Acton Institute Powerblog

The Digital Divide And The Uselessness Of Race

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According to a report released this week by the Pew Research Center, the so-called “digital divide” between whites and blacks is slowly being closed by smart phones. Here are the key findings of the report:

(1) African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall internet use (87% of whites and 80% of blacks are internet users). At the same time, blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms.
(2) Overall, 73% of African American internet users—and 96% of those ages 18-29—use a social networking site of some kind. African Americans have exhibited relatively high levels of Twitter use since we began tracking the service as a stand-alone platform.
(3) 92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone.

While this may appear to be helpful information, the way the study is being reported tells us nothing about race. This type of data continues to feed the myth that the digital divide in this country is determined by a “racial wealth gap.” I am not convinced that there ever was a digital divide by race to begin with because the real digital divide in America is determined by class, not race.

If one reads the Pew report closely it becomes apparent that studying the “digital divide” along the axis of race is useless because there is essentially no statistical difference between access to the internet between blacks and whites when controlling the data according to income.

Young, college-educated, and higher-income African Americans are just as likely as their white counterparts to use the internet and to have broadband service at home. Some 86% of African Americans ages 18-29 are home broadband adopters, as are 88% of black college graduates and 91% of African Americans with an annual household income of $75,000 or more per year. These figures are all well above the national average for broadband adoption, and are identical to whites of similar ages, incomes, and education levels.

This is common sense, right? In fact, when the study does show any differences between races we see that, for those in the under $29,999 or less income bracket, blacks were much more likely to own any kind of cell phone, to use Twitter, and to own smart phones than whites. In the end, this study only tells us that those who have more money, regardless of race, have more access to technological resources. But didn’t we not already know this?

The ongoing saga of confusing and conflating race with class continues to distract us from the fact that economic liberty is a foundational determinant of access to opportunity. The progressive solution to this problem, of course, is the redistribution of income from those who earned it to those who did not while the more humanizing and empowering option is to foster a society people can create their own wealthy and mutually exchange it with others and thus use their income to buy the things they need. This is exactly how the wealthy live and this should be the type of environment where all races of people can freely participate so that economic injustice does not prevail.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.