Amid A Tech Revolution, Black Americans Are Still Being Left Behind

Slow progress can feel like no progress

Photo credit:Photo: Afrotech

| July 20 2018,

04:02 am

Those of us lucky enough to grow up in the 21st century have witnessed a digital revolution unfold before us that’s generated a tremendous amount of modern gadgets and services catering to our every need. As society got wealthier and began to rely more on digital tools, however, certain groups of people began missing out on luxuries and privileges that were brought about by the widespread digitization of business and our social lives.

Many Americans are beginning to ask if the digital revolution is leaving black people behind, and they’re not wrong to do so. Here’s the sorry state of black America when it comes to keeping pace with the digital revolution, and the changes that need to be ushered in to bring about equality.

Black Americans have always faced a myriad of challenges in their day to day lives, not least of which dealing with the legacy of slavery and institutional racism. Most people of color take heart in the fact that much progress has been won over the past few decades. Others, however, look at modern statistics that show black teens are still getting left behind, and can’t do anything other than shake their heads and realize that more work is yet to be done.

Take a look at reports detailing the electronic habits of African American teenagers when it comes to such things as technology and social media, for instance, and you’ll see a huge disparity between black teenagers and their white counterparts. Whether you’re looking at such statistics as who has access to a home computer and fast internet access, who regularly uses certain social media channels, and who’s familiar with certain tech skills that are valuable in the labor market, you’ll always find that black teens are facing a serious disadvantage.

One report found that a “digital divide” exists between white and black America when it comes to the use of technology in everyday life. Blacks trail whites when it comes to overall internet usage, for instance, and fall behind when it comes to home broadband adoption. That latter statistic in particular is very harmful to black youth. If people of color can’t get exposure to the internet and digital devices are a young age, they’ll be growing up seriously disadvantaged when compared to their tech savvy peers in school and at the workplace.

This disadvantage isn’t imagined, but rather a real phenomenon that’s already impacting America’s talent pool. Black students routinely struggle when it comes to taking STEM courses, especially at institutions of higher education. There can be little doubt that there’s a direct relationship between the facts that black students struggle in tech-heavy subjects and they have limited access to digital technology.

Much more can be done in Silicon Valley. One of the primary reasons that the digital revolution, which includes signal boosters, is leaving black people behind is that we’re seeing virtually no action being taken in Silicon Valley when it comes to fighting racism and discrimination in the workplace. Hiring processes remain hopelessly racially biased at the country’s largest tech companies, which are routinely all-white, mostly-male workplaces where people of color seldom feel welcomed. Like just about everywhere else in the country, Silicon Valley has a desperate diversity problem that it’s refusing to address.

If changes were ushered in from the top, the tech world could be fundamentally disrupted with reforms that usher in equality and racially-equal practices. Black employees can’t ever expect to make as much money as their white counterparts unless they’re hired at a fair rate by the nation’s largest tech companies, and can’t expect to become innovators until they get equal access to institutions of higher learning. While many of today’s top universities are trying to address racially-biased admissions practices, the race-gap in STEM programs and on campuses in general won’t diminish until universities tackle racism with zeal.

Certain habits at home can bring about societal change that make things more equal from everyone, too. Smartphones, for instance, are a wonderful tool when it comes to people of color closing the digital gap with whites when it comes to things like tech literacy and an online presence. Researchers found that black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have access to internet services if they own a smartphone, for instance, meaning the continued widespread purchasing of these devices desperately needs to continue.

It should be of little surprise that the digital revolution is leaving black people behind, given American society’s proclivities for racial biases. Nonetheless, the gap between black and white Americans is slowly narrowing when it comes to technology. While racially biased practices continue to haunt America’s universities and its largest tech companies, slow and steady change being ignited every day by Americans is beginning to make the digital age a more equal one.