Banks – Taking Black Technology Use Seriously: African American Discursive Traditions in the Digital Underground

Banks, Adam. “Taking Black Technology Use Seriously: African American Discursive Traditions in the Digital Underground.” Race, Rhetoric, and Technology:Searching for Higher Ground. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 2006. 68-85. Print.

In this chapter Adam Banks  brings the scholarship on Cyberspace, the Digital Divide, and African American Discourse within Composition Studies up-to-date by exploring how African Americans access and transform “underground” online spaces to the specificity of their interests and needs. He asserts that the most important element of technological access is use; people using and developing the skills that make the technology relevant to their lives (68). His data comes from interactions on the online site Black Planet. In his analysis, he shows how interlocutors use two modes of discourse found in the African American oral tradition – tonal semantics and sermonic tone (Smitherman, 2000). According to Banks, these two “oral tradition” features in a written form online is highly significant because it is contrary to other cyberspace scholarship that negates the role of race and cultural identity online:

To do this in an online space given the conditions of technology access and the ways technology and cyberspace are constructed as White, is a critical disruption of those constructions, and, again, reminders that both race and culture carry definite meaning online (81).

Banks asserts that online spaces can be “underground” and operate outside of the power and surveillance of White society and the restrictions that can come along with it. These spaces/ interactions can provide much  insight as it relates to Composition Studies and new writers”

…there is much to learn from the underground sites where people new to any discursive situation have a chance to “get their game tight:” to learn the conventions, to experiment with voice, and tone, and craft; to get feedback that they actually want from people they will listen to; while in an environment where simplistic judgments about grammatical features do not lead to their discursive and intellectual complexity being entirely dismissed and/ or their continued segregation from others whoses voices are often just as raw (83).

Banks concludes that there is more study needed on this topic, and that there are steps that compositionists can take based on his findings. He suggests that we provide “rich, discursive spaces” for students to compose, give, and receive feedback with their peers so that they might help each other along (84). He also suggests that these spaces be places that students control instead of being policed by faculty for the benefit of the university (85). Lastly, Banks asks that faculty pay attention to our own course design and make so that we make it easier for students to navigate them, understand how they work, and find their ways back “home” from whatever point they may be at (85).

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