10/9 – Don’t Believe the Hype: The Digital Divide and the Third Way

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Reading: Race, Rhetoric, and Technology

Discussed: African American Jeremiad; Houston A. Baker, Jr.; Amiri Baraka; Black Arts Movement; Black Voices; BlackPlanet; City of Bits; Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Keith Gilyard; Harlem Renaissance; Langston Hughes; Ishmael Reed; The “third way” in African American rhetoric, Feenberg, and Neoliberalism; George Schuyler; Langdon Winner

Ishmael Reed (1974): And why all this antagonism toward individuality? Insects have individuality, even ants. You can’t predict the behavior of one shark by observing that of another shark, and each wolf has a different tone, yet these people will go about saying we are all the same, then shout down Shockley and Henson when they suggest that we are subhuman or want to fight when somebody says they can’t tell them apart. The Afro-American’s great asset may be his “unpredictability”…There’s always been a final solution suggested against Afro-Americans and they’ve always had the means to carry it out. We’re still here. (Shrovetide in Old New Orleans 140).

Amiri Baraka (1980): …in the Fall of 1979, I put forward the idea that there is a revolutionary tradition in Afro-American literature. I also implied, and to a certain extent discussed, the obvious capitulationist tradition in that literature – obvious, because the dialectic would automatically suggest that if there were a revolutionary tradition, then its opposite would also be present. I think it should be added that probably the majority of Afro-American writers fall somewhere between those two poles, as “middle forces” that are swayed, guided, directed, or influenced, given their peculiar individual experiences, by one of these stances or the other. But the genuinely major Afro-American writers have been part of the revolutionary tradition, and there is a preponderance of patriots as opposed to copouts among Black writers. […] Recently the bourgeoisie has been pushing Ishmael Reed very hard…in essay after essay Reed stumps for individualism, and asserts ubiquitously that the leadership of Black folks is the Black middle class, rather than the working class, but it gets even further out than that. […] …in the recent climate of celebration of capitulation and upholding of the compradors, the real garbage in the brains of these traitors comes out. And this is what their aesthetic is built on. (“Afro-American Literature and Class Struggle” 5; 11-12)

Houston A. Baker, Jr. (1984): …Afro-American culture is a complex, reflexive enterprise which finds its proper figuration in blues conceived as a matrix. A matrix is a womb, a network, a fossil-bearing rock, a rocky trace of a gemstone’s removal, a principal metal in an alloy, a mat or plate for reproducing print or phonograph records, The matrix is a point of ceaseless input and output, a web of intersecting, crisscrossing impulses always in productive transit. Afro-American blues constitute such a vibrant network. The are what Jacques Derrida might describe as the “always already” of Afro-American culture. They are the multiplex, enabling script in which Afro-American discourse is inscribed. […] A further characterization of blues suggests they are involved in the code’s Hegelian “force.” In the Phenomenology, Hegel speaks of a flux in which there is “only difference as a universal difference, or as a difference into which the many antitheses have been resolved. This difference, as a universal difference, is consequently the simple element in the play of force itself and what is true in it. It is the law of Force.” Force is thus defined as a relational matrix where difference is the law. (Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature 3-4; 6)

Houston A. Baker, Jr. (1987): The “changing same” is Amiri Baraka’s designation for the interplay between tradition and individual talent in Afro-American music. Invoked in reference to the Harlem Renaissance and Afro-American modernism, the phrase captures strategies that I designate as the mastery of form and the deformation of mastery. (Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance 15)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1983): Perhaps only Tar Baby is as enigmatic and compelling a figure from Afro-American mythic discourse as is that oxymoron, the Signifying Monkey. The ironic reversal of a received racist image of the black as similanlike, the Signifying Monkey – he who dwells at the margins of discourse, evern punning, ever troping, every embodying the ambiguities of language – is or trope for repetition and revision, indeed it is our trope of chiasmus itself, repeating and simultaneously reversing in one deft, discursive act. If Vico and Burke, or Nietzsche, Paul de Man, and Harold Bloom, are correct in identifying “master tropes,” then we might think of these as the “master’s tropes,” of signifying as the slave’s trope, the trope of tropes, a figure of a figure. (“The Blackness of Blackness” 686)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1988): Naming the black tradition’s own theory of itself is to echo and rename other theories of literary criticism. Our task is not to reinvent our traditions as if they bore no relation to that tradition created and borne, in the main, by white men. Our writes used that impressive tradition to define themselves, both with and against their concept of received order. We must do the same, with or against the Western critical canon. To name our tradition is to rename each of its antecedents, no matter how pale they might seem. To rename is to revise, and to revise is to Signify. (The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism xxiii)

Technology and (In)Equality: Not only are Black people forced to catch up to technological tools and systems and educational systems to which they have been denied access, but they are required to do so in a nation (or system) in which the struggle they endure to gain any such access to any new technology, any acquisition of any new literacies, is rewarded by a change in the dominant technological systems and the literacies used to facilitate access to them, and thus the same struggle over and over again. The only difference is that the consequences are peoples’ life chances, their material realities, whether they get to eat, have homes, and live fulfilling lives. (xxi)

The Argument: The overall argument I make is this: rather than answer either/or questions about whether technological advancement and dependence leads us to to utopia or dystopia, whether technologies overdetermine or have minimal effects on a society’s development, or whether people (especially those who have been systematically excluded from both the society and its technologies) should embrace or avoid those technologies, African American history as reflected throught its rhetorical production shows a group of people who consistently refused to settle for the limiting parameters set by either/or binaries. Instead African Americans have always sought “third way” answers to systematically racist exclusions, demanding full access to and participation in American society and its technologies on their own terms, and working to transform both the society and its technologies, to ensure that not only Black people but all Americans can participate as full partners. (2)

Beyond “the word”: African American rhetoric has always been multimedia, has always been about the body and voice and image, even when they only set the stage for language. Even within a definition of African American rhetoric as only being about the word, careful considerations of how current technologies can extend its study will provide a much richer body of work for rhetorical criticism and analysis. (25)

The Digital Divide: The Digital Divide is not the equivalent of national “why Johnny can’t read” campaigns that brand Black people illiterate in the service of continued American racism, but rather, was deployed by Black technology innovators in the Clinton administration (namely Irving and William Kennard, the FCC chairman who preceded Michael Powell), community organizations, academics like Abdul Alkalimat, and activists in order to call attention to systemic inequalities – the same inequalities that the AfroGeeks acknowledge in their rant. Moreover, their embrace of technologies is unequivocal; lumping those with any critical consciousness about the ills they could caus or exacerbate as Luddites and technophobes who are part of the problem by announcing that the transition must be from phobia to philia. More worrisome than either of these issues, however, is the fact that they see their erasure as the result of the struggle for equitable access rather than part of the larger problem of the Divide, reflecting the same crabs-in-the-barrel mentality, the same scorn for Black people who have been systematically denied the educations and digital literacies they enjoy that were the worst excesses of the turn of the 20th-century uplift ideology. (36)

Malcom X and Martin Luther King: …I want to suggest how a change in the analytic tools we bring to bear on the study of African American rhetoric can allow us to do what we have always done, but better. Such a change can take us to texts and performances that have not received the same attention as Malcolm and King have. It can lead to new insights on how activists managed to “jack” access through whatever means possible, insights that can lead to strategies for doing the same with new technologies, helping rhetors can acquire far more control over messages than we have had at other times in our history. (55)

A Different “Third Way,” A Different Centrism: The brotherhood King posits as necessary to our survival is different because it depends on a mutual responsibility that demands the correction of past injustices, with American racism the chief among them. This is what cable news channels fail to grasp when they play their favorite clips from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and what neoconservatives either fail to understand or ignore when they sample his words for a song he wouldn’t sing. The difference between King’s global vision and corporate or governmental globalisms, between a global neighborhood and a global brotherhood, is the same as the difference between actively including those who have been denied technological access and casually placing a few computers in a few libraries and arguing that it is the responsibility of those who have been denied to find their own way. (63)

Black Digital Ethos: Black digital ethos is the combination of all these abilities Martin Luther King and Malcolm X demonstrated, rooted in African American traditions, committed to a larger project of transformation to make some real difference in the lives of Black people, however they define that difference. It is rhetorical excellence based on both a mastery of skills and a broader critical awareness. It is an understanding of the workings of individual technologies  and the larger networks of power in which they operate. It is a vision for the role of technology in its most general sense in the lives of Black people and in a common humanity. It is an ability to stage the event,  manage the interview, give the speech, create the weblog, bring the television cameras, get on the radio, preach at the church, or whatever else is necessary, in whatever forum, with whatever tools, to carry one’s message to the people regardless of the differences of power that might exist, regardless of the knowledges, needs and assumptions audiences bring with them. A Black digital ethos is the set of attitudes, knowledges, expectations, and commitments we need to bring to our dealings with individual technological tools and to that larger, macrolevel awarness we need. Malcom and Martin and all the networks of their collaborators, parishioners, opponents begin  to show us the way. (67)

African American Rhetoric of Design: As contrasted with notions of specific visual or design aesthetic, by African American rhetoric of design I mean a set of principles for design taken from the work of people who used their work to aid some sense of collective struggle, a kind of heuristic that can be applied to design processes regardless of their different aesthetic choices one might make. This rhetoric fo design is bidirectional, working on both sides of transformation, and would challenge designers to build freedom and pathways to it into technologies and spaces. (107)

The Intellectual Mixtape: …I ask students to compile a soundtrack to the ideas we’ve covered during a particular course or course cycle. This assignment serves not only as a review exercise, but forces students to engage the ideas again and connect them to music, artists, and traditions they enjoy. This assignment also allows me (sometimes) to directly engage issues of intellectual property and ethics with digital technologies and writing processes. There is potential I have not yet tapped in an assignment like this, as it could allow one to move from basic issues like what copyright law allows as fair use to how groups have organized in resistance to the domination of major media companies in the forming and enforcement fo those laws, eroding almost all sense of public good or fair use. Such examinations could then, in a technologically focused course, link various copyleft and open source movements (and their own ironic racialized exclusions) to the patterns of textual borrowing and building that marks forms like the African American sermon to such an extent that preachers often jokingly relate their citation system. (142)

Access: Acess requires an individual or group of people having the material of any particular technology, along with the knowledge ad experience and genuine inclusion in the networks in which decisions are made about their design and implementation that enable them to use – or refuse – them in ways that make sense in their lives. Combining these four levels or access (material, functional, experiential, critical) in some way than can represent transformation in similarly a multi-faceted task. People must think and act simultaneously along the axes of critique, use, and design. The Jeremiah cannot work alone to point out the failings of a society; people must also be prepared to imagine, design, and build new systems, new documentation, new tools, new networks that assume and naturalize the epistemologies of those who (in this case, African Americans) have been left out. Their histories and assumptions must be naturalized, centered, in those new spaces. And finally, along with both critique and design, those who press for change must be able to count on users to participate in those new, tecnologized spaces, as problematic as they might seem. (135)

  1. No Race Left Behind

    Adam J. Bank’s book, Race, Rhetoric, and Technology, was a startling eye opener in many ways for me. As an inner city school teacher of minority students, many of the problems that he brought to light were not new ones. From the inside, it is easy to recognize the division of power. The school I teach in is in an impoverished district. The students walking my hallways are living in minority status. We have a student body make up of 18% African American, 53% Caucasian (including Arabic Americans of which this is the majority), 0.5% Hispanic, 28% Pacific Islander, and 0.5% American Indian. Over 70% of our students come from other nations and English is their second language. A high percentage of the students are functioning below reading level. The average household income is $25,000 for a family of four, and over 60% of the population is eligible for a free or reduced cost lunch; this means that over 60% of the children are living at or below the poverty line. The majority of the students have parents with a high school education or less. This is a great deal of statistical information to swallow for any reader, but it is important when one considers the quality of education that the children of my city are receiving. The schools are crumbling infrastructures that lack supplies and funds to run efficiently. The district already suffers from an insufficient per student allotment from the state. It receives the second lowest amount of money per pupil in a relative comparison to the other districts in the state. To make matters worse, the district recently informed the city of a looming deficit of over a million dollars and ten staff members from the high school were laid off due to the financial crunch. Class sizes of 30 or more have been promised to swell to almost 40. This is disconcerting, to say the least. With all of these problems, it is difficult to see the bigger picture. The odds seemed stacked against the favor of the children attending here. And with all of these things considered, it could be easy to miss the effects of the Digital Divide, as I had until I read this book. I always knew that there was a problem with the lack of computer technology in our schools and students’ homes, but I had never before drawn a connection between the lack of these elements and the achievement of my students.

    My mother is employed in a northern school district in a wealthier suburb of the Detroit Metro area. In her classroom, she is linked to a computer lab which is fully housed with beautiful new and recently updated Dell computers. The computers are loaded with all of the most recent educational software, and students have access to these computers at all times. She shares this lab with only one other teacher. All teachers in her building have such labs attached to their classrooms. Her technology department is staffed with knowledgeable individuals who are accessible at a moment’s notice. Children begin receiving exposure to technology in elementary school. At home, each and every student she teaches has a computer of their own (or at least one for the family) and has parents that are fluent with technological tools and language. It seems like an unattainable dreamland. I have to share a lab with 52 other teachers. The 30 computers in that lab are old and ill repair. Only one of the four elementary schools has computers for the children to use and the middle school is not unlike our high school. Only about 60% of the students have their own computers and 75% have their own e-mail account. Most of the children have technologically illiterate parents and leave our school system with a limited proficiency (if any). They are ill-equipped to function in the workforce due to the division of power and this perpetuates a cyclical system that keeps them in poverty, making them into, what Banks calls, “outsiders” (31). Banks brings to light the reality of the situation with his candid discussion about the abandonment of the previous administration’s programs through the research presented in the Digital Divide. Without a clear understanding and the population embracing the knowledge that something other than finger wagging is needed in order to give all students equal opportunity for advancement, many of these students of the minority will remain faceless and forgotten statistics.
    Technological access and knowledge is critical, especially in the midst of an era due to the face of composition changing. Students, in order to be viable in the workforce, must have access to technology and technological education. If what Rice says is true, computers and other internet related technologies are superseding other forms of communication to become the dominant form of written and visual communication. We must “prepare students for the challenges of different kinds of writing in vastly different spaces than just wordprocessing programs that were the focus of so much of 1980s and 1990s thought about computers and writing” (119-120). What I am interested in is how we shall begin to implement these programs into our schools.

    My interest leaves me with these questions:

    • How do we go about equalizing the funds schools get in order to make sure that all of the institutions that we are paying for with our federal and state tax dollars have equal access to the staff and materials needed to run an efficient school system?
    • What kind of innovative pedagogical composition programs that utilize new media have been developed to meet the various needs of the minority student?
    • How should we evaluate our minority students? If No Child Left Behind’s slogan was intended to “sell policies that cut funding for schools that needed it the most and identified thousands of schools serving poorer students and students of color as irrevocably ‘failing’” (17) and we are attempting to address the problems with “drill, skill, and kill” techniques and remedial programs that “dumb down” the current curriculum, aren’t we actually pushing away our minority students from the very material we wish to impart unto them?

  2. Though the predominant thrust of Banks work within the initial chapters is to explain the repercussions incurred by the digital divide, as well as its perpetuation by what Banks appropriately refers to as the “discursive divide” in current academic practice, another notable aim of this text is an attempt to elucidate the various ways in which African-American rhetoric is intimately associated with machinic or technological development.

    Part of Banks greater argument is predicated on the supposition that important connections exist between periods of technological development and the extended history of African American struggle in the United States (Banks 23). Banks appropriates this argument from Abdul Alkalimat’s focus on labor technologies of the last few centuries. Alkalimat argues that whereas some technologies seem to initially complicate the African American situation while eventually benefiting this population, other technologies, though initially favorable, have had devastating consequences for African American people in the long run. Whereas most labor technologies initially create a high demand for African-American labor, this demand is eventually obliterated by technological change. Whether the obliteration of this demand has positive or negative ramifications for the African American seems, ultimately, to be an issue of historical context. Whereas the mechanized cotton picker prompted the second great migration and, perhaps contributed to civil rights movements of the time, technological developments that occurred within the auto industry lead to the eventual unemployment of many African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s.

    For his purposes, Banks attempts to co-opt this argument in his discussion of communication technologies and rhetorical production. Unfortunately, it seems that something is lost in this translation. First, as Banks argues in the initial chapters of the text, the digital divide contributes to the greater disadvantage of black people. Here, the African American is not only denied access to the technology (the computer, the digital), but denied the type of technology education that people of other demographics receive. Though I grant this point to Banks, I feel that this admission disturbs Banks’ appropriation of Alkalimat’s argument. That is to say, if Alkalimat is arguing that labor technologies initially lead to the greater inclusion of black people, even if disadvantageously, doesn’t this stand in direct confrontation to the way that communication technologies exclude? Moreover, if one is to follow the model that Alkalimat provides, doesn’t this just refute the necessity of addressing what Banks refers to as the discursive divide in contemporary realms of technological scholarship? If you consider that Alkalimat argues that the potential for the positive arises in relationship to new technologies, might Banks’ adaptation be considered a strange affirmation of the need to wait for a new development? Doesn’t this model position the African American in a very strange relationship of dependence; a dependence which can only be reversed by the development of new technologies? Here, it seems that the call would be for a rhetoric of invention instead of a discourse on remedy.

    Perhaps though, what is missing from both discourses is a more adequate understanding of the technologies discussed. In chapter three, Banks begins by suggesting that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are remembered because of their mastery of different media. Specifically, Banks is interested in the ways that Malcolm X and Dr. King use the media of television and radio to attain more publicity and attention than they could have with older print technologies. Again, Banks move here becomes a little confusing. Although he begins by stating that Malcolm X and Dr. King are the people we remember because of their use of a new medium, and that there are others that remain unrecognized, he immediately switches to the image of the populous. It is no longer the image of Dr. King or Malcolm X that Banks is discussing but rather the images of various protesters being beaten or abused by public officials and white racists.

    Though I agree with Banks attentiveness to the image of the abused black man being, in a strange way, an effective rhetorical tool, this example seems to demonstrate a different theory of technology than the one that Banks’ references in chapter two. Here, one could read that it is the media of the television itself that both oppresses the African-American and provides an outlet for African-American plight to be understood by others. In fact, it is really only by means of being a tool that emphasizes oppression, that it becomes effective. Thus, in effect, what you have is an argument for a technology that visually or aesthetically oppresses, in order to liberate. And, this it seems stands in direct refutation to the model that Banks draws on. What happens when it is one technology that operates in both capacities? What about invention as it exists in relationship to the virtual? Again, this is one technology where there is a possibility for both movements.

  3. In his “Rewriting Racist Code” chapter of Race, Rhetoric and Technology, Adam Banks argues that the American legal system has encoded racism deep in its laws and statutes; further, in order to break this cycle of inherent racism, it is necessary to radically transform the United States “’based on a fundamental redistribution of resources’” (94). In his work, Black Marxism, Cedric J. Robinson argues a similar point: that racism in the United States is both systemic and inextricably tied to America’s capitalist system. While he does not say that one causes the other, he does state that the two work in tandem. Robinson references W.E.B. DuBois throughout the text, drawing attention to his use of the word “labor” to describe the blacks shipped across the Atlantic to work in the New World: “slavery was the specific historical institution through which the Black worker had been introduced into the modern world system. However, it was not as slaves that one could come to an understanding of the significance that these Black men, women, and children had for American development. It was as labour” (281).
    The Black Jeremiad that Banks refers to throughout the book is interesting to study in conjunction with Robinson’s work as well. Another one of Robinson’s central points regards the mythologized history of the Anglo-Saxon American transplant, or what Banks refers to as the American Jeremiad. Robinson pays close attention to the exploitative practices of both native Americans and the Black slaves idealized as colonization and redemption from savagery.
    Robinson is interested in documenting the Black Nationalist Movement, but makes a key observation when he notes the failure of the Black Nationalist Movement to have a lasting effect on the treatment of blacks. It is because of the inability of “black ideology” to fit in with “American ideology” that the transformation never takes place, not to mention the point above that American capitalism cannot function without its history in Black oppression and slavery; the Black nationalist movement is “an historiographic expression negating the national legend” (273). I think too that Robinson would find great merit in the study and use of culturally-rich underground practices like BlackPlanet and the quilting signals used during the Underground Railroad to establish an African-American rhetoric which could then be used as foundational tropes and moves in a digital space that gives functional, experiential, and critical access to everyone, not just those privileged. It would be the fluid rhetorical practices not only of Banks’ African-American rhetoric, but also Rice’s rhetoric of cool that act as the transformative powers of our Digital History (which, of course, is comprised of infinite digital, material histories).
    Thus, the “history” of the Digital Jeremiad would be rooted not in chronological events, but rhetorical moves that got their start from historicized events, all subjective, open, and inclusive. There is then no incompatibility between histories. While the Black nationalist movement perhaps failed to infiltrate and transform America’s dominant ideology because of its incongruence with those dominant ideals, the Digital Jeremiad will be based in subjective historialities. There will be no incompatibility because these events, moments, people, etc. can be sampled, patchworked with other fragments to make something new. And that new thing can be “cut up” and used for other purposes by someone else, ANYONE ELSE, at a different time. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE: this is Green Rhetoric.
    I feel compelled to bring in Arthur Kroker’s call in The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism for the digital artist to make sense of the nothingness of the burgeoning culture of nihilism: “Without art, digitality perishes. Art is the essential survival strategy of digitality today, and perhaps the basic survival strategy of human life itself” (Kroker 212). While Kroker fails to extend his elaboration of digital “art” past cinema and new media art, reading his work through the lens of Banks (along with Johnson-Eilola and Rice‘s texts), it becomes clear that we as rhetoricians—through the development of a multiple rhetoric, design, and collaborative struggle against dominant ideology (take your pick—Current Traditional pedagogy; the racism inherent in American economics, politics, and culture; the neo-Luddite fear of rapidly advancing technology)—have the power to transform both the material and the digital realm not only to be accessible to, but also to be inclusive of and designed for everyone. Just as Rice seeks to debunk students’ dependence on traditional logical, linear writing, so too does Banks aim to “denaturalize” the print systems in favor of audio-visual digital harmony (or, should I say, a Digital Jeremiad) that draws on the cultural practices of all, not simply a select few. The art-as-savior that Kroker describes need not be “art” in the conventional sense; the Digital Jeremiad that Banks envisions, with multimedia manipulation and endless amendment. We are the artists and the art. As we manipulate our technologies, the technologies manipulate us, inscribe themselves in the history of the Digital Jeremiad.

  4. Throughout his book, Banks writes things like: “In cyberspace, it is finally possible to completely and utterly disappear people of color” (1) or “Attention to this link between technologies and rhetorical production can help those interested in African American rhetoric and struggle to look forward to look back, to reflect on African American histories and futures in a highly technologized and highly racialized nation to reclaim and re-imagine African American rhetorical study in a new century, to appreciate the ability we have always had, of discerning, in any given situation, all the available means and using them regardless of the barriers that still prevent equal access to them” (145-46). As I read sentences such as these, my mind immediately substitutes the words “African American” for the word “disability” and the word “racial(ized)” with “disabledness”. In so doing, I connect the—though very different in both variety and number—oppression each minority group experiences. Though most disempowered groups fight off the Other label by, at least, showing they are not the other, other. For example, African Americans might collectively argue they are not as “bad,” or as much of the Other as those with disabilities. But, I digress. Still, the prejudice Banks speaks of that African Americans experience can be closely related to the prejudice, exclusion, and marginalization that people with disabilities experience. (To be clear, I am not arguing ). The ways in which these disempowered groups are prejudiced against marginalized, refused access, etc., they are similar, but the similarities end there. The experience of being African American, for example, is much different than that from the experience of being disabled for many reasons. The most obvious of which is that people do not and will not become Black (even if one could change the color of their skin, this would not equate being Black because the Black experience means much more than skin color just as replacing a limb or taking medication does not represent the disabled experience. Both experiences are much more layered and complex and changing to attempt to convey here). But everyone, at some point, will experience some level of disability throughout the aging process. For this and other reasons (accidents, etc.) every body has the potential/capability of becoming disabled. I’m curious what Banks would say about this. Specifically, I would like to know where Bank’s thinks disability’s place within both rhetoric and technology reside, if he thinks they exist there at all. In addition, I hope he will expand on the technology transformation project. I was a little confused about this.
    Banks calls on those of us in English studies to change our perspectives in order to really “…imagine what writing instruction, technology theory, literacy instruction, and rhetorical education can look like for all of us in a new century” (xii). For me, due to my interests in Disability Studies, I re-adjust Banks’ “all” as to include people with disabilities. In my own research I would like to argue for disability what Banks argues for African Americans when he writes: “…African American [Disabled] rhetorical traditions—the traditions of struggle for justice and equitable participation in American society—have much to offer our efforts to find higher ground and understand the messiness of what we seem to have committed ourselves to in this digital age” (xi-xii). Further, when Banks noted that the internet is illusory and “…masks a more disturbing phenomenon – the whitinizing of cyberspace” (1), I concurred, again in terms of disability. Does Second Life have the option for a disabled avatar?
    Question: Although race and disability are very different labels of Other in our society (in that people can never become Black, but people can very likely become disabled), they are both disempowered groups, to be sure. Therefore, do you see these two distinct yet disempowered groups being represented within your arguments on inclusion regarding technology and rhetoric? If so, in what ways?

  5. While reading Banks’ text for this week, I felt like I was stuck on a rollercoaster of agreement and disagreement, alternately vacillating between thinking “Right on!” to “No way!” to “Absolutely!” to “They went back in time to what?” However, I think the point he makes about the importance of access to technology is absolutely right on, and is a much more widespread and universal concept than this text, which obviously focuses primarily on the issue of race and access, digs into.
    Banks touches on the more widespread nature of the issue of access throughout the book, “Intervention on behalf of technology producers to force innovation, force the obsolescence of millions of perfectly good television sets in the next decade was more important than intervention to help African Americans, American Indians, Latino/Hispanic peoples, and poor Whites in urban and rural areas achieve anything resembling ‘basic’ access to the National Information Infrastructure” (35), but I think that in rural areas today, the actual root issue of what Banks refers to as “basic” access is even more pronounced. This is not to imply that, to paraphrase Banks, six computers with Internet access in a public library for 6000 patrons counts as a point of sufficient, or even basic access, but there is at least the availability of access in some form to technology. In my hometown, which is not all that rural by American standards (take, for example, Keakuk, Iowa, or the entire state of Alaska by golly), publicly available high-speed Internet access—which I argue in this day and age that dial-up access falls somewhat below what should be considered basic Internet access—is a very recent development. My parents (yes, the Luddite owners of the rotary phones), who live in an area that’s not even considered rural by my hometown’s standards, still do not have high-speed Internet access in their neighborhood, and it is a 20-minute trip into the big city to get to a coffee shop that has wi-fi for a fee.
    But not to enter into a match of “who has it the worst.” I think that Banks’ call for increased access for the African American community is necessary to help break down the racial barriers of the Digital Divide. In order for people to compete in education or the job market, it is essential for them that access to technology becomes more equalized, whether that means for inner-city youth or those out in the country for whom technology means a combine, a mechanized milking parlor, and steel-toed boots. Otherwise, as the need for functional, experiential, and critical access to digital technology becomes more and more necessary, the divide between the technology haves and the technology have-nots will continue to grow.
    As much as I agree with this part of Banks’ argument, there is a point of disagreement, or perhaps just confusion, I have with his discussion of the African American rhetorical “underground,” and more specifically in his accusation that contemporary composition research should be more inclusive of African American oral traditions. “The implication of this point is that the wide body of research in composition that fails to take into account the power of these traditions and continues to view Black student writers as less prepared than others, merely, ‘writing like they talk’ needs to be questioned and ultimately repudiated as antithetical to both the field’s stated goals of fostering inclusion in writing instruction and the practice of writers … This assumption often leads teachers and scholars to believe a corollary assumption, namely while Black oral traditions are rich and varied, those traditions are irrelevant to the study of written English, and therefore writing instruction should be strictly and only about the mastery of standardized English” (71–72). Although I do agree that English, as a language, should not be static, and that as the population and culture changes, the language usage and rules should change with it, I disagree that this is an excuse to compromise the establishment of some form of “standard” English—whether that includes African American oral traditions or not. My confusion, I guess lies in where the line is drawn between what is considered a part of this oral or rhetorical tradition and what is just a poor grasp of the basic rules of the language. In this quote, Banks uses the phrase “writing like they talk,” which I can say, as part of my background, is not a phenomenon that is found only in the African American community. The previously mentioned combine driving, steel-toe boot wearing country boy also writes like he talks, and how he talks is with poor grammar because he either hasn’t learned or hasn’t been taught the rules. Is it okay to excuse poor grammar or an ignorance of the rules based on a tradition of orality? Not to buy into the assumption that the study of these oral traditions is irrelevant to the study of English, but how should what is learned from these studies be incorporated in the classroom, and again, where should the lines be drawn?

  6. I Am a Racist Technocrat
    Will the Real Slim Shady Please Sit Down?

    I am not the person to respond to this book because I have little investment in identity politics—and what investment I do have makes me seem like a reactionary, anti-diversity rube who thinks that certain folk are gettin’ uppity when they start talkin’ ‘bout how they ain’t got access. And really, that’s not me. My qualms about identity politics stem from the fact that I want to argue for the constructedness of whiteness as unmarked but the rules of the game are against me. Yes, I understand that categories like African American, woman, subaltern, homosexual are constructed as Other from the perspective of an assumed heteronormative, unmarked white rational masculine subject position. But my interest is not in defending the HUWRMSP as somehow “victimized” by the discourses of legitimation for other subject positions so much as is it rests in arguing that we should recognize the constructedness of all subject positions—but the last time I suggested such a thing in a seminar I was roundly derided.
    I start with this preface only because I’m thinking through some issues in relation to Banks’s work that are inevitably shaded by my antipathy toward identity politics. I want to emphasize my interest in the constructedness of all subject positions because I am troubled by Banks’s use of what might be read as an essentialized Black subjectivity in his chapter on the website BlackPlanet and African American discourse tropes. Banks argues in favor of Smitherman’s earlier claim that Black English is intimately tied to a unique “Black” experience; Banks, via Smitherman, maintains that “Black English, as expressed through its oral traditions, represents distinctively African American worldviews” (70). As Banks would have it, the Black worldview, expressed in both oral and literate Black English, can be understood as a scene of resistance and political liberation struggle:

    The continued focus of many on the oral in Black English, then, is not a resignation that written English is somehow the exclusive domain of Whites . . . but a matter of remaining true to the roots of the language, no matter what forms it might take now. Maintaining that focus is also an act of self-determination, of resistance, of keeping oppositional identities and worldviews alive, refusing to allow melting pot ideologies to continue to demand that Black people assimilate to the White notions of language and identity as the cost for access to economic goods or a public voice in American society. (70)

    This passage is worth citing at length because we here see what I am suggesting is problematic. Yes, Banks does write of Black identities, but not in the sense of a variegated multiplicity of Black subjectivities; rather, the “Black Experience,” it would seem here, is yoked to “authentically” Black literate and oral practices as the site of resistance to (monolithic) White notions of discourse and the subject. Later in the chapter, Banks gives in a little bit, admitting that “the names [of BlackPlanet members] reveal complexity and diversity in notions of exactly what constitutes a Black idenity”; Banks, though, still insists that there is such a thing as a discretely identifiable Black subject, for “all of the users [of BlackPlanet] . . . participate in and claim a Black identity for themselves” (75). I’m left wondering which argument Banks wants us to believe: that the Black subject is a space of contested, negotiated meaning, or that there is something we can call “Black identity” in a non-problematic, non-essentialized way?
    And now, a left turn. I know I’m kind off the technology trope here, but really the technological argument Banks is making seems fairly innocent. We need to redefine the Digital Divide; see “access” as a rhetorical problem that can be understood across multiple levels; and read the Civil Rights struggle as a technological, rather than a “merely” legal one? Okay. I’m on board. Back to my left turn.
    What makes Banks’s claims about Black English and Black identity so challenging is that it seems to tie racial identity to discursive production, in either the oral or literate genres. It is not difficult to consider two test cases (incongruous though they may be) for the claims Banks is making here. The first is the 313’s own Marshall “Eminem/Slim Shady” Mathers. In his track “The Way I Am,” Em taunts his white critics who accuse him of appropriating a traditionally Black art form: “And I just do not got the patience / to deal with these cocky Caucasians who think / I’m some wigger who just tries to be black cause I talk with an accent . . . .”. Here, Em makes, in a roundabout way, an argument similar to the Banks/Smitherman postulate: what his critics deride is a (perceived) wish to be Black, to be other, but Em refutes that haterade because, he argues, he naturally talks with an “accent”—which here, we might conjecture, means that Em—child of South Warren, friend and student of the Black population across the 8 Mile border—is a native user of Black discursive traditions and therefore, is not a “white nigger” but has some claim to Black experience by virtue of his participation in Black discourse genres. And while I am not Black, I can imagine taking some umbrage at such an argument (even while being dazzled by Em’s flow and mastery of the rap genre); that is, does participation in, and mastery of, the discursive production equate to Black identity?
    Alternatively, Barack Obama offers the other test case. While such questions have since grown silent (or at least much quieter), Obama’s candidacy was plagued in its early days by the question of whether he was “Black enough.” Take, for example, the opening to a story from Time magazine from 1 February 2007:

    But this is a double-edged sword. As much as his biracial identity has helped Obama build a sizable following in middle America, it’s also opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man. In calling Obama the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” the implication was that the black people who are regularly seen by whites — or at least those who aspire to the highest office in the land — are none of these things.

    The “not Black enough” trope takes two forms: first, the argument that Obama isn’t “Black enough” is due to his immigrant heritage: not the child of slaves, but the child of an immigrant student and a white (native) mother. He is African comma American, but not African hyphen American. The other version of the trope, expressed here in its most odious form by conservative hack pundit Warner Todd Huston, is that what makes Obama insufficiently Black is his relationship to “the low trending culture developed by the native born:”

    Obama isn’t “black enough” not because he might have an immigrant background but because he is educated, eloquent, smooth, and associates with whites. He eschews the thug, rapper lifestyle, the discounting of education and the general downgrading of achievement that is currently accepted by popular black culture in America today.

    So, Blacks do not distrust Obama because he is an immigrant and therefore not “black enough”. They distrust him because he is able and successful, smart and educated so that is what makes him not “black enough”.

    While I am not qualified to rule on Obama’s “Blackness quotient,” I can still say that I find both versions of the trope distressing from a critical point of view. Here, we have the corollary of the Banks argument; what makes Obama “not Black enough” is his background, and, in particular, his acceptance of “mainstream” or “standard” White discursive forms. While the Huston quote goes some distance to validate Banks’s argument that African Americans are often written off as being uneducable or irredeemably illiterate, Huston’s argument—distasteful as it may be—posits, like Banks, an essentialized Black identity.
    The argument I am trying to make here—to the extent that I am making one and not just thinking through some issues—is that any essentialized Black identity becomes problematic. It is either a derogatory assessment of “us people,” or a blanket acceptance of “us folks.”

  7. With Banks’ text, I found myself with such a disconnect as to how the issue of racial injustice is still a prevalent issue almost 150 years after the slaves were freed—45 years after the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King’s momentous speeches. For 150 pages Banks makes– and substantiates– the argument that there is a Digital Divide so tall you can’t get over it, under it, or around it by quoting great orators such as King and Malcom X to citing a variety of statistics showing the reader how this population needs a bridge over the Divide to enter the technology institution that the White population has mastered. Banks argues since the Black population was suppressed for so many years, they have never been able to “catch up” to the whites then he details examples in agricultural and industrial arenas—which the white population mastered and then moved on. Now while the whites are mastering the computer/information age, the Blacks are just getting comfortable with the technology. So Banks said since the Whites had a 5 to 25 year head start with the technology, they were able to dominate this industry.

    I never thought twice about the statistics where computers were placed in classrooms, but that the teachers were not instructed as to how to use them. The argument details statistics (“white people were more than twice as likely to own a computer as Black people (40% versus 19%) and almost three times more likely to be connected to the Net from home (21% to 7.7%)” (32). This goes to show that this technology “has been unable to effect any meaningful change in (their) lives” (17). This is further substantiated by comments from Martin Luther King who argued that it was up to those in power to help the oppressed because the Blacks had been denied technological access so now that they have access to a few computers in a few libraries that it was unreasonable to expect this population “to find their own way.” There were even some comments early on that “computers are not part of the black culture” (21). Banks continues his dialogue, “Thus, the Digital Divide involves both contest and silence; debate over whether there is a Divide at all…debate over whether race is a factor in whatever problems in technology access might exist; and concern that the use of a term like Digital Divide represents African Americans unfairly and does more to further the erasure of Black people by continuing to cast them as the utter outsider” (31).

    At the conclusion of the book, I found myself with many more questions than answers. I find myself looking around our classroom—this one and other classrooms within the graduate program—and wondered at the lack of minority students. I’ve known that the students and professors are predominately White, but I did not realize the issue still stems from oppression from our forefathers—that the Blacks are lagging behind in technological access which then effects career choices. I also had and “ah ha” moment during a Robin Williams skit this past weekend. He mentioned that Obama is an articulate, educated man. However, people are leery against voting for him because they feel he will morph into an Ebonic-speaking, gansta who will bring his homeboys with him to the White House. The argument is stupid; but it remains: some will not vote for a Black man. Just to end with the election, during the vice presidential debate Sara Palin accused Joe Biden of looking back at the George Bush years and not looking forward at what can – and needs – to be done in the future. I think it needs to be both. We need to look back to see how this group has been continually discriminated against and see how the problem can be rectified. I want to close with one of my favorite lines from the text: “This nation will have to be transformed if true equality and justice are to mean anything for African Americans” (xxiii). So now that I bought into his argument, I found his solution was too simplistic: he wants teachers to start using technology so the students will use the technology as well. What else can we do?

  8. In Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground, Adam Banks explores African American rhetoric as an ideal site for “transformative access.” This kind of access has the potential, he argues, to transform people, society, and technologies, rearticulating the “digital divide” in more productively rhetorical ways. Banks wishes to move beyond binary constraints circulating around the “digital divide.” Rather than answer the questions: is technology advancement good or bad, do technologies overdetermine or have a minimal effect on the development of society, or whether people who have been excluded from society and technology should embrace or avoid those technologies, Banks offers a non-binary approach: “African American history as reflected through its rhetorical production shows a group of people who consistently refuse to settle for the limiting parameters set by either/or binaries. Instead African Americans have always sought ‘third way’ answers to systematically racist exclusions…” (2).
    Banks uses this “third way” answer in his discussion of his main metaphor: “The One.” The One is taken from 1970s funk band Parliament/Funkadelic (PFunk), which conceptualizes a transformative unity to “the first beat of the measure” through rhetorical improvisation and freedom (5). To illustrate and explicate The One, he examines throughout the book various African American rhetorical practices in print, electronic, oral, and visual media, which produces the “third way” through rhetoric of design which enables access.
    Banks begins by examining the emergence, context, and rhetoric that constructed the concept of the “digital divide” in the U.S in the 1990s, concluding that African American history can be read as inherently rhetorical and technological, making it useful in redefining technological “access.” He deconstructs the discourse and technological context of Malcolm X in the TV documentary “The Hate that Hate Produced,” the ethical and technological issues in a speech made by Martin Luther King, Jr. called “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” and the rhetorical elements and uses of technology that can be found on the Internet community BlackPlanet. Banks then proceeds to discuss the “Black Jeremiad,” particularly in Derrick Bell’s And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice. Here he attempts to show how Bell has constructed a “countertechnology” in American legal scholarship, which “provide[s] an example of how language itself can be technologized in genre” toward ends that attack racist power arrangements and exclusion that are often “encoded in rhetorical forms” (9). This leads to an “African American rhetoric of design” that draws on a discussion of African American architects and slave quilters, which shows these practices as more than simply “style” but derived from particular technological struggles and rhetorical strategies. Finally, Banks returns to “The One” as a way to understand and critique technological access and transformation, providing a few brief pedagogical suggestions for “making access real” and a “technological agenda for African American rhetoric.”
    Ruminations: Even before reading Bank’s book, I was intrigued by the cover and the integration of “race” and “technology.” I was interested in exploring Bank’s intersection between these two discussions. While not so true today, just a few years ago, I had not come across a discussion that attempted to combine race and technology or gender, power, and technology. I was not disappointed. What I found most rewarding was Bank’s correlation between technology and aspects of Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rhetoric, and his examination of soul’s potential for producing pedagogies that “search for higher ground” in the classroom. Banks asks readers to redefine “access” to technology within the classroom. This point is a point that needs much consideration since the rhetorical practices within classrooms and technology teach us and the student messages regarding power, institutions, and the ways in which what we say is affected by how we define things and distributed ideas and words to audiences.
    Question: A discussion of agency seems important to bring up when discussing questions of social transformation. In light of agency and social transformation, how might technology works to (re)construct, interpellate, or (re)articulate agency or subjectivity? Is this an issue for you, or something you were not inter

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