Convened towards the end of April 2021, Archiving the Black Web (ATBW) was a virtual conference just after the one-year anniversary of a global pandemic that has had inequitable impact on the lives of Black folks. The intentions of the space were clear – “The Archiving the Black Web national forum is an urgent call to action to address these issues with the goal of establishing a more equitable and accessible web archiving practice that can more effectively document the Black experience online.” Shoutout to the producers of this space, Makiba Foster, ATBW project director, and (her ace) Bergis Jules, ATBW project advisor, and the rest of the team.
Originally conceived to take place in person, this forum was imaginative as it remixed what we’ve come to know as online gathering spaces. Centering Blackness authentically and Black collecting institutions purposefully, ATBW was ultimately the Blackest space one could even begin to hope for with its infusion of musical interjections and improvisations by the talented Lamar Harris aka DJ Nune. This conference was hip hop and jazz (cool, reflexive, and creative) which is always understood to have originated from testimonies of the blues. But nothing about ATBW was reminiscent of a sorrowful past. Panels were part kitchen table conversation, part reunion familiarity, and all brilliance. As an audience member, one was able to witness and be in community through discursive forms of knowledge dissemination and collective explorations that examined the unique space between web and memory work.
Being in that space made clear that documenting Black folks utilizing the web is necessary in preserving the 21st century’s manifestation of the Black tradition. Exploring Black folks’ agency and impact on the web seems particularly poignant right now as we’ve seen how Black creatives recently resisted the eternal pathology of “Blackfishing”. Blackness has been commodified in ways that disrespect our humanity and allow others to profit off our creativity. During Black music month, Black Tik Tok creatives engaged in a staunch refusal to create online content. Bearing witness to this protest and the commentary about it has me deeply introspective about the work we engage in to preserve the originators. A more recent radical undertaking has seen Black creatives successfully reclaiming their artistic outputs as evidenced by the recent triumph of Tik Tok creator, Keara Wilson. Our work will ensure that her story and others are preserved, rendering a more accurate history of how Black people’s audacious forms of movement require a particularistic lens and documentation.
Archiving the Black Web was the balm, turn-up, and energy my soul needed. If you don’t believe me – check to see who all was there on the virtual stage. It was a function. It was a (re)orientation. It was blackness. It was abundant. This convening was needed. For a profession that is #archivessowhite, with such recent numbers from survey participants in the Women Archivists Section/SAA Salary Survey of the profession being 3% Black and 88% white and eerily mirroring those same numbers from the A*CENSUS from 2004. As someone who is still unlearning the value placements inscribed to me at library science school, this space was a seminar on Black Archival Studies/ Black Digital Studies.
This convening demonstrated engagements and research possibilities that observe the intersection of the web and Blackness. The forum included panels on joy, scholarship, print culture, activism, and space making. I appreciated Meredith Clark’s questions to panelists about their personal memory relating to Black web historical moments – signaling the importance of witnessing and introspection. As a technology conference there was reference and use of online digital tools and a continued appreciation for analog. Kimberly Drew mentioned the tactile nature of publishing a book evidencing web culture, or the Black press being the fullest archive of Black life (Paulette Brown-Hinds), or the individual tweet analysis approach of scholars in the first panel.
Multiple panels mentioned the importance of documenting the fullness of Black humanity. Scholars in the first panel, remarked on the tendency for research to address Blackness and technology from a deficit model under the guise of statistics about the digital divide. This space honored Black creativity and had a committed ethos to truly loving Black people. A love of Black people necessitates care and an understanding of the possibility of harm and belief in repair (Yusef Omowale). Yusef evoked Fred Moten and reminded the audience that “for us our understanding is that we are willing for the archive to burn. That the archive is not what is precious, our lives are precious.” Syreeta Gates’ brilliant framework of memory work as a flower business to demonstrate reverence and appreciation to honor folks and their legacy.
Archiving the Black Web created a space for fellowship and mission alignment. It demonstrated the opportunities before us and the importance of Black stewardship, love, and care in web archiving. With acknowledgement that this will take resources, skills, and developed expertise. The task is mighty before us, yet we must remember web archiving is not meant to be done alone (Zakiya Collier) and the importance of each of us taking a corner (Makiba Foster). With all the gems I am taking with me from this space, I will commit to determining which corner I will tend to and steward.
Andre Brock cited the powerful poem, Technology and Ethos by Amiri Baraka in the opening panel reminding us to recall the power of this piece. Baraka’s words are clear, “creation powered by the Black ethos brings very special results” and this is the essence of what we experienced about who we have always been, who we are and who we will become.
Archiving the Black Web yielded special results and gifted us with an energy renewal of epic proportions. I am still basking in the glory of the art of replay as it lives where it should on the stage of the world wide web – the vibe check is clear – the audacity, boldness and unapologetic stance of centering Black collective institutions pays homage to the ancestors and charts our course for the future. We can give ourselves even more by returning to spaces and gathering our truths, quilting them together and stitching our proverbial Black ethos through the intersections of our work as memory keepers.
Our spaces centering Blackness replenish us in ways that are irrefutable. Archiving the Black Web is now firmly grounded and rooted in the cultivation of the joy and resistance we find in being memory workers giving us permanence in the power of what we can yield together. We know intuitively that our work thrives on our connections with one another, and the archive reflects how humans process and gather information. We are keepers of the culture and our ability to be capacious in our understanding of what should be valued ensures that stories told in the future will always include us. May we continue to bear the fruit of our labor. Asé.