Race is at the center of a national re-assessment in politics and our legal system. Republicans are asking how they appeal to a browner country; the Supreme Court ruled on Affirmative Action and Voting Rights; and Congress is grappling with immigration reform.
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The most troubling idea that seems to underlie a lot of the discussion is the belief, desire, dream that we will one day enter a “post racial” world. That we can erase race.
Nowhere is this more evident than among leaders in the technology and digital media sectors — the idea that technology can do away with difference and merit alone can, and will, propel everyone into The American Dream. Why care about Affirmative Action when we can all get all we need to succeed from an iPhone?
For two reasons, this mindset is destructive. Traditional racial and ethnic parameters can, and should be, a source of strength and celebration. At Interactive One, we have built a media company on this premise. Every month, our fifteen million loyal fans interact with our brands, read our blogs, watch our videos, and most importantly use our tools to create, share and discuss content from the new urban mindset.
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The second reason is that by most measures, racism is stubbornly persistent. Racism continues to lead to vast inequalities that are only growing wider. Nationwide, black workers today face unemployment twice that of whites. In 1984, the wealth gap between blacks and whites was less than $100,000. It is now 3X that. Hispanics face similar disparities. Whites disproportionally hold the best jobs, the jobs with the highest incomes, have the most opportunity. Incarceration rates, graduation rates, income, wealth and other measures all tell the same unbalanced story.
And yet are the remedies of the past the solutions for the present and future?
The Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, an act of, possibly sinister, optimism by the conservative faction of the Court gives an indication they think the old solutions are no longer right. Is it possible that the country no longer needs the Voting Rights Act as it was won in 1965? If so, what do we do with ongoing voter suppression and disenfranchisement.
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And affirmative action looks like it is barely holding – but if trends continue, the Court and institutions will gradually dismantle it. If so, what do we about education and job inequalities that are getting worse along racial lines?
As a digital company, Interactive One continues to use technology to give a voice to diverse, “new urban” perspectives that can empower change.
The examples are small but powerful. Tweets, pictures taken from smartphones posted on our sites and elsewhere, emails and social networking posts become real time weapons across our network to combat unfairness. We and others build and promote diversity job sites, education tools, and provide ways for communities to connect online in a trusted, action-orientated environment. That is enormous progress, but this is nowhere near enough.
Technology alone will not erase racism. Access, education, investment and targeted social programs are necessary – using technology as a tool. We have to start with an honest acknowledgment that we are not post-racial and likely never will be and that should not be held up as a goal. Before we dismantle the solutions of the past, we must invent the opportunities for the future.
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