Race Posts

Organizing “Smartly” in Ferguson, Missouri

I don’t like all that violence going on in Ferguson, Missouri.  It is not grounded in the pain and anguish of the loved ones of Michael Brown.  Rather, the violence stems from outside agitators and political opportunists seeing this as a chance to make a name for themselves.   What is Jesse Jackson doing there?  What about the new Black Panthers?  Do the people of Ferguson really need them to prove their point?

Are these people members of the Ferguson community or members of Brown's family.  If not, what are they doing there?

Are these people members of the Ferguson community or members of Brown’s family. If not, what are they doing there?

“No Justice No Peace” rings hollow when supported by violence and disorder instead of organized civil disobedience.  What inevitably happens is that people focus on the peace – trying to arrest rabble rousers, shaking their heads at looters,  and so forth.  They forget about the justice – should Officer Darren Wilson be charged with murder?


I am at risk here, but I wonder if this person lives in Ferguson and if this person is protesting for justice...or just to have a nice image for the media to replay.  Looks good doesn't it.  But it may not do anything to solve the real issue here.

Maybe I am too cynical, but I wonder if this person lives in Ferguson and if this person is protesting for justice…or just sporting this defiant pose to have a nice image for the media to replay. The shot looks good doesn’t it?  I hope his intentions are noble.

The days of marching down main street to prove a point are not over.  As long as the media still covers them, marching and protesting will get the national exposure they want.  But with the help of the digital environment, protests can be more effective…and possibly eliminate some of the rabble rousers who only make the situation worse.  Protesters can organize “smartly”.  Let me explain…


Redskins and Darkskins: The Power of Symbols

Over the past few years pressure has been building on Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, to change that team’s name.  This pressure has been brought on by a wide array of people and groups.  Sports journalists Bill Simmons and Peter King have boycotted the name, as has news host Rachel Maddow.  The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation from California bought airtime to play the ad “Proud to Be”:


Most recently, the United States Patent Office has revoked the trademark of the team’s name because:

“the term ‘Redskins’ was disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services, at the times the various registrations involved in the cancellation proceeding were issued.”

As I was listening to the ins and outs of this story on talk radio, I found myself saying, “What’s the big deal?” “This isn’t hurting Native Americans in any material way.” “Here are the thought police again.”  “The government has no right to interfere in the business of the Washington Redskins.”

And then yesterday, as I was getting off the elevator in my apartment building,  I spoke to a couple to my right, then turned to my left to do the same to a young girl.  She quickly averted her eyes and looked down when my face turned towards hers.  Then I remembered why many Native Americans would want this name changed.


Canaries in Coal Mines

The metaphor of the “canary in the coal mine”, is apparently an overworked one, so says an article by the Wall Street Journal.  But it’s just so darn useful.

I often use it when explaining the causes of many social problems.  Groups with less money, education, social, and cultural resources tend to be “canaries”.  The problems they endure presently often become the problems of wider society in the future.  It was the poor and minorities who first began defaulting during the housing crisis.  We have a heroin epidemic in this country, hitting poor white communities the hardest.

Disadvantaged groups suffer social problems at higher rates than other groups because they don’t have resources to shield themselves from these problems.  When things happen  – the economy tanks, a new narcotic enters the market or bacteria is introduced – they get the worst of it.  Just like the canary in the coal mine gets the worst of a mine filled with toxic gas.

Now let me shift gears…

In the recent European Parliament elections, far right groups made impressive gains.  While many people are surprised by these gains, scholars who study online speech should not have been.  They had seen many online “canaries” pointing to the rise of anti-immigrant, extremism in Europe.  I also like to explore content online, and I’ve seen similar canaries that point to this same phenomenon occurring in the United States.


Predicting the Future

I spend a lot of time teaching and talking about what computers, the Internet, and the combination of the two (computer networking) can do.  In my classes, I like to paint a vision of the future, in brush strokes of bits and bytes.  I like to talk about how computer networking creates a digital environment, new in human history.  The possibilities seem infinite.

I like to imagine what the future would be like.  It is only a matter of time before drones and other robotic military units will be standard for rich, technologically advanced countries.  Moreover,experts believe that fresh water, oil, and and other resources will become scarce.  Technologically advanced countries will have the means and motive to make vassal states out of less technologically advanced, but resource rich countries.  Imagine one country using computer networked drones as a cudgel to beat weaker governments still using 20th century weapons into submission.  It’d be just like how the English were able to use the maxim gun to pacify African and Asian countries attacking them with spears.  A new age of imperialism may be in our future.

More optimistically, I can envision the type of world we can live in when 3-D printers become ubiquitous.  I can envisage a multitude of makers, working away in their garages, all using their 3-D printers to make goods to sell on the market.  We can become a nation that is less unequal economically, as profits migrate from a few large corporations to a swath of households and small businesses.  We could become more democratic as money corrupts the system less. It would make it easier for people not born into wealth to reach middle class status.  It may even inaugurate a new era of tinkering and making that would rival the industrial revolution from the 17th and 18th century.  I like this idea.

We can let our imaginations run free and think about the world of the future.  No one can know what things will be like in a few years, much less decades from now.  There are so many possibilities.

But there is one certainty when it comes to computer networking and humanity.  There is one thing that technology can never accomplish.  Curiously, this came to me when listening to an interview given by Fadi Chehadé, the president and CEO of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), on C-SPAN’s series The Communicators.



The Borg (not Mob) Mentality

As everyone knows by now, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clipper, has been banned from coming to NBA games and team practices.  The league has begun taking steps to force Sterling to sell the team.  These actions were set in motion by an audiotape of him making racist remarks was leaked to TMZ by his then girlfriend.

As I write this, on 5.2.14, the Sterling affair still has legs.  One storyline – the one I am most interested in – is about privacy, and what is the responsible way of reacting to private conversations being made public.  This is a welcome development.  As I said in a prior post, it is troubling that we as a society allow intimate conversations to be made a part of public discourse, and that a person can be prosecuted for those private conversations.

ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock writes “[A]n angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.” I heard an interview he did on Colin Cowherd’s radio show, I thought it was excellent, one of the best I’ve heard in a while.   Los Angeles Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has also expressed some concern over society’s reactions to the Sterling tapes.  In an editorial for Time Magazine, Abdul-Jabbar expresses some concern over what the media did to Sterling.  Abdul-Jabbar writes that the media got “caught big game on a slow news day, so they put his head on a pike, dubbed him Lord of the Flies, and danced around him whooping.”