Chris Rabb and Afro-Netizen
MJ: Do you think what you call the digital ethnorati is going to be a significant factor in the political landscape and the upcoming elections?
CR: I have no idea, and I am not optimistic. But who's to say what the future holds? There needs to be a multiracial, inclusive agenda online for those who wear a liberal or progressive label. I think the big question is what are we doing on the Internet and to what end, because why and how black folk use the Internet is very different than how white people use it. We're less about social networking, more about information around education, housing, and health.
MJ: Why do African Americans not use social networking sites as much and focus on the information aspect of it?
CR: There may be an assumption that we're just not there. We don't really know. There are so many websites and new media sources that ask for everything. They ask for age, ideology, but they do not ask for race. MoveOn is the perfect example. MoveOn has I don't know how many million members and they've never asked their members what race they are. Which I think is kind of absurd, because to me folks who don't ask that but they ask everything else are organizations that are afraid of dealing with race. How can you possibly serve a diverse membership if you don't understand their concerns? We are progressive and our identity is very obvious and very verbose: "Oh, I'm a progressive, I'm antiwar, whatever." But why not ethnicity? At the very heart of American society is the whole creation of race. So not talking about it is very naïve or maybe something far more sinister.
So if I go to a social networking site and I'm not asked about race when I'm signing up, I'm going to have a very low expectation for connecting with people of color and African Americans in particular.
Chris goes on to talk about the reality that, in effect, segregated "channels" have already appeared in the progressive blogosphere and within the grassroots/netroots movement. In my experience organizing that is both true and not true.
On the one hand it's still a reality in American politics that if you aren't consciously working at breaking down racial walls, then you aren't working at breaking down race-based walls. It doesn't happen by happy accident.
At the same time, the millenial generation seems to me poised to break through the racial stratification that plagues the generations just older than them, including my own. The idea of holding a meeting and having "only white people show up," for whatever reason, is anathema to many millenials; they clearly understand it as not simply wrong-headed...but incredibly bad and ineffective politics. Chris Rabb's interview in Mother Jones expresses that.
2008 will be an important test of the questions Rabb asks.
Links: Chris Rabb Afro-Netizen Race the Progressive Blogosphere Social Networking Millennials