Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter



Activists, pundits, politicians, and the press frequently proclaim today's digitally mediated racial justice activism the new civil rights movement. As Charlton D. McIlwain shows in this book, the story of racial justice movement organizing online is much longer and varied than most people know. In fact, it spans nearly five decades and involves a varied group of engineers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, journalists, and activists. But this is a history that is virtually unknown even in our current age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Black Lives Matter.

Beginning with the simultaneous rise of civil rights and computer revolutions in the 1960s, McIlwain, for the first time, chronicles the long relationship between African Americans, computing technology, and the Internet. In turn, he argues that the forgotten figures who worked to make black politics central to the Internet's birth and evolution paved the way for today's explosion of racial justice activism. From the 1960s to present, the book examines how computing technology has been used to neutralize the threat that black people pose to the existing racial order, but also how black people seized these new computing tools to build community, wealth, and wage a war for racial justice.Through archival sources and the voices of many of those who lived and made this history, Black Software centralizes African Americans' role in the Internet's creation and evolution, illuminating both the limits and possibilities for using digital technology to push for racial justice in the United States and across the globe.

Product Details

$24.95  $22.95
Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
November 01, 2019
6.2 X 1.1 X 9.3 inches | 1.4 pounds

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About the Author

Charlton D. McIlwain is Vice Provost of Faculty Engagement & Development at New York University, and Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU's Steinhardt School. He is also the Founder of the Center for Critical Race & Digital Studies, and the co-author of Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns, winner of the 2012 APSA Ralph Bunche Award.


"McIlwain's book [is an] utterly compelling demonstratio[n] of the contributions black people have made, and struggle to make still, to modern culture." -- Lilian Anekwe, New Scientist

"A poetic tour de force. By amplifying black voices and their stories, McIlwain peels back a layer of overwritten history to reveal how technology and race have always been entwined. This book's rhythmic drumbeat and call to action will energize your soul." -- danah boyd, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research and Founder of Data and Society

"McIlwain has written the first digital history book that explains in crystal clear terms eactly how Big Tech came to be an engine for inequality. Black Software is an utterly fascinating, painstakingly researched origin story of black cyberculture...It will change the way you think about computers, fairness, racial identity, and America as a technological nation." -- Lisa Nakamura, Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor and Director the Digital Studies Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

"Black Software imaginatively reprograms late twentieth-century digital history with a revelatory account of the black men and women who are its hidden figures. Unsung innovator are recovered as the forerunners of #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTwitter, and #MeToo in this detailed, creative and crucial rendering of the tech communities that-against both the odds and countervailing forces-inspired today's hashtag politics." -- Alondra Nelson, Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study

"Black Software is one of the most moving and important books about the history of digital culture and politics in the United States. Charlton McIlwain tells stirring stories of those who moved the world a bit closer to racial justice and relates broad account of the social and political forces that worked against the interests of African Americans." -- Siva Vaidhyanatha, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy