BLACK SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER
“The most concrete location we can find for this collective being of blackness is the digital” – Aria Dean
The internet as a Black haven is an important idea because of the lack of space and home afforded to Black people. Frantz Fanon, in his work Black Skin White Masks, pleads for the conservation of Black space in a white world that seems destined to consume it all, expressing that “without a Negro past, without a Negro future, it was impossible for me to lie in Negrohood…I was damned”. These sentiments show the need for movement: movement into space and time, and a radical movement against the all-determining white gaze. While it must be made clear that Fanon’s work from the ’50s, predated discussions of online existence, it must not be forgotten that his texts are “not simply a historic landscape…firmly located in time and place. Fanon’s anger has a strong contemporary echo”, and this persevering call for space is still felt in contemporary works as well. Scholar of ethnic studies, K. Wayne Yang illustrates one example of a contemporary parallel in his article about Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot on his jog home. Yang explains Arbery’s story as a man condemned in his search to occupy space both in the past, by daring to exist in a white neighborhood, and in his imagined future for which “he is drawing up blueprints, he is stealing a glimpse. He is plotting his own Black future—his own wherein a nowhere”. The same Black desires for space brought on by colonization are still sought after for the decades to follow, and the question remains the same: where do you turn to when you have nowhere to go? The internet, in its innocent facade and development of subcultures, could have been that new haven.
Since its creation, the internet has warped and grown, changing from a scientific tool for the few to a social one for the masses. This shift and opening up allowed for a “waning of the early nineties internet subcultures, some of whom thought of it as a utopian or at least alternative media for identity play, virtual community, and gift economies”. Herein lied the possibility for a Black internet subculture, free of white gaze and oppression. The Internet could have formed the long awaited home of afrofuturism : “a landscape of cultural invention that we can put in the context of a plural universe of imagined future times and other spaces, which draw on the raw material of many kinds of historical experience and cultural raw material”. In some ways, the Black migration online was relatively successful. Put quite simply, by Aria Dean in “Rich Meme, Poor Meme,” “Black people love social media, and social media love black people.” As the internet became a tool for mass play and communication, Black users found forms of existence online where “nearly half of black internet users use Instagram, as opposed to less than a quarter of white users. Twitter is more evenly distributed but still mostly minority-driven. Alongside the rise of the meme in internet culture, we have witnessed black-user-produced content drift toward center stage.” Black people have forged an appearance online that can be more significant than white appearance.
Black online success, however, was not planned for or compensated. Throughout its growth, white influencers have seen more visibility and financial compensation than Black creators: “Compare the nonexistent returns seen by black teens for introducing the whip to the lifetime supply of Vans shoes gifted to the Damn Daniel kid or the nearly half-million dollars worth of swag that Chewbacca Mom received for her most abject display of consumerist bliss.” The initial wins online, pail in comparison to the strides of white online success. As the internet continues to expand and allow people to play with how information is shared and how identities are represented, Black online existence is being used to the benefit of white people as Black people are once again uprooted.