Revealing the Legacy of Black Digital Technology Narratives in Popular Culture

The evidence of African-American digital technology usage is everywhere but often obscured from scholarly research. In this project, I provide new insight and critique on the political, satirical and popular discourse that surrounded first generation African-American digital technology users. The goal of this research is to try and better understand the lifestyle, attitude and cultural import that shaped this generation of technology integrationists — as I call, “Technigrationists” that now constitute the first significant ICT user group in the history of Blacks/African-Americans.

In my research and on this website, I have tried to show how technology has been interwoven into to the fabric of African-American youth culture of the Generation X. In mainstream popular culture, this era of digital innovation is broadly regarded as sourced from a predominantly White male digerati.

Yet, in the digital technology revolution, African-Americans have embraced, modified and contextualized technology into a significantly different framework which is significantly under-discussed and is being elevated by African American scholars like Shonell Bacon, Adam BanksSamantha BlackmonRegina BradleyAndre Brock, Scott Poulson-BryantDara Byrne, Aymar ChristianTara L. ConleyGary DauphinKimberly EllisChristopher EmdinAnna Everett, Rayvon Fouche, Oscar Gandy, Jr.Kishonna Gray, Sarah JacksonTressie MacPhersonLassana Magassa, Safiya NobleAlondra Nelson, Kim PearsonLatoya Peterson,  Randall PinkettCatherine SteeleOmar Wasow and Craig Watkins.

My contributions to the work of these scholars is to also foreground Black contributions from a Black Feminist perspective, as part of a larger effort I am engaged in to cultivate what I call a “Critical Feminist Digital Technology Studies” approach to studying the Black digital technology experiences. I have begun this work by looking at how race and representation are manufactured in keyword searches on racial and gender identity terms like “Black Girls”, in an effort to reveal the ways that mainstream computer programming and human computer interaction is affecting, and affected by race and gender.

The timeliness of this work is in the context of the national push for broadband adoption. While this push for ubiquitous computing continues, technology relevance appears to be the most significant reason why African-Americans and Latinos who are not online, are not adopting computers and the Internet (See Gant, Turner-Lee, Li, Miller, 2010)[i].

The latest report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (the largest and oldest African-American public policy think tank), entitled National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends In Adoption, Acceptance and Use (Gant, et. al.)[ii] reveals interesting findings about African-Americans and the Internet.

Most notably, the report shows:

  • 91% of African Americans earning more than $50,000 regularly use the Internet as compared to 89% of Hispanics earning $50,000.
  • More than 75% each of African Americans and Hispanics earning between $20,000 and $50,000 also report regular use of the Internet.
  • 98% of Hispanics and 94% of African Americans with a college education report regular Internet use and over 80% of respondents from each group with some college are regular Internet users.
  • 82% of Hispanics and 79% of African Americans earning more than $50,000 report a home broadband connection. More than 60% each of African Americans and Hispanics, with annual incomes between $20,000 and $50,000, also report having a home based broadband connection.

These statistics lead us to a clear understanding of the Technigrationists: 81% of African-Americans online are between 35-49 years, just under Millineals and significantly more than Baby Boomers and Matures. This group of people are the focus of my research interests, and this website is dedicated to surfacing the visual cultural constructs that have been a significant part of the Black Technigrationist experience of Generation X.

This research can help create a broader context of African-American digital technology usage and early-adoption, which is largely under-examined or defined by rhetoric of the “digital divide” only. It is an essential way to bring more learning beyond the traditional discourse about technology consumption — and lack thereof, among diverse users, particularly as African-American popular cultural practices are influencing non-African American youth (Tate, 2003)[iii].

Just about any middle-class family in America can speak to the influence, desired or not, of Hip-Hop culture on themselves or their children. By looking at both the broader community context and technology acculturation processes, a clearer picture emerges of how under-valuing culturally situated and gendered-IT only moves us further from the broadest possibilities of participation with technology. Our goal is certainly the inverse.

To be clear, discourses about African-Americans as technologically illiterate are nothing new (Bruce, 2004)[iv], but dispelling the myth of African-Americans as marginal to the broadest base of digital technology users can help us define new ways of thinking about motivations in the next wave of technology innovation and design.

A future research agenda should include an examination of how human computer interaction and technology design facilitates or obscures culture, and how this affects user desires for technology. The scope of such an ambitious project could not be undertaken in this effort, but hopefully this specific look at early African-American digital technology adopters can serve as a start in a series of contributions to the emerging field of critical information and technology studies, as well as Black Feminist Technology Studies.

Future efforts might uncover questions that can help us understand the role of the design of platforms, interfaces, software and experiences as practices that are culturally and gender-situated, and often determined by economic imperatives, power and values.

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if you have contributions you would like to make to this site. Any accidental or intentional copyright infringements will be immediately taken down.

[i] Gant, Jon P. et al., (2010). National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance and Use, Jt. Ctr. for Pol. & Econ. Stud. 3. PDFs/MTI_BROADBAND_REPORT_2.pdf.

[ii] Gant, Jon P. et al., (2010). National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance and Use, Jt. Ctr. for Pol. & Econ. Stud. 3. PDFs/MTI_BROADBAND_REPORT_2.pdf.

[iii] Greg Tate (Ed.). (2003). Everything But The Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture. New York: Broadway Books.

[iv] Sinclair, B. (2004). Technology and the African American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.