Shaun King is polarizing. For those in the culture, he is fearless and direct with his excoriation of white privilege and injustice.
For his critics, he is a con man manipulating racial sensitivity to his financial advantage. This morning, King is trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons after an explosive article came out in The Daily Beast.
Last night, the article, “Shaun King Keeps Raising Money, and Questions About Where It Goes” dropped like a bomb. It details how King went on an ambitious venture to re-establish Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star.
Please note this is no relation to The North Star Group, parent company of THE SOURCE.
Life Of A King
King and his partner, progressive journalist Benjamin Dixon, launched an ambitious multimedia reboot with the blessing of Douglass’ descendants.
The project was celebrated across social media by celebrities and cultural critics alike. Its champions included Susan Sarandon, Michael Eric Dyson, and Megan Mullally.
That propulsion led to a boast of “multiple angel investors” on Twitter by the company. They also claimed to have more than 30,000 subscribers contributing $5 or $10 a month based on subscription level.
Many gave funds. Billionaire philanthropist of color, Robert Smith, gave a healthy $10,000 a month. The project seemed on its way to blaze a new path in history, until it didn’t.
However, 14 months after launching, almost none of King’s deliverables have appeared. The headquarters and television studio was quietly shuttered last summer. All the Atlanta-based staffers were laid off and the site struggled with issues that alienated many subscribers.
The mobile app also disappeared for over a year.
Over-Zealous Or Overt Con?
King has chalked the experience up to over-zealousness and attempting to launch too much content at once. Former staffers said the issue was less King’s over-ambition than what they viewed as a few less flattering competing factors.
They describe a pattern of absenteeism, insistence on absolute control, and radical incompetence. In addition, there are long-standing accusations by his former employees and supporters. They say that King has inflated, mismanaged or failed to account for funds he’s raised for various social justice causes.
However, no criminal or civil charges have ever been filed against King and that is important to note. The Daily Beast piece was written by Kali Holloway, a woman of color. She exposes what the new digital generation will have to constantly face, digital emotional manipulation.
Charismatic leaders are electric and serve an integral purpose in providing a voice for a community. It takes a village. Too often these leaders begin to make the movement less about collectivization and more about personal gains.
King is a prominent voice for social justice. No doubt he has done much to raise awareness of police brutality and more. However, no one is above reproach. His detailed missteps need to be in the light so people can wake up to his humanity.
Shaun King has used the power of the pen to uplift communities of color while also propping up himself. But will his shortcomings expel him from the platform he has built?
In the court of public opinion, for many, he is already cancelled.