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Weapons of Empowerment: How the Marginalised are Altering the History of Media

Technological advancements allow marginalised groups to construct spaces for themselves as creators, not just consumers.

Note: This is the full version of the article found in our October 2020 print edition.

Ever since mass media was popularised by the newspaper four centuries ago, media outlets and governments held most of the control. Print dominated; the media produced; the public consumed, and censorship prevailed. Recently, however, constraints and censorship have been rapidly declining. The birth of the World Wide Web carried the media into its new online dimension, opening up a stream of easily accessible resources to many. Gradually, free outlets for creative expression have been popping up. For far too long, people of colour struggled to be heard due to a lack of access; yet now, technology and its easily accessible resources have allowed them to weaponise the media in calling for change.

The advent of technology simultaneously introduced new avenues for social change. New forms of media such as film, radio, and podcasts, began in the late 19th and early 21st centuries, whilst traditionally printed forms of writing started to go digital. However, it was the normalisation of the internet within common households during the 2000s that provoked a rapid change. Social media platforms — Facebook, YouTube, Twitter,  Instagram — started to rise, encouraging users to post content, share their lives, and vocalise their thoughts. The year 2020 proved such platforms as being incredibly powerful mediums in battling racism at the Black Lives Matter protests spanning the summer of 2020. Twitter especially served as a platform to share opinions, to “cancel” or to expose others, bolstering one’s sense of freedom of speech. Over time, more and more websites that enabled users to create free content emerged; the average person is now able to express themself and create artworks through a multitude of effortlessly accessible online outlets — such as we, here at Diaspora Speaks, do. Those previously relegated to the status of a consumer now possess the ability to be creators.

Creating a blog or digital magazine and hosting an entire website costs little-to-no money at all. WordPress is a prime example of a service offering free content hosting: in fact, it is stated on their website that 38% of the web is built on WordPress. So what does this all mean exactly? Amaliah (co-founded by Nafisa Bakkar and Selina Bakkar) is a media platform dedicated to personal aesthetic content creation by and for Muslim women. Likewise, gal-dem (founded by Liv Little) is an independent magazine produced by women of colour and non-binary people of colour for anyone interested in diverse topics. Marginalised communities have in their hands a tool with which to promote change.

Those previously relegated to the status of a consumer now possess the ability to be creators.

Film, as a newly-innovated medium, was not only built with technology but also developed with it. Movies and series in the film industry have traditionally been dominated by Hollywood and other blockbusters. The video streaming platform YouTube, however, changed it all. From lousy phone clips and fun music covers (that I may or may not have dabbled in myself) to beauty vloggers exposing racist fashion apps, it’s a platform with endless possibilities. Relatively cheap modern cameras and fairly easy processes of filming, editing and uploading mean that many first worlders are able to partake. Take New Age Creators: they were a diaspora of young international filmmakers who began a YouTube collaboration channel together, posting on a regular schedule. Most of them are still continuing their film careers. Many YouTubers of colour have crafted successful careers for themselves on the site, such as Liza Koshy or “IISuperwomanII” Lilly Singh. One can create and showcase artistic content for entertainment purposes, for free, or for a commission, whilst simultaneously launching their careers.

Podcasts are the last and latest stop on this list to promote advancement. Having originated in 2004, podcasting is credited to Dave Winer and Adam Curry according to Wired. Podcasting is fun, easy, cheap and requires much less equipment than films do. You get to blabber on about whatever you want for as long as you want — granted people will listen to you, of course. People of colour all around the world have started to take advantage of this platform. For instance, Black, Brown & Wingin’ it is a podcast show hosted by Mica and Afsana, two young women of colour. They explore heavy issues such as university, identity, and multiculturalism. These young women are utilising podcasts to speak towards a larger socio-political agenda, educating as well as entertaining their listeners in the process.

Media outlets such as the ones aforementioned prove to be extremely important in today’s world. Despite massive progress in the past century, several issues still persist: racism; misogyny; homophobia; Islamophobia; ableism and so on. The dawn of free and easy technology allows people of colour to create their own platforms to voice themselves. Taking the stage — after what has been a literal eternity of discrimination — allows the marginalised to influence future generations to develop independent, unstifled, uncensored thought. The future of the media is finally being reshaped and we, people of colour, are carving out spaces for ourselves, rather than waiting for the white people in power to do what they will not.

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