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June 01, 2003

It's All Flavor

Count me among those who never read 'The Declining Significance of Race'. I don't know why I never got around to it, but in light of what I'm about to say, I can think of a good excuse. I knew it was all about flavor anyway.

When I first bit into the magic pill of Multiculturalism, I understood one thing at bottom. To quote Earth Wind and Fire in 'Running', "If you don't understand me, it's your fault." So the effort to change the canon and all that cultural combat was, from my perspective, an effort to get the Other Man to relate to the Brother Man. If John Smith too knew why the caged bird sings, then it would be all good. Race was a trope which attracted and continues to attract some interesting dialecticals. It was and is a good signifyer, but there is no there there, and who better to explain that than the offspring of New Orleans?

More seriously however, one thing that I figured was doomed, was the whole idea about comparing black to white with regard to certain demographic signifyers. On one of my curious journeys I found a book about Negro Life published just after the end of WW2. In it, there were mounds of comparative statistics categorized by race. What caught my attention was a section about the percentages of Negroes who capable of driving vehicles. There were breakdowns of blacks who did and did not drive, those who drove automatics vs. stick shifts and the percentages who had gained the distinction of being able to pilot multi-axled vehicles. Yes, it might sound strage, but there was a point in our nations history during which the fate of the race was measured in terms of the numbers of black truck drivers. I cannot get that image out of my head whenever I hear tell of a 'Digital Divide'.

If you haven't heard already, I have long ago decided that the Digital Divide is a bunch of hooey. People continue to be amazed that blackfolks do or don't use computers. Whenever my father weighed in on such issues, I enjoyed telling him that the Internet is for me and people like me, the rest of y'all can take the bus. This earned me a certain elitist reputation, which I didn't deserve but gladly accepted. The elite of the correct is always a good place to be, even if it sounds snobby. But it was Gwaltney who taught me not to second-guess blackfolk. If they wanted to be digital, then they would make it so. The evidence pointed towards the fact that they didn't want to be. Besides, anyone with half a brain would realize that a revolution in hiphop was happening. The cultural production happening outside of cyberspace was where the heat was for blackfolks.

That didn't preclude the infusion of flavor into cyberspace. There have always been blackfolks on the digital edge. Hell, there have always been blackfolks everywhere, but I digress. My assumption about black cyberspace was that we would be us without recognition, because as it always is the Other Man learns about the Brother Man, not from speaking directly, but through university research studies and surveys. So here are some excerpts for convincing those who don't know enough of the right blackfolks:

- 85% of online African Americans stated that an African
American centric news source would be very or somewhat
valuable to them;

- 43% of online African Americans access the Internet using
a broadband connection compared to 36% of the general online

- Among those Internet users who are not currently using a
broadband connection, African Americans are 27% more likely
to get a broadband connection within the next year than the
general online population;

- A majority of African Americans read online ads, and 46%
find them informative compared to 26% of the general

- African Americans are active online consumers, purchasing
more clothing/apparel online (48% vs. 41%) and more
music/videos (44% vs. 39%) than the general online market;

I am not thrilled by these statistics. They are only meaningful in the context of debunking or supporting racial myths. They seem entirely reasonable to me, but I do ask what's the point? If you take the trouble to survey race, you must have certainly surveyed geography, income and age. That would suggest that regionalisms, class and generations are somewhat determinate of African American choice; too much common sense in that. But of course this is all directed to the theory of the Digital Divide as a specie of Environmental Racism, a non-starter in today's political environment.

So, let it all be flavor. I hereby declare it open season on the marketing demographic of 'African American'. 99% of what seriously has to be said has all been said, and nobody cares anyway. So hell, license it all and let AOL have the revenue. Cheers to Dick Parsons, who had 'nothing' to do with it.

Posted by mbowen at June 1, 2003 01:16 PM

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