Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. day as an official U.S. federal holiday. It is during this holiday that MLK’s famous “I Had a Dream” speech plays on TV stations, radios and is discussed on the Internet. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the dream was hope for a meritocracy where his children, “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
How are we doing with racism, segregation and diversity in conversations online? Particularly as social media empowers, giving everyone a digital printing press. Has the digital divide fallen or is it sill rearing its ugly head? Are we talking? And to each other?
To compliment the thoughts below, Influential1 Founders Mike Street and Dupé Ajayi interviewed in a point, counterpoint format on four questions. Influential1s seeks to highlight many un-recognized influencers in the urban space.
The Economic Divide of Access Still Exists
Mobile and social media have done a lot, with minorities adapting Twitter more than the whites. But there’s still a lot of work to do. A recent Pew study revealed that Internet use is still an economic privilege. Consider this: Some 95% of Americans who live in households earning $75,000 or more a year use the internet at least occasionally, compared with 70% of those living in households earning less than $75,000.
The technology gap gets more pronounced with less income. The median white family income in 2009 was $54,461, the media hispanic family income was $38,039 and the median black income was $32,584 (U.S. Census Bureau). You do the math on who is getting the short end of the digital divide stick.
Mobile and social media have done a lot to provide equal access in the past few years, but there’s still a gap. What is that gap in your mind?
Mike Street – Mobile, social media, and all of the above have brought communications to a whole new level. But I feel that while we have much more access to information, African-American’s and Latinos are not leveraging these platform or creating new platforms in order to create the next level of technology. This is the new gap.
We’ve turned the digital divide into the digital crack but now there is a whole new divide that needs to be closed. While both communities are consumers and content generators, the pace to compete within the startup space is VERY slow. It troubles me on many different levels but this fact drives me to be out there more and to help highlight and honor minorities working in this space.
Dupe Ajayi – To me, that gap is tied to education and economics. Last year I sat on a panel that Mike hosted and almost got into a fist fight over this one! The other panelist’s argument was the digital divide comes as a result of minorities choosing to spend their money on items such as sneakers and bags as opposed to tech gadgets that would open up help close the gap.
I agree with [Mike] to some extent but feel education is key: inform people as to why it will pay in the long run to invest in tech. Furthermore, educate people on the fact that the use of tech tools goes way beyond social networking: you can use them to find a (better) job, get money for school, find resources to help you start your own business, etc.
Blacks and Latins Get Shut Out
Think this is untrue? Let’s look at the social media marketing blogosphere’s defacto barometer the AdAge 150 and its top 20. The only minorities in the top 20 are Brian Solis and John Chow. As you scroll through the list of the actual 150, the numbers don’t get much better.
When the issues of social media rise up to the mainstream media, who gets cited? When the Quora fight du jour occurs on who the social media experts are occurs, who gets listed? Conference speakers? Etc., etc. The reality is that — at least within this market space — we are an almost all white homogeneous group. Intentional or not, digital segregation lives on. It does validate arguments that social media communities often polarize diverse groups of people.
Why is it harder for African and Latin Americans to receive notoriety in the mainstream conversation?
Mike Street: This is the million dollar question and I don’t have the answer to this. This was one of the main reason why myself and my business partner, Dupe Ajayi, decided to create Influential1s.com. We had had enough of seeing list of the best of social media that often excluded any diversity. So what we are doing is using the Influential1s.com platform as a showcase to highlight the efforts of people of color working in digital, marketing, social media, fashion, and beyond.
Dupe Ajayi: The question of the hour! I think mainstream media has made the decision to not highlight these people. It has to be. Mike and I both know of people who are ‘killing it’ in the social space across many specialties. However, when we look at ‘Top Ten’ lists, the faces of color are almost non existent. To add to the curious dilemma is that fact that minorities are top users of all things social.
I believe that we have been satisfied with striving to make the mainstream lists and then settling when we get a bit of recognition. This issue is at the foundation of us launching influential1s.com. We want to say, “Hey we’re here and we are a force.” We also want to truly celebrate our colleagues.
What Are the Answers?
The digital divide has more questions than answers. It’s hard to point in any direction with the surety of a silver bullet. Online, mindful inclusiveness is critical. Are you subconsciously shutting people out.
Long term, one thing is certain, focusing on education opportunities for minorities provides a key foundation point for equal opportunity. It addresses financial opportunity to some extent and gives individuals a better chance for success. There are so many more areas to focus on culturally and economically, so keep an open mind as to how you can help.
What is the answer in your mind?
Mike Street: The answer is for us to be fully visible and sit at the table. I’ve been in the NY tech space for years and have gone to several events, even recently, where I am the ONLY person of color. But I feel that it is important to work to opening these doors, helping to create safe spaces for African-American’s and Latino’s to prosper in the digital age. I run an African-American tech group called Black’s in Technology. I recently took over this group and will be working on providing solid networking opportunities that will help African-American working in this space to create new platforms like Foursquare.
What Would MLK Think?
One can only think MLK would be happy to see so many new tools open to minorities in general. At the same time, he would not be thrilled with the lack of progress in achieving equal stature in positions of authority, whether that be digital leadership or political standing.
He might have said that while freedom is within everyone’s grasp now, so few attain it. For every Barack Obama, there’s a dominant white U.S. senate. MLK would likely be focusing on empowering people to succeed and use digital tools to better their lives, as well as creating new opportunities for minorities.
Also, it is certain that MLK would not be happy with the lack of civility in U.S. political life. He would have been horrified by the Arizona shootings, and the political discourse that preceded them.
How would MLK view the current state of the interwebs?
Mike Street: I think MLK would be happy overall with the political activity going on now. Communities of color are more involved in the political and civil rights movement and using Facebook and Twitter as a means of organizing. However, I feel he would think we need to be a bit more proactive and helping to fully solve any issue that affects the quality of life of Americans
Dupe Ajayi: I think he’d say there is work to be done. I am a service junkie. I’ve spent the past few years dedicated to the non-profit movement because I really want to see change happen. I’ve spent time in learning and mastering social because I feel that these tools can be used to effect change. MLK would say that while finding out who wore what when and tweeting about it is cool, lets use our social networking muscle to create equality, jobs and level the playing field.