Paramount Global Joins The Ongoing Efforts To Erase Black History

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Mary J. Blige, BET Awards  Source: Paras Griffin / Getty

If something happened but it wasn’t documented, does it count as history? 

It is documented–codified by law– for example, that July 4th is Independence Day because the Declaration of Independence was signed on that day in 1776. Not true. It was actually voted on by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776, and the signing began on August 2nd, 1776.  And of course it only meant independence for white, property owning men. But America continues to promote a false narrative that today is etched in minds everywhere as the truth, as history.  

But if America is so comfortable with false narratives, what happens to the real story? There are events, creations and perspectives that are historical and that tell Black America’s history and development. And we know all too well that huge swaths of those truths were wiped from public memory and texts, and only work of the most dedicated historians, journalists and advocates has excavated the details of our lives in this nation and beyond.

But we also want to believe that that was part of an especially terrible past. Yet today, in this moment, and despite the ability to record and preserve everything digitally, there are still those determined to erase the truth and real-world events and creations as if they never happened. 

Paramount Global Removes Key Black Cultural Content

On June 24, Variety reported that Paramount Global removed all content from MTV News’ website as well as CMT. Countless hours of video content and news and entertainment articles were disappeared just like that.. Two days later, Deadline reported that Paramount Global also wiped clean the video archive of Comedy Central. 

This purge came just months after Vice did the same thing. In February, Fortune reported that Vice Media’s website shut down amid its massive company layoffs. The media industry has been experiencing severe layoffs and financial issues, with layoffs at publications like theGrio, The Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, Okayplayer, and many others. However, the erasure of website content was unexpected–and it’s scary. With a board vote and the press of a button, all of this history–much of it chronicling Black lives and culture—became completely unavailable to the public.

The disabling of these websites and their respective archives of content is just the latest example of how erasure of multi-level disciplines are transforming Black history into Black myth.

74th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards - Red Carpet

Questlove at the Director’s Guild Awards Source: Jesse Grant / Getty

Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson won the 2022 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for Summer of Soul, which chronicled the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which featured amazing performances from Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, and others. The footage of the festival had been locked away for over 50 years. 

Many people who saw it did not know that the festival ever happened, despite it being attended by tens of thousands of people, and captured by a full production crew. Had it not been for this film, it would’ve almost been like the festival never happened. 

Summer Of Soul Photo Of Sly Stone

Sly Stone performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, featured in the documentary SUMMER OF SOUL. Source: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures / Searchlight Pictures

The same thing can be said about the acclaimed documentary Mr. Soul!, about the innovative PBS program, Soul!, a template for a host of Black talk shows and variety shows after it. If it weren’t for this documentary, who would know that this show is responsible for being the prototype for so many Black variety and talk shows that we know now, from Soul Train to 106 & Park? And it’s not just digital media under attack. 

The Banning of Black Books

In 2013, Ralph Ellison’s legendary novel, Invisible Man, was banned from school libraries in Asheboro, North Carolina, as the Los Angeles Times reported. One of the school board members who approved the banning said, “I didn’t find any literary value,” as one of the reasons. Why does a white man get to decide whether or not a book by and about the Black experience of living in America has value for a potential Black student?

In 2023, several book by Black authors that tell Black narratives were banned in areas in Florida, like Fred T. Joseph’s The Black Friend, George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, and  Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, as a way to reverse the alleged negativity of critical race theory. In Pickens County, South Carolina, books like Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi is banned from schools, according to the NAACP.

Books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye have been banned for years. 

The Paramount Global purge of the archives from MTV News, Comedy Central, etc., follow a pattern of erasure as a method of slowing down the national discourse that’s required to foster any real understanding and healing needed to positively advance  race relations. Certainly, there are fiscal reasons for these websites to go dark, but it’s not coincidental that white executives making decisions that aspects of Black culture aren’t important enough for preserving is a form of dangerous revisionist history and a steady, long-running, large-scale gaslighting. 

For decades, traditional media has failed to adequately represent Black voices and experiences–and that’s when they were covered at all. In recent years, however, there has been a concerted effort by many to create more inclusive and diverse media platforms, which include articles, videos, and other content that reflect the realities and richness of Black life. When these resources are removed or lost due to website shutdowns, it’s not just information that disappears—it’s a crucial part of cultural and social history.

Educational institutions, activists, and community organizations frequently rely on these media resources to provide context, information, and advocacy tools. Articles and videos hosted on media websites are often used in curricula, research, and community education programs to highlight issues affecting Black communities and to support initiatives aimed at fostering equality and justice.

When this content is removed, educators and advocates lose access to a rich repository of knowledge. This hampers their ability to educate effectively and to advocate for change. The absence of these resources creates a gap in the collective understanding of racial issues, making it harder for society to recognize and address the systemic problems that persist.

We Must be the Keepers of Our Culture

Fortunately, on July 2, Internet Archive was able to retrieve a generous portion of MTV News’ content, via its WayBackMachine online archive, according to Variety. But will that be enough? Alternative methods of keeping important digital articles and video content must now be seriously considered by creators going forward. Sites like YouTube.com, Medium, and Substack, are good places to put content in case these shutdowns happen again. It’s up to the creators now to determine what’s worth saving instead of the companies, who seemingly don’t care enough. 

Beyond the digital archiving issue, there’s still a book banning problem that isn’t going away. While the NAACP is filing lawsuits to reverse book bannings, other prominent members of the community are taking their own actions. Acclaimed Chicago rapper Noname started her own online literary community, the Noname Book Club, where Black books by Black authors are shared and provided for those who want and need them. In 2021, she and the club launched the Radical Hood Library, a brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles that hosts book readings, film screenings, and provides books for the incarcerated. 

Let her efforts be one of a million North Stars, guiding us to places where we ensure our own voices and experiences-–in perpetuity so that our history doesn’t not become myth.

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