This week’s readings cover a wide range of topics: two papers from the Race and the Internet book deal with the accessibility of the Internet and its communities to people of different races (especially on Native American reservations throughout the US), the voice of minority writers and journalists online, in print, on the radio, and on TV, while another deals with how people are using YouTube to trace their origins alongside an interested audience, and the last deals with the problematic nature of DNA databases. In addition, the article from The New Inquiry was quite relatable to me, as I often wonder about the discrepancies between “Facebook me,” “Tumblr me,” “Twiter me,” “Instagram me,” and “IRL me.”
Sandvig’s “Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure”
Sandvig’s paper dealt with the Tribal Digital Village, which was a network that “provides Internet access to remote indigenous communities in Southern California,” along with research on how indigenous people in America are marginalized in terms of Internet access because of the lack of infrastructure to support it on reservations (Sandvig 192). What I found most troubling was the fact that though it was inspiring that complete amateurs were able to get the Internet up and running and provide the service for thousands of people in the San Diego area, they did this not because of choice but because of necessity—big companies were not willing to come into their uncharted territory on reservations, and one of TDV’s members even stated that he would “rather have had enough money to ‘just hire someone’” or have been able to have a “more normal system… provided by a more usual Internet provider (Sandvig 192).
I was troubled not only about the fact that Native Americans are unable to access the Internet with as much ease as the rest of America, as in 2010, the FCC estimated that 65% percent of American households had Internet in their homes, and 65% of Native American households had basic telephone service (Sandvig 169). The fact that as a result, Native American households can’t even utilize dial-up Internet that was mainstream over a decade ago in the early 2000s is infuriating to me, as this closes out a large number of voices from being able to share their experiences online, and even when they want to use the Internet, the government won’t subsidize the costs unless they are using it for “useful” purposes, not games and social media like the rest of America uses Internet for (Sandvig 183).
I found it interesting that Sandvig talked about the way that many people on Native American reservations are “appropriating” technology for their purposes, like the example of a man who used the Internet in order to text message his friends because there was no cell phone service in his area. I have always thought about the term “appropriation,” especially in connotation with Native Americans, in a negative way (think Urban Outfitters and their ‘Navajo’ items which they made a trend). However, appropriation in this sense seemed like a necessity, not a conscious—and sometimes even subconscious- sartorial choice. I never knew that the definition of appropriation was to “possess [technology] without permission,” in other words, using technology that was “intended to do one thing [and] forcefully [re-making] it in order to do something else, just as old cellular telephone towers… car batteries and more were re-made to provide Internet service by TDV” (Sandvig 191).
Above are four of the many “Navajo” items that Urban Outfitters sold (clockwise from top left: Navajo Hipster Panty, Navajo Nations Crew Pullover,Navajo Sock, andTechno Navajo Quilt Oversized Crop Tee) for quite some time, to the fury of the Native American community and their allies (the blog post that I found these pictures from can be found here and is an interesting blog apart from just this post itself; another good resource I found that talks about the headdress trend can be found here). It is appalling to me that hallmarks of a culture are stripped of its importance and plastered onto a shirt or mass-marketed piece of underwear, and I am quite interested in why—and how- these cultural appropriation “trends” come about. I would like to pose the question after reading the Sandvig article- is there such thing as “good” appropriation? My [wary] answer is no; I personally think that if Native Americans and their physical communities were given as much attention as the rest of America, the residents would not have to appropriate as such a drastic measure in the first place to use such simple technology as the Internet or SMS texting.
Wilson and Costanza-Clark’s “New Voices on the Net? The Digital Journalism Divide and the Costs of Network Exclusion”
This paper deals with diversity in the media today with a central focus on how people assume that because Obama was elected in 2008 to the US presidency, that it has entered “a new, ‘post-racial era’” but that this is not true because “race, class, and gender all continue to unjustly structure Americans’ opportunities in every sphere of life” (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 246). It’s eye opening to notice that “whites… own 90% of US businesses” even when the population is approximately 1/3 minority (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 246). In addition, it’s depressing to note that minority employment in print journalism is only at 13.5% at the time of publication (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 249). The lack of a voice for people of color in print publications is disparaging because “mass market newspapers in the United States have never given fair, accurate, or proportional coverage to people of color and their communities” (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 248), and I agree that especially in light of the events in Ferguson at the present time, there is still a lack of reporting done by African-American reporters from the area (most reporters seem to be from outside the area, such as reporters that are writing for The New York Times and Mic.com). Apparently, TV stations and public radio have better employee diversity than newspapers, which I found to be interesting because this was the opposite of my initial hypothesis; I thought that because print journalism has a sense of anonymity (you can choose to be anonymous and your name is often ambiguous in your race and sometimes even your gender) while on TV one’s face (and assumed race) is shown, that people of color would be more well-represented in print than on TV.
Another theme that Wilson and Costanza-Chock touch upon is the fact that there is this disparity in who gets Internet access and who is talking/getting their opinion heard on the Internet. They write about Metcalfe’s Law which states that “as more people join a network, the value to the network increases exponentially” (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 257) and that “when only a minority of the population is not in the network, the costs of exclusion rise dramatically” (Wilson and Costanza-Chock 259). This reminded me of how a huge number of Americans and facets of American livelihood (like school websites and college applications) are online yet many Native American reservations do not have access to the Internet, as Sandvig wrote earlier in the book, and I enjoyed how the two readings played off each other in that way.
Nelson and Hwang’s “Roots and Revelation: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the YouTube Generation”
Nelson writes about the use of video-sharing on YouTube to create a community that supports each other while learning about users’ ancestries, particularly in the African-American community. The premise behind genealogy is simple, and I enjoyed the phrase that “genealogy is a necessity of knowing who you are and everything you hope to be” (Nelson and Hwang 273). This made me believe that being able to know who your ancestors are should be a basic and unalienable right, and that it’s remarkable how far technology has come in creating a space where users can talk about their experiences in finding out their roots.
It’s interesting that they mention that social networking sites, or SNSs, “encourage a sense of proximity between broadcasters and commenters… partly achieved through filming technique and style: close-angle views and sotto voce tones are employed on roots revelations that approximate the “confessional” interludes… these videos create intimacy despite the fact that they can be grainy and poorly lit” (Nelson and Hwang 282). I definitely agree that the homemade quality of videos on YouTube is one of the reasons that they seem so relatable and why they may help foster this community of people looing for their ancestry online. This deeply contrasted with the high-quality, well-lit, professional-looking video portfolio that comprises the “Whiteness Project,” which was actually filmed in Buffalo, New York where I’ve lived the past seven years very recently. I had stumbled upon this week and was outraged about. The project interviews several white people about their experiences with their “whiteness” and how they feel about their ancestry; the conversation may be needed in public dialogue but some of the interviewees seemed to be making ridiculous demands. For instance, Chris states that “as a white person, I wish I had that feeling of being… of being white but I don’t… the pride and the culture of being white just isn’t there” (Whiteness Project: Chris), which touches on his wish for a community but his community seems to be that of “real life” and not online, a dichotomy that is seen not only in the YouTube genealogy community but also in the Jurgenson reading where the author talks about the discrepancies between “real life” and “online.
Duster’s “The Combustible Intersection”
It’s almost common knowledge that DNA testing is supposedly a good thing because it makes catching culprits easier when it comes to crimes like murder and rape. However, Duster argues that DNA collection can be a bad thing, because besides the first type of collection at crime scenes, there is this second type of data collection from “persons who are known to the police, mainly because they have been convicted of a crime,” an idea that seems okay except when facing the reality that databases are often racialized and known persons to the police are overwhelmingly people of color (Duster 313, Duster 317). The Duster reading really highlights how the criminal justice system, and particularly the collection of DNA, is heavily skewed and racialized, making it easier for people of color to be convicted of crimes because their DNA is often stored on these DNA databases more often than white people who were not “known suspects” who had their DNA samples taken from them before they become suspects to crimes.
Jurgenson, “The Disconnectionists”
I found this reading to be the most amusing because it’s the most applicable to my daily life, especially in the idea that we are no longer in the age of “personal authenticity,” as evidenced by this man’s tweet:
@Swarthyvillain is talking about a phenomenon that is one of the biggest jokes in our generation: the “common white girl,” a caricature described on Twitter under the #commonwhitegirl hashtag as a girl (that doesn’t necessarily have to be white), that is often middle-class, sips a Starbucks frappuccino (or pumpkin spice latte in the fall months), loves to wear leggings, and says “I can’t even” when she is at a loss for words.
I have to agree that I, too, am afraid that my personality has become too similar to the “common white girl” because of this idea that “social media surely changes identity performance” (Jurgenson). I honestly do wonder if my affinity for frappuccinos is because they are mainstream or because I genuinely like them. This idea that there is a conflict between my “self as social performance” and my “self as authentic expression of one’s inner truth” (Jurgenson) is something that I relate to completely; being completely overdosed by social media and sleeping next to my iPhone every night, my personality and interests have regrettably been shaped by trends I see on Facebook and Twitter. Jurgenson writes about how being “true to yourself” is now the motto, but what is “yourself” when you realize that you are just like all of these other “common white girls” online? I can’t even.
Jurgenson’s ironic laugh about the fact that there is even an internet fad and viral video (how is it viral if people are apparently sobering up and putting down their phones after watchin it?!) that is telling people to put down their phones resonated with me as well, as I remembered this picture I took of my friends’ cellphones while out at a dinner earlier this year because we decided that whoever touched their phone before their meal was over has to pay the tab (embarrassingly, one of my friends did reach for his phone, saying that he had to call his mom).
This week’s reading was very applicable to things that I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter lately as well as making issues that I had not realized before (especially about the lack of Internet access on Native American reservations) clear to me. I am now considering making my final project for this course on the [lack of] ability to connect to the mainstream American public on these resservations, physically (because of distance to major cities) and digitally.
Question 1: Inspired by page 249 of the Wilson and Costanza-Chock reading; the reading notes that 13.5% of print journalists are people of color—what do you think the figure is at Harvard (at the Crimson, Lampoon, Manifesta, the Independent, and other publications), and do you think this figure varies within each publication? Do you think that if this figure is higher or lower, the reason minorities gravitate toward/away from print journalism is because they are afraid they won’t be heard or because they are encouraged to join? (I personally believe that the number of minorities on the staff of the Crimson may be a little higher than the national statistic, but not much more, which would be interesting because of the high minority presence at Harvard; I am just saying this at the top of my head because I have never seen any statistics about the role of race in clubs and activities at Harvard and this figure I’ve thought of only comes from my limited experience while comping the Crimson).
Question 2: In response to Nelson and Hwang; Why is it that people of color can uncontroversially express their desire to understand their ethnicity, background, and ancestry and have a community that supports them, while people of the white majority looking to do so (see the “Whiteness Project” I linked to above) are met with much controversy? Is it a right for only minorities to publicly express their desire to understand their roots? (The “Whiteness Project,” while seemingly in bad taste with some of the interviewees saying very ridiculous things that are not culturally sensitive at all, such as Jason stating that he feels that slavery is too far in the past (he says something along the lines of “you don’t know your great-great grandmother who suffered through slavery, it’s far removed from your experience today”) that African Americans keep playing it up in order to get minority privileges that he isn’t afforded as a white person, does bring up this question and I am not sure how I feel about it.)
Question 3: In response to Duster; should everyone’s DNA be sampled to reduce this skewing of DNA sampling based on race, or would that be a violation of the fourth amendment? If it is a violation of the fourth amendment, why is it okay that on these DNA databases, the people indexed are disproportionally people of color? (I would say yes that if everyone is indexed, this would be a lot less prejudiced of a system; however, I understand that this is a privacy issue and DNA information could be used against you—ex. If you have the gene for a fatal disease, an employer may not hire you).
âpihtawikosisân. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Âpihtawikosisân, n.d. http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/.
“Chris.” Whiteness Project, 2014. http://www.whitenessproject.org/checkbox/chris.
Duster, Troy. “The Combustible Intersection: Genomics, Forensics, and Race.” In Race After the Internet, 310–27. Routledge, 2012.
Jurgenson, Nathan. “The Disconnectionists.” Http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-disconnectionists/. The New Inquiry, November 13, 2013.
Nelson, Alondra, and Jeong Won Hwang. “Roots and Revelation: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the YouTube Generation.” In Race After the Internet, 271–90. Routledge, 2012.
Sandvig, Christian. “Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure.” In Race After the Internet, 168–202. Routledge, 2012.
Takeman, Buzzfeed. “Tweet.” Twitter. Swarthyvillain, September 14, 2014. https://twitter.com/swarthyvillain/status/511288311496065025?refsrc=email.
“Urban Outfitters Is Obsessed with Navajos.” Blog. Native Appropriations, September 23, 2011. http://nativeappropriations.com/2011/09/urban-outfitters-is-obsessed-with-navajos.html.
Wilson, Ernest J., and Sasha Costanza-Chock. “New Voices on the Net? The Digital Journalism Divide and the Costs of Network Exclusion.” In Race After the Internet, 246–68. Routledge, 2012.