The Mis-Digitization of the Negro

The lack of an authentic technological education is developing a false consciousness among black folk (and others). Technology is good for a lot of things but it is not a cure-all to improve relationships, address inequality, and dismantle institutional barriers to progress. In the last 10 years, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields have been presented as providing the solution to nearly every problem of the future. Educators emphasizing the continuing relevance of humanities and arts have been sidelined to focus on the promise of future technological development. In our rush to get ready for the digital universe of tomorrow, how well do we really understand the complex racial challenges of today? Are our future technologies truly being engineered to address abiding concerns of relationships, inequality, and institutional racism or are they merely providing new tools to perpetuate the existing barriers?

Technology is an important factor in our world. Our interaction with technology molds and manipulates our thinking process in ways that we are only beginning to understand. In our obsession to accomplish more with ease and efficiency, is it possible that our optimism with digital technology has compromised our understanding of what hardship actually is? Is signing a digital petition, liking a facebook page, or tweeting 120 characters of disapproval, the equivalent of a sit-in, a protest march, or a boycott?

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When Carter G. Woodson penned Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933, he feared that the lack of an authentic black history hampered the development and advancement of the nation and a people. Woodson argued that by controlling a person’s thoughts, one could control his actions. While Woodson’s fears centered on the lack of an authentic knowledge of the past, today we look to two continuing extremes of mis-education that are particularly harmful to the African Diaspora.

On the one hand, we inhabit a nation and a world that is much more open to the study of black history than it was during Woodson’s time, yet millions of blacks (and others) still find themselves mis-educated about the continuing relevance of race and inequality in in global development. In our push to substitute the digital for the analog, machines over meanings, we have simply abandoned our study of social ills and not resolved them.

Equally troubling is the fact that some of the nation’s brightest graduates (black and non-black), similar to the ones that Woodson wrote about in Mis-Education, have talents that are not effectively applied because they lack an understanding of the complexity of the problems encountered in our society. In this regard, various high-tech educational achievements have deceived otherwise brilliant folk into believing that machines exist outside of culture. Instead of seeing the development of machines as alloys of the economic, political, and cultural substrate of the time, we see them instead as extraterrestrial devices that have been summoned to save humanity.

More troubling still, our unconscious adoption of technology impacts our thinking process not only about what is possible but why certain challenges remain. Technology shifts our focus from what should be done to what can be done. This trade-off has its merits but also comes with a cost. We have watched as a generation have backslid into simple-minded exhortations on the race question that were discredited more than a generation ago. What good is it to have highly educated, technologically talented citizens if they are no more able to discern and dismantle strategies of disenfranchisement than sharecroppers less than one generation removed from slavery? Technological study is only useful if it elevates the mind to confront and solve the challenges of a racially-hostile architecture.

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