Blackbird: Browser for Black People

Posted on December 9, 2008 by

surfblackbirdYes, there is a browser for black people: Blackbird:

Blackbird was developed on the simple proposition that we, as the African American community, can make the Internet experience better for ourselves and, in doing so, make it better for everyone. Primarily we believe that the Blackbird application can make it easier to find African American related content on the Internet and to interact with other members of the African American community online by sharing stories, news, comments and videos via Blackbird.

In turn, we can provide you with up-to-date information about what’s hot in our community as well as news and user recommendations related to all things African American.

Without knowing more about this, it invites humour (If a white person installs the browser on his/her computer, does this mean that he/she is trying to act black? Would it be a case of cultural appropriation?).

This is not a reduction of race to technology, nor the racialization of technology. It is merely a browser that has a distinctive look and that channels “black content” to users. It is about “building and fostering community” online, and one might assume, to serve as a means of grouping black people in cyberspace (presumably because they are lost, lonely, and lacking in identity online). In terms of directing “black information” via the browser, the marketing for this tool states that 85% of African-Americans prefer online news and information from a “Black perspective.”

Lisa Nakamura has written extensively about “race in cyberspace,” how race is performed online, and how racism is expressed online. This development takes us one step before that: race in shaping cyberspace access. There really are numerous “internets” after all, as we see increased customization and specialization.

What is really interesting is that the software developers were able, in their minds, to come to a configuration of “blackness” that was amenable to coding. In other words, to pre-select means of delivering specific content, they must have formed some “image” in their minds of what an African-American wants. How they do that without producing a subtle stereotype would be interesting to find out. I suspect that the notion they worked with had something to do with media blackness, that is, demographic surveys of media consumers, and then channel those media in particular. It probably is a lot less spectacular than it seems at first.

Site tracking systems that generate visitor statistics for website owners might start registering Blackbird in their lists of browsers used by their visitors. That would then make those “surfing black” appear as a distinct entity online, generating special statistics, and perhaps more attention from advertisers. This is pure speculation on my part. Needless to say, since anyone can install it, and since not all African-Americans will, the statistics that are generated will be deceptive, as they often are.

What would a browser for anthropologists look like, and what might it be called? Ethnozilla? Ivoryview? Fieldster? Or how about Explorer? Yes, Explorer! Perfect! Let me rush to get a registered trademark on that before someone at Microsoft beats me to it.

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