Young, Black and Digital

By | October 25, 2010

Edward James

– The 2008 Presidential campaign was very special for me. In my very first time voting I had the opportunity to cast my ballot for the first Black presidential nominee of a major political party. Like many young and enthusiastic Americans who were eager to change the social, political, and economic landscape of this country I spent countless hours canvassing. However, I never rang any door bells. All my canvassing took place via my Facebook page. I created online fan pages and groups dedicated to social issues affecting teens of color. More than half of my friends who were active on Facebook during this time dedicated their profile pictures and statuses to endorsing a candidate. The opinions and conversations about the campaign that took place on social networking sites and blogs seemed to be a major influence on my peers.

Although I still read local and national newspapers everyday, I probably spend just as much time reading political and socially conscious blogs. Citizen journalism has allowed many of my peers the opportunity to create their own bully pulpit. These platforms have been monumental in giving young people the opportunity to express themselves and influence their friends.

Black youth’s use of digital media has redefined the concept of the public sphere- an informal space where private citizens discuss civic matters. The public sphere can be thought of as a regulatory institution against the authority of the state. The results from the Mobilization and Change Project , a survey of over 3,0000 people that reveals how the 2008 election changed attitudes on race, political alienation , immigration, the youth vote and the impact on future elections (www.2008andbeyond.com) showed that youth who engaged in interest driven online activity increased their involvement in civic activities like community problem solving and volunteerism. In fact, Black youth were more likely than any other racial/ ethnic group to participate in special interest communities online such as a fan site or a site where they talk to others about hobbies. Additionally, Black youth were more likely than any other group to give feedback to someone they don’t know about something they wrote online.

So when we look at Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere we find that young Black people are actively engaging in civic discourse and forming communities. These kinds of communal conversations outside the traditional realms of institutions like churches and schools show that civic engagement hasn’t declined it has just transformed. These conversations are continuously going on at sites like www.Blackyouthproject.com and Facebook pages and blogs across the internet.

Public deliberation is the cornerstone of Democracy and young Blacks have shown that they are, as Dr. Cathy Cohen, author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics would say, we are the new“Digital Democrats”.

Edward James is a Research Associate and Blogger, Black Youth Project,
University Of Chicago