Race and the Internet: Some Personal Reflections

Michael Dortch
Jun 7 · 3 min read
Source: Adobe Stock

My biases: I’m proudly African-American, descended from descendants of slaves, and privileged. My wife and I both work from our own home, in beautiful Sonoma County, California. We’ve been married for more than 30 years. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law that made interracial marriages like ours illegal just 23 years before we got married.

My thoughts on Black-White relations in America: those relations were largely founded upon racial and cultural prejudices such as “manifest destiny” and “civilizing the savages.” It therefore seems likely that those relations are almost guaranteed to be imbalanced, if not downright discriminatory, indefinitely and in multiple ways. Some of these imbalances are likely to be obvious and intentional. Examples include declaring each slave the equivalent of three-fifths of a free person, as enshrined in Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, and making interracial marriages illegal, at least until 1967.

Some of the resulting imbalances, however, are equally likely to be more subtle and less intentional. One example is any unintentional act of racism followed by declarations such as “I’m not a/we are not racist” and “this is not who I am/we are,” neither of which changes the act in question or its effects. The road to Hell, et cetera.

Another example is responding to a declaration such as “Black Lives Matter” with the platitude “All Lives Matter.” While absolutely true, it conveniently sidelines or denies the sense of urgency that drove the original declaration.

Race and class: it is clear that some if not most of the problems that are tagged as “racial” issues are or are magnified by factors related to class and economic status. However, it’s important to remember that the imbalances built into Black-White relations in America from the beginning are contributors to, if not primary causes of, many of the class and economic disparities that exist today. It’s equally important to remember that the one thing almost guaranteed to result in negative behaviors, up to and including destroying businesses and lives of neighbors and peers, is the despair that displaces hope when opportunities are difficult to access or non-existent.

Why the internet matters here: because all forces of nature and transformational technologies, from wind and rain through fire, electricity and beyond, share a common characteristic. Each can be harnessed in ways that help or harm. The same fire that heats homes and cooks foods can burn villages to the ground. The same electricity that lights the dark and preserves food can kill people and destroy property. All depends on the goals and intentions of those doing the harnessing.

The internet is the latest transformational technology with global reach. Online resources enable people to connect with each other and learn from each other. The same resources enable people to separate into bubbles of comfort in which we only interact with those with whom we agree and are comfortable. Feel free to insert your favorite examples from current events here.

Why I remain hopeful: because I think these two quotes accurately summarize where we are and how we might best get closer to where we need to be.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” — Angela Davis, as quoted at www.antiracismforbeginners.com.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

I am trying to spend as much of my time online listening to and learning from others, even and sometimes especially from those with whom I disagree or have little in common. I encourage everyone reading this to do the same, and to encourage those you care about to do so as well. Let’s see if we can’t use those online resources to help our small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens join forces and make meaningful differences.

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