From “Black Twitter” to the oft-appropriated dance phenomenon started by black teens on TikTok; Black Digital Spaces are the lightning rods of the internet zeitgeist. It’s joyous energy, a simple vibe, or anger at injustice that connects those within these spaces to each other and the community across the world. It’s a process that is increasingly necessary during a pandemic marked early on by the fallout around George Floyd’s death.
A commonly overlooked factor of Black Digital Spaces is the economic transformation within. The arrival of the metaverse supercharged the NFT market, which Black artists have used to save their livelihoods and thrive. Websites becoming more economically viable make it possible for small Black businesses to have a digital foothold. And networking movements like #BlackLinkedInIsThriving carve out part of Linkedin for Black professionals to advance and connect. Black Digital Spaces are amongst the most transformative phenomena for the Black community in our increasingly digitized world, and everyone should buy-in and rally to protect this advancement.
Cryptocurrency is the backbone of Web3 as the various network’s currencies decentralize and democratize ownership and development. NFTs, which are one-of-a-kind digital assets, surpassed $22 billion in the global market this year, according to data from DappRadar, a firm that tracks sales, easily eclipsing the $100 million market in 2020.
In many ways, Black Americans are leading the crypto revolution. Twenty-three percent of African-Americans own cryptocurrency, compared to 11% of white Americans and 17% of Hispanics, according to two recent surveys conducted by Harris Poll and provided to USA Today. Much of this is because Black Americans make up many of the early adopters of cryptocurrency. For some of these early influencers, the appeal of cryptocurrency is steeped in history. Taking charge of assets to avoid the issues wrought by past connection of some traditional banks to the slave trade, as well as Civil Rights-era policy fights such as redlining and the modern challenges that Black communities face in accessing banking services. But as the market has grown, traditional banks and regulators are starting to step in. Historically, regulation drafting without a Black presence at the table leads to rules that are likely detrimental to the community. Wherever possible, Black financial firms and regulators need to advocate for rules that will encourage equal access and treatment. Black financial advisors should go beyond educating clientele into directly educating the community at large. Cryptocurrency can be the transformative space for economic advancement in the community if the community protects itself from bad actors, information, and strategies.
Going one step up into the increasingly popular Crypto-based products: NFTs; similar needs apply. NFTs have allowed black households to rapidly change their economic fortunes. A prime example is of various efforts amongst Black artists. The arrival of the cryptocurrency boom created a new growth sector that allowed artists to have more ownership over their works and increase their earning potential using NFTs to create original pieces. According to data provided by ONE/OFF to Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto initiatives at Visa, between January and November 2020 just 58 Black crypto artists sold “a combined 513 pieces of crypto artwork for 1,132 ETH (total market value of $736,000).” But this doesn’t mean the good fortune will expand far and wide through the community. Only a few artists have managed to take a piece of those earnings. Traditionally Black artists are often left out of the high-profiled museum and private galleries.
“I don’t want my people to be left out of these opportunities,” says Monifah, the ’90s R&B icon who’s been a crypto investor since 2019. She will become a Web3 pioneer this March when she begins releasing her music NFTs on EQ Exchange, a new platform focused on empowering musicians and rewarding their fans. EQ is focused on financial inclusion for women and people of color, who also happen to make amazing music. The scrappy tech startup has secured seed funding and signed a diverse roster of hundreds of artists including hip hop legends like Pete Rock, AZ, and Pharaohe Monch as well R&B stars Chrisette Michele, J. Holiday, and Bajan soca legend Alison Hinds. “The music industry is not set up for artists to earn a good living,” says EQ’s Chief Strategy Officer Carlisle Young. “We’re here to level the playing field.” More Black-led institutions like EQ need to form in the NFT market to protect these developments. These efforts should be replicated and protected throughout the community to better the pipeline.
Shifting to networks, #BlackLinkedinIsThriving on Linkedin and is one of the latest iterations of these spaces, the professional cousin to Black Twitter that was initiated following the heights of the protests regarding the killing of George during the infamous arrest in 2020. As the community grows and undergoes pains of dubious moderating by Linkedin, malicious attacks, and ignorant interactions, it is now entering a stage of gathering notice beyond the space. #BlackLinkedInIsThriving shows up as a hashtag on the site, it is also a private group on Linkedin, and it was created as an intentional black digital space on the Clubhouse app. The founders of #BlackLinkedInIsThriving have held a weekly meeting on Clubhouse every Sunday at 9am eastern standard time for over a year. Those weekly meetings have grown to consist of 4,700 members worldwide, with nearly 1,000 members on LinkedIn.
#BlackLinkedinIsThriving is important at the core for similar reasons that Black Digital Spaces are important in general. Online platforms provide opportunities for Black people in different parts of the world to connect, co-create and collaborate in meaningful ways. Black professionals utilized “#BlacklinkedinIsThriving” hashtag on Linkedin to create and add to the descriptions of workplace discrimination and racial animosity in their workplaces. But also to show positive celebrations of black endeavors and successes. These conversations are a treasure trove of information for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Black-led companies and Black professionals should buy into #BlackLinkedInIsThriving to contribute further to its expansion Black Linked logoin turn doubles the transformative benefits for the lives of professionals and entrepreneurs within. Other companies should take note of the content of the space to better learn about awareness, equity, and diversity efforts that would be most viable for their workplaces.
From the onset, if a company would like to interact with Black Digital Spaces and the people involved, it is imperative to recognize the movement for a more equal society as far more than a “fad” or a moment. If the company has a history of anti-black experiences and investments then atonement will have to come before these commitments, the organization’s history must be honestly discussed especially with current and former black staff being listened to. In particular, when cryptocurrency and NFTs are part of the equation, trust and education with historical inequities in mind are musts. These decisions must have real, tangible steps that do change aspects of people’s lives. The list of actions is far from exhaustive but even just a few meaningful steps will strengthen the organization’s commitments to foster an environment and grow an internal population reflective of the positives of a progressive society.
Companies who manage to leap in the efforts are often rewarded beyond general employee happiness increases and moral advances. A 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group found that diversity increases the bottom line for companies. The study found that “increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance.” They found that increasing diversity amongst management teams leads to 19% higher revenue due to innovation. The consumer base to be gained amongst the black community is extremely valuable as black spending power increases.
Racial equity is a paramount aspect. Buy into the community and the rewards will come. The same is true for the Black professionals and firms that advocate, educate, and lead in these digital spaces, as this will pave the road for many to transform their careers and economic fortunes including their own. The decentralized and open internet, with the advent of Web3, is the opportunity for many Black Digital participants to thrive in these spaces, and it’s time to act.
Special thanks to Owakhela Kankhwende who’s editorial, and research skills significantly contributed to this article.