Race and the Digital: Racial Formation and 21st Century Technologies

About "Race and the Digital"

This project foregrounds questions of accessibility and the digital divide in an approach that connects race, space, and the digital.

African Americans and Latino/as are significantly less likely to have regular internet access than those who identify as Asian American or white.[1] As places with unique access to technology and digital literacy training, spaces of higher education are promising sites where students of color can counter these inequities. Yet, access to digital technologies and literacy remains highly uneven and precarious across college campuses and there are still uneven levels of access, training, and production of new media resources by students of color.[2]  “Race and the Digital,” an undergraduate research seminar and multimedia site I first designed at UCLA with student collaborators in the spring of 2016, addresses these challenges as a praxis in bridging the digital divide with three goals: engaging American studies and Ethnic studies students in an interdisciplinary conversation about the ways racial formation is embedded in 21st century technologies, building students’ digital literacies through new media training, and producing online content for a diverse public audience concerned with questions of race and ethnicity.[4]
Uneven access to digital literacy training has created a critical ground for American studies and Ethnic studies students to apply engaged practice in order to investigate the power relations embedded in the digital realm. In response, educators and students have collaborated to question how knowledge is shaped, to expand the availability of Ethnic studies resources online, and to link the classroom with a digital public. As noted by Adeline Koh and Viola Lasama, “the digital [is] a tremendous space of possibility for humanities scholars…[one that] actively expands the boundaries of the humanities and humanities pedagogy beyond the academy itself, demonstrating the value of humanities questions to a larger public.”[7] 

Focusing on the praxis of bridging digital divides, this site aims to increase engagement beyond the classroom and to shift the ways students understand racial formation in cyberspace by asking them to enter an online conversation interrogating the major themes examined by our course authors. This included work by an interdisciplinary set of scholars concerned with the demographics of technology users and laborers, infrastructural inequities impacting people of color’s internet access, online community and identity making, cyberfeminism, and transmedia organizing. As a practice in engaged scholarship intent on building students’ digital literacies, each contributor authored three original entries: a blog post interpreting an academic article alongside an issue of contemporary import; a research paper discussing the digital divide; and a digital ethnography examining how activists engage social media. Through online exchange, students simultaneously creat an online community while reading about communication, embodiment, and organizing on the internet.[8] Further building on course themes, their larger research projects and digital ethnography interrogated the ways racial formation is reinforced and challenged in the use of 21st century technologies. These projects help to counteract a prevailing “participation divide,” in which 1st generation young adults of working-class backgrounds have been found unlikely to author creative online content. [9] Further, the Statement of Values for Digital Ethnic Studies promotes a digital humanities engaged with the central questions of American studies and Ethnic studies. It proposes priorities including intersectionality, collaboration, collegiality, connectedness and diversity, experimentation, openness, bottom-up data gathering, race as technology, action-based research, and confronting the digital divide. Further drawing on an American studies framework, site-wide tagging promotes intersectional thinking by grouping related items by categories such as gender and class.[12]

Taken together, course assignments, the Statement of Values, and tagging asks key questions related to the digital humanities and American studies, how are structures of race embedded in new technologies, in both their cyber and physical forms? How might students harness digital platforms to engage cultural production in the cyber realm? And, how might a digital Ethnic studies help address prevalent digital divides? Building a collaborative digital project, students of color harnessed preexisting digital platforms to examine where racial production, technology, and interdisciplinary study meet.
[1] Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaskan Natives, and Pacific Islanders are omitted from these reports. Thom File, ‘Computer and Internet Use in the United States’ (U.S. Census Bureau, May 2013); Lisa Nakamura notes that surveys failing to account for non-English speaking Asian immigrant populations exclude a population far less likely to have internet access than the aggregate. Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race Visual Cultures of the Internet (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
[2] Chris Alen Sula, S. E. Hackney, “A Survey of Digital Humanities Programs,” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 11 (May 24, 2017);  Sheila Cavanaugh. “’All Corners of the World’”: The Possibilities and Challenges of International Electronic Education,” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 6 (November 30, 2014); Steve Jones, "The Internet Goes to College: How Students are Living in the Future with Today’s Technology," (Pew Internet & American Life Project, September 15, 2002); Steve Jones, Camille Johnson-Yale, Sarah Millermaier, and Francisco Seoane Perez, "Everyday, Online: U.S. College Students’ Use of the Internet," First Monday 14, no. 10 (2009); Estzer Hargittai and Gina Walejko, "The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age," Information, Communication, and Society 11, no. 2 (2008): 239–256; Tara McPherson, "Why are the Digital Humanities So White? Or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation," in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2012).
[4] Genevieve Carpio, Alan Evangelista, Eduardo D. Garcia, Reginald Joes, Ashley Martinez-Munoz, Yesenia Melgoza-Fernandez, Michelle Ortiz, Ebony Paramo, Arturo Sotelo, Ana Vicky, Addie Vielmas, "Race and the Digital," accessed April 2018,  http://scalar.usc.edu/works/race-and-the-digital/index. On guidelines for student collaboration in the digital humanities, see Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Miriam Posner, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt, with contributions from Roderic Crooks, Megan Driscoll, Amy Earhart, Spencer Keralis, Tiffany Naiman, and Todd Presner “A Student Collaborator’s Bill of Rights,” Center for the Digital Humanities Blog, UCLA, last modified June 2015, http://cdh.ucla.edu/news/a-student-collaborators-bill-of-rights/.
[5] Amy E. Earhart and Toniesha L. Taylor, “Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, eds. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
[6] Annmarie Pérez, "The Chicana/o Gothic," Loyola Marymount University, last accessed April 2018,  http://citedatthecrossroads.net/chst332/.
[7] Adeline Koh and Viola Lasama, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments (Modern Language Association, forthcoming),  https://github.com/curateteaching/digitalpedagogy/blob/master/keywords/race.md
[8] A selection of readings include Alex Sayf Cummings and Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy,” in Writing History in the Digital Age, eds. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (Trinity College web-book edition, Spring 2012); Steven Goodman and Carolyn Cocca, “Youth Voices for Change: Building Political Efficacy and Civic Engagement through Digital Media Literacy,” Journal of Digital and Media Literacy (February 1, 2013); Sasha Constanza-Chock, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014).
[9] Eszter Hargittai and Gina Walejko"The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age," Information, Communication, and Society, 11, no. 2 (2008): 239–256; Course evaluations, “Chicana and Chicano Studies 291: Race and the Digital,” University of California Los Angeles, Spring 2016.
[10] Lisa Spiro, “This is Why We Fight? Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew Gold (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2012): 16-35
[11] Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Miriam Posner, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt, with contributions from Roderic Crooks, Megan Driscoll, Amy Earhart, Spencer Keralis, Tiffany Naiman, and Todd Presner “A Student Collaborator’s Bill of Rights,” Center for the Digital Humanities Blog, University of California Los Angeles, last modified June 2015, http://cdh.ucla.edu/news/a-student-collaborators-bill-of-rights/; Matt Applegate, Digital Manifesto Archive, accessed February 2018,  https://www.digitalmanifesto.net/about/
[12]  Genevieve Carpio, Sarmista Das, George Hoagland, Michael Mirer, and Christofer Rodelo, “Intersectionality: An Intersectional Approach,” in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Pedagogy Workbook, eds. Femtechnet Situated Critical Race + Media Committee, last modified 2017, http://scalar.usc.edu/works/ftn-ethnic-studies-pedagogy-workbook-/intersectionality.

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