Last week, Media Literacy Project (MLP) attended the Second Annual Anti-Racism Day at the New Mexico State Legislature. Having served on the planning committee for this day of action, convened by the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group and the Deconstructing Racism Group, MLP had a chance to reflect on the anti-racism aspects of our work. Recently, we have been protecting the cyber frontier from corporate colonization through our opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), both in Congress.
Racism often frames the environment in which the most horrific human rights abuses occur. The human right to communication is certainly threatened by SOPA and PIPA, making freedom of speech the dominant argument in these debates currently happening in the U.S. House and Senate, respectively. However, these companion bills that were initially supported by a majority of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation have a more acute impact on communities of color. With Anti-Racism Day fresh in our minds, we must at least acknowledge the disparity of that impact on our communities.
The intentionally deceptive use of language by supporters of SOPA and PIPA is something that disproportionately impacts people of color and therefore, disproportionately impacts New Mexico. The good news is that this deceptive language is not lost on folks who work in the fields of media justice and creative arts. The idea that the SOPA and PIPA legislation was designed out of some altruistic concern of Congress to protect “the starving artist” is an utterly absurd frame. Yet, this is the frame that they have been using, with some success, to get artists to support protecting intellectual property at the expense of freedom. The reality is that the content owners, not the content creators, are the ones lobbying this legislation through Congress. As an organization whose work is reliant upon content created by cultural workers and artists in the Southwest, we want to see the fair use and fair compensation of our partners and collaborators protected.
At the same time, we know that the most innovative and democratic model for communication and artistic distribution ever created is the Internet. The Internet is a threat to the corporate model of gatekeeping content, communication and culture for profit. Much like the artists that work in your community, the artists we work with are more likely to make a living from their art because of the Internet, not in spite of it. Rarely are these artists in the economic stratosphere of “1%ers” who have to concern themselves with how the Internet is cutting into their movie, television or music profits. As an artist, I suspect that for artists of color approximately 99 percent of us fall into the former category.
It is not the content creators who stand to see a windfall of profit if SOPA and PIPA become law; it is the content owners who want to make sure that they remain the middle man between the artist and the audience. In the scope of anti-racism theory, the economics of this dynamic can best be explained with a plantation analogy. The plantation gets the harvest of the artist for next to nothing, and then keeps all the market profit.
However, the corporate owners have been faced with a revolt. Their attempt to put a noose around the Internet has been met with great opposition. Their attempts to control the market and bully us into giving up our freedom, is failing. Community artists figured out that working for themselves could provide much more creative and economic freedom than slaving for the owners, and have been doing so since the advent of the digital revolution in the 1980s. Essentially, the Internet has emancipated poor people (read: artists) and communities of color from having their talent, their issues and their culture ignored or marginalized as not universal enough or not profitable enough.
So as we all apply this idea of anti-racism to the work that we do, please consider how difficult it would be for us to do the work of bringing people of all colors together without being able to share our culture freely? How would we realize the anti-racist world we seek without being able to communicate our songs, our images and our stories? Where else might we share our languages, our traditions, and our truth? It was the Internet that gave consumer advocates, web experts and media justice advocates the power to stop SOPA and PIPA from seeing a vote. That power to catalyze change is precisely the quality of the Internet that proponents of this legislation seek to eliminate. We ask that you write your Congressperson and Senators and tell them to leave the Internet open and free…with media and justice for all.
Hakim Bellamy is the Strategic Communications Director at Media Literacy Project