Three angles on a particularly tough and important contemporary question.
My first angle on the question of how and where race plays into our 21st century world of technology is also a guest post of sorts, and the reason for this piece: my fellow American Studier Jen Rhee read some of my other blog posts related to race and contacted me to share a graphic that focuses on the question of race and technology. The graphic is here: http://www.onlineitdegree.net/is-tech-racist/ and largely speaks for itself: it introduces in relatively quick and broad strokes many complex questions, each of which could be investigated and analyzed further (which is, I believe, precisely the graphic’s fundamental point and goal); but even in its brief space it makes a compelling case that technology is not nearly as color-blind as we might like to believe.
My second angle connects to one of the graphic’s first main focal points, the question of how much support and opportunity black entrepreneurs in the tech industry receive (particularly as compared to white entrepreneurs). This past fall, as part of a series entitled “Black in America,” CNN aired a documentary entitled “The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley.” The film’s vision of Silicon Valley’s racial hierarchies and limitations produced a series of debates and conversations that have continued, such as at a prominent recent SXSW panel on the aftermath of the documentary and its questions and stories. It has also helped bring attention to organizations such as BlackEnterprise.com, an online community that features its own technology focus and that certainly illustrates how any American community can utilize the 21st century’s digital and social media developments to help advance that community’s opportunities and connections, and to push back against whatever structural or institutional discriminations the tech world includes.
If those questions of entrepreneurship address the upper levels of a world like tech, my third angle connects instead to questions about the tech world’s base. In one of my Steve Jobs-inspired posts, I wrote about what I called there the messy, troubling, democratizing machine; my interest was in how technological advances have long offered Americans greater access to the world around them while at the same time threatening that world in various ways. As the graphic argues, and as various other analyses and studies have illustrated, our most recent technological advances definitely have the potential to reinforce or even exacerbate racial divisions or hierarchies, and certainly can’t be viewed simply as the marvelous panaceas that they sometimes appear to be. Yet on the other hand, analyses such as this one have found Twitter (for example) to be strikingly open to African American and other minority voices, an open-ness that could parallel the liberating role that Twitter played in Iran’s Green Revolution of 2009. Messy, troubling, and democratizing indeed.
Next in the series this weekend,
PS. What do you think?
3/30 Memory Day nominees: A tie between Mary Whiton Calkins, the pioneering psychologist and women’s rights activist whose concept of “self-psychology” fundamentally altered the study of human identities; and Countee Cullen, the hugely talented and unique Harlem Renaissance poet (and W.E.B. Du Bois’s son-in-law!).