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An Emancipation Proclamation for the Digital Age

The problematic relationship of Black people and the Internet persists

Third, there are very few Black technologists and ever fewer Black people in major positions in any technology organization or network. The problem is fundamental to the culture and character of technology. The functioning of the internet, its management, and (most importantly) its development through software and protocols is all run by white men, with the resulting biases and limited perspective that can be expected to reflect any racially constrained process. Of all the internet-related problems, this is the worst because it extends far into the future, is a root problem that can't be solved without a major revamping of the technologist population, and it is entrenched in the power of white men over communications and the economics involved in internet technology.

It walks hand in hand with racism and white supremacy.

Finally, the explosive corporate use of the internet, particularly in retail sales, has actually brought more and more Black people (particularly younger Black people) into use of the technology but that use limits Black people's communications experience to a contemporary version of a shopping spree. Shopping on the internet is a major convenience, but using the internet for that alone is an enormous social restriction and detriment to the full participation of residents in the nation’s political, social, and cultural life.

The problem is huge and it affects everyone in this society and there are a few things we can do...right now...during this United Nations’ International Decade of People of African Descent. These should be demands by our movements and points of unity among them:

* Train and empower Black technologists and technology users. This would represent programs of real training and not some partial "training program" designed to steer young people of color into stifling and socially negative corporate jobs.

* Actively discourage hate speech and cultivate online cultures of tolerance and mutual respect. Free speech is a real right; racial abuse isn't and the Internet doesn't have to accept that. All a chat provider would have to do is to crisply and sharply answer hate speech expressions -- they're pretty easy to see -- and make clear that this is contrary to the provider's policy. There's much they can do in addition but that alone would be powerful.

* Organize to build more centers for Black thinking and a clearer strategy for publicizing and popularizing content generated by people of African descent. In short, stop "ghetto-izing" black thinking on the Internet by funding and supporting Black-run research and thought centers and facilitating the publication of their work.

* Resist and reverse the privatization and corporate concentration of the internet by defending net neutrality and developing and supporting free and open source software and open access publishing. After all, that is the essence of the free Internet.

In a digital age, democracy and freedom depend on our ability to communicate with one another in an equitable and fair manner. It is clear that the long-term impacts of racism persist and indeed are amplified through technology. Today’s struggle for emancipation relies upon securing the right to free and equitable communication, which is critical to the achievement of all other human rights.


story | by Dr. Radut