Tech’s Whiteness Is the Problem. Are We the Solution?

By Amy L. Alexander, The Root

Last week, Twitter said it was “pausing” to reconsider the process by which it bestows the blue checkmark denoting accounts that had been “verified,” and on Wednesday the company announced it was yanking the designation from some users who occupy the neo-Nazi or nationalist bucket of grassroots white activism. The announcements came after many users, including The Root’s Monique Judge, raised hell when Twitter gavea blue checkmark to Jason Kessler, a white nationalist who helped plan the pro-Confederacy march last August in Charlottesville, Va.

While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his workers ruminated on the company’s account verification policies, I decided it was a good time for us to pause and think about our relationship with Twitter and other social media and technology companies. We voluntarily “contribute” our creative insights, dollars and labor to the success of these companies by buying devices and apps, uploading memes, ideas and language that trends widely. Yet in terms of the vast wealth these companies hold, disburse to employees and generate for shareholders, we get little in return.

Think of the recent moment where top lawyers for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, along with Twitter and Facebook, were summoned to Capitol Hill to testify before Senate and House committees looking into the company’s role in disseminating toxic content and ads during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

(L-R) Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, October 31, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anti-black messaging was the secret-sauce of many of the pro-Trump, nationalist memes and messages that flooded through the popular social media channels during the 2016 election cycle. Yet somehow, the gatekeepers at Facebook and Twitter didn’t seem to notice the methodical manipulation of racial animus that already exists in America, specifically, some white Americans’ negative opinions of blacks.

The leaders and staffs of Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social media platforms missed the Russian’s exploitation of the black-white divide, an obliviousness that has precedent: black women users had long alerted Twitter officials to abusive conduct of other users, up to and including death threats. The hashtag #YourSlipIsShowing catalogs such experiences from black women dating back several years, and is readily available…at least to those interested in learning about and addressing these kind of user experiences.

But clearly, the tech company leaders were not inclined to pay attention to this area of user complaints, a strong indication that they also probably weren’t interested in the views of the few blacks and Latinx workers at their companies, either. Just look at what happened to Leslie Miley, a black former engineer at Twitter. Miley revealed in a recent interview that he had flagged tons of dubious accounts in 2015, telling his bosses that he believed they were from Ukraine or Russia, and that they appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign.

Miley was told by his bosses at Twitter to “stay in his lane,” a response that Miley says he took as a sign that the company leadership preferred to err on the side “growth numbers,” rather than on any potential harm to audiences that the bots might pose.

Meanwhile, black users of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google products infuse them with a deep coolness factor that resonates around the world. Our intellectual property and creativity is the lifeboat that floats these companies to revenue solvency, yet few of us share in the enormous economic wealth generated by these companies, not even after dozens of news stories, industry conferences, and activist’s complaints forced the companies to pledge to improve hiring and retention.

Black Americans know when something smells rotten, including the kinds of scams and shady BS that can unfold at one’s job. And, as usual, blacks and other marginalized communities have solutions. We have the brain-power, problem-solving acumen, and moral fortitude to right the ship of state.

The question is whether our concerns and advice will be heeded, and whether we can achieve full access to the genuine levers of power in the United States, including access to quality education, healthcare, voting and, most importantly in the context of the innovation ecosystem, investment capital.

Read the full article here.

It’s not just the Tech industry, either. Read how one company is beginning to acknowledge its racist past here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Why TV Writer Angela Nissel, Black Females in Hollywood Need to be Heard

By Yesha Callahan, The Root

If you took a look at the writers’ room of some of your favorite television shows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a black person, and even harder pressed to find a black woman. But for the last decade, Angela Nissel has been leaving her mark behind the scenes on shows like Scrubs, The Boondocks and, now, The Jellies—Tyler, the Creator’s Adult Swim show, which premieres Oct. 22.

Before Nissel’s foray into scripted television, she was best-known as one of the creators of Okayplayer and for her two sidesplitting memoirs that captured the essence of her formative years, and of being broke and biracial. Both The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke and Mixed: My Life in Black and Whitewere heralded by critics, as well as the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry, and Nissel became the “it” woman of literature in the early 2000s.

Angela Nissel, Scenes from ‘The Jellies’ (Adult Swim)

It was those books that set the University of Pennsylvania grad (she graduated with a degree in medical anthropology) on her way to a career in TV. But, of course, Nissel’s ascent into television writing wasn’t easy, especially as a black woman. After being in the game for 15 years, she is still fighting her way into writers’ rooms, and she made it into The Jellies’room even though she thought she hadn’t landed the gig.

“Me being old enough to be Tyler’s aunt, I said, ‘I’ve heard of him,’ but I don’t really know him. And then I researched him. I was nervous in the meeting, but when Tyler came in, he just wanted to get to know about me. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over. I called my agent and was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that job; they thought I was a total nerd,’” Nissel says.

As luck talent would have it, Nissel landed the consulting-producer-and-writing gig on the series, and so her work began. And, yes, she was once again the only black woman in the writers’ room. As Nissel segues back into animation (after lending her talents to The Boondocks), she notes that writing live action and books is totally different from writing for animation, especially when it comes to the fans.

“How many f—— black cartoon characters is it on TV right now?” Tyler responded. “Name five. I’ll give you time.”

Nissel shares similar sentiments about Cornell’s newfound blackness.

“If you don’t like Cornell being black, color him another color in your head. What is wrong with people wanting to see the representation of themselves on-screen?” Nissel asks. “That’s why I think their generation will do better, and hopefully build on what my old-ass generation wasn’t able to do. Tyler is an outsider coming into this industry and wants Cornell to look like him. I don’t understand how anyone can be upset with that.”

With the success of this summer’s blockbuster hit Girls Trip, the spotlight is now shining on funny black women in front of and behind the camera. And Nissel has some savory advice for the bigwigs in Hollywood.

“I wish more people realize that having one voice in the room sometimes isn’t enough because you’re only going to get one point of view. At the end of the day, I just wish people would go outside of the neighborhoods and make friends with people who aren’t exactly like them, so they can bring that to the room if they don’t have the budget to hire 25 women,” Nissel says.

“I really want to create shows that show that women over the age of 40 still have lives, and they can be messy,” she adds. “To talk about the imbalance of women and men, like my own personal story of paying alimony. I want to tell the richness of women of color over 40 because sometimes I look on TV and we’re all dead, except for Oprah.”

The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

Read the full article here.

Read more about the importance of black-owned media here.

Read more Breaking News here.

What Are Black Journalists Allowed To Say About Race?

Julia Craven, HuffPost Black Voices

Jemele Hill said what she said.

In a series of tweets stemming from an odd conversation about Kid Rock, the co-host of ESPN’s “SC6” called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” she wrote. “His rise is the direct result of white supremacy. Period.” She added that Trump’s presidency had empowered other white supremacists and that his bid for the White House wouldn’t have been successful if he weren’t white.

Backlash to the tweets, helped along by people like former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry and Fox Sports Radio’s Clay Travis ― who frequently says racist things ― led ESPN to release a statement saying Hill’s views “do not represent the position” of the network. This made things worse.

Richard Polk/BET via Getty Images

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, called Hill’s tweets a “fireable offense.” That same day, ESPN tried to prevent Hill from co-hosting “SC6” with Michael Smith. In a tweet, Hill said her “regret” was that her comments “painted ESPN in an unfair light.” ESPN’s public editor, Jim Brady, said Hill ― and the media at large ― should “let the reporting do its work, and resist more incendiary labels.”

None of what Hill said in her initial volley of tweets was inaccurate. Trump voters were driven by racism, and white supremacists openly support him. His campaign rhetoric was a dog whistle for white supremacists. His attorney general has praised the Immigration Act of 1924, a law crafted by eugenicists and championed by people hoping to preserve a “distinct American type.” After a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump attributed the violence to “both sides,” even though none of the counter-protesters killed anyone.

That Trump is a white supremacist is a straightforward conclusion that can be drawn from an abundance of available evidence.

But not all straightforward conclusions are admissible in mainstream American media, particularly on the subject of race, particularly when stated by a black woman.

To get a sense of the straitjackets placed on black media figures working in a predominantly white industry, where “white supremacy” is usually seen as a slur applicable only to Klansmen and Nazis, I convened three prominent black journalists: Greg Howard, a reporter at The New York Times; Elena Bergeron, former staff writer at ESPN The Magazine and current editor-in-chief of SB Nation; and a current ESPN employee who, for obvious reasons, wanted to remain anonymous.

Read the full interview here.

Read about the crucial role of black press here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Amazon Is Developing An Alt-History Show Called ‘Black America’

By Zeba Blay, HuffPost Black Voices

Paras Griffin via Getty Images

Will Packer, the man behind the hit comedy “Girls Trip,” is bringing a new show to Amazon that might give HBO a run for its money.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Packer is teaming up “Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder on “Black America,” a drama set in an alternate history in which freed African American slaves have been given control of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as reparations following the Civil War.

Set in the present-day, the show will imagine a sovereign African-American nation called “New Colonia,” rapidly emerging as one of the leading industrialized nations in the world.

The announcement of “Black America” comes just days after HBO sparked controversy with the announcement of its own alternate history drama, “Confederate,” from the creators of “Game of Thrones,” which is set in an alternate reality in which the South had won the Civil War and slavery remains in present day.

Read the full article and reactions to the show’s announcement here.

Read about the importance of Black-owned, Black-run media here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Black Media Excluded from U.S. Justice Department’s Anti-Smoking Campaigns

By Daisy Jenkins, Huffingtonpost.com

…(M)y cousin passed away. He was one of the approximately 45,000 black people who die each year from smoking-related disease, according to The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.menthol_24

If my cousin, on his deathbed, felt compelled to inform black youth about the dangers of smoking, one would think that the U.S. Justice Department, led by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, the Tobacco-Free Action Fund and the country’s four major tobacco companies would have the same revelation. It’s totally inconceivable that on January 17, 2014, these entities chose to exclude the black print or broadcast media from their consent agreement that requires tobacco companies to spend more than $30 to $45 million in advertising as a result of their misrepresentation of the hazards of smoking. The $30 to $45 million will be distributed among the three major networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) as well as full-page newspaper ads and website space in white and Hispanic media. This exclusion of black media is both destructive and disrespectful to the black community; shame on the U.S. Justice Department for being party to the injustice of this odious decision.

The blatantly clear message from this decision is that these leading entities don’t care about the devastating effects of tobacco use in the black community. The irony of it all is that for well over three decades the tobacco industry targeted and heavily exploited the black community to protect a declining consumer base and their profits by increasing smoking among blacks…

…Advertisement expenditures in black communities for mentholated cigarettes increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005.

The advertising was very effective and led to a disproportionately high use of menthol cigarettes by 84 percent of black smokers over the age of 12 compared to 24 and 32 percent for Caucasians and Hispanics, respectively. According to The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, mentholated cigarettes could increase the risk of both lung and bronchial cancer more than regular cigarettes and are much more addictive…

It’s now time to use the same targeted advertising through the black media to communicate a different message about tobacco use to the black community: “Smoking Isn’t Cool, It Kills!”…

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Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.