2011: The Year of Black Digital Domination
Black digital entrepreneurship and black Twitter were the talk of the town
Was 2011 the year of Black digital domination? From "Black Twitter" to black tech entrepreneurship, 2011 was the year that black influence on all things digital blew into the mainstream.
Digital events like the fight to prevent Troy Davis' execution and CNN's Black in America also confirmed that the black "digital divide" could no longer be ignored. President Barack Obama began the year with a broadband initiative to close the digital divide and the inequality between groups in their access to technology. By the end of the year, however, it was evident that the "digital divide," would be closed quicker through African-Americans themselves rather than through government intervention.
According to digital entrepreneur and social media advocate Wayne Sutton, 2011 was the year that African-American use of social networks went mainstream. Not only did African-Americans use social networks more but their usage seeped into mainstream America. Sutton attributes this to black media outlets' adoption of social media and to the proliferation of social networking on mobile phones by African-Americans.
"By becoming mainstream, African-Americans saw other opportunities to use technology, whether its for entertainment, social good or entrepreneurship," Sutton explained.
The domination of "Black Twitter" in 2011 was also confirmed by a late 2010 Pew Internet study. The study showed that African-American internet users over index on Twitter. Overall, only 8% of all online Americans use Twitter. And of that percentage, only 6% of all white internet users are on twitter versus 13% of blacks. Trending topics like #whatmakesablackgirlmad #blackweblogawards, and #thingsblackpeople only reaffirmed the influence of African-Americans on the social network.
African-American Twitter use was not only limited to interesting hashtags, live tweeting of VH1 reality shows and celebrity debates. According to Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis (aka @drgoddess), 2011 showed that African-Americans are starting to use Twitter for social justice as well.
"Your whole life cannot possibly be just talking about music and shows and when you do find a news story, to not act," Ellis said. "It bothers me that we'll @ people about the most mundane things but these same people when it comes time to be disgusted about a CNN story, they don't @ these people."
She pointed to the Troy Davis hashtag initiated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – #toomuchdoubt – as an example of the new power of Black Twitter through digital activism. The NAACP twitter campaign attempted to reinforce that there was "too much doubt" surrounding the death row conviction of Troy Davis. Despite the significant Twitter campaign, the Georgia African-American male was executed on September 22, 2011.
"I know the power of the digital world," Ellis said. "If you apply your mindset and values and direct action to make change, it will work."
Ellis recently took action on Twitter when Dutch magazine editor, Eva Hoeke (of @evajackie) called Rihanna "nigga bitch" in an article. Instead of simply commenting on the situation like most Twitter users, Ellis was the only person who found the twitter name of the magazine editor and sent it to Rihanna in a tweet. Rihanna then sent a tweet directly to the editor that indicated her disgust with the article. The Dutch magazine editor subsequently resigned.
To promote the power of Black Twitter, Ellis will be presenting a one-hour talk on the subject at South by Southwest and plans to publish a book on the topic in 2012.
Black digital entrepreneurship dominated the digital waves in the latter half of 2011. Wayne Sutton and Angela Benton, founder of Black Web 2.0, invited black entrepreneurs to apply for the NewMe Accelerator in May. The sixteen accepted entrepreneurs received access to housing, mentorship, and resources in Silicon Valley during the summer.
At the time of application, entrepreneurs like Hajj Flemings, founder of Gokit.me, and Sutton, founder of vouchapp.com, did not know that their experience would be documented on CNN for it's Black in America: The New Promised Land, Silicon Valley. The CNN series debuted in October and featured eight African-American tech entrepreneurs (including Sutton and Flemings) in Silicon Valley as they developed their demos to secure venture capital funding.
The series even sparked a Twittter fight between two Silicon Valley leaders, tech professor Vivek Wadhwa and venture capitalist Michael Arrington. Wadhwa and Arrington argued over the unwillingness of the Silicon Valley ecosystem to acknowledge that African-American tech entrepreneurs lacked access to capital and resources.
For Flemings, the CNN Black In America special brought to light the issue of black entrepreneurs in technology. Flemings acknowledged that while African-Americans use social media heavily, they don't start tech companies.
"What [Black in America] did was it sparked a conversation online that began a whole conversation about diversity in tech startups and technology," Flemings said. "There are some examples but they are few and far apart but we did not solve an issue. All we did was bring it to the surface."
A 2010 CB Insights study found that out of all the startups that received venture capital funding in the early stages, only 1% were led by black founders. Flemings is convinced that number will change in 2012.
"I think we are going to start to see more role models and people of color in the startup space," Flemings said. You are going to see more of an emphasis on founding tech startups."
Curtis Pope, founder of AisleFinder, repeated Flemings' sentiment that 2012 will be the year of the black entrepreneur.
"Black people are the innovators, they are the first on the cusp of what’s hip," Pope said, "What's really cool is to start your own company now."