Answer by André Brock, author of Distributed Blackness, in his Session:
In a sense, “Blackness on X platform/service” depends a LOT upon the features and affordances of X platform or service. For example, in chapter 2 of Distributed Blackness I write about a barely-used browser named Blackbird, which was designed by a group of Black developers. They heavily modded the open-source Mozilla browser to feature discursive, digital, and media elements of Black culture. Their vision of Blackness included:
- A black and red color scheme (“chrome”)
- A custom Google Search designed to filter out porn results (see also Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression for more on this)
- And in a nod to Black communitarian identity, a dedicated button/feature linking potential users to non-profit orgs serving the Black community.
But Blackness is also a part of American society, so the browser offered users the capacity to link to and post to their Facebook and MySpace accounts without having to open separate apps, alongside all the other browser features that we now take for granted (add-ins/extensions, URL bar search, and more).
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The other part of representation, one that is often disconnected from how the digital is discussed, is how digital practitioners understood themselves (and others) when using the technology. In my class, I use the worn-out cliche “how would you describe Apple product users” to get my students to understand how influential belief is when it comes to the technologies we use.
Similarly, Blackbird reviewers and prospective users were sharply differentiated by race in their opinions on the browser. White users asked whether Black folk would use the Google Search to find out how to escape weapons charges, or where to find the best price on 40 oz bottles of beer.
Black users, however, had very different concerns. But you should read Distributed Blackness to find out what they said!