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Black Heroes of the Internet – Professor Charlton McIlwain

Published on
15 Oct 2020
Written by
Philip Howard

Dr. McIlwain has a global reputation for advancing scholarship in three domains:  political communication, race and the media, technology, and society.  He is a renowned scholar and is frequently consulted by policymakers because he has built the leading team of race and media researchers and has constructed the network of contemporary scholars working on race and digital media.

I have seen him present his research at several conferences over the years, and I would like to write with enthusiasm about his latest book project with Oxford University Press, Black Software. He argues that information technologies do sometimes involve diverse communities of programmers, innovators and entrepreneurs but that their story tends to get wiped from memory.  This project is exciting because it is simultaneously built from archival evidence and personal narratives that he is collecting through his extensive interviews.  It isn’t surprising that there has been a role for minorities in designing and building the digital era, but the important theoretical work explaining—almost through historiography—how they are taken out frame is what this book contributes.  Black Software demonstrates how effectively the stories we tell about the political economy of technology get malformed in the service of race politics.

Dr. McIlwain is currently one of the most important mentors for the scholarly community of African American digital media researchers.  Through the book series he has edited, the reference volumes he has contributed to, and the regular workshops he hosts at NYU on race and digital media, he has become the epicentre and leading figure in investigating racial inequality online.  Indeed that makes him a leading figure in the study of technology and society.

Charlton’s 2018 talk at the OII – ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Brought To You by IBM: A Return to the Historical Roots of Internet Afro-Pessimism.