender roles, mental health, juvenile delinquency, tobacco smoking, drinking, sexual activity, grades in school, and career aspirations.  Given the vast potential for adverse impact on Black children who consume too many hours of media per day, coming to their aid is part of the “Freedom Fare” that Black parents must pay as others such as the Heinz Endowment do their parts (See the African American Men and Boys report on media portrayals of African American males.)

How can Black children’s freedom be secured if instead of addressing the “three Rs,” their parents permit them to “text” on average of 6 times per hour as a 2010 Nielsen study noted for teenagers?  How are Black children to learn the appropriate conduct for being productive mothers and fathers if they are permitted to [1] consume filthy, misogynistic, violence advocating music lyrics; [2] access Internet pornography; [3]  have unfettered use of You Tube; [4] engage in “sexting;” and [5] play incessantly with video games in which success is a function of killing people with chainsaws, hatchets, cars, guns, and bombs —all while gun violence rages throughout Black urban America?   

In a February 18, 2013 Washington Post article, Courtland Milloy wrote as follows, “…part of the reason Chinese kids are doing so much better than many of our black kids is because they’re hitting the books while ours are busy watching ‘Real Housewives’…”  Given the long-term potential adverse impact of the media on their children, now is the time for Black parents to radically reduce the time their children spend with the “Modern Media Complex” and convert the saved time to formal and informal learning that enhances school performance.  Imagine the outcomes for language proficiency if Black parents read to their infants and toddlers for at least an hour per day! 

As noted in a New York Times  February 18, 2013 article, a new journal of Pediatrics study indicated that children’s aggression was significantly reduced if parents limited the time their children spent with violence-laden videos and television and increased their time with educational programming.  Hence, it is clear that Black parents must provide their children with alternatives to media consumption by doing things such as reading library books; writing essays for contests such as those for Martin Luther King Jr. Day; going to museums; engaging in imaginative play; participating in art, music, and dance classes; attending religious activities; engaging in community service; enjoying good old outdoor play as well as organized sports; going with them to see films such as “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and discussing it with them; and putting money into college tuition funds instead of spending hundreds of dollars for LeBron X tennis shoes or Justice clothing pushed by the media.

Given the ubiquitous nature of the “Modern Media Complex,” it would be naive to think that children can be put in some sort of “media bomb shelter.”  However, it is entirely reasonable for Black parents to pay the “Freedom Fare” of watching television with their children and discussing the content with them.   Black parents can contribute to healthy life styles if they explained to their children why they were not permitted to purchase the advertised fatty foods and sugar-laden products that contribute to obesity and the early onset of childhood diabetes.  We would have significant contributions to Black manhood and womanhood development if  Black parents prevented their children from watching sexist videos and then explained to their sons and daughters that women are not simply scantily-clad “baby mama” accessories to men, along with cars, clothing, cognac, chains, and other so-called hip-hop bling. And, as the above New York Times article indicated, “It’s not about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel…,” surely something all parents can do.

We have often heard, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  Given what we know from scientific studies, it is gross negligence for Black parents not to do all they can to make sure that not one iota of their children’s minds is laid waste by the “Modern Media Complex.”  Just in case some parents need assistance with how they might pay their media “Freedom Fares,” the following link and others like it are recommended. http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=4,5,6

 

Jack L. Daniel

Distinguished Service Professor

University of Pittsburgh

February 18, 2013

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