Sean “P. Diddy” Combs isn’t the only one launching a video revolution this year. We recently launched our premiere digital-video hub, The Root TV, which features a juicy concoction of relevant news clips, provocative Web series and compelling interview segments that we produce in-house. All of the original and curated video content pushes the envelope and sheds light on the myriad layers and levels of the black American experience.
So it should come as no surprise that we tracked down Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal (shout-outs to my alma mater and favorite black studies professor!) to produce a special segment of his weekly webcast Left of Black especially for The Root TV. It will run every Friday and dish out a “contrarian view of blackness.” Professor Neal will chat, in his boogie-down-Bronx-meets-black-intellectual manner, about everything from the symbolism of Jay Z’s death in his 99 Problems video to how black masculinity is “illegible.” The series unpacks pop culture and puts a microscope over a range of topics in a way that gets black Twitter talking and makes Ph.D. students’ eyebrows furrow.
In addition to using social media to bring the ivory tower down to wider audience, professor Neal has successful carved out a niche for himself as the go-to-guy for connecting the dots that emerge in black music and the broader culture. Trust me, his shrewd analysis of R. Kelly and Ron Isley’s “Contagious” video during my Af-Am class back in the day at Duke had the entire class gaping.
In an e-mail exchange, The Root caught up with Neal to talk about how the webcast came to be, the love affair between black pop-culture intellectuals and what he calls the “mobile Diaspora” and what our viewers can expect from the Left of Black webcasts on The Root TV.
The Root: You once described your work as a sort of interventionist critique. You inject your analysis and expertise every now and then into trending topics, to encourage folks to apply a critical eye to what’s going on today. Can you think of any recent examples where you felt really happy and proud to be doing the work that you do?
Mark Anthony Neal: In terms of my own work, I continue to be amazed by the number of folk who are impacted by the work that I’ve done as a pro-feminist black male. Eight years after the publication of my book New Black Man, I’m genuinely surprised when young men in particular tell me that it helped them work through some things. But to your other point, there is an absolute hunger for information, and the willingness of black scholars to occupy digital spaces and social media has been an important step in many folk seeing that black studies remains a vital resource. I began to use social media, in large part, because students and former students wanted to continue the conversation we had in class.
TR: What did you set out to accomplish with the Left of Black series?
MAN: Left of Black has been a work in progress that has been continuously shaped by my own intellectual curiosity and the attention to detail presented by the show’s producer and director Catherine Angst [of the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke]. Initially, I was primarily hoping to create a Charlie Rose-styled space for black thinkers and activists. Growing up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, I was fortunate to have access to the work of the late Gil Noble and his public affairs program Like It Is. These days the show has become more streamlined, a little less academic—though scholars and academics are still the primary guests.
I really want the show to be a space where guests come on and know that not only do we find value in the work that they do, but that it’s a space that truly loves and appreciates “the work” which so often goes unnoticed and unrewarded. And yet it’s still about making connections, so … we talk about Left of Black being “black studies for a ‘mobile’ Diaspora.”