Commentary: Blacks Love Tech, But Does Tech Love Back?

Pew reports that Blacks lead the way when it comes to some of the Internet’s biggest social media platforms. When will technology reciprocate the enthusiasm?

Posted: 02/15/2013 02:56 PM EST

It’s a simple fact that many of the insiders of the tech world don’t frequently make an effort to include African-American consumers. Sure, Samuel L. Jackson has been in an iPhone ad, but look at most of the Apple billboards in the world: It’s very rarely a Black hand holding the latest iPhone or iPad.

Similarly, just this month, white tech blogger Jason Calocanis scoffed at the idea that it’s difficult for people of color to break into the tech world, saying it’s a place of pure meritocracy and that Blacks should simply try harder if they want to be tech journalists.

According to a new study from Pew’s Internet and American Life Project, despite the fact that tech can be such an inhospitable place for Black Americans, Blacks still latch onto tech — at least parts of it — in very significant ways.

For instance, 26 percent of Black Internet users are on Twitter versus just 14 percent of whites and 19 percent of Latinos. On Instagram, that disparity is almost as high, with 23 percent of Blacks who are online using the photo-sharing service versus 11 percent of whites and 18 percent of Latinos. Pinterest is the whitest social-media platform, with 18 percent of whites online using it as opposed to 8 percent of Blacks and 10 percent of Latinos.

Now, to be sure, Blacks are not often at the front in the world of technology. A 2011 study found that only 55 percent of African-Americans had broadband internet access at home, compared to 72 percent of whites and 81 percent of Asians. Blacks are also more likely to get online via smartphones, which are less expensive than laptops.

Besides all that, social media, which Blacks are obviously very fond of, is certainly not nearly the beginning or the end of what people mean when they say “technology.” But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Blacks are engaging with technology in a very real way and it would make sense for the technology world to try to engage back.

Does that mean tailoring products and services specifically for Blacks? Not necessarily. But acknowledging that the Black tech consumer isn’t just real, but very active and excited about tech products that appeal to them would be a big first step. After that, maybe — just maybe — it won't feel like such an anomaly to see an iPad billboard with a Black hand clutching it tightly.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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