Digital Whiteness & Primitive Blackness

Posted: July 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

I failed to understand the reason as to why Jannell focused on how the people of African descent aren’t portrayed in an equal manner in the new media. She used the character of Morpheus from The Matrix to explain how his primary role is opposed “identities and ideologies associated with cyberspace”. She argued that this movie recreated the “digital divide” since the premise concerns armed resistance by humans against the technocratic world of machines that is led by Morpheus. Majority of the examples used to debate her case dealt with characters or situations where the Black individual is branded to be inferior. One cannot just conclude that it will always be the Black character in the background that will first disobey the law, end up in jail and then severely punished. 

In my labour economics course, we had a chance to study the relationship between the use of the Internet and employment using the American Current Populations Survey that was conducted in the year 2000. We concluded that individuals who had been previously employed worked in occupations with lower unemployment rates and were highly educated. It was determined that Internet job searchers are less likely to be Black, Hispanic or immigrants and to be homeowners than other unemployed workers.  This was greatly due to the fact that these groups have less access to wired technologies such cable, high-speed Internet or a computer. 

Jannell Hobson fails to acknowledge the “access” issue to the digital divide but expands on technological dominance of the whites in contemporary media where African people are shown as “backwards” and subordinate. In present day, people of influence along with various NGOs are working towards changing the quality of life in various developing countries around the world. Beyond the basic necessities of life such as water and shelter, efforts are being directed towards providing the less privileged with an equal access to education & technology. The author ignores to understand that the participation of African Americans actors and artists in mainstream media is a big win itself!

In the West, we live in a society where the genres of Hip-Hop and R&B are greatly enjoyed. Artists such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West reign charts across the world. Miss Minaj plays at least twice as I go through the radio presets while on my one-hour commute to school. The kind of music we listen to contributes to our personality and character. These individuals for many are key figures and are idolized by many people. 

I wanted to know a bit about the author so I  “googled” Jannell Hobson and found out that she is of African American descent! She mentions how “marginalized groups” are impacted by the high-tech age but doesn’t go beyond to explore divides that are seen with other ethnic groups. What about the immigrants? What about the Aboriginals and First Nations?

I for one do not believe in “Primitive Blackness”. I do believe that Morpheus represents or signifies that African individuals don’t like engaging with any computer-related technologies. Nor did I watch The Matrix classifying the “Black” and “White” characters in my mind as inferior or superior to each other.

Hobson communicated how digital divide has been racialized but needs to consider other examples in the new media where African Americans have not been marginalized. One very popular example is in the movie Bruce Almighty where Morgan Freeman played the powerful character of God. The same actor was given a superior role in The Dark Knight, where he is the chief executive officer of Wayne Enterprises and directly engages with technology.

(Check out this website: Is this a racialized form of new media? : )

– Z.Shad
  1. Bonny says:

    Along side Z. Shad I do not believe in the concept of “primitive blackness”. Shad makes an interesting point, “The kind of music we listen to contributes to our personality and character”. To take this point further I want to elaborate that the reason for this is because “we” (the subjects of society) are taught to recognize ourselves in these ideological forms, such as music. Example being, those who listen to rap are different from those who listen to rock and each genre creates their own sub-culture of like-minded people with similar musical taste. Taking this concept and looking back to Jannell’s position on the discriminatory portrayal of African Americans in the new media culture, I think we can see how Jannell has simply chosen to recognize racial differences. By making distinctions between African American and “white” representations Jannell is choosing to subscribe to racial ideological symbols and furthermore, she projects her choice to see race onto this idea that there is such thing as “primitive blackness”.

    Yes in the past blacks were acknowledged commonly as “primitive” and “savage”, but as Shad points out, what about other cultures? Blacks were obviously not the only ones who were positioned in this category of “primitive”. Although, Jannell talks about the first settlers and the battle of wounded knee, she also assumes this culture of “whiteness” that was not in existence around that time. The Europeans who came in off the May Flower did not think of themselves as “white”, they actually understood themselves as French or English. The ideological symbol of recognizing oneself as “white” did not develop until much later. (I know we all are against Wikipedia, but if you scroll down to “”White people” and modern racial hierarchies” it gives you a bit of an understanding of where “whiteness” developed from: )

    The photos Shad uses in her blog are a great comedic response to the assumptions people make… even with the best of attentions, around the ideas of race. With the first picture just by reading, “I hate being a slave”, it’s assumed that it is going to have to do with slavery issues, yet, when you scroll down it says “to my blackberry”…which makes you laugh because most people instantly see the word “slave” and a photo of a black male, and think it’s going to have something to do with the slavery issue. But isn’t that exactly what Jannell is doing with her position on Morpheus from The Matrix? She sees a character who does not like “engaging with any computer-related technologies”, and choses to look at the race of the man and assume that it is because he is “black” that he has been casted into this roll. But is he not also a man? Let’s leave race out of this and pretend that they are all purple in skin colour and then you are just left with a man who does not like computer-related technologies…is it so upsetting now?

    – Bonny M.

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