Dear Black America: stop accepting equitable and demand equity

by Khalid Rudo Smith,
Words in black

For some time, we’ve all been holding our breath as a tech billionaire who previously made questionable moral compass attempts has bought Twitter – one of the most important free speech platforms on the planet.

Many, especially in the black community, have seen far more hate speech, censorship and online activity with real-world impact. But with little or no control over a billionaire or government regulators and little or no equity in the institution that affects us so much, we’ll just have to watch and see.

Without justice, blacks must protest, request, trust, or teach others to remove barriers to our pursuit of happiness. Although this stock industry has seen a boom in recent years, we cannot afford for this to remain our primary strategy and expect anything but the sluggish cycles of progress and setbacks that have made progress that can only be measured in terms of generations.

My parents worked in equity. My grandparents worked in equity. I don’t want my grandchildren to know what stock work is.

The irony is that “Black Twitter” is a healthy and active community that is arguably valuable as a center for culture and creativity — and that’s what makes the platform so relevant. But there is almost no discussion that Black Twitter en masse is deciding to take their culture and creativity to another platform of their own choosing or creation.

That’s the problem I’m interested in: How the black community addresses the issue of not having justice in the institutions that shape our future.

In my work as a community builder and facilitator of communities focused on innovation and justice, I have been lucky enough to engage leaders who are building the future with questions of ethics, access or justice. In each case, the well-intentioned entrepreneurial leader made a solemn pledge of fair conduct and pointed to their user agreements and privacy policy.

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So if Black Twitter is going to accept what it can’t change (who owns Twitter), then we should change what we will accept. Equity is ownership. Justice is a policy. Possessing justice means having the power and agency to pursue options that ensure one’s survival and safety and are consistent with one’s aspirations. Justice is the power to set and change policy.

A Twitter board with a significant portion of Black ownership might have had a very different discussion when considering the offer from Mr. Musk – or anyone else. We cannot continue to accept that a company will act in ways that are fair to us when unfairness is always a management decision away.

The black community should focus on building equity in the entities that shape the future. And yes, I realize that it might just take a revolution.

Fortunately, there is a social, cultural and economic revolution happening right now known as web3.

Powered by cryptocurrency and blockchain, Web3 enables new organizational structures that allow communities to form and operate without centralized control and share in the collective economy of their efforts. This is not the hype train of slapping metaverse on your company’s earnings report and has nothing to do with the price of cryptocurrency. Like web 1.0, we’ll have to sort through pet dot coms, gateways, and myspaces before the Amazons, Apples, and Instagrams arrive. But they are coming – the revolution is inevitable, but it will only be revolutionary if developers, consumers and contributors are conscious of demanding real equity.

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Our current age, Web2, has been marked by the emergence of huge platforms where the biggest capital investors are communities of users with no equity to speak of. Think: Uber owns no vehicles, Facebook creates no content, Alibaba and Amazon barely touch inventory, and Airbnb owns no real estate.

On each of these platforms, it is the community that truly creates value. A few creators or super users benefit from money, but for most users the platform is extractive. Concerns about security and privacy are managed with promises of fair outcomes and “not being evil,” and concerns about historical injustice that they may have the opportunity to right generally fall on deaf ears.

The revolution of Web3 starts with the community coming first and ahead of the company and the product. Society determines what it will do, how it will make decisions, all the jobs it must do to be successful, and the compensation for each of those jobs. Future equity is established when members write the rules that will award additional equity to those who help the community succeed.

Web3 does not enable better ways for users to rent a spare room, keep in touch with friends or self-publish. Web3 is a revolution in ownership and participation in who gets to set the rules, who gets to ask for fair results, and who has inalienable rights to equity from the start. The strongest communities with the most passionate users will create the most attractive incentives and be the winners of Web3.

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Much has been written about how Web3 will or will not be an elimination of inequality, and I agree with both sides. Black entrepreneurs need to be represented in the communities that launch Web3 companies and be present as companies figure out how to fairly reward the creative class and other groups more likely to be Black with equity for their contribution.

A community-first approach to securing a place in the future for all starts with building a black community dedicated to justice through innovation. And yes, I mean black leaders, not leaders of color or BIPOC or women and minorities. There are already communities of Black leaders who are thoughtful, humble, and have a track record of dedication to their neighborhoods and uplifting other people. Likewise, there are communities that support pioneering entrepreneurs of color.

But because the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, these groups have the opportunity to meet and experiment with new forms of cooperative and collective innovation. Why can’t we build institutions that are collectively owned and dedicated to our collective good?

Together, we can have such an impact on the future that one of our collective and greatest ambitions is within reach. Our grandchildren may be able to follow their dreams uninterrupted and be free from having to confront any vestiges of systemic inequality. They may be able to tap into their God-given talent and pursue happiness, however they define it. This is the future we are building.

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