Can We IT Users Create Communities

Can We IT Users Create Communities


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Our successful colonization of cyberspace depends very much on the work and creativity

of black boys, and black boys from the streets. Let us recruit and serve. There are new ground

to be plowed in cyberspace, trees to fell, bridges to build, shops and stores,  schools

to establish, theaters and music halls to found, and little towns to architect.



Can We IT Users Create Communities

Cooperation & Collaboration in Cyberspace

By Rudolph Lewis


With regard to uses of information technologies (IT), there is a generational gap as well as a racial and class gap in America. It may worsen with a gender/racial gap, black boys are not going in respectable numbers to the best high schools with the best curriculums and teachers, and the best technologies. So black masculinity in the great abstract wilderness of cyberspace will be coming up on the rough side of the mountain. We are, and gonna be for sometime, behind the learning curve. Too many have no clue how disadvantaged we are in dealing with the arduous journey that lies ahead in cyberspace.

We don’t speak the languages, no interpreter in tow, especially if middle-aged, and out of school twenty years or more. We ain’t got the tools and the map (boring how-to books and tech instructions) to get through the entangling forests of wires, rapid rivers of jargon, codes, numbers, protocols, it all pulls you quickly down through a dizzying stream of who knows where. Even on the flat plains and arid deserts the spaciousness of computerized pyrotechnics the vastness of the possible and the potential are stunning, too much to get your hands or your mind around. Unprepared, ill-equipped, too optimistic, can we make a successful exodus into this brave new world, that is cyberspace?

I’m not talking about Third Word nations (Nigeria or Bangladesh), but right here in Black Baltimore. Are black boys and men ready to take up the staff of Moses to lead us into the Canaan of Cyberspace? My digital Moses who has entered our new world, as I have stated in other places, is Kalamu ya Salaam. The “tablets” e-drum carved out is important revolutionary instruction provided by example rather than manifesto. Here we have no cozying up to this or that foundation or that corporate concern. Kalamu ya Salaam, a cyber-pioneer in the best spirit of American self-reliance, demonstrates daily in public space his core concern the creation of community with black artists and writers.

I have a faith in pragmatism, in Dewey and Du Bois. Education should be useful as well as edifying. I speak of the individual rather than the larger society with its global interests of security and control, at home and abroad. I speak of an education for the individual for the black boy who doesn’t just want to fit in but who can freely set the parameters of his dream. For poor black boys here in Baltimore, the public education system cannot and will not provide that service. 

It fails 50 percent of them. The future projections for black boys the elders of this community—the courts the jailers and politicians— already know that poverty and crime have been mapped out.

The educational czars and ceos of Baltimore don’t love black boys. They see them marched chained, gangs of them to Central Booking, or slaving at some $6 an hour job or doing piecework, and they are not moved to tears and to concerted actions. That is my casual conclusion after working as a librarian in a local black magnate school, with a liberal arts focus, which has a student population of 70% black females, the boys in the city’s middle schools do not make the grades to get in, these street boys of hip hop just ain’t college material, numbers tell the tale. But the Man, Mr. Charlie, knows how to deal with them, he has a plan for them. Do we?

So we have a dilemma: we got black boys who can’t get to where the technology and the instruction in technology are supposed to be; and we have an older black generation that does not realize the importance of cyberspace for our future. Those middle-aged have forgotten there was a Search for Canaan; they already have their milk and honey and benefits package. Thus we are crippled in our exodus, lacking the very raw resources that are needed to populate and create communities in cyberspace.

Of course, there are those who have set up black camps in cyberspace; some have even built sturdy long lasting structures, and some have already sold them to white corporate concerns. Many had/have get-rich schemes, like the 49ers. We got Billy the Kids and Ma Barkers. Lone Ranger and Tontos. Charlie Chaplin and Charlie Chan. A few range wars between independents and corporates fencing off territory that should be free. Cyberspace is a frontier with dangers and opportunities.

Those of us who know something about colonization, like we Liberians, we Israelis, and we Americans, know that one doesn’t want to get caught out there in the wilderness, in hostile territory, surrounded by one’s enemies, back to the sea, so one needs to be able to call on the cavalry. Generous souls from across the water who know what is at stake give and give big—life and limb. For we know the Injuns gonna be coming, the natives are restless (those who have built the massive structures with fears of us camped on the outskirts in tents and in houses of corrugated roofs). The martial drums can be heard, the backroom plans for clearing the ground, is known by those who have ears, for those who are wired.

The tale has been turned upside down.

So what black boys experience now in the streets of Baltimore and in our public schools is of great import for IT users and pioneers, especially those independents in need of skill and long-term commitments and vision, as John O. Killens used to say, for the long distant run, they who want to change America structurally and spiritually, we have to send scouts back where our people are and provide some instruction how they can get away from the slavers and the slave catchers. And get to Kansas, You know, we got to saddle up, strap on our guns, like Buck and the Preacher, to smooth out the route.

The black magnet school I know had neither the latest computer technology nor a functional library, neither a technology program nor a library program, to serve either student or faculty. And there was no plan to develop either, no one interested and no one capable of doing it. This is what passes for excellence when we speak of black education, in a black city in America. And the conservative choir and the republican black preachers got their fingers in our face saying, you see, this is why we need Choice. Public education no longer functions for black and poor families, and certainly not in terms of preparing them for the job market or for college. And both conservative and liberal mantra chorus in with money is not the problem, only a problem of leadership, and morality.

We adults who provide finances, skills, and support for education, we demand excellence of our children with thousands of political speeches and testimonies and we create tests and bench markers for success and responsibility but we do not demand excellence of ourselves, our policies, and our commitments. We send our children to schools in which plaster falls from the ceiling, lights do not work, floors and ceilings with holes, water damage, and mold. There is no response to facility needs. But we expect these our hopes and joy to make our inept decisions and policies concerning them look good. And when these, our children, expose us, we set up greater barriers. One  principal in Florida had a female student stripped searched and arrested because he feared for his life.

There are exceptions. Some parents raised, took money out of their own pockets for computers and printers for this black magnate school after a plea from an energetic, thoughtful, caring young black male tech teacher. He was serving, gratuitously, also as a computer technician for a school of 1700 students and a 80-member faculty. When I arrived, there were no computers in the library until the last four months of the school term. For his initiative in securing the computers, he went around the System bureaucrats, and for that daring the young tech teacher was abused. For the higher ups who had no plan and no program for technology censored him because they felt that his vocal efforts showed them up—their impotence, ignorance, and lack of responsibility.

They squashed him, rather than praise him, for his sacrifices, his thoughtfulness, and generosity. For these education autocrats and czars, military discipline is of more important than civility, cooperation, and collaboration. They do not consult, they command. In this black magnate school no staff, no teacher, no administrator dare question or raise an objection. If you see dirt, you keep it on the down low. The young black tech forgot his place in the great hierarchy of being.

To Baltimore’s loss, he received a job offer and accepted it from a Georgia school system, which has much more money committed to quality education and quality facilities. Down South, it seems, they are more committed, than we Up-South, to sufficient up-to-date digital hardware and software, its widespread instruction, learning IT’s practical, and creative uses in the larger world.

Black Baltimore languishes beside the Bay. It gets poorer and poorer, and black boys more criminalized, because they have little interest in working for slave wages. Our leaders (principals and school administrators) are excellent with cell phones, uniforms, the manipulation of numbers and scores to meet republican guidelines for black education. But we ain’t with the Net, or email. We fear our youth—what they might say, how they might represent us in public space.

The Baltimore System is a fortress. It uses e-mail like a fax machine or a fact machine; extraordinary filters screen out educational websites, that is, foreign language websites, film institutes, no rhyme nor reason has been ever provided for this mindless censorship, exclusivity. And no workable way has been established to correct it.

When the black magnate school got computers and hooked into the System network, administrators did not have sufficient knowledge, experience, power, not even the chair of the technology department, to begin a rudimentary technology program for teachers, staff, and students. The entire school needs rewiring, more flexible responses to tech problems, and administrators critically aware of the crisis in black male access to the latest technology and uses of IT and those who are willing to make personal sacrifices.

The System and its administrators want rather to conceal faults and shortcomings because it makes them look bad. And as one principal reminded me, Don’t let’em see you sweat. So much looks good on the surface but beneath the veneer there’re rotten planks. This very attractive woman, this selfsame principal, who’s husband is a noted preacher and she one of his evangelists, didn’t sweat it, though she drove the Negro female custodians (in their sixties) like they were modern-day slaves. The dear principal got her promotion, and a big raise.

The System’s IT staff is small and response time is two to three weeks or longer. They themselves the IT department have no plans for technology development and instruction for teachers and students, and if so, it is a club conversation. They are also short-staffed. All comes from down on high. There’s no democracy in public education when it comes to black education. When Board members and administrators think in terms of “black” they do are not think in terms of “black liberation” but rather in terms of “black opportunism” and “black enhancement” (in a me-first kind of way). The spirit is all wrong; everybody feels squeezed, and put upon.

The worst problem is that the black magnate school does not know how to use computer technology, even if had it, it does not know its possibilities, its potentialities for the education of our people, for our liberation, and our exodus into cyberspace. The present IT use now is the writing and the printing of papers, web-research is also at a rudimentary stage. A simple matter like e-mail use is a major mountain to climb, a mighty river to ford. Our evangelist principal wanted teachers to receive pronouncements from North Avenue Central, where the present ceo resides, commanded it be done, and four months later at the end of the year all the teachers found the System’s email, rather useless. Some went through the motions for appearance sake. For no teacher or staff member wants to be on the principal’s troublemaker list. She has an insidious sick way of getting back at those who doing want to go along to get along.

The System did not have web-mail—penny pinchers control, direct black education. We get by, always behind the curve, with hand-me downs from the well-off. Here was the problem. If the computer did not have the right “image” one could not access the System’s e-mail and one’s account. There was at one point only ten (new) computers with the System’s “image,” and only two available for teacher e-mail use for the entire school of 80 teachers, except for the principal who had a different system altogether, one of the comforts of privilege. The use of the System’s e-mail system at it’s best is cumbersome, awkward, and passive, and unproductive educationally.

There’s no dynamic full use here by either students or teachers of the technology of liberation. But there are yet other mindless wanderings that occur in the swamps and peripheries of our brave new world. The school had/has a website. Instead of it operated as a teacher/student project, like the student newspaper, the principal farms that job out to commercial concerns. As suggested above, there is a generational agony, which doesn’t trust our young people to be responsible, as we would have them, especially when they wearing white tee shorts down to their knees. Their caps on backward, covered in Iverson plaits and tattoos. Bill Cosby says our black boys are their own worst enemy.  Is that true, too, of Baltimore’s black public schools?

The overall problem is attitude. People who teach black boys and black men (and that includes black teachers as well as white) they don’t have much respect for black males and black male needs, like liberation, and the skills and attitudes needed for liberation. Those who are not oppressed or who don’t feel the oppression (as much) with their hundred-thousand-a-year incomes, I can understand why they feel no urgency in these matters and that they find it easier to blame the victims—black parents, black mothers, black homes, black history, and black morality. 

These principals in Baltimore, I understand, have extraordinary powers, and that power is at the very top of their agendas, personal power, and how they can extend that personal power and sway. One ran for mayor recently, and, fortunately, for us respectable church going black folk, he lost to a more experienced white politician. All in the papers, we know these principals are experts at manipulating numbers and test scores and meeting the quotas set for them by the white legislators in Annapolis. And, it seems, from what I have observed the male principals of the black persuasion are among the worst; female teachers hold themselves when they hear the announcements of their appointment.

With a great need for black male principals in the System, these represent, many think, the brutal, cruder manifestations of black manhood and black male excellence. One such doctorate endowed principal thought that computers were secondary to excellence in education in the 21st century. He believed that having a basketball team and a traditional rivalry with another magnate school was more important than a librarian or having a computerized library catalog, or a technology program. The ceo finally transferred him to the Jail School; expectations are lower there.

We are being bled, my brothers and sisters; we are being misled. Everybody knows that for black education in Baltimore the problem for black boys resides massively in the shortcomings of middle-school education. No teacher wants to teach there, these black boys with their baggy jeans below their underwear, with white tee shorts down to their knees and girls with their tight fitting jeans, and their foul mouths, seemingly, are just too much, too savage to educate. Black male puberty conflicts and horrors are just beyond the System’s power and resources.

The money paid teachers just ain’t worth the hassles and there ain’t no program money dedicated especially for this arduous educational transformation.  Presently, the ceo told the teachers union the System is $25 million in the red, so raises were off the table.  And so when teachers get their certification they run for the hills, for the surrounding county schools systems.  My brothers and sisters, we fear our children, who know so much more about what is happening from ground up than both teachers and administrators. We fear they will expose us, we fear ourselves These middle schools are not so far from being prisons and the students prison mates who are every second, minute in rebellion against the rigidity and stinginess of and lack of respect of their adult masters.

In some of our communities, the one I live in for instance, only a quarter has a high school diploma or a GED diploma. The Man and the System have failed these. What kind of attitude does one expect these parents and their children to possess? Should they be thankful for their poverty, for the type of Indian schools they and their children are forced to attend, to endure? No, the primary interest of our leaders and school administrators are power and sway (their salaries, their tenure, their status), over teachers, over parents, and over students.  They want to reduce all to piecework, and a mindless “yessuh boss.”

These educational czars are elitists, of the worst type, with their comic book degrees, like Bill Cosby. They think that they can improve the education of black boys by making them like white boys, real preppy: these black boys, they demand, must give up hip hop, pull up their pants, tuck their shirts in their pants, wear a tie and jacket, and say No to drugs and sex, and, if you please, salute the flag.

Yes, indeed, my good friends, our generation of experts wants to impose the backward black puritanism on our children that we rebelled against in our youth, in the 50s and the 60s, keeping us down on the farm, pregnant and ignorant. Setting up barriers and road blacks, militarizing our existence with recruitment of more and more cops and GIs. They only want black boys to know what they want them to know, and speak only how they want them to speak, and do only what they want them to do. They don’t want them to be free, to think about, contemplate their liberation, and that of their people.

What these doctors of education prescribe is a whitewash. You can succeed, you can have comfort if you only be like your masters, that is true freedom: Be acceptable like Colin, be respectable like Condi. Our boys can’t just be. In such an environment of repression provided at birth, taught daily to stay within restricted lines, such demands of conformity are not made on any other people. Because of these institutional failures, we IT users who are cultural workers and educators must find ways to supplement technology education for both black adults and black boys.

Maybe a black tech listserv is needed to deal with some of these issues. We got to get the computers and software in black boys hands. We have to show them how it is being used and how it might be used. Numerous roles need filling in black cyberspace for black liberation. These celebrated black principals need instruction. Let’s recruit and serve.

So I have lodged a severe complaint against what happened within a year at a black magnate school. So what, is that news? No, probably not. But there was another possible outcome. This black magnate school has wonderful programs and competent teachers—a drama department, media classes, music department. Some students there will become actors, playwrights, filmmakers, computer experts. The opportunity to put forth in cyberspace their talents and skills was lost. There they could have had a school website which could have posted in text numerous student essays, poems, plays, sound clips, and their photos, hopes and dreams; video clips of music programs, plays, and other special events during the year. This kind of coordinated educational activity did not occur at this black magnate school. And there aint’ no good excuse why it didn’t happen.

My good friends, Cyberspace is the Place, the space black boys need to be free, it ain’t cramped, they can stretch out there. They can unprogram the programming that ain’t for liberation and program the programming needed for liberation. For this ultimately is the struggle to be, of Identity. And space is the place to solve these dilemmas, to get away from the industrial/slave mentality of 19th century America.

Space is the Place. Black boys need to be black boys, and dress like black boys, and walk sideways with a skip like black boys. And be black men, their girlfriends and wives can’t define that, schools can’t proscribe it. The state owes a debt to their parents for IT hardware and instruction. Then get out of the way and let black boys work.

Our successful colonization of cyberspace depends very much on the work and creativity of black boys, and black boys from the streets. Let us recruit and serve. There are new ground to be plowed in cyberspace, trees to fell, bridges to build, shops and stores,  schools to establish, theaters and music halls to found, and little towns to architect. We need the troops, the exodusters, the builders & technicians; those who know books, theater, music, and video, promoters, technicians & scientists. Ordinary folk.

My view is not without hope, idealism cannot be sustained without realism, and, at times, not even without cynicism. My point is that we have before us the opportunity to build a new kind of black world in cyberspace, while it is still 90 % virginal. And that public education has become a stumbling block. Black cyberspace colonists need to know the odds that they face and do whatever to counter the regression in black technical education. . . . Recruit and serve.

posted Fall 2005

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Zippety Doo Dah, Zippety-Ay: How Satisfactch’ll Is Education Today? Toward a New Song of the South

Dr. Joyce E. King on Black Education and New Paradigms

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

African Slave Trade: Precolonial History, 1450-1850

By Basil Davidson

John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 6 January 2012




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