The actual beginnings of our expression are post Western (just as they certainly are pre-western). It is only necessary that we arm ourselves with complete self knowledge[;] the whole technology (which is after all just expression of who ever) will change to reflect the essence of a freed people. Freed of an oppressor, but also as [Askia] Touré has reminded we must be "free from the oppressor's spirit," as well. It is this spirit as emotional construct that can manifest as expression as art or technology or any form.Amiri Baraka 1
Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud." The rhythmically pulsating refrain of the James Brown song and the title of his 1969 album publicly vocalized the African American desire to reclaim, recover, and articulate self-claimed black identity and expression. Not surprisingly, the song became an anthem in black America during the late civil rights movement. A few years before the release of this album, Stokely Carmichael clearly articulated the meaning of black power that James Brown referenced in his song. In the same-titled book, Black Power, Carmichael defined black power as "a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to begin to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations and to support those organizations. It is a call to reject the racist institutions and values of this society." 2 At a most basic level, Carmichael was calling for African Americans to gain control of their existences within the United States, as well as abroad, and to understand that there is something special, unique, and valuable about cherishing, nourishing, and supporting black people, black cultures, and black communities. In a similar way, Amiri Baraka, in the essay "Technology & Ethos," was calling for black people to rethink their relationships with technology and take action to make technology more representative of black culture. 3 More important, Baraka was arguing that through black technological utterances rooted within [End Page 639] black cultures, black communities, and black existences—or what I would call expressions of black vernacular technological creativity—technology would be more responsive to the realities of black life in the United States.
Carmichael and Baraka represent two of many critical black voices that have pointed out difficulties black people have encountered searching for a place of space within American society and culture. Yet, the commentary by Baraka is an unusual break from the traditional lines of criticism. In "Technology & Ethos" Baraka exposed the fact that of the many people, organizations, and institutions that have participated in derailing black struggles for power and equality, technology is infrequently part of the discussion. Currently technology—even with the ever-growing volume of technological critiques—is publicly understood to change society positively by making life more healthy, productive, and efficient, thus better. Americans are continually bombarded with seemingly endless self-regenerating progressive technological narratives. In this capitalist-supported tradition, the multiple effects that technology has on African American lives go underexamined. This uplifting rhetoric has helped obfuscate the distinctly adversarial relationships African Americans have had with technology.
In the article "Technology Versus African Americans" Anthony Walton contends that "the history of African-Americans since the discovery of the New World is the story of their encounter with technology, an encounter that has proved perhaps irremediably devastating to their hopes, dreams, and possibilities." 4 Technology such as the ships that transported African slaves to the "New World," the overseers' whips, cotton cultivation, "Jim Crow" rail cars, segregated buses, inner-city public housing, and voting machines have contributed, directly or indirectly, to the subjugation of African American people. Historically, technology has been a potent form of power in material form that has politically, socially, and intellectually silenced African American people, and in the worst cases rendered them defenseless and invisible. Cornel West has called this affect the black diaspora problematic of invisibility and namelessness. This problematic constructs "black people as a problem-people rather than people with problems; black people as abstractions and objects rather than individuals and persons; black and white worlds divided by a...