First, the Jena 6 story lived on the Internet. Bloggers, many of them black, members of list serves such as the National Association of Black Journalists and members of social networks like Facebook, used the Internet to spread the story before it took off with mainstream news organizations like CNN, The Washington Post, and NPR.
The fact that the “afro-sphere” has largely received credit for driving this story is important to keep in mind when we think about what is going on in cyberspace.
At a time when “the digital divide” is still code for “people-of-color-don’t-have-access-or-know-
how-to-use-the-Internet,” Jena 6 reminds us of the fallacy of that premise. African Americans used the web and alerted the world to what was going on in a small town and in a largely overlooked state.
True, there are still some significant hurdles for entry into a fully wired world. However, they are largely socio-economic. I once asked someone how many white homes in Appalachia have Internet access. Turned out not a lot. The digital divide is real. It’s class, not race, that makes the difference.
The Jena 6 story also reminds us that while the Web may be a place where anyone with access and an idea can voice his or her opinion, it does not mean that every opinion gets the same amount of attention. Think of how quickly word spread about “Memo Gate” and how long it took the outside world to pay attention to Jena 6.
So, that leaves us with the question of whether this new technology is opening up our world or allowing us more time to hibernate in the comfortable corner of the world that reminds us of ourselves.
That is something I look forward to exploring as I look at diversity in an online world. I hope you’ll help me so that together we can think this through.