Why Aren’t More African Americans Coding?

This afternoon a bunch of thoughts rushed through my head. Here they are in bullet point fashion, each point building from the point that came before. Links forthcoming:

  • African Americans, Hispanics, and women trained to computer program in the 60s and 70s (known as Human Computers) to alleviate the Software Crisis.
    • African Americans, male and female, and women were key to innovative tech advances
  • Computers become mainstream in the 1980s and 1990s–but mostly a middle class endeavor
  • Larger macro-level forces (economic, geographical) probably contributed to the immediate creation of the Digital Divide
  • Even if African Americans get access to computers, they don’t necessarily know what computers are capable of –> schools and knowledgeable parents would need to uncover the secrets of the computer to African American youth. Although African American children can explore and discover these abilities on their own, there may be restrictions imposed from teachers with a very narrow curriculum to follow and from parents who may place rules on computer use.
  • Thus, African Americans may not know about coding/programming language from the get go
  • Currently, more African Americans use mobile technology than European Americans.
  • This isn’t enough, however:  they may consume culture but African Americans still need to produce and participate in culture. Mobile technologies aren’t necessarily conducive for making key digital genres of writing: YouTube videos, longform articles, etc. etc.
  • It’s good for tweets, however. Many African Americans use Twitter–Black Twitter is a community where African Americans comment on current events, attack the mentions of people they find problematic, generate hashtags to build awareness of social issues, offer ironic entertainment.
  • Black Twitter, however, is at the mercy of the CODE. Who creates the lines of codes that designs Twitter? that allows this discussion? Probably majority European American software engineers.
  • Black Twitter does not control the software. When the software breaks, Black Twitter breaks, too.
  • Anyway, maybe I should widen my gaze a bit and ask about the things coding creates: computational media.


I was thinking about labor, too. My research into training African Americans took code in the 60s and 70s generate few results. I may need to do archival research and sift through primary sources.

Still, I was noticed that this training was to alleviate the so-called software crisis. The argument computer scientists used was anyone can code. Race and gender don’t matter: ABILITY does.

Skip to 2015. My friend is a freelance web designer and is building skills to do other kinds of coding. Despite his years of experience, despite his ability to use code, he can’t get a full time job without credentials from an educational institution.

Yet there are plenty of clients who turn to freelance programmers for jobs. The credential doesn’t matter: portfolio and experience matters more.

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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