President Obama took the time to greet a group of black bloggers in late 2010 as part of the push to gain African-American support for the midterm elections. This shows yet again how key new media is to his overall campaigning strategy, but more importantly demonstrates the power of black new media to unite the disparate factors in our community into one empowered group. Black voters online must be courted through African-American outlets. Jack & Jill Politics is one of the most important African-American venues, documenting issues that deserve more attention than the mainstream often doles to us and exerting pressure against enemies of the black middle class.
The Atlanta Post sought out co-founder Cheryl Contee to discuss how Jack & Jill Politics came into being, its successes as a top political influencer, and her hopes for the black community in the future as pressure from right-wing demagogues intensifies.
What is the social mission of Jack & Jill Politics?
Our goal is to provide a more balanced perspective from average, middle class African-Americans on politics and current affairs.
What inspired you to start the site? How old is it?
I grew frustrated in the summer of 2006 by the lack of voices from black people in American mainstream media who are neither criminals nor Will and Jada. We wanted to reflect the opinions and priorities of the majority of black folks who are hardworking, tax paying, concerned citizens.
What has been your most important story or influential blog post?
I’d say our early endorsement of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate! We were also very active during the 2008 election in pushing back on racism on the campaign trail. Our posts taking the Congressional Black Caucus and NAACP to task have also been influential in how those organizations approach African-Americans online.
Finally, we take a small share of credit in partnering with Color of Change and other organizations in pushing back on Glenn Beck and cutting down his advertising dollars. He’s now off the nation’s TV airwaves, and I’m proud of reducing a hate-filled fearmonger’s influence.
How do you generate revenue? Is that a primary concern, or does the political influence of the site come first? Is the site a springboard for personal branding?
Revenue is not a primary concern; we’re an all-volunteer operation and are all professionals with decent jobs. That said, we do accept advertising since that helps pay for site operations and travel to speaking appearances. For many of our bloggers, Jack and Jill Politics has created a strong platform that has helped their careers and opened other doors.
Is President Obama handling the debt ceiling debacle as he should?
I think Obama’s handling this more adroitly than the healthcare reform debate. The White House appears to be learning how to deal with the extreme right-wing better.
Do you think black republicans like Rep. Allen West and Herman Cain represent important figures in black politics? What is good and bad about their rise?
I do think the rise of West and Cain is worth watching. Unlike Obama, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick, they do not appear to appeal to a broad, diverse audience — their supporters are primarily white. So that’s of interest. That said, given their base, I believe like Clarence Thomas, they will likely advocate for policies that hurt, not help, other black people.
What is the number one thing most politicians tend to miss when trying to attract the black vote?
I think today it’s important to go beyond just the barbershop, beauty salon and church. These are still important gathering points. However, Pew Internet just released a study that says that 25% of blacks are using Twitter. The digital divide is dead and politicians need to get hip to a digital-savvy hip-hop generation on the march.
Are blacks doing enough to use the web as a political tool?
I think right now on sites like Tumblr or Twitter, there’s a lot of discussion that’s fun. I’d like to see more black folks tweet directly to members of Congress, their state legislatures and even corporations and tell them what they believe is right for our communities and for American families.
What are some of your predictions for the 2012 presidential election?
I think it’s going to be really rocky. Obama is an attractive candidate and the GOP will be throwing the kitchen sink at him to try and dent his appeal. Things might get ugly and more than a little bit racist.
If you could say one thing in person to President Obama, what would it be?
I already said it! I met him in person finally at the first White House Twitter Townhall. I told him that I’ve tried my best to try and help him. Obama’s not perfect — there are definitely issues I wish he’d approach differently. Yet I respect him as an amazing leader who really is trying to be the president of all the people.
I’m proud to say I helped America’s first black president get elected. That’s something I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about someday, I hope!