Saturday, March 24, 2012

#TrayvonMartin & Afrofuturism

Thank goodness so many black folks refused to buy into the typical narratives about the "digital divide," which frame things only in terms of the haves and have nots. True, there are some very real discrepancies out there, and we should certainly be concerned about the racial implications central to some of the inequalities. But it also pays to consider, as those interested in afrofuturism have been doing for a while now, the distinct approaches to technology utilized by black folks.

Yesterday in a presentation, scholar Adam Banks was noting the importance of conversations on twitter, facebook, youtube, and blogs for raising awareness and practical organizing concerning Trayvon Martin.  If black folks had waited on CNN and MSNBC to provide coverage, pointed out Adam, who knows when and whether coverage would have become more pronounced. He was highlighting how African American use social media to in struggles for social justice.

Alondra Nelson first initiated conversations about afrofuturism (AF) over a decade ago, and a range of artists and thinkers have been developing and working through ideas associated with the concept in multiple ways. Generally speaking, AF refers to an approach for thinking about the interactions between race and science or speculative narratives; AF is also a consideration of distinct ways that black people use technology. Attentiveness to the production of speculative narratives and the uses of science and technology in black diasporic histories reveals powerful displays of ingenuity and self-determination among peoples of African descent.

The convergence of photographs with people wearing hoodies, tweets with hashtags in the developing Trayvon Martin discourse, multiple blog entries (like the series by Ta-Nehisi Coates), facebook pages, youtube commentary emerged first and foremost in already established networks, a sign that such channels for communication were in place and being utilized by members. A seemingly simple and regular act like posting pictures on facebook and twitter has transformed from a playful act to a mode of political statement. Thousands of people, including the Miami Heat basketball team, have presented their visual homages and support to Trayvon Martin by tweeting pictures of themselves wearing hoodies.

From an AF perspective, the vibrant interweb activity might be read as an extension of technological practices that have been developing for decades now, and perhaps even longer. I mean, the sense of community required to make these networks flourish and for people to see themselves and their speculative sons as Trayvon Martin were forged as early as the days of the Transatlantic Slave Trade when diverse peoples decided to forge virtual kinships as modes of survival and revolt.

A Notebook on the Trayvon Martin Case  

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