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

The Lack of Food Goes Viral

From Tweets to Streets

Social media and resources used to access these sites, such as computers and cellphones, are deeply integrated in the daily lives of those within reach of the tools. Jesse Daniels in her work titled "Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender and Embodiment" shares Saskia Sassen's statement that digital technologies "enable women [and to an extent internet users of various identities] to engage in new forms of contestation and in proactive endeavors in multiple different realms, from political to economic" (Daniels 2009: 102). New media now allows happenings to gain awareness rapidly, leading then to receive a greater involvement from the populace.. However, not only are the vast social media sites available spaces that can lead to discovery and participation, but they are spaces that allows for occurrences to be escalated and tracked, by virtually any person with these sites at hand. Such characteristics have helped the #GangstaGardener gain the recognition it has so far, but most importantly one must take into consideration that we, the people, are a technology; our identities ranging from our ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender preference, religious affiliation, all of these components allow for stories of interest to our individual identities garner the stories we share, publish, and comment on. As Beth Coleman argues in her text, "Race as Technology", "Race as technology tells the tale of a levered mechanism" (Coleman 2008: 180). In other words, race as a technology allows for fluidity, for fluidity to make choices to be part of a movement. Nakamura (2007) also coincides with the fact that the Internet [and to an extent Social Media] is a space of re-embodiment along the lines of race and gender (Risam 2015). 

Food deserts in urban and low-income communities have existed long before the attention it received with #GangstaGardener. However, Ron Finley and his Ron Finley Project was certainly the last drop that spilled the cup of food injustice in communities like South Central Los Angeles. Perhaps this hashtag's popularity is attributed to the fact that a good percentage of people of color (Black and Latino) and also urban residents. Their race is a lever to raise awareness to the societal mechanism that limits their healthy, fresh produce intake. New media assists of raising the aforementioned awareness. However, the latter is not simply made known on Twitter; sites like Instagram and Flickr also have users that participate and share posts with the hashtag. The #GangstaGardener movement truly takes advantage of media bridging and transmedia organizing to get word out of the inequality that some communities still receive in the twenty-first century. 

People are allowed to be their own reporters, to act like paparazzi recounting and sharing on events of importance to them. The latter may be influenced by their own experiences and identities. Author Michelle M. Wright explains how gender and race take on multiple forms when joined with technology, those "permutations resembl[ing] their 'real time' counterparts, where atavists attitudes and practices exist alongside progressive views and activities" (Wright 2005: 48). However, due to a vast multitude of new media available and the practice of media bridging can definitely create various viewpoints of a social movement. Of the same opinion, Sasha Constaza-Chock in his book, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets, detailed that the media changed the facts of an event - the 2007 May Day at MacArthur Park - to their liking. One way Chock mentions this can occur is where news are shown; for example Spanish-language media is denied in English media, making Spanish-language news vulnerable to changes and lies by the English media. Automatically the Brown/Latino community loses the opportunity to share their story on the television; if it were not for social media, potentially nothing would be recounted to the public.  Likewise has #GangstaGardener reported on the food crisis people of color in South Central Los Angeles are experiencing, something that in most circumstances will not make news. No longer is the television or the newspaper or the radio indicators of how news spreads. In a new age where digital technology is at the grasp of many hands, #GangstaGardener is permeating, present where social media is present. To reference back to Dr.  Karyl E. Ketchum in her piece, "FaceGen and the Technovisual Politics of Embodied Surfaces", social movements along with digital technologies, "morph...fit[ting] to the cultural present while retaining the familiar surface texture of history" (Ketchum 2008: 2).

With hashtags there is a call to action, and with a call to action there is organizing and activities carried out. #GangstaGardener is no exception. This movement primarily is a call to all Angelenos, signaling that not all of the residents of Los Angeles have ready access to fresh, healthy produce. This movement is a call to action to really save people's lives by improving the quality of food they eat, not changing and gentrifying their community with more restaurants like Starbucks. And most importantly, this movement stresses to highlight that people in the twenty-first century still face discrimination because of their class status, because of their socioeconomic status and because of their race and ethnicity. Would #GangstaGardener have had the same popularity it has now without the use of social media? Maybe. maybe not. Nonetheless, the fact that social media plays an integral part in sharing this initiative to the world questions the position social media site have in the world. One notion, as Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa share in their article "#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States", "Is Twitter the ultimate 'non-place (Auge 2009) of super modernity, a transient site of fleeting engagement, or is it an instance of a 'virtual world' (Boellstorff 2008), with its own set of socialites and forms of engagement" (Bonilla and Rosa 2015: 5)? Based on interviews and first-hand accounts of individuals grateful for such an enriching experience (as they learn where their food comes from and can acquire healthy food without the expensive price) makes this social movement (which is popular on Twitter) engaging both online and offline. Social media is like the frosting of a cake, it adds on to the mass that already exists, completing it and helping it present the best of it. Twitter is #GangstaGardener's frosting, and hopefully all new media can bridge together to be frosting as well.

Mostly, what is learned about this movement is through Ron Finley's TED talks, his website, and his and other social media users' posts and hashtag uses. These new media, along with media bridging, has allowed people to foster a relationship with nature, with their community and city, and most importantly a relationship with themselves as they begin to take note of what they eat and where their food comes from. It is not a 'normal' virtual conversation, per se, as Finley encourages garden work over simply talking about making a change in the quality of food for South Central Los Angeles. 

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