Dear Black America: stop accepting equitable and demand equity

by Khalid Rudo Smith,
Word in Black

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

Many, especially in the Black community, have seen much more hate speech, censorship, and online activity with real world impact. But with little or no control over billionaire or government regulators and little or no equity in the organization that affects us so much, we have to watch and see.

Without equity, Black people must protest, petition, trust, or teach others to remove the barriers that prevent us from seeking happiness. Although this equity industry has experienced a boom in recent years, we cannot afford for this to continue to be the main strategy and expect nothing more than the slow cycles of progress and backlash that have only made measurable progress in terms of generations.

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

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

That’s the problem I’m interested in: How does the Black community address the issue of not having equity in the institutions that shape our future.

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

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So if Black Twitter has to accept what it cannot change (who owns Twitter), then we should change what we will accept. Equity is ownership. Fairness is a policy. Having equity means having the power and agency to pursue options that ensure one’s survival and safety and align with one’s desires. Equity is the power to set and change policy.

A Twitter board with a significant proportion 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 injustice is always one executive decision away.

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

Fortunately, a social, cultural and economic revolution is happening right now called the web3.

Powered by cryptocurrency and blockchain, Web3 enables new organizational structures that allow communities to form and operate without centralized control and share the collective economics of their efforts. This is not the hype train of slapping metaverse on your corporate earnings report and it has nothing to do with the price of cryptocurrency. Just like web 1.0, we will have to sort out the pet dot coms, portals, and myspaces before the Amazons, Apples, and Instagrams arrive. But they will arrive — the revolution is inevitable, but it will not be revolutionary unless developers, users, and contributors deliberately demand real fairness.

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Our current era, Web2, is marked by the rise of massive 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 all of these platforms, it’s the community that really creates value. A few creators or power users benefit financially, 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 injustices that they might have a chance to right generally fall on deaf ears.

The Web3 revolution starts with the fact that the community comes first and predates the company and the product. The community decides what it wants to do, how it will make decisions, all the jobs it needs to 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 terms of who gets to set the rules, who must demand fair outcomes, and who, from the outset, has inalienable equity rights. 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 a tool to eliminate inequality, and I agree with both sides. Black entrepreneurs must be represented in the communities that launch Web3 companies and present when companies figure out how to fairly reward the creative class and other groups that are more likely to be Black with equity for their contributions .

A community-first approach to securing a place for all in the future begins with building a Black community committed to equity 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 history of dedication to their neighborhoods and uplifting others. Likewise, there are communities that support innovative entrepreneurs of color.

But because the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, these groups have the opportunity to come together and experiment with new forms of collaborative and collective innovation. Why can’t we build organizations that are our own and are dedicated to our collective good?

Together we may have such an impact on the future that one of our collective and greatest aspirations is within reach. Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to pursue their dreams without interruption and be free from having to face any vestiges of systemic inequity. They may be able to leverage their God-given talent and pursue happiness however they define it. That is the future we are building.

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