I have been working in technology of one kind or another now since 1998. And as a Black technology guy, I have noticed the staggering absence of black folks, as well as other so-called minorities save for Asians/South Asians, in technology and nowhere has that felt more prevalent than in the web design industry. To help underscore my point, in the two years I have been teaching web design at Moore College, I have finally had my first student of color this term: an African-American female student. Wow.
When one takes a little time to peruse the ‘Net and look around at all the usual trendy sites on ground-breaking design (Zeldman, AListApart, Eric Meyer, Dan Benjamin just to name a few), I see no black faces. No faces of color. And let me state, before continuing, I do not believe that any of these individuals or web sites I may link to here in this article are out to purposely make this a reality or in anyway have had a direct hand in creating this absence. Rather, I wish to illustrate that when we look around for bright faces of web design, they’re white, not black.
Most of what I study is looking at constructs and how they’re nested in social contexts. Asking how did this come to be? Why? How? Where is it going? When I ply these same questions to Blackamericans and web design, I am left feeling puzzled and bewildered at the absence of one prominent black web designer. It could very well be that the talented black web designers are all too busy making beautiful web sites and not taking public credit for their work or maybe it’s something else.
When we look around at other sectors of society as to why there is a woeful absence of black folks in participation, that conditions are usually fairly clear. And let me say here that the follow is a hypothesis, a best guest, a starting point of looking at this issue. I welcome concrete feedback.
I do not believe that black folks are absent from web design due to a conscious effort to disengage from it. Most likely it may have to do with socio-economic issues. For blacks who are hailing from deprived urban centers, web design may simply not be on their radar. Not having the money to invest in computers, Internet access (preferably high-speed), and an education that would point them in the direction of design (web or otherwise), all lead me to think that this may be part of the problem. So, when philanthropic organizations are looking to invest money in these depressed areas, are they thinking to encourage blacks to take part of the digital revolution and get involved in the web or is this too off the radar.
With that being sad, I did come across a posting on a web site regarding a web summit/conference, where on the advertising poster, it featured a caricature of a black man along with the words, “Pimp’d“.
I found this a “curiosity” as it featured a stereotypical portrayal of an African-American, playing as a pimp, with a fedora hat and a drink in his hand. My immediate thought was not that it was inherently racist (well, that’s not true — actually, my immediate thought was that it was hella racist), but that how many black web designers would be attending this event? My best guess would be not many, and yet they have chosen a sort of “black mascot” to represent the coolness factor of the event. My second thought was that it was inherently racist.
So I put these thoughts out here, as a call to other black web designers. I would be curious to hear your experiences in this industry, on or off the record.
The web site, A List Apart, has revealed some findings in their 2008 survey. I welcome you to look at the list but for the sake of this post, you can see that just a mere 1.2% off web designers they surveyed were black. Amazing that essentially one out of every hundred people who might attend their event might be Blackamerican yet they feel the best way to promote the coolness of their even is through showcasing a stereotypical portrayal of a black man.
Charming. To the last…
Also, see Jason Kinney’s post, Minorities in Web Design.