Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Further Discussion of Banks and Blackmon

I want to draw our attention to some key passages in the articles we read for today. I didn't much discuss the main thrust of Blackmon's article in my post, but her argument about technology in the classroom and finding a comfortable space online connects directly to my thoughts.

She writes that her students have often reported feeling a “virtual loss of cultural affiliation” (96) when using technology. She continues:
"The course that I have described here originated from my reaction to a student survey which revealed to me that African-American students in one of my classes felt alienated by technology and cyberspace. Even more important than their fear of technology, some of them seemed to feel that there is some kind of conspiracy that keeps them in their marginalized positions in cyberspace in much the same way that minorities have traditionally and historically been oppressed [. . .]" (100).

Though her narrative of classroom success seems a bit rosy, she details ways in which “students shared stories about online comfort zones as places where they could discuss those things that they were too afraid or ashamed to discuss in the real world” (95). I see this as a 99% positive thing, but 1% of myself wonders if the problems identified online are being addressed in the real world that often ignores them?

I've long felt that InstantMessaging communication, for instance, allows people to say things they would never say in real life. Users thereby (sometimes) create disingenuous, cyberally-inebriated personas that don't always translate in face-to-face (skin-to-skin) relationships. Thoughts?

Speaking honestly of honesty, I need to include a bit of Banks's thought on censorship. He uses the term in a broad way, meaning in the following that entire languages are censored and devalued. He sees Blackplanet working against that (capital C) censorship:
“Black participation on the Website also begins to show the ways cyberspace can serve as a cultural underground that counters the surveillance and censorship that always seem to accompany the presence of African Americans speaking, writing, and designing in more public spaces—spaces that seem to consistently say to them that no matter what traditions they might bring to the classroom, the workplace, or to technologies—these spaces (and the written English that accompanies them) are, and will continue to be White by definition” (69).

Curiously, Blackplanet is itself heavily censored. If my experience on the website tells me anything, it's that a big part of orality--cursing--is certaily curbed on BP. Many, many users write "a ss," "shyt," et al. to get around this. That said, Banks's point about censorship writ large is still well taken.

He also writes that "[t]here are no parts of the planet that are inaccessible because they are too far from home, or reachable only by way of endless rides on convoluted, barrier-maintaining bus systems." This use of a recognizable city-planing metaphor suggests that the internet helps us transcend physical limitations (Blackmon, though, goes so far as to question whether the internet reinscribes "ghettos" (95-96)).

Banks, too, has his cynicism about technology. He writes, “The construction of Black people and other people of color as non-technological and therefore irrelevant in the design and construction of technological tools continues even into the era of the Internet, even as those selling new technologies are quick to market a world of multicultural possibility” (72).

While Blackmon identifies the problem that constructing oneself as technological often means implicitly constructing a white persona, Banks points out the above problem and calls for internet spaces that foster oft-devalued expression. Authentic expression.

Of course, the DMAC video questions the whole concept of authenticity. We'll watch it in class and formulate a collective response, dig?

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