"Some observers worry that minorities, particularly African-Americans, could be left behind on the [information] highway's offramps...."
Reginald Stuart, Emerge Magazine
In a famous series of skits on the early Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy explored the world of white people. Every time he left a room or even got off a bus, out came the champagne and the party began.
The net itself, which unites a wide and diverse group of people nationwide and even world-wide, runs the risk of becoming such a party. Though the denizens of the net come from many different nationalities and backgrounds, all speak a common language and share at least one common interest, in technology. The net is a homogenizing influence-- on the net, we are all more aware of our similarities than our differences. It is, of course, impossible to know what race or ethnic group anyone belongs to online, unless they choose to say so.
In the future, many of life's opportunities and incidents will spring from the net. You will work for a boss and marry a spouse you met on the net. Many of us have already had this experience: I built an entire law practice through contacts made on Compuserve in 1986; Rush Limbaugh married a woman he met online.
The net is in danger of becoming an unusual sort of exclusive social club, one that includes most of society but excludes a significant minority. It is fine for people to associate with whom they please, but not when the venue becomes the real center of influence and decision-making in the world. The online society will increasingly become the place where most things happen, and those who are not there will be excluded from the opportunities that the rest of us exploit. Children in poor communities, marginalized by a lack of technology training and access to computers, will grow up unable to participate in the stabilizing center of society.
This has already happened. Unemployment rates among adult black males are extreme. Homicide is the major cause of death among young black adult males. For the net, a new force in society, one which has only begun to transform society, a moral course has not yet been set. There is no neutral ground; the net will either radically increase the isolation of most black people, or it may help to cure it.
For many, probably most of us who are online every day or every week, the net is a support structure, today's substitute for the local bar, the church, the neighborhood organization or club our parents belonged to. In the eighties, until and for some years after my marriage, I spent an hour or more a day on Compuserve. It is a place to shed loneliness and find acceptance, to seek free and eager counsel from others about one's problems, and where we reinforce each other's sense of humanity and of belonging.
There is no reason why we cannot extend the amity and welcome of the net into the nation's poorest communities. There are bright children there, who will love computers and the community of the net, if given a chance. Resources must be created for them to find--home pages on subjects of interest to them. They must be given access to computers in the schools, and to the purchase of inexpensive technology they can use from home. Networks of supportive adults must open up to them--some from their own background and community, but people of every other group as well, so as not to create new ghettoes. Engineers, doctors, lawyers, mathematicians must be there to respond to their email and tell them how they can be professionals too. We all need something to organize ourselves around; there must be many who will organize themselves around a computer and a community if the opportunity is opened to them, in lieu of self-destruction. I urge all with special skills or resources-- web servers, knowledge of HTML, computer skills to teach-- to think of ways to begin or facilitate such an effort in their communities.