COVID-19 Points to Newly Carved Digital Geography for Diasporas Beyond a Post-Colonial Categorization to Phenomenon-Categorization by Shayna S. Israel אנחנו
Notice the new freedoms--the relaxing of workplace strictures, bill pay deferments, loan repayment extensions, family-centered gathering, etc--and the new digital communities and online gatherings that have risen given the outpouring of compassion for those affected by COVID-19 and new public health concerns.
What will it bring long term...potentially?
I was struck by the connection between the eerie constellation of displaced lives, diaspora and geography overlayed by the scatter plot that is the digital-born life writing that formed across space and time in this new digital landscape. What happens to notions of diaspora given that we are now additionally recollected via Internet communities--particularly after such a phenomenon like a pandemic?
I just finished filling out the 2020 Census online (due April 1st) and pondered for a few moments about the racial categorization it used. [I am not going to go into the amount of time I spent slowly reading the cyber-protection clauses--since it seemed that there was a preference for doing the Census digitally rather than via paper ballot as a cost saving measure.] One section on the Census after having two distinct boxes for "White", "Black or African-American", had seven boxes for seven (7) groups of "Asians" proceeded by a box for "American Indian/Alaskan Native".
I thought to myself, "Wow, how does this make sense? If it was at least heuristically accurate, it would have three main racial sections and then have subgroups underneath. Plus," I continued to think, "We as Americans are really ethnic-based rather than racially-based, so if they really wanted to invent some boxes, focus on the sub-group boxes of ethnicity." I then saw at the bottom a box that said, "Some Other Race: Enter Race and Origin," as if it were a tiny space-opportunity of invention. I laughed! Nonetheless the Census is an infrastructural tool for collecting community data that would have implications for other kinds of socio-political reallocations and organizing. The stark thing here to notice is that the 2020 Census is explicitly digital.
Including the field of Internet studies in post-colonial categorization is crucial, in my opinion. I, however, am looking to the new realities of going beyond postcolonality that include ancestral realities and registers that take us categorizing people groups beyond colonizer and colonized. New registers of categorizing peoples that include the digital landscape and such markers as pandemic, plagues or sweeps of social isolation.
Going beyond postcolonality for me is important because that means making a "Sankofa-move" back to, potentially, more ancient geographical categorizations or moments of historical cataclysms as part of a larger phenomenon-categorization. Additonally, going beyond postcolonality could also mean moving forward into new ways we are gathering ourselves in the digital environ such as faith-based categorizations or Facebook group categorizations or local supermarket-based categorizations that have risen in response to being now globally marked post-COVID-19 onset. (I wouldn't truly go that far, as like I recently heard, "We have to be born somewhere," and, thus, geography and landscape still matter when coding for people formation and personhood. FYI, grocery stores have become a new market square for communal identification during COVID-19 enforced non-essential travel bans, as food and toilet paper are very essential. Many are considering grocery store workers "workers on the frontlines").
In "The Landscape of Digital Humanities," posted in the Digital Humanities Quarterly, Patrik Svensson talks about how the "computing humanities" focuses on building tools, infrastructure, standards and collections--or in other words the forums that emerge to host our digital-writerly lives. A New York Times article talks about how COVID-19 is showing us how to live online with mitigated conflict given the new social engagement tools and forums that have popped up in response, ie. "The Coronavirus Crisis Is Showing Us How to Live Online" by Kevin Roose. As a nation, a globe, we are experiencing a new form of life happening and life writing that changes the way we write and the rhetoric of communication, its procedures. What of the connection between life writing, communal infrastructure and, what I call, digitized personal archival practice such as posting one's scanned-in journals on a personal website? (See an example here).
Svensson identifies two types of digital humanities, albeit poorly defined, as (one) related to the intersection of computing tools that captures digital/digitized humanities-based works and (two) the study of what happens with these computing tools as cultural artifacts (Svensson 2010). An interesting place of inquiry can be a network analysis of referential relations through the economy of link sharing and link citations in blogs--as they publicize a kind of phileo-relation, a phileo-readership that signals back to a larger blogosphere. That phileo-readership could signal to a new way of communities re-inventing connections and ways to categorize themselves through and around disapora(s).
In the book, Displacement, Diaspora and Geographies of Identity (1996), ed. by Lavie and Swedenburg, there is the discussion about doing away with "old certainties" regarding the notion of an "immutable link between cultures, peoples and identities or specific places" (1). I think this is also an early place that showcases a desire to go beyond postcolonality in favor of new and unearthed ways of thinking and linking people groups.
Lavie goes on to cite Hall's notion of the "burden of representation" (Hall 1988) in discussing "the conflicting pressures" of "forced incorporations and forced exclusion" (75). Again, connect this to what I was sharing earlier about the new freedoms--the relaxing of workplace strictures, bill pay deferments, loan repayment extensions, family-centered gathering, etc--and the new digital communities and online gatherings that have risen given the COVID-19 pandemic. For, these new realities and extended possibilities point to the carving out of new social inroads to mass reorganization that then point to a larger cloud, an "ether-net" (all puns included) of connectivity and new possibilities for what counts as a sense of peoplehood, "my people-ness."
I am noticing fresh new opportunities to define identities beyond a colonial referentiality as, again, seen by the Facebook groups and activities that have risen to combat social isolation and that have responded to the desolution of learning communities in the wake of the COVID-related travel bans. [See the moving UNC Chapel Hill professor's (Baynes) syllabus response that seems to include a mourning for a once-shared space of in-person learning]. A study of the communities that clustered together during the COVID-19 enforced "social distancing" and the necessary forced closures of large community-corralling centers like colleges and universities, due the very imminent public health concerns, could be an interesting place of inquiry for those seeking to make their mark in the still burgeoning Internet studies and digital humanities field--as it relates to geography, spacial limitations and the digital testimonies in this new environ and the resiliency of ancient peoplehood categorizations.