When Roland Martin started college in 1987, he was already
proficient on a computer keyboard. Lots of other black students in
his classes, he says, were not. In fact, "There were a large number
of African-Americans who had never used a computer in their life,"
says Martin, news director for a Texas radio station. "They had no
idea their white counterparts were way ahead."
The discrepancy made an impression on Martin. Several years
later he's using his position at a popular Fort Worth-Dallas radio
station to bring computer literacy to the station's mostly black
audience. The station recently launched its own page on the World
Wide Web, as a way, Martin says, to educate listeners about the
"African-Americans cannot afford to sit back and allow this
technology to blow by them and then play catch-up in 10 years," he
says. "I don't want to see us left behind."
Over the past few years, minority voices in the United States
have expressed concern that their community's on-ramps to the
information superhighway might be blocked. Though studies have
shown race to be an insignificant factor in determining who is
computer literate, people with low incomes and education levels are
also less likely to have mastered mouses, modems and the like.
But Latino and black groups are paving new routes and
cultural-specific sites on the Net are thriving. Nonprofit groups
such as LatinoNet and businesses such as Black Enterprise magazine
have made it a priority to educate their constituencies about
Nevertheless, "equal" access to the World Wide Web and all its
resources remains a concern.
"The Latino population in the United States will have limited
access to the information superhighway," wrote LatinoNet's Armando
Valdez in an editorial last year. "The majority of Latinos don't
have the skills and training needed to participate in a work force
required by the new information economy."
LatinoNet, based in San Francisco, has provided technical
training and an online information service to Latino nonprofit
organizations since 1994.
"We are in a serious problem in America," adds George Cisneros
of DCCI, an Internet service provider based in San Antonio. "There
is a technology gap in America that is comparable to the literacy
gap that we experienced in the '50s and '60s."
DCCI, Cisneros says, attempts to take the fear out of the
interface. For new users, the company (whose subscriber base is 35
percent Hispanic) custom-creates "bookmarks," or automatic links to
sites a customer expres ses interest in. And users who find things
online that reflect their experiences and interests will be more
apt to come back.
"If people go out there and they don't find anything that meets
their taste, then, it's like, `Well, this isn't for me,' " says
Lavonne Luquis, president of LatinoLink.
Luquis and her partner, Max Ramirez, both former journalists,
created their San Francisco-based Web site in late 1994.
The site features, among other things, chat rooms, a job bank
and the syndicated columns of Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia
Gonzales. (A current selection in the commentary section: "The
Madness of the Macarena.") The text is mostly English, with some
articles in Spanish. …