Blackbird: Segregation makes a comeback

Is it a good idea to have 14 percent of the U.S. population separate itself from the rest, even through a browser?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

I tried to ignore Blackbird, the new African-American-geared Web browser based on open-source Firefox, but I can't. The more I think about it, the more the very idea behind it agitates me.

Ed Young, the CEO of 40A, the company behind Blackbird, argues that the browser "isn't about exclusion, but rather inclusion," but it's hard to guess at who, other than African-Americans, are intended to be included in a service that Ars Technica describes as follows:

For the most part, Blackbird works like Firefox 3 and most other browsers, and Young says that everyone is invited to use it. But when using Blackbird's built-in search box, results will skew towards African-American news sources and blogs, again, in an effort to highlight those resources for the community. A search for "Barack Obama" in Safari's search box, for example, will bring results like BarackObama.com, Wikipedia, and Chicago Tribune. But the same query in Blackbird's box will return results from AOL Black Voices and blogs.bet.com.

Separate but equal? Or separate and misguided? Or both?

I'm sorry, but this feels like reverse segregation. I'm not at all concerned about being excluded from this, but I am concerned by groups of people - especially those, like the African-American population, that constitute as much as 14 percent of the U.S. population - partitioning themselves off from the rest of society.

True, through RSS feeds and other means people already largely filter their existence. I read the Wall Street Journal (not The New York Times), Arsenal blogs (not Chelsea or Manchester United), technology publications (not arts and crafts magazines), etc. Somehow, however, and perhaps wrongly, I view these as less indelible as race. Something about having a race of people want to filter out the rest of society strikes me as wrong, and a big step backward.

Since Brown vs. Board of Education the U.S. has prided itself on being an inclusionary people, however imperfectly we manage this at times. We just elected the first African-American president, in direct confrontation with our history as a slave-holding nation.

Why would any African-American want to risk a reverse, however slight, on this progress by returning to a segregated world or, rather, browser view of the world?