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Phoning in the Revolution: Exploring Race and the Technological Consumer with Insight from Chuck D

Chuck D of Public Enemy

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com

How much have you spent on electronics in just the last 12-24 months? How about your friends and family? And what did you and/or your community get back from it? Really? How does race impact the way tech companies market products?

Hip-Hop, African-Americans in particular, have always been out front when it comes to electronic gadgets/mobile phones and as such have been the champion for all things electronic in the process. Everything from “motorola two-way page me” in lyrics to close ups of cell phones in videos, Hip-Hop has been key in making electronics companies untold fortunes through its constant promotion, support and usage. According to research statistics from Nielsen mobile, African-Americans are actually more likely to own a SmartPhone than other racial groups, and according to Pew Research Center, Black women Tweet more from their cell phones than any other ethnic group in this country.

It’s statistics like these that should equal power. Yet typically we see Caucasian hands gripping phones in print ads, and coverage on Black owned tech start-ups a rarity in the edgy tech media, save during Black History Month and an occasional bone thrown. The money and media support simply doesn’t seem to be filtering back to Blacks who contribute so very much to a multi-trillion dollar industry. Why?

The tech-savvy Hip-Hop legend Chuck D senses an issue. In a recent interview about tech and race he explained, “If I had to say one way or the other I’d say that most tech-related companies today are pretty arrogant. Do they see an importance in reaching out to diverse markets in this country? For me, it’s like they’ve decided “buy it/use it or don’t”, it doesn’t really matter that Black Americans spend millions on these gadgets and stuff and tons of time (on their social platforms). Who cares about statistics? They know we’re going to buy/use these tech products, phones and more; so it seems they could care less.”

He continues, “And the way it’s all set up; it’s encouraged to be like another appendage and (for those platforms that have a monthly invoice for usage) don’t miss a payment; then it gets gangsta.The only way I see more diversity happening both inside of these companies and with their strategies is for a collective push to happen like in Montgomery, Alabama back in the day.”

Perhaps it is this, coupled with President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration speech just a few months ago that encourage Edward Richards to co-found the 1.21 Movement. Richards explains, “As I was listening to what Barack Obama said at the Capitol I was crazy moved. He talked about how everybody should be included in this tech game. I looked around and thought, I don’t even really see us represented the way we should be, let alone ‘included’ when it comes to tech. So I got together with some friends and launched the 1.21 Movement. We’ve got quotes from King to Kanye, stats and more to open people’s eyes.”

The 1.21 offers a blog, Facebook page and Twitter page to encourage direct comments to major tech companies who are not including us in media or supporting media organizations that don’t support Blacks by spending advertising dollars at those outlets.

“But what has gotten some of the most feedback,” explains Richards, “has been our YouTube channel featuring our ‘People on the Street’ series. We are asking regular people if they know how much money is being spent, how these companies get down. And when they find out they are shocked. Some of the videos are really funny too, given these people’s reactions.”

And just what are some of those statistics? For example, Pew Research released information just two months ago that shows that Caucasians who own a cell phone decreased two points. Blacks are a target as avid consumers. Blacks have also been deemed “ahead of the digital curve” according to Think With Google. We also spend a proportionately higher income of our discretionary spending on electronics than any other demographic in this country, according to a BET survey. But what are we getting in return? Are we even being respected?

“Here’s the thing,” says Chuck D. “There’s also just a lot of dumb people now in our society. Larger business knows it so they’re like, ‘yeah, here’s something for your dumb a**: a new phone, a new game.’ It’s like everyone’s got a Wii, but they have no idea how it works. That’s, like, the big secret. Why aren’t more young people trying to figure that out and more?”

Indeed. Surely an Alicia Keys or Samuel L. Jackson appearing in an ad might not seem equivalent to the $39 billion we spend in electronics. Most Black communities are in a very poor state in this country, and the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites is said to being growing exponentially and fast.

“Where is the commitment from tech companies in terms of grants and internships to Black and schools so they can be power players in the tech game and not just consumers?” asks Richards. “They need to be creating special programs to hire and train the next generation of tech leaders and those who report on them. It’s like the new invisible man. They say that can’t find us. It’s not true, but if If they can’t find enough of us, they have a responsibility to help create them. And when we need more Black writers at these tech magazines and major magazines to represent us more consistently. That kills two birds with one stone in terms of wealth increase. How are phone companies gonna just put their money, which is from our pockets, on these magazine sites that don’t even include us on staff? How does that make sense?”

“I think we’re in a position where we can no longer be taken for granted. This movement needs people to show support by leaving comments on our sites asap,” says Richards. “Please! Because that is where the power is. If we were able to do it in the past for other things, we can do it now. It’s like economic (genocide),” he concludes. “And our kids can’t become what they can’t see. I believe this is part of what Obama meant in his speech!”

Chuck D’s sentiments are equally strong. He says, “Yeah, these tech companies definitely should have more accountability with the (balance of dollars and deals). We really need to look at what’s happening because for me, Hip-Hop is technology — from the two turntables and a microphone it’s all about the combination of technology to express a lifestyle and creative vision.”

Truly, Hip-Hop is strength for technology. Just this week, the famed Smithsonian in Washington, DC has announced its Smithsonian Places of Invention exhibit is slated to open in spring 2015 at the Lemeson Center, part of the National Museum of American History. It will pay homage to the Bronx as a place for “hot spot for innovation” along side Silicon Valley and other cities in our nation. The Bronx is being singled out due to its contribution to turntables technology, usage of hotwired streetlamps and more. Accolades are wonderful, but if you compare household income between say, the Bronx and Silicon Valley, it’s staggering. Seems like it’s time to put a few things in balance. Maybe the 1.21 Movement will do just that, with a little help from Hip-Hop.

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