6-7-12 Links Roundup

While the church does not track members by race, there are thriving Mormon churches with hundreds of black members today in many urban areas, including Washington, Chicago and New York, although African-Americans represent only a tiny fraction of the six million Mormons in the United States.

The conversion of blacks in this country has been a challenge, given the church’s turbulent history of excluding people of black African descent. Until 1978, black men were not allowed to become priests or bishops; dark skin was considered a biblical curse. During the 1960s, when Mitt Romney’s father, George, made civil rights a personal priority during his time as a Republican governor of Michigan, his progressive views put him at odds with church doctrine.

Over the last decades, however, there has been an aggressive campaign to diversify, and racism in the church — which was itself once powerless and persecuted as a cult — has been repeatedly denounced.

“I feel a definite sense of pride in the U.S.A. that we have a Mormon candidate and black candidate,” said Catherine Spruill, who lives in a suburb of Salt Lake and is mixed-race like Mr. Obama and Mormon like Mr. Romney. “I feel pride for my people, because America picked that.”

There is even a black Mormon Congressional candidate, Mia Love, who will soon be on the ballot in Utah. She is running as a conservative Republican for the newly created Fourth District, which includes part of Salt Lake County. A campaign video describes her in these terms, among others: “mother, mayor, leader, gun owner.”

When Facebook announced that it was launching a $5 billion initial public offering, with a corporate board composed exclusively of white male members, Alice Buttrick and Alice Baumgartner launched Face It, a campaign to spread the message that the company’s board should represent the diversity of its users and the country. To the two white Ivy League graduates in their early 20s, that means “the board of white men should include women of all colors.”They founded the organization in April of this year, using protests and an online petition to pressure the social networking giant to go public with a board that reflects what it claimed was its own corporate mission: to make the world more open and connected. That didn’t happen, and although on May 15 it was reported that Facebook had hired a search firm to find “at least one woman” for the board, Buttrick says, “We think just one woman reinforces the token status of women and minorities in leadership, and we are keeping the pressure on.”

Even after the IPO flop, Face It is not stopping the push for representation. The campaign provided Facebook with a list of candidates that it says are qualified, which it declined to disclose to The Root. However, Buttrick told The Root that she’s confident the company’s leadership “knows now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the problem is not supply but demand.”

In both “Shahs of Sunset” and “K-Town” — even Jersey Shore — sensitivities to depictions of these particular ethnic groups are fueled by the legacies of race, class and immigration, whether we’re talking about a history of anti-Italian American discrimination dating back to the late 19th century, post-9/11 Islamophobia, or the enduring model minority mythology of Asian America. Communities used to seeing themselves diminished or demonized in mass media are understandably uncomfortable with the idea of reality shows that highlight bad or deviant behavior even as this is precisely what television audiences hunger for.

While none of these shows compete with the massive ratings of broadcast network reality programming like “American Idol” or “Survivor,” for cable channels, they’ve become a notable boon, especially when they delve into subcultures that many Americans may have little, direct interaction with. For example, the highest rated show on The History Channel is “Swamp People,” which follows the travails of multigenerational Cajuns living in/around Louisiana’s massive Atchafalaya Swamp. While the show does focus on more than just a bunch of alligator hunters, at heart, it’s still a show that spends quality time with…a bunch of alligator hunters. There may not seem to be much in common between Korean American clubbers, scions of the Iranian American 1%, and Cajun, uh, swamp people, what binds them is how each respective show is either subtly or explicitly premised on a voyeuristic window into communities that seem starkly different from “the rest of us.”

Compare that with even well-scripted sitcoms such as “Modern Family.” The latter is shot in Los Angeles, including both my old and current neighborhoods of Rancho Park and South Pasadena, but its “L.A.-ness” isn’t remotely overt for those who don’t recognize Kaldi Coffee’s storefront on sight. “Modern Family,” like many sitcoms, feels set in a generically middle class American suburb, with residents who could be interchangeable with that of any other sitcom neighborhood.

Herein lies the issue: Though Streitfeld primarily covers Ellen Pao’s lawsuit, he undermines his piece by leading with an emphatic and incorrect statement about men as sole inventors of the Internet. I’m not certain if Streitfeld was being tongue-in-cheek or if he simply has a narrow view of Internet history. But his article does incite, albeit unintentionally, necessary dialogue about the roles women–and racial and ethnic minorities–have played in Internet innovation. While some apparently assume that men alone developed the Internet, a quick glance at the Internet Hall of Fame’s 2012 inaugural inductees and the Early Internet Leaders list prove otherwise. (I also recommend reading History of the Internet).

In reality, the genesis of the Internet was a collaborative effort. It took decades of developments in computer programming and network technology. We can’t let the current cult of tech fandom around “white” men–such as Steve Jobs, whom Streitfeld name checks–obscure the women and the racial and ethnic minorities from around the world who contributed to the birth of the Internet.

But I get it. For those who want to trace the Internet to a specific point of origin, there’s a tempting one to be had: the work of DARPA, a military research program that in 1969 launched ARPANET, the packet switching network that is the foundation of the modern-day Internet. Since the early Internet was a project of the U.S. military, we credit its development to a government institution primarily headed by men (although Elizabeth Feinler also pioneered the early ARPANET platform).