August 12, 2004, 8:26 a.m.
Blogging Brothers (and Sisters)
Pioneers on the Net.
By Dan LeRoy
Avery Tooley describes himself simply as "a regular brother with some right-leaning political tendencies." In other words, he's the kind of black American that "” if you listen to the Left and our self-proclaimed "black leaders" "” doesn't really exist.
Yet not only is Tooley, a University of Maryland grad student, a real person, he's also sharing his conservatism with the world daily via a blog titled "Stereo Describes My Scenario." Taking its title from a lyric by hip-hop legends Public Enemy, it's a wide-ranging discussion of music and politics underlaid by a no-nonsense philosophy: "(T)he right's focus on the individual is the only practical way" to solve the problems of black America.
Tooley isn't alone in propagating this heresy in the blogosphere, either. He's one of several black bloggers who make up The Conservative Brotherhood "” a group of writers which also includes some women, like La Shawn Barber, a 37-year-old legal assistant and reformed liberal from Washington, D.C., whose own "Corner" features a Christian conservative's perspective on the issues of the day.
"I didn't really have a lot of ambitions for it. It started out as a semi-personal journal," says Barber. But after nine months of blogging and building her audience, "I almost feel like it's an obligation to stay out in the public eye."
Right-of-center black bloggers, in fact, seem to be entering that public eye almost daily. That shouldn't be a surprise, given statistics on growing Internet usage among black Americans, and the revelation that a quarter of young blacks consider themselves conservative (from an eye-opening study conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and released last month at the Democratic National Convention.)
From the veteran's perspective of Baldilocks to the playful philosophizing of Ambra Nykol, the Internet is suddenly full of great black writers whose views aren't monolithic "” you'll find almost-daily disagreements about affirmative action, President Bush or the morality of gangsta rap "” but instead offer a vibrant, hip-hop generation alternative to the broken record of the civil-rights establishment.
One of the most recent additions is also one of the most comprehensive: Booker Rising, a daily news clearinghouse that targets black moderates and conservatives and "seeks to counteract negativity, victimology and defeatism" in the name of the much-maligned Booker T. Washington.
The site's founder, 33-year-old Chicagoan Shamara Riley, began the blog last May, in part after becoming "frustrated with attacks" on modern-day black moderates and conservatives. Riley keeps a running tally of statistics on nearly every aspect of black America, from economics to health, "so folks can argue against claims that there has been little or no progress since the 1960s, or that all blacks think alike."
"(E)ven many of our bad statistics are in decline, but the media isn't covering it," says Riley, via e-mail, "further reinforcing defeatism and a sense that we common folks can't make change in our communities."
Of course, a discussion of black conservative bloggers and the changes they're capable of effecting must include the following caveat, to keep commentators on the Left from getting their knickers any more twisted than usual: Blogging, while growing rapidly, still represents only a small part of the Internet experience. The number of blogs maintained by black Americans is, based on population figures, in all probability a small percentage of the overall total, and of that small percentage, it seems likely that the majority lean leftward. Most black conservative blogs number their visits per day in the hundreds, a far cry from the six-digit traffic generated by the best-known blogs, like Instapundit.
"We're a tiny voice in the Internet wilderness," admits Riley. And Tooley believes that his fellow bloggers won't begin to challenge black political orthodoxy until they gain entry to the mainstream media. (Barber, who's written for the Washington Post and has a biweekly column on several conservative websites, is already making strides in this direction.)
Even among their limited audiences, however, these bloggers are providing black conservatives with something crucial that they often lack: ready access to other black conservatives. One reason celebrated figures like Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams can be derided as "tokens" and "sellouts" is because many people don't know the black conservatives in their own communities.
"They're out there, but I think there's an extent to which we've been told that if you disagree with the civil-rights industry that your blackness is somehow inauthentic," says Tooley, "and so we've been kind of isolated from each other." Blogging, he believes, is helping bridge those gaps.
It will likely be a long, unglamourous process, though, and these bloggers aren't queuing for any credit. "I'm not a pioneer," insists La Shawn Barber, describing herself instead as "a proud, patriotic American who's exercising her right to free speech."
Even if the daily wounds she and her fellow bloggers are inflicting on the civil-rights establishment aren't always visible, however, it's worth frequent visits to their online worlds "” to remind yourself that the battle for the soul of black America hasn't been conceded, not by a longshot.
"” Dan LeRoy is a freelance writer from Connecticut whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Vibe.