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The African American Resource Guide to the Internet & Online Services

Author: Stafford L. Battle, Rey O. Harris
Publisher: New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996
Review Published: May 1998

 REVIEW 1: Collectively Reviewed

In The African American Resource Guide to the Internet & Online Services, authors Stafford Battle and Rey Harris collaborate to successfully organize a useful source that includes various ways to use technology. Battle and Harris point out that "people just can't wait to reach out and touch someone, anyone, and everyone," so the best way to fulfill their wishes is through the uses of the Internet. In order for this connection to occur, students must activate and plug into the new highways of the future, such as the Internet, which allows you to gain valuable and insightful information online. This book, although not without flaws, offers directions towards these new highways.

Chapter One: "The Internet and the New Black Power" [Camille Abrahams, Diallo Radway, and Jessica White]

The authors eloquently dedicate chapter one, "The Internet and the New Black Power," to informing African Americans of the need to acquire modified tools for social change which will foster the rise of the New Black Power, namely power through the use of the Internet. Battle and Harris extend the introduction into this chapter by providing the historical context of social change for Blacks beginning in the 1920s with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, leading right up until today's futuristic technology. They urge African Americans to get on the information superhighway, describing the New Black Power movement as one based on information and links to other blacks all over the world.

One particular section introduces some of the real advantages Black America can gain from getting online. It goes on to say that information exchange on the Net can help African Americans "locate jobs, promote political platforms, solicit buyers, train and educate, and help to form a unified voice." It goes on to add that Black America's use of the Internet will prove to be a matter of survival as we move into the future. Another essential feature of the chapter is the section on African American Online Publications about the Net. Some of the notable publications listed include Black on Black Communications (BOBC), an electronic newsletter that covers issues of importance to African Americans, The Afro-American Newspaper, Black Enterprise, and Emerge magazine. In a section on Black Community Networks the authors do an excellent job of introducing the benefits of community networks and how the Internet can be useful to even the most disadvantaged in our communities.

Battle and Harris conclude the chapter forecasting the creation of a "global black family," linked together by the Internet. They accomplish their purpose in that they show why and how African Americans and the New Black Power movement will benefit from getting on the information superhighway. However, a minor limitation to the chapter can be found in the list of Internet addresses where two of sites listed do not exist, namely YSB and Essence magazines.

Battle and Harris make an excellent necessary argument about the Internet and the importance it has to African Americans. It is true that Black people need to be online because it appears that companies and businesses, schools, etc. are leaning more and more in the direction of technological conquests. The authors claim that what can be gained from the Internet will enable the Afro-American community to be a viable entity and not suffering in social, economic and political marginilization. The need to be online is necessary because it allows Afro-Americans to involve themselves in each other, other cultures and the larger Afro-American community.

Battle and Harris use one fatal yet innocent tactic in attempting to reach the African American community. That flaw is the references to hip hop slang ("whoomp there it is") and cultural stereotyping ("a trunk full of gold Cadillacs") to get their point across. In many ways these statements alone reverberate a larger theme at work in literature like the African Guide to the Internet. It seems that African Americans only speak in such terms and or they believe that this is the way to get by the English language to which some African Americans can relate. It is rather disheartening to see the African Americans choose not to converse with one another without using cultural metaphors.

Overall, this chapter is an excellent introduction to rest of the book. It provides several reasons for the Black community to use the Internet and other online services. Once African Americans see the benefits of the Internet, it can open the doors of apprehension. The Internet is the wave of the future. With the increase in African Americans on line, it will be considered "the New Black Power Movement."

Chapter Two: "How to Use the Internet" [Memunah Khadar & Beatrice Pendleton]

In chapter two, "How to Use the Internet," Battle and Harris provide instructions and background information for using the Internet. The chapter begins with a brief history of the Internet. Next, it is broken down into three smaller sections: purchasing a personal computer, selecting a gateway, and starting to cruise. These sections discuss the emergence of the Internet and provide step by step instructions on how to use it. Further, the sections include gray boxes that contain key terms about the history of the Internet and how to purchase Internet equipment. The chapter also includes diagrams so that the reader not only knows what they are talking about, but also has a visual representation. At the same time, the chapter addresses African Americans' needs by explaining why it is so important to move along with the new technology that is emerging.

The use of modern everyday language makes reading this chapter a breeze. With the use of slang and examples that can be recognized by African Americans or those familiar with African American culture, Battle and Harris write in a way to make the process of learning about the Internet fun and not dry.

Still, even though the simplicity of the language and the detail are the best features of the chapter, it lacks several components. For example, it tells the readers about freenets, yet the name is the only piece of information given. There is no address or telephone number. This leaves the reader with little information about locating a freenet. Further, when the authors talk about locating a Web site, they only give two examples.

Chapter Three: "Black America Online" [Kassandra Kearse]

This chapter entitled "Black America Online" attempts to direct users to websites of particular interest to African Americans. Battle and Harris start by directing users to the websites of "organizations from the real world." Unfortunately, the only sites mentioned are the National African-American Leadership Summit and the National Urban League. I question the process the authors used to decide which organizations to profile. I was surprised to see prominent organization such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and National Council of Negro Women excluded from this section.

Battle's and Harris's treatment of the next section, online resources, was equally surprising. It was unclear what their intentions were in lumping together these particular Web sites. There was no apparent common thread other than the fact that they did not fit under the other subdivisions of the chapter.

The next section covered African-American owned Internet service providers. This chapter was well written and informative. It also fulfilled the authors goal of steering African American customers to Black owned businesses.

I was disappointed to see the lack of planning that went into this chapter. Part of the problem was the vague use of subheadings. If more appropriate headings were chosen perhaps Battle and Harris would have been able to truly reflect the diverse interests of African Americans. More appropriate subheadings such as political and economic, academic resources, social and professional organizations, charitable and non-profit organizations, performing and visual arts would have been more useful. As self appointed cyber tour guides, Battle and Harris should present a full and accurate view of organizations and African American life. The African American community is not monolithic and this should be kept in mind. The authors completely neglected historically important organizations like fraternities, sororities, and religious organizations. Overall, on a scale of 1-10, I would give this chapter a 5. While Battle and Harris had good intentions, I believe they fell far short and left the readers with more questions than answers.

Chapter Four: "Black Chat" [Renee Brathwaite, Kalisa Davis, & Tona Kester]

The Internet has improved communication possibilities tremendously. By accessing information electronically, individuals have the ability to gather information by entering a chat room or browsing Internet Web Pages. Chapter four, entitled "Black Chat," connects students to the services provided by the worldwide resources of the Internet and introduces them to ways they can interact with other individuals by the computer-- Internet, the World Wide Web, and Commercial online services. Each of these forms of communication are then broken into both delayed and real time interaction.

Battle and Harris effectively arrange the major themes revolving around the chat rooms, such as delayed and real-time forums, also known as electronic interactions. The layout of the chapter successfully uses a format that helps students to understand new and improved systems of technology. By highlighting the major topics and developing a well organized chapter, it is easy for students to grasp the concept of chat rooms. Battle and Harris provide a straightforward introduction to the different forums and bulletin boards so that students learn how and why the vehicle of technology is the wave of the future.

The instructions are illustrated and give the reader a better understanding. These illustrations are very helpful in gaining access to the actual pages where the chat rooms exist.

This chapter was very helpful in introducing information to individuals about interaction with others on the Internet. Through chat rooms, participants can exchange information. After reading this chapter, I used a chat room known as Microsoft chat, which connects to a variety of rooms. Once connected to these rooms, communication was easily reached. However, the title of the chapter, "Black Chat," is misleading since it also included other forms of communication. Consequently, the title of this chapter should of been more on the lines of "Computer Interactions."

Chapter Five: "Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions" [Ayeola A. Owens]

As its title suggests, chapter five, "Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions," discusses historically black colleges, universities and minority institutions. The purpose of the chapter is to provide a gateway of sorts for the African American community to begin searching and seeking information about colleges, specifically historically black institutions.

The chapter begins with a brief discussion regarding how far African Americans have advanced, and with the aide of technology they have come full circle. This particular chapter deals specifically with steps made technologically speaking to make headway educationally speaking. The book's authors show how historical black universities are using the Internet as a tool to inform and educate the African American community.

I felt this chapter was remarkably useful. The Internet is an excellent resource for those in search of information on historically black institutions. One of the most appealing attributes of the Internet is its updated data. Because of the shifting nature of the Internet. The authors make it clear from the start that some of the information is bound to change. However, the information they provide is extremely fruitful in beginning to research historically black universities. In some shape or form all the university Web sites I visited offered informative information and some went into considerable depth. Unlike conventional forms of transmitting information, the Internet offers a hands on approach. Aesthetically speaking, the Internet offers the user images to associate with the information they are receiving about the school. With this in mind, the authors of this book appropriately chose several sites that were aesthetically pleasing. After all, the first impression is a lasting one.

If I were seeking information on a college or university, this chapter would be very useful. As a lay reader, I found the information to be informative. However, as with any information produced via the Internet, it outdates itself rather quickly. This book is now two years old and a couple of the sites provided in the chapter have changed.

Chapter Six: "Doing Business on the Net" [Rodney Giddens & Onome Pela]

The overall content of chapter six, "Doing Business on the Net," is informative and interesting. The chapter gives general as well as specific details on the do's and don'ts of conducting business on the Internet. It also explains methods of buying and selling products on the Net, like the up and coming "E-cash." Battle and Harris include a section on advertising, noting the three terms to remember when putting money into your advertising: afford ability, visibility, and effectiveness.

The next section is perhaps the most important. It is entitled "Your Own Web Site" and informs the reader on what they need to know about having their own Web page. The chapter is useful because it teaches beginners how to create personal Web sites.

The chapter is not, however, without faults. First, although it lists a number of African American businesses on the Net, it fails to give their addresses. Second, it includes a lot of unnecessary information. For example, the last section, "The Microsoft Factor," is completely unimportant and merely describes Windows 95 and the NT operating systems.

Chapter Seven: "Reaching the Global Black Family" [Karen Ling Chestnut & Michael E. Street, Jr.]

The purpose of chapter seven, "Reaching the Global Black Family," is twofold. First, it gives you the impression that it is possible for you to be in touch with your ancestral roots in Africa without leaving your own home. Second, it suggests that you can play a major role in the modernization of Africa, as far as Internet access is concerned. As the book notes, Africa has a lot of problems as far as the technology gap is concerned. For example, "phone calls from one neighboring African nation to another have to be routed through Europe or the United States, which results in delays and lengthy interruptions."

The next major theme is that corporate infrastructures are willing to help link Africa to the rest of the world. In 1995, two organizations, the Global Information Infrastructure Commission or GIIC, and AT&T, made an effort to spearhead these sorts of projects. However, startling statistics about Africa's telecommunications still exist. For example, Africa has only 2 percent of the world's main telephone lines, despite having 12 percent of the world's population. In addition, over the last 10 years Africa has the lowest annual growth of "teledensity" (main phone lines per 100 people) of any developing region in the world, and the cost of installing a telephone in Africa is the highest of any region the world.

The remainder of the chapter gives brief information about specific Web sites, ranging from non-profit organizations such as The African Internet Development Action Team (AIDAT) to a consortium like The Africa Research & Information Alliance (AFRIA). There are even links to newsletters that keep you informed about the issues and concerns in Africa, colleges and universities that offer African Studies, as well as specialized Web sites that help to organize the people of color of the world.

Overall, this chapter was like an Internet for Dummies, in reference to Africa. It was very brief and to the point, however, it was also overly simplistic and optimistic. As if we can link all the people of color of the world. When, and if, we do link the people of color, that does not necessarily mean that we can get them all to go in the same direction. There is no way you can talk about Africa as one uniform entity. For example, in Senegal there are actually cyber cafes where you can walk into a room full of computers. There are also ten Internet provides in Senegal, most of which are private French corporations. In the case of Ghana, there is one Internet provider, who is a native entrepreneur and the people there were able to ward off private corporations.

The biggest misconception found in the chapter -- besides the fact that you feel as though you have these wonderful websites (although most of them are outdated) -- is that corporations are going over to Africa to help the people. The last time we checked we lived in a capitalistic society and when was the last time that a big corporation did something to help the people? We think that they participate when they have something to gain.

Chapter Eight: "Connecting With the Feds" [Tamara Hamilton & Laurice Smith]

Chapter eight, "Connecting with the Feds," seeks to make readers aware of available on-line links to the federal government. The reader will learn the e-mail addresses of the President and the Vice President, what federal web locator services are available for searches, how to connect to the Library of Congress, and how to contact House and Senate members. The chapter also gives a partial list of the government agencies that can be found on the Internet. Those included range from the White House to the Environmental Protection Agency to the United States Postal Service. Some of the other government sources that are discussed are the National Institute for Science and Technology, the US Department of Commerce Information Locator Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The chapter covers all the government departments that are highlighted in the introduction and more. It gives a very general view of all the on-line government resources without tailoring it to what may be of more concern to the Black community. This is not necessarily bad since all matters of government are, or should be, of interest of the black community but it leads to a lack of focus in what is meant to be a guide for African Americans.

The chapter helps accomplish the task of the book by showing the various on-line resources concerning the federal government, but the density of the chapter may serve to limit its effectiveness. So much information in so little space has the potential to be a little overwhelming and will definitely require more than one reading, especially if you are unfamiliar with Web travel. The information is presented but it is possible that many people will lose interest because the chapter tends to get a bit monotonous. One other shortcoming of the chapter is its tendency to list the names of agencies without explaining what the more obscure agencies are, and it fails to give the user explicit directions as to how to access the organizations. This chapter will probably be most useful for people who are already interested in the federal government on the Web.

The Appendix [Tiffany Johnson & Angela McAphee]

The purpose of the appendix is to give a list of public libraries that offer free or inexpensive use of Internet services. The essential features of this section are the names and city/state locations of public libraries that offer Internet use. Unfortunately, the names of the libraries are the only things listed. There is no additional information about contacting these libraries. As a matter of fact, the appendix suggests that readers use their local phone book for more information. It provides no information about cost, hours, or restrictions concerning the libraries.

As users of the index, we wondered to ourselves, "If we go to the Boston Public Library will we be able to use their services?" It may very well be possible that I have to be a resident of the state of Massachusetts in order to use the service. Battle and Harris went so far as to locate what library systems offer Internet services, yet they did not provide other meaningful information with it like the address or main library phone number. This appendix is of little use to anyone but the authors. We do admit, however, it gives the reader a starting point of knowing which public library institutions provide that service.

Collectively Reviewed:
Reviewed by the students enrolled in University of Maryland's Research Methodologies in African American Studies (Camille Abrahams, Renee Brathwaite, Karen Ling Chestnut, Kalisa Davis, Rodney Giddens, Tamara Hamilton, Tiffany Johnson, Kassandra Kearse, Tona Kester, Memunah Khadar, Angela McAphee, Ayeola A. Owens, Onome Pela, Beatrice Pendleton, Diallo Radway, Laurice Smith, Michael E. Street, and Jessica White) and edited by the course's instructor Jeanne McCarty and David Silver. 

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