Submitted By: Clayton Banks, CEO, Silicon Harlem
Digital Divide or Digital Inclusion?
The internet has afforded individuals, private, public, and non-profit organizations with new opportunities to communicate, conduct commerce, recreate, and socialize for success. Yet, this has not occurred in a manner that affords equal opportunity to all individuals and organizations. This challenge, called the Digital Divide, is contributing to a lack of educational attainment, economic opportunities, and negative health outcomes.
In the Digital Age of the 21st century, access and exposure, opportunity and success, is driven by broadband. The adoption of broadband is not a luxury but a necessity.
Digital Equity is at the forefront when we seek to address long-standing systemic issues that shape the social disparities, that for way too long, have plagued all of us in America. The pandemic of 2020 coupled with the awakening of systemic social injustice, has fostered a public activism against systemic racism, inequality, a need for social change, and a plan to close all the human rights gaps that define our civil society...
Homework: 40% of African American households in low income communities do not have broadband. Over 90% of homework requires Internet access. Many students have to find a WiFi connection outside of their home to do their homework, and most likely they have to use their mobile device. This creates the Homework Gap.
Health: Traditionally, low income communities suffer from inadequate health care services. This now includes lack of digital access to health records and telemedicine. The health gap impacts 60 million Americans. Health is a social justice issue that requires new policies and ongoing advocacy for the most vulnerable without a broadband connection. Digital health management requires a robust broadband connection and without it, our health outcomes are compromised.
Employment: Most companies prioritize online applications for job seekers. In the digital age, computer skills often determine the quality of the work one can attain. The lack of home broadband furthers digital inequality for African Americans in public housing. Lack of digital literacy, the cost of hardware/software, and the ability to understand the Internet, traps people in low wage jobs.
Graduation Rates: Income inequality in the 21st century is not simply tied to graduation rates. In low income communities, 21st century curricula that prepare students for college and careers needs to be addressed. The technology divide is consistent with the trend determining the income divide. According to decades of research, the income divide for African Americans turns on 5 key indicators: socioeconomic, geographical, educational, attitudinal and generational. In the 21st century, the educational component can be addressed by upgrading schools to ensure students are getting exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Digital literacy and proficiency in technology is a pathway to a more sustainable career that can close the income divide.
Education and Training: Having equal access to digital technology is at the core of the digital divide. Broadband availability, or the lack thereof, has become the key to education and training for 21st century jobs and careers. The digital economy is skill-based. In many African American communities, there is not enough access for people to acquire the skills needed for high paying jobs. This puts all of us in a weak position to close the economic disparity gap. The private sector can benefit from diversity, however, the education and training within public schools is not aligned to meet their workforce needs. Additionally, training for 21st century tech jobs is cost-prohibitive for those who could most benefit.
Income Disparity: The new class of digital assets is a major cause of the current form of income inequality. These digital assets combined with a skill-based economy is leaving many low-income communities behind. Data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and social media is the new pathway to wealth. To impact the disparity between the digital haves and have nots, there are three key initiatives we need to embrace. First, we need to make broadband free for all. Second, communities must have the resources to expand digital literacy to all. Third, communities need to galvanize around the digital economy that unleashes innovation through startups and private/public partnerships.
Racism Impact:Systemic racism and discrimination is in the DNA of America. Jobs and career opportunities for African Americans are impeded through the unique reality of our laws. An example of systemic racism is being arrested for marijuana. Although White and Black Americans equally use marijuana, African Americans are 4 times more likely to be arrested for it. That arrest can stay on the record and impact their chances for good jobs, loans, and quality of life. And though, these laws are finally getting addressed, there are still more that continue to be on the books.
CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
To close all gaps and develop a fair and equitable future in America, the local, state, and federal governments must instantiate digital inclusion laws that expand the middle class and close racial economic inequality.
Here are 3 key policy initiatives to close the digital divide for the Black community:
First, our elected officials need to pass policies that fund digital inclusion programs designed to foster access, exposure, and education to gain technology skills.
Second, affordable computers and digital accessories are a necessity to navigate the Internet and our electives must lobby for affordable devices
Third, the most important initiative is to designate broadband as essential and make it available for all.
What communities can do:
Work with your community organizations such as the closest Urban League Chapter, Churches, Chambers of Commerce, and Schools, to galvanize your neighbors to embrace technology as an economic engine.
Attract the private sector to partner in your community to provide access and exposure to advanced technologies and opportunities
Make your voice heard locally, regionally, statewide and federal. Ensure that you are attracting the resources to guarantee that every household has an active internet connection, access to digital literacy, and affordable computers.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Black America has systematically experienced disparities in education, health, jobs, income, and access to capital to grow businesses. The 2020 Covid-19 has proven that these many disparities reveal and exacerbate the vulnerability of these families. And these disparities are only hurting the entire economy. Thus, systemic inequality is not sustainable.
The opportunity we have moving forward will be rooted in innovation. From arts and culture to new businesses, and advanced technology, it is the time for all of us to reset for inclusive success. Everything will be reimagined and all of our voices must be at the table. Our next normal closes all gaps in education, ownership, wealth, health, jobs, and access to capital.