whites who see race, not culture

From: mbowen@panix.com (mellow mike)
To: letters@boardwatch.com, mbowen
Subject: Re: Afra-Span Network vs. Boardwatch Magazine
Organization: the cool zone

below is a typical blindspot that marks people as completely ignorant to the cultural sensibilities of individuals such as findlator (and myself). if there is any clue as to what 'whiteness' is in a textual medium, it is precisely the boardwatch response which was utterly predictable. it further demonstrates the classic sort of ignorance demonstrated by non-racists when issues involving race are brought forward and their inability to distinguish between race, culture and politics.

i will, as time permits, formulate some type of comprehensive manner of addressing this particularly sticky and pervasive problem which i believe will be suitable for publication in magazines as clueless as boardwatch appears to be. for now i can only recommend that interested parties lurk several months in a forum such as soc.culture.african.american in order to get a broad understanding of the complexity of the matter.

as well i will tear into this letter...

In article , you wrote:

Attached below you will find a letter from Walter Findlator, the Sysop of
the Afra-Span Network (an African-Cuban owned/operated dialup BBS), to
Jack Rickard, the editor of a magazine known as Boardwatch, and Mr.
Rickard's reply to the letter. The letter and response were originally
printed in the November 1994 issue of Boardwatch magazine.

I'll reserve my comments, and let the letter and response speak for
themselves. Feel free to pass this message along to others who may be


Address correspondence to Letters to the Editor, Boardwatch Magazine, 8500 West Bowles Ave., Suite 210, Littleton, CO 80123; by fax to (303)973-3731  or by e-mail to letters@boardwatch.com 

[Note from Art: This is Mr. Findlator's letter as originally published in  the print version of the magazine]


We wanted to thank you for the opportunity to be part of one of the best conferences that we had attended. It was a good show because this year many of the big boys (Delphi, AOL, Prodigy,etc) were there. There is one issue that seems to be a sore spot to these services. It is the title of "cultural BBS or African/Latin BBS ". As you know, as the world of computers emerge into each household, more modems will be bought and used and people of color will wonder where are the Black BBSs, or the Hispanic, or Jewish, Asian, etc... We are surprised that none of the commercial online services has contacted any of the sysops of these boards for help.

We are here to help in areas of OUR expertise. We are Afra-Span Network and have been operational for over 4 1/2 years. Our purpose is the social,economic, educational, spiritual and cultural growth of African and Latin descendants. Our strength is our users. Our users take part of our interactive online forums that we offer because they know that it is being run by one of their own. It is similar to talk shows and radio stations. People of certain heritages will only listen to or watch those things that are of them, by them and for them.

It also works in reverse to. We know that there are many White Americans (and people of European descent) who would like to know more about these markets but do not know where to go, who to speak with, what dates are important, and what to say in the presence of these individuals without being embarrassed. A famous case in point is H. Ross Perot and his "you people" speech. Lack of respect and cowardly expressed racism in corporate America and in the government seems to not only be the fading norm but is still being taught by parents afraid of "Blacks" taking over.

The sale of our BlackFax calendars gave us a true indication that there are many Whites that are truly and genuinely interested in knowing something about American History (the one that included Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians) because they bought more than Blacks and Hispanics at the show!

Our conferences that seems to keep callers calling us back are those like B-WON (Black Women ONline), Piss-off (what really upsets African/Latin Americans), education, Black men=F5an endangered species, Racism and where we can find it, Neighborhoods (where are the drug dealer hideouts and where are dangerous spots in communities), Holidays that have not been recognized "officially" yet, Businesses (where are the Latin and African businesses that need exposure), etc.

For those who would like an Internet address no matter where they move, we can sign them up for $3.00/month and all they pay for is usage charge. This service is also free to call into since it uses an 800 number nationwide and can be reached very quickly. There is an optional Windows interface to make point and shoot of your E-mail easier since this is what most people need anyway or use more than all of the Internet features.

Well, we look forward to another impressive show in Tampa in 1995. If you or anybody is interested in any of our services, please do not hesitate to contact us in any of the following manner :

Afra-Span Network
6735 Graves Mill Drive
Norcross, GA. 30093

(404) 270-5365 (voice)
(404) 270-5522 (data)


Walter Findlator
Network Administrator
Afra-Span Network - Atlanta

[Note from Art: Here is the Editor's (Jack Rickard), response to Mr. Findlator]

Mr. Findlator.
I probably disagree with almost everything said here, that is if I understand it. It does seem to be a mixed message with an inherent conflict. If you are against racism, why are you calling for areas online specifically for people of color and latin heritage, and damning larger services for not supplying them? In most of the online communities I haunt, I would be hard pressed to tell what ethnicity most of the participants are unless they specifically make a point of telling me. One of the distinct advantages I find in electronic communication, and specifically in some of its limitations, is that we have to deal with each other based on the expression of minds and the content of our character, and our race or what we drive has little bearing. If I understand you, you want to bring racial conflict into the online arena on purpose? To what end?


first of all there is no good reason to hide your identity unless that is a specific purpose of the forum. what race people 'are', affects their lives and why should that not be reflected in their communications? i tell you that i understand this particular issue because as a black man living in this country it is unavoidable. i speak from experience informed in many ways.

racial conflict in cmc is real and an everyday experience in forums such as s.c.a.a. as well, constructive debate on issue involving race is real in cmc. i would suggest you spend some time in scaa in order to investigate the nature of it. needless to say, such a venture is fraught with hazards, not the least of which is that opinions you form in any time period subject to editorial deadlines will most certainly be under-informed. i suspect that there is a great deal of self-conscious constraint in the minds of editors of cmc publications regarding the subject of race and culture in cmc. no doubt, they hope somebody with more experience on the subject write about it. in the best case i recognize this as recitence although denial is easily arguable.

But given that dubious mission, did I understand you correctly in that you thought one of the executives from CompuServe or AOL should contact one of the sysops of your network for "help." What help do they need? I've met many of them, and they're mostly white. And the way most of the forums on these services came into being was that someone from outside the organization PROPOSED a service, and often was responsible to some degree for implementing it. I find the picture of Steve Case saying "Hey, we need a black forum, let's go find some blacks!" just a shade obnoxious if not broadly nauseating. If you think they should have one, for any legitimate reason of celebrating some cultural aspect, and can make a case for participation, put together a proposal and send it in. These guys have thrown crap worse than that at the wall before and some of it sticks. If they thought it would bring in 12 more callers, they'd go for it. But that's how it works.

first of all you misunderstand and misrepresent 'the mission'. i'll simply speak to the question of cmc presence in this manner: 'whites' and 'blacks' may have as organizing principles their respective *reasons* for being telepresent completely dissonant philosophies. you demonstrate this in a small way by your familiarity with the (jeez they just happen to be 'white') steve cases of the world and their (and your) utter inability to understand findlator's perspective. it comes as no surprise then that their justification would be economic. if the best justification for providing such as findlator's services is 'well it can't be as bad as some we've seen' then you should be able to recognize suspicion in communities currently outside of the current cmc population as well as the lashing you'd receive from people such as myself, if they hadn't other things to do.

I can't really picture the scenario you paint of "where are the black BBS" or Latino or Jewish. Actually, there have been all of those for any number of years that I'm aware of and more or less successfully. But it is empirically and demonstrably untrue that people online will only go on services "run by one of their own." In fact, this is preposterous. Unless the topic IS specifically cultural, how would they know who ran it in any ethnic sense?

i can't believe that in this content driven era an editor of a bbs magazine would suggest as you do that who runs a cmc forum is immaterial. today, people online go where they can. for the most part, they can only hope that content of their interest is accessible. what is empirically and demonstrably true is that many black folks want specific cultural and political spaces *and* they want them on the big services. not finding those palatable, they *are* going independent and to a certain extent that is a less than amicable situation. further to beat another dead horse, america online *did* hype their african american forum and invite participants, but the feedback i heard was that it was typical america online; close but no cigar. anyway, the potential for services like findlator's to be objectively superior is not in doubt. one need only look closely and critically.

Finally, how can you criticize H. Ross Perot for referring to "you people" in the same missive where you are calling for separate online facilities to specifically cater to blacks and latinos as a differentiated group? Poor form for him to do so, but appropriate for you? And if I understand this, you trace all of this to parents teaching their young to fear a takeover by blacks?

that's just one argument of hundreds that you just haven't had the opportunity to see in your cmc universe. if you had you would also have recognized the extent to which black folks have been subjected to racist flaming all over the net. (and the wired 2.12 cover story on john lee is just a trendily flavored tip of the iceberg). you yourself see little else but racial self-segregation in the efforts of findlator and others if not worse. your lack of historical perspective on this issue is telling.

That said, your conferences do sound intriguing. I'm a little bit of a sucker for specialized topics even if these seem a little race-hate based. And if by printing your letter we can provide a pointer for anyone interested in those topics, consider it done. I still think you might consider the possibility that some of the attendees just liked your calendar and bought one to have it.

a nice little gratuitously condescending summarization of findlator's interest with your tolerant and idiosyncratic admiration is the perfect basis for a flame war involving race. (which in a forum like scaa you would ultimately lose) i have seen it a hundred times before. you obviously haven't. get a clue, join s.c.a.a. and lurk for a while.

i suspect that as a proponent of cmc communications you must have some inkling urging wide freedoms of speech and as an industry head of sorts, your pronouncements on the subject are worth more than a grain of salt. i cannot find in your communication with findlator much evidence that the type of services many black folk seek in cmc has any real support. i am hesitant to say that your condescending support is worthless. after all, your real world universe has more mass than my virtual universe. yet as a creator of cultural content & critique and a director of anti-racist dialog in usenet, i stand on principles which are more well informed on such particular matters as black interest in cmc. as such i can clearly say that you, so far, are likely to be more of a hindrance than a help in the facilitation of black telepresence. i recognize the extent to which economic standing plays a powerful role in facilitating various types of communication and i know, despite all the hype, that a message such as mine goes only so far in cyberspace. but let me remind you that your ill-informed prejudgment on the content of black spaces, created or proposed, constitutes a continuation of a kind of suppression not unfamiliar to african americans. further, this encroaches on free speech in general. (that is not my primary opposition, however - i am just giving you ammunition for the way i believe you think)

i further perceive you to be non-racist as opposed to anti-racist. most publication types are non-racist and i must say that it makes their strategies and tactics against perceived racism both transparent and ineffective. you may consider findlator's agenda to be racialist or racist and may make efforts against it weighing on your scale of evils potential `specialized topics' fairly light against the spectre of `race-hate'. i have little doubt given your response thus far that you would misjudge findlator and his efforts and undermine your position as a defender of free speech, someone who finds racism repugnant and an american who doesn't want to appear white as white supremacy defines.

now, all this is rather heavy, but as i said earlier, i do need to get a lot of this written. you just happened to have your note forwarded (by my man art mcgee) into my backyard. again i suggest, should you find your current intellectual position on the subject of black spaces in cmc to be embarrassingly shallow (not to mention your praxis on matters of racism), you tune into scaa in usenet (yes usenet) for a while and pick up some valuable experience.