This annotated bibliography is centered on Black people’s experience with technology and digital spaces. The citations are assembled as a journey through racism against Black bodies, objectification of Black female bodies, Black people’s relationships with technology, African American discourse communities, and Black feminist online activism. Collectively, these sources demonstrate the pervasive physical and cyber violence that Black bodies endure in society (e.g., social media platforms, gamer communities, and institutional communities). Ideologies and narratives in our physical world map onto digital environments, which are elucidated through online discourse and image circulation. Black women expend digital labor to engage as a counter-public in protest against injustices (in person or digital occurrences).
I clustered annotations into four groups that would tell a story in a future academic project on this topic:
I identified three research questions that I intend to interrogate as I continue to conduct research on Black identity, Black discourse, and Black women’s representation in digital environments:
For next steps, I anticipate further engagement with the following texts along with a few other related texts not listed below to situate myself in the literature. My ongoing project that focuses on the racialized experiences of Black graduate students has a potential component in which I will develop a campus climate interactive site to replace the existing climate surveys. After reviewing the sources in this bibliography, now, I understand that Black people will freely express themselves in digital spaces measured according to their audience. I will consider this as I ruminate on the site design.
Feagin, J. R. (2013). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing. Routledge.
Feagin begins with historicizing racism in America, which manifested into systemic racism. The White Racial Frame is defined as “the dominant racial frame that has long legitimated, rationalized, and shaped racial oppression and inequality in this country” (Preface, p.3); “includes a broad and persisting set of racial stereotypes, prejudices, ideologies, interlinked interpretations and narratives, and visual images. It also includes racialized emotions and racialized reactions to language accents and imbeds inclinations to discriminate” (Preface, p. 4). The White Racial Frame or lens is learned through familial relationships from childhood and masked in adulthood (when necessary). The White Racial Frame is characterized by ideologies and stereotypes, such as one’s language portrayed through “language mocking.” Also, stereotypes are shared cognitively through learned behavior, and within the White Racial Frame, images and emotions are racialized. Mass media portrays “American” as synonymous with White and whiteness as equating to good or virtuous. Feagin contends that racist social frames persist from white Americans’ “collective memory” and “collective forgetting.” In this way, histories that benefit the white power structure are concretized and other histories are occluded to mask the pervasiveness of racism.
Browne, S. (2015). Dark matters: On the surveillance of blackness. Duke University Press.
In this book, Simone Browne provides context for the surveillance of Black people by opening with the story of Frantz Fanon, scholar and activist. Frantz Fanon was a threat to governments internationally for calling out the racism against Black people. According to Browne, Fanon, under the care of NIH, died of cancer, and the FBI was not forthright with any records of his existence. Browne examines in the book the declassified documentation he was able to receive from the FBI. Browne outlines methods used to racialize surveillance from slavery (e.g., runaway slave advertisements). Other forms of surveillance imparted by Browne are “the Book of Negroes [, which] is an early imprint of how the body comes to be understood as a means of identification and tracking by the state (70); lantern laws; tracking, and branding as biometric technology. Finally, Brown shares stories of Black women racially profiled by TSA at the airport (e.g., checking Black women’s hair). This source contextualizes the physicality associated with the surveillance of Black bodies, which overt and covert in digital environments.
Hooks, B. (1992). Selling hot pussy. Black Looks: Race and Representation, London: Turnaround.
bell hooks shares an anecdote where she is entering into dining establishment with white colleagues when she overhears a group of white men say her friends must be “liberals…to be hanging out with a ‘nigger’”(p. 122). Immediately after, her colleagues are laughing at a chocolate breasts dessert in the restaurant. This was hooks example of the racial violence again Black female bodies while her lived experiences are invisible to her white peers (who supposedly did not hear the white men’s racial slur). Bell Hooks interrogates the representation and exploitation of Black female bodies in mass media as hypersexualized. Hooks historicizes this exploitation beginning with the Black female slave put up for auction and objectified to sell based on her most “salable” parts. Then, there is a celebration of Black women’s butts in contemporary music and film and art, reifying the white female body as more valuable. Hooks tells Tina Turner’s story describing her as a Black women who endured “sexual victimization” with “animalistic” style performances (a person constructed by her abusive husband Ike). This is another example of Black female exploitation due to the construction of heteronormative ideals. Hooks continues an analysis with the representation of Black females in fashion (print magazines) and film where darker-skinned women are distorted, or lighter-skinned women used to simulate whiteness. She asserts that issues with representation persist today.
Banks, A. J. (2011). Digital Griots : African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age. Southern Illinois University Press.
In this book, Adam Banks provides a reconceptualization of digital rhetorics with African Americans as participants in digit media and demonstrates cultural influences by representing the DJ as a storyteller (griot) within the black community. The DJ mixing of music is representative of the stylistic arrangements of argumentation that are present in writing (35). In other words, “The digital griot offers one such approach for the mix of roles, relationships, and rhetorical practices the scholar might engage” (36). The griot’s rhetorical strategy is building knowledge through rhetorical sequencing (50). Banks shares his resistance in participating in community literacy writing opportunities because of a concern that the explanatory process of his work, in a conforming context like grants, should not be confined by institutionalized practices. His resistance to grant writing lessened as he identified more with the value in building community using literacy. In continuing to use the griot, the griot builds community through identification with one’s audience and using the audience as co-creators in community texts. The preacher is also an example of a figure that uses rhetorical strategy, call and response, in which building community literacy norms is an interactive experience (51). In what Banks calls an “Afrofuturistic approach to activism and rhetorical performance,” he bridges the gap between past (old school) and present (young generation) ways of print, oral and digital literacies to pave the way for new narratives in African American rhetoric, and shows how literacies have transformed across generations (87). Remixing the opposing perspectives of these two generations is Banks’ method of convergence to create new African American literacies that close a community divide. This book works in tandem with Kynard (2007) as foregrounding pieces in understanding African American rhetoric in digital spaces.
Everett, A. (2009). Digital Diaspora : A Race for Cyberspace. State University of New York Press.
In this book, Anna Everett, a professor of film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, historicizes the movements of Black consciousness to include prominent leaders such as Amiri Baraka, Aime Cesaire, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey. In chapter five, “The Revolution Will be Digitized: Reimagining Africanity in Cyberspace,” Everett analyzes the digital divide rhetoric debate and references a 1995 study that found Blacks were more likely to engage in Internet use than whites to search for information. The so-called digital divide was narrowed in part by Black nerds (“Afrogeeks”). Afrogeeks, John Henry Thompson (Macromedia), and Mark Dean (IBM) are like forefathers of information technology because their work is foundational in video games and websites and IBM applications, respectively (p. 158). Philip Emeagwali—Nigerian who worked for five years for free to have access to a lab near Silver Spring, MD that refused to hire a Black man—is an example of an “invisible” figure who made significant contributions to the World Wide Web—CNN, later, naming him “The Father of the Internet.” Like Adam Banks (2006), the barrier to Black people’s access to technology is illuminated through this example, and Emeagwali deems himself one of the first “hackers” for finding a point of access to technology despite the racial framework. Also, Everett tells the story of Anita Brown, an African American woman and founder of “Black Geeks Online” in her fifties, who pushed against the normative concept of a geek as white, young, and male. Black Geeks Online (1995-2001) was an unfunded non-profit established to ensure digital literacy for Black people with 30,000 members. This source is foundational and a counterhistory in understanding Blacks’ situatedness in digital spaces since the advent of the Internet.
Banks, A. J. (2006). Race, rhetoric, and technology: Searching for higher ground. Routledge.
In chapter 4, “Taking Black Technology Use Seriously: African American Discursive Traditions…,” Banks demonstrates that the recreational use of computers and the Internet on Black Planet signified African American rhetorical expressions and identity formations (through language and page designs). He argues that platforms that may not be created by Black people become underground spaces of communication and unification. In chapter 7, “A Digital Jeremaid in Search of Higher Ground: Transforming Technologies…,” Banks questions how African American rhetorics is used online and how African American’s writings operate in digital spaces (p. 144). He also explores more broadly how African Americans have been technological in all facets of communication. Like Anna Everett (2009), the issue of African Americans’ opportunity to access technology is raised, and the ways they navigate around racist barriers—”transformative access.” He, too, explores the Digital Divide of the 90s and contends it as a rhetorical and technological problem.
Brock, A. (2009). “Who do you think you are?”: Race, Representation, and Cultural Rhetorics in Online Spaces. Poroi, 6(1), 15-35.
In this article, Brock questions the source of the turmoil with the Black identity that Black people face within educational institutions. Is the performance of blackness or the disavowal of blackness driven by “stereotypes,” “interiority,” or “exteriority”? Some forces challenge Black identity, and Black people can find themselves performing within the dichotomy of “acting White” or acting as a “Super Nigga.” Conversations about Black identity that was once “private” or “commercial” are now pervasive with a broader audience afforded by the Internet, which has led to “the heterogeneity of Black identity formation while also demonstrating the discursive and rhetorical commonplaces of Black identity” (16). Brock examines “two online discourses on the intersection of Black and American identity” (16). The first example is a rhetorical analysis of a speech given by Kanye West “on behalf of Hurricane Katrina survivors,” ignited an online debate through Black blogs about the articulation of blackness. The first example involves Rev. Lowery, who was reprimanded with “racialized discourse” in Ta-Nehisi Coate’s Atlantic magazine blog. Both examples demonstrate how Black identity is interrogated in discursive spaces for blackness. “The paradox of constructing and embodied identity in a virtual space helps to open up an ontological consideration of racial identity—that it is a socially constructed artifact with more to do with social and cultural resources than with skin color” (32).
Kynard, C. (2007). “Wanted: Some Black Long Distance [Writers]”: Blackboard Flava-Flavin and other AfroDigital experiences in the classroom. Computers and Composition, 24(3), 329-345.
Kynards work is situated at a commuter college comprised of a majority of Black students with heritages linked to the Caribbean (most of Jamaican descent). She analyzes digital rhetoric by assessing her students’ online discourse within the class’ Blackboard discussion forum. Also, she contextualizes that Black students write differently for Black audiences than any other audience with more uses of cultural vernacular and other Black rhetorical expressions. “In one particular semester when students read the essay by Killens (1992), ‘Wanted: Some Black Long Distance Runners,’ their very first three posts in the forum dedicated to the essay enacted a key element of their online rhetorics: the use of extensive, running metaphors to organize their arguments, name their threads to grab attention, and express disagreement” (p. 335). In this short case study, Kynard noted that the more students became passionate in their debate about Killens’ essay, the more they deployed Black vernaculars, signifying, and trickster. When she assigned students writing groups and instructed them to decide on a group name, their names represented their Black cultural identities. Kynard believes that situating Black students in technology empowers them to enact agency in their use rather than technology using them (p. 340).
Korn, J. U. (2015). Black Nerds, Asian Activists, and Caucasian Dogs: Online Race-based Cultural Group Identities within Facebook Groups. International Journal of Interactive Communication Systems and Technologies (IJICST), 5(1), 14-25. doi:10.4018/IJICST.2015010102
This article is one of the first to focus on Facebook Groups as a site of study in digital cultural rhetorics and uses a critical humanist perspective as a lens and communication theory as a theoretical framework. Korn explains that in the absence of racial identification through physicality (“ocularcentrism”) online racial embodiment is performative. Even online, one’s race is a salient self-categorization in which groups are centered as seen throughout Facebook Groups. The portrayal of race online is a representation of the social and cultural narratives in everyday life. Korn examines Facebook Groups created for each of the following racial groups: Black, Asian, and White.
Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the new jim code. John Wiley & Sons. Ruha Benjamin argues the embedded racism in digital spaces, which he coins as the New Jim Code: “the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequities but that are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory systems of a previous era” (pdf pg. 3). Neoliberal ideologies underpin the construction of our physical world/society, and in the same way, these ideologies inform the creation of digital spaces. The New Jim Code is underpinned the white race frame (Feagin (201). Benjamin elucidates that Black people engage in social media spaces that are not Black-owned (Banks, 2006) while White corporations profit from their online engagement. For example, on Twitter, Black people are highly engaged while deploying African American rhetoric and inventing discursive practices (e.g., dragging) that Twitter had not intended so much so that their interactions have been deemed as “Black Twitter.” However, the anti-blackness is inherent in technological spaces that Benjamin calls the “anti-black box,” and the behind-the-scenes racism is apparent in the unregulated covert racist comments because profitability from clicks is valued over cyber violence. Benjamin dispels technology as race-neutral.
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression : How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press.
Noble’s goal is to elucidate racism and sexism on major corporate sites like Google and demonstrate that technology is not neutral but indeed are sites of oppression based on algorithms developed by those who possess racist and sexist ideologies—”algorithmic oppression.” Noble focuses his research on how Black identities are established in classification systems (e.g., search engines and library databases). For example, Noble reminds us of the 2016 occurrence when searching “N*gga House” in Google maps resulted in the White House as the destination during the presidency of Barack Obama. Also, image searches of Michelle Obama related her to an ape and resulted with superimposed images of Michelle Obama’s face with a monkey (p. 6). According to Noble, these incidents are passed off as technological glitches (Benjamin, 2019) rather than oppressive constructions by the algorithmic literate. Take a deeper dive into the portrayal of Black women and girls online; Noble deploys Black feminist thought to unveil the commodification, commercialization, and hypersexualization of Black female bodies on the web (p. 32). Also, he discusses the surveilling power of algorithms as we engage with technology such as online platforms and email (p.52).
Cagle, L. E. (2019). Surveilling Strangers: The Disciplinary Biopower of Digital Genre Assemblages. Computers and Composition, 52, 67-78.
Cagle demonstrates through an assemblage framework how photographs are taken of strangers, posted to the Internet without consent, and receives derogatory comments, which reifies ideologies about non-normative bodies. Cagle calls this assemblage of human and nonhuman actants (“photographers, mobile cameras, social media, wireless internet, subjects of photos”(71)) that creates this dynamic paratextual situation that body shames and judges, “strangershots.” Later, Cagle connects the problematic nature of strangershots to Foucault’s biopower. The shaming that occurs from strangershots is a form of policing that manifests into harm or violence from “moral judgments and concomitant disciplining.” Cagle demonstrates that with strangershots people perpetuate normativities conducive to an ideologically neoliberal society with issues of poverty and race. Cagle argues that “strangershot serves as…surveillance and discipline. Surveilling and disciplinary practices (re)produce biopower as a relational force shaped by conceptualizations of normality and deviance” (72). How do strangershots serve as a tool in the indictment of individuals performing acts of violence against Black bodies that would otherwise be invisible crimes?
“2016 Climate Survey.” Final draft of the 2016 Climate Survey Report, https://graduateschool.vt.edu/about/numbers/climate-survey-home/climate/climate.html.
The graduate school’s climate surveys are administered every three years since 2013. I reviewed the 2016 climate survey because the 2019 survey has not been prepared, or a survey was not administered last year. A third-party vendor conducts climate surveys to aggregate data from graduate students through an anonymous survey process. The 71-question survey was pushed out to students at all Virginia Tech graduate campuses (including virtual campuses). At the time of the survey, the graduate school had approximately 7,000 students, but only 1,094 students completed the survey. Two things are revelatory from the survey results. First, the survey captured that graduate students are under a considerable amount of “stress,” but stress is used in a way that masks whether or not the stress is from the rigor of graduate studies, financial burdens, lack of mental health support, racial discrimination or more. As addressed in the survey report:
“Stress is the most prevalent theme that comes out of this section of the report. Students all feel stress and they deal with it in different ways. The sources of stress varies, but most students who commented about their stress stated that finances and work volume (both academic and assistantships) are most prevalent. Students also mentioned a lack of clear advising or direction as a source of stress” (2016 Climate Survey p. 11)
Secondly, the participants’ ability to have confidence in the effectiveness of the survey or the university’s willingness to address significant concerns is compromised under the current survey design. One students’ response was captured in the survey that expressed this sentiment: “The professors with racial bias integrate that into their pedagogy in oppressive ways. It is the norm, and when you voice dissent, they immediately try to push you out. That causes many people of color alienation or what this survey considers “stress” (2016 Climate Survey p. 21). “Stress” raises concern for those who recognize the limitations in the word when there is a full spectrum of issues. Others may be deterred who are looking to document a racialized incident but interpret the question as not the appropriate context to share.
Korn, J. U., & Kneese, T. (2015). Feminist Approaches to Social Media Research: History, Activism, and Values [Special Section]. Feminist Media Studies, 15(4), 707–722.
Korn and Kneese illuminate the benefits and digital labor of using “feminist” hashtags as a form of resistance in everyday life. Some of these hashtags are meant to engage in discourse communities online as a counterpublic against hegemonic masculinity narratives. Also, these hashtags are a call-to-action to protect the ensuing harm towards female-identified bodies, particularly at universities and workplaces, as well as in gamer communities and advertising. Korn and Kneese explain that the work of feminist scholars has unveiled that interactions online exposed various forms of inequity and hierarchies existing in everyday social communities, affirming online platforms as salient research sites. This work relates to Korn(2015), where there is a broader characterization of digital labor and women’s digital labor as feminist activism.
Lockett, A. (2020). Scaling black feminisms. In S. Ross and A. Pilsch (Eds.), Humans at Work in the Digital Age (pp. 250-266). Routledge
Lockett is curious about how assertions about Black feminist representation are mediated in digital spaces. She examines the digital labor expended to (re)construct the Black female identity as a counternarrative to the oppressive depiction and advocating for representation in academic communities as well as in Black and women’s movements. Lockett defines “digital labor” as cumulative compulsory actions when managing our digital interactions such as social media posts, email, and notifications that consume time from our day whether or not we are cognitively aware (p.253). Other forms of digital labor are exemplified in Wikipedia, maintained by voluntary labor, and open-source software for managing networks (p.254). Lockett discovers that “Women of color are 34% more likely than white women to be harassed on Twitter” (p. 256). Black women expend digital labor in the form of self-defense when their online identities are associated with being Black and female. In academia, “intellectual interventions” to preserve Black female representation through digital labor (activism) is inherent in the movement of #HashtagSyllabi and #CiteBlackWomen to raise awareness about Black female contributions and a nudge for scholars to reflect on citational practices. Also, Lockett analyzes #SayHerName as digital labor to make visible Black women murdered due to racial violence that was invisible within the #BlackLivesMatter social movement (mostly recognizing murdered Black men).
Walls, D. M. (2017). The professional work of “Unprofessional” tweets: career situations in African American hush harbors. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 31(4), 391-416.
Walls, like Kynard (2007), situates this work under the premise that Black people freely in Black spaces for Black audiences. This article focuses on the discourse amongst African American professionals, which recasts professional writing outside of the structured context of the workplace. Although this work is more situated in professional and technical communication while drawing on rhetorical practices, Walls draws from the work of Angela Haas’ “Race, rhetoric, and technology” whose work is arguably cross-disciplinary. Walls acknowledges that symbolic analysts (tech commers) are negotiating racial differences in the workplace. As historically safe spaces for Black people to freely engage in discourse hidden from white people, Walls relates physical hush harbor spaces with hush harbors in digital environments. Drawing from Nunley, African American hush harbors (AAHH) rhetoric is characterized using the Greco-Roman rhetorical concepts “parrhesia (fearless or dangerous speech) and phronesis (practical wisdom, intellect, or virtue)” (p. 399), which is a different perspective than what is found in African American rhetoric research. The AAHH is contrasted against Black Twitter (a public discourse community) where the white gaze cannot be averted, and although racist and cultural appropriation exists, this engagement co-constructs discourse formations. Additionally, Walls includes a case study where he conducts a quantitative and qualitative analysis of an African American professional woman’s Twitter use within cultural and professional contexts.