Information is currency. But, just like cash, it can prove elusive for some and plentiful for others. In our increasingly digital era, the ability to access the Internet is the key to greater opportunities. And yet, the digital divide persists, meaning that citizens from different groups are missing out on the Internet revolution.
One glaring example of the information disconnect revolved around Internet access at public libraries. The free service is one of the few ways low-income residents of communities receive access to the Internet. According to “Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at Libraries,” 77 million people use libraries to access the Internet annually, and 44% of people below the federal poverty line relied on public access terminals. In addition, 26 million people used public library terminals for government or legal services. Still, demand vastly outstrips supply.
Unfortunately, wait times for terminals can stretch across hours, and if the computers go down, there is no way to alert people beforehand. This caused patrons endless distress; many used public transportation or scheduled their library usage around their work schedules, which meant a wasted trip.
I discussed with a library staffer creating a simple SMS alert (text message) that people could subscribe to that would notify them of the status of the computers. The idea was well received, but stalled in the implementation phase.
Another moment I kept returning to when conceiving this project was working with local teens – and how they had absolutely no idea that legislation for a nightly curfew and restrictions to public space were being debated. When they heard the news, they were outraged. One boy got out of his chair yelling, “I would like to testify!” But the week before, I had watched a Washington Post reporter try to find teens to comment on a story, and tweet about his inability to find someone to go on record.
Latoya Peterson*, “Making Sure News And Information Gets To All The Public,” JSK: John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford 2/8/13
*yep, as in the Owner/Editor of Racialicious!
I am bringing back an old tradition of doing class notes on some of these ideas.
Joan Morgan, hip-hop feminism pioneer, has been moving her work into conversations around pleasure and sexual politics. Jeff Chang, hip-hopper-about-town and the head of Stanford’s Institue for Diversity in the Arts, asked Joan if she’d like the be the artist in residence for WinterQuarter. Joan agreed and then developed a class called “The Pleasure Principle: A Post-Hip Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure.”
Washington, D.C., is a city of divides. There are racial divides, most notably a black D.C. and a white D.C. There are ethnic enclaves, with a Salvadoran D.C. sharing space with the Ethiopian D.C. There are the geographic boundaries that came to represent economic boundaries, like “east of the river” and “west of the park,” or the image divides between the tony Northwest section of the city and the formerly gritty Southeastern quadrant.
But to me, the most telling divide is a verbal one — does one live in D.C. or Washington?
Calling the city “Washington” reveals a certain experience. There are thousands of people who live and work in Washington — people with high-powered jobs, the transient class, the chattering class, the politicos, the folks who watch (or are guests on) “Meet the Press.” They rotate in and out of the White House or spend years bouncing through various continents before settling into an N.G.O. or nonprofit. Often, these are the people who refer to the city as a revolving door. Many have told me they’ve never met anyone “from here” before. (See aforementioned racial divide.)
Seemingly a world away are the lifelong residents, the multigenerational city dwellers, the folks who staff federal offices. This is D.C.: the city and surrounding suburbs are the site of the nation’s most visible and vocal black middle class. In D.C., people listen to go-go and jazz and look for long-term stability in a government job that will not change with administrations. This D.C. is where I grew up.
These two cities exist in the same space, but often hold completely different lives.
Intrepid Racialicious leader Latoya Peterson makes her debut on NYT.com!!! This is her great thought-piece on the ever-changing lines that still divide Washington, DC.
However, most analysis of Uber’s costs and benefits leave out one huge piece of the appeal: the premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride.
In 1999, actor Danny Glover made headlines by filing a taxi discrimination claim in New York City, noting that cabs failed to stop for him due to the color of his skin. Good Morning America experimented with having a black man and a white man hail cabs again in 2009 and found that the racial profiling still continued. In 2010, Fernando Mateo, head of the New York State Federation of Cab Drivers, encouraged racial profiling in the name of safety. Though it has been over a decade since Danny Glover made the issue a national conversation, the landscape hasn’t changed much.
As a black woman, I am generally seen as less of a threat than my black male peers. But that doesn’t mean my business is encouraged or wanted.I stopped using DC cabs back in 2003, when they were using zoning practices that ensured every time I stepped into a cab I wouldn’t get out for less than $25.00, even if I was just going ten minutes down the street. As I learned DC better, I figured out all the routes serviced by buses and trains and committed to walking the rest. The addition of a bike share program to DC has almost completely eliminated my need for a cab rides. A few years later, I repeated the process in New York and Boston, having learned the hard way that I could not count on getting a cab if I needed one, no matter how I was dressed or where I was going.
I had dismissed Uber outright, until a friend convinced me to take a second look. My friend is young and white and, when I asked her why she chose to use the expensive black car service as opposed to any other DC cab, she informed me that her neighborhood isn’t well-liked by cab drivers. As it turns out, while my friend could normally get a cab to stop for her, she suffered the same issues with cabs that black urbanities usually face. Though it is technically illegal for drivers to ask where you are going before allowing you in the cab (New York has clear rules about this; DC has similar rules that are not on any governmental site), it is a common practice. So, my friend noted with a shrug, she’d rather pay the extra five bucks for a fuss-free experience than hail cab after cab, hoping to find a driver to take her to her next destination.
So why would we doubt the claims that are backed up by documents? Because of the legacy of COINTELPRO, a series of covert (and often illegal) actions taken by the government to disrupt the activities of groups they deemed subversive. Most of these actions targeted leftist organizing, like labor, civil rights, and women’s rights. While COINTELPRO is most often associated with J. Edgar Hoover, it was a program that spanned decades and relied on sowing seeds of doubt and engineering situations with false information.
Farai Chideya had a great piece on News and Notes that works as an overview to COINTELPRO. And it was such a defining force throughout the civil rights movement that Democracy Now has an entire category of shows that refer to or discuss COINTELPRO as it relates to activism in the United States.
One of the tactics was false information. Carlos A. Rivera writes a piece for Oakland Local’s community voices section, noting that “Snitch Jacketing” may still be in full effect:
“‘Snitch Jacketing’ is a classic counter-intelligence practice, in which people who are not informants are named as informants either via ‘leaks’ or via other actual informants, in order to de-stabilize the targetted individual or the targetted group. It is historically extremely effective, and hence has been used time and time again.’
But why wouldn’t this information been made more public at the height of Aoki’s activism, if snitch jacketing is in play? Rivera believes that the current political climate around the globe means that we should expect more undermining of civil rights leaders. He also makes an interesting point near the end of his piece:
"But what if it is true?
"This recalls the Malinovsky Affair from Bolshevik times. Roman Malinovsky was a leader of the Bolsheviks–a member of the Central Committee and leader of the Bolshevik group in the Duma, as well as a protege of V.I. Lenin. He was also an informant of the Czar’s secret service–and responsible for the exile and jailing, one by one, of all of the Bolshevik leadership between 1910-1914. Lenin, when confronted with this information, took it in stride: ‘If he is a provocateur, the police gained less from it than our Party did.’
"He finally met his demise at the orders of Zinoviev, when he tried to rejoin the victorious Petrograd Soviet in 1918.
"Aoki is dead. He can neither confirm nor deny this information–nor can we evaluate him as a living participant in the revolutionary movement, and much less provide some sort of justice.
"We can, however, at the very least, judge as Lenin did, if the movement or the State gained more in this situation. I offer that the balance lies with the movement. His contributions–in practice and as a symbol, are much more important and central than any snitching he might or might not have done. This is an extremely important point to raise in breaking the encirclement of the counter-intelligence effort."
Can we believe these allegations? And if we do, how does it impact Aoki’s legacy?
Roose provides no actual evidence as to why NaturallyCurly is a bad investment. He doesn’t cite a thing – not their traffic numbers, no advertising sales, and no discussion of the exponential growth in the market they offer. But why should he? NaturallyCurly doesn’t fit the pattern – and Roose’s casual dismal underscores exactly why minorities, women of color in particular, have such a hard time breaking into the consciousness of the tech world.
In addition, Roose wouldn’t have had to look far to see why natural and textured hair care is a booming market. In my comment, I noted how looking at the revenues of leading natural hair companies like Ouidad (estimated $10 Million annually) and Carol’s Daughter ($35 million annually) would show that considering the fairly small investment, it made total sense. That level of investment was less than what some companies pay for their advertising campaigns.
The viability of the natural hair care market isn’t something only discussed in publications geared toward minority markets. Inc. Magazine ran a case study on Mixed Chicks after discovering they faced a huge quandary: their product line was so successful that Sally Beauty Supply allegedly created a knock off called “Mixed Silk.” Mixed Chicks is a growing company with revenues of $5 Million a year – Sally’s is an established behemoth with more than $3 Billion a year at its disposal. While the lawsuit may ultimately endanger the business the two founders (both WOC) built, the existence of Mixed Silk proves that even huge brands are looking to jump into the natural hair care market.
And here we come to the problem.
Roose’s thoughtless (and factless) comments illuminate some of the problems in Silicon Valley, namely that the space is controlled by people who are fairly myopic. If this market isn’t something they understand or participate in, it doesn’t exist. And these kinds of perceptions create an environment in the marketplace that disadvantages minority/women fronted businesses seeking investment to create products for their communities.
Browsing the Thick Dumpling Skin blog, I came across a short mention of a show called Push Girls, being produced for the Sundance Channel. The core conceit is that it explores the lives of four women in wheelchairs—but it caught my attention for featuring multiracial friendships and a reality show that doesn’t revolve around petty fights and getting wasted. And, as if I needed another reason to watch, two of the main characters are women of color—Angela Rockwood-Nguyen and Auti Rivera.
Angela, who seems like she is the core friend holding the group together, is mixed Thai-German. She’s also got an amazing (and tragic) connection to some major players in pop culture. In 2001, Angela was paralyzed in the same car wreck that killed Thuy Trang (who was famous for playing Trini, the original Yellow Ranger on the popular Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series). At the time of the accident, she was married to 21 Jump Street star Dustin Nguyen. People Magazine did a write up on the couple in 2007…
But as the story opens, it is revealed that Dustin and Angela separated in 2011, and there are many tense conversations about where each wants the relationship to go.
Please join the Racialicious team in congratulating our Editrix, Latoya Peterson, who was just selected for a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Latoya will join 12 other Fellows from around the nation and eight international Fellows in pursuing their own proposals for improving the field of journalism, while also taking part in special seminar and independent courses.
Latoya’s studies will cover how to democratize communication and societal participation through the multimedia and text capabilities of mobile technology. She joins colleagues from outlets including NPR, Al Jazeera English (where she has also appeared as a commentator), National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal Americas, among others. The program, which began in 1966, has hosted almost 800 journalists, and has produced 26 Pulitzer Prize winners.
The big news kicks off a heck of a week for our boss: you can catch her on a panel at ROFLCon this weekend in Cambridge, MA, and she also appears in the latest episode of Mark Anthony Neal’s webseries Left Of Black, discussing the legacy and the lessons of the anger that overtook Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict 20 years ago.