[Air-L] MLK Day reflection

Deen Freelon dfreelon at u.washington.edu
Sun Jan 20 02:46:20 PST 2008


Some excellent and extremely relevant questions you've raised here. See 
my embedded responses below.

Mark Marino wrote:
> [message truncated for brevity's sake]
> When watching this video about "Students Today," which features white
> student after white student, I can't help but wonder why the students don't
> comment on race.

Before I start, you may want to freeze-frame at 03:22 and look toward 
the bottom—the sign the girl is holding appears to read "Ethnic 
Conflict." But journalists usually use that particular phrasing to refer 
to the sort of unrest that happens in "other" (non-Western) settings, so 
you may be on to something yet . . . anyway, that said . . .

In my experience as both a student and an instructor, race isn't 
something most white students are comfortable discussing in the 
classroom. Relevant research ("Teaching about Inequality: Student 
Resistance, Paralysis, and Rage" by Nancy Davis, 1992 is the first thing 
that comes to mind) suggests a pervasive colorblindness among American 
college students that has proven remarkably resilient to pedagogical 
penetration. Race may not be the first concept that comes to mind in 
discussing new media, and the sense that the "economic" digital divide 
is rapidly closing in most western nations may further buttress the 
(erroneous) view that the web renders race irrelevant.

Another factor may be the particular school this video came from. 
According to the latest US Census figures, Kansas is 90% white. Without 
knowing its precise ethnic distribution, the state's lack of diversity 
may go some ways toward explaining the absence of race from students' 
mental agendas.

> On the one hand, the video offers just "a vision" as in one vision of
> students.   However, I read Wesch's title as having broader implications,
> bordering on universalism.  As in "Come see what typical students look like
> today" or at least  what a representative sample looks like today.
> Even if his video doesn't claim to be representative, the fact that the
> video about student use of technology does not mention what to many of us
> might be so apparent is indicative of certain trends in discussions of Web
> 2.0, trends I've recently been discussing with Elizabeth Losh of UC Irvine
> among others:  the trend to create a vision of some imaginary Web
> 2.0student, one that does not take into consideration differences in
> background
> or access.

If there was an "imaginary," "exemplary," or "quintessential" Web 2.0 
student, an Everystudent of the future, what race/gender/sexual 
orientation would he/she be? I'd be surprised if no one out there has 
researched what online discussants tend to assume about their invisible 
interlocutors' real-life demographic characteristics. We may well 
imagine that most of the newsgroups/forums/comment areas we frequent 
look a lot like Wesch's classroom, at least ethnically speaking. In that 
scenario, inconvenient disparities in privilege and opportunity could be 
assumed away to ease the pursuit of less dissonant discussion topics.

> What do we risk when we leave out race or even socio-economic class?  I
> think some on this listserv are answering this question with their research.

I too would be interested in relevant research in this area. As a member 
of a racial minority myself, I feel that some new media outlets make me 
less likely to speak my mind online by bracketing ethnicity and 
disinhibiting conversation. The instances of casual racism I've 
encountered in several open forums I have observed closely but 
informally (e.g. political blog comments, newspaper comments, Youtube) 
effectively foreclose any substantive contribution I may have been 
interested in making. Not to jump too far off the deep end of casual 
social theorizing here, but perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of 
our society's failure to provide sufficient offline avenues for honest 
dialogue on race/SES/sexual orientation. Getting back to the original 
question, in examining whatever social benefits new media are supposed 
to provide, we should always slow down to ask ourselves: who's speaking 
and who's lurking? Whose views are represented and whose aren't? What 
can we do to make representation more equitable, more inviting, and more 

Anyway, thanks again for starting this discussion. I don't think these 
issues get raised nearly as often as they should. ~DEEN
> It's just something I'm thinking about this MLK Day.
> More on this discussion here:
> http://writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/2008/01/20/a-revision-of-students-today-remixing-wesch/
> Wesch has also printed some responses and further discussions of his video
> here: http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=124#more-124
> Best,
> Mark Marino

Deen Freelon
Master's Student, Communication
University of Washington
dfreelon at u.washington.edu

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