Facilitated by Assistant Professor Scott Poulson-Bryant, Ph.D., December’s Disaporic Dialogues featured Dr. André Brock, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Georgia Tech. Building on Dr. Brock’s work examining Blackness in the digital world, this event, “On Race and Technoculture,” followed Blackness as a common thread through the evolution of technology throughout the past few decades, leading up to the current age of social media, with a primary focus on Twitter.
In response to a question about how he had come to this work, Dr. Brock explained that during his first Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University, in 2001, he had a strong interest in exploring Blackness and technology, but found that there was not much research on it. After transferring to the University of Illinois, he started to focus more on the how-to of being Black online. Since then, the scope of his work has grown to include websites, weblogs, browsers, video games, and social media. “It’s been fascinating, because with each type of computer-mediated communication, with each technology, the ways in which Blackness is articulated changes around the circumstances, but never in its core mission.”
When asked about his personal relationship with digital culture, Dr. Brock spoke about living in New York as a young, Black man and how powerful it was then to have a soundtrack playing in the background in the way that it “puts you in your own world,” says Dr. Brock, in a way that your Blackness could be interrupted, but it was your soundtrack, your music, your life.” He also spoke about having a love for technology at a young age and how he was able to follow that by pursuing a career that involves writing about social media.
In his new book, Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures, which explores Blackness in online culture, Dr. Brock draws on “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” coining it as “one of the first cultural network browsers,” as Assistant Professor Scott Pulson-Bryant notes. In the webinar, he explains how “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” functioned then similarly to how Twitter functions today as a “directory for Black life.” “The metaphors we use about traveling the internet,” says Dr. Brock, “are the same that we use about traveling the highway,” explaining how Black twitter is used today as a tool for navigating Black life. Expanding on the benefits of Twitter as a platform, Dr. Brock suggests that the character count limit on Twitter allows visceral reactions to come to the forefront of conversations, explaining how this “short-form nature has allowed Black twitter to become a signifying space in a way that other platforms could not,” and how the “maint(enance) and construct(ion) of Black identity in these spaces is significant.”