A heartrending recent development of digital practice is the dissemination on social networks of videos of state violence against Black men and women, such as the Facebook video of Philando Castile’s passing, or the YouTube video depicting the arrest and beating of Sandra Bland. In response, many Black folk have begun describing the effects these videos and shares have upon them, a phenomenon that can be understood as racial battle fatigue.
This presentation, in the mode of critical digital humanities, addresses how social and digital media mediates and manifests the ‘peculiar social environment’ of White racial ideology. One egregious example can be found in Lisa Nakamura’s 2013 essay describing how White racial ideology configures internet beliefs and discourses to portray racist digital practice as a “glitch.”
White racial ideology (“whiteness”) in online spaces is not always explicit, however. It takes many paths toward coercion and hegemony; I speculate here upon algorithmically-driven social media “feeds,” rather than individuals, enacting racist digital practice. This practice, which I argue for here as “weak tie racism,” becomes apparent in its engendering of the Black digital practice of reflexivity. This reflexivity, presented as cultural digital practice, is often expressed as spiritual, emotional, and physical engagement with online racism. Taken together, weak tie racism and Black online reflexivity can be understood as a dialectic of cultural digital practices that should be considered a norm, rather than a glitch.
André Brock is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Brock is one of the preeminent scholars of Black Cyberculture. His work bridges Science and Technology Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis, showing how the communicative affordances of online media align with those of Black communication practices. He recently completed a sabbatical as a Visiting Researcher with the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England, and is working on a manuscript on Black online technoculture.