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Black History Month: Young people’s experiences online

Published: 1st November 2022

Celebrated in October in the UK, Black History Month recognises the history and achievements of Black people worldwide.

It is a chance to reflect on and promote the contributions that Black people have made to our society, whilst projecting Black people’s voices and perceptions of the world today.

We spoke with Childnet Digital Leaders about the online experience for young people of colour, sources of inspiration, and the importance of “allyship”.

How is the online experience different for young people of colour?

The online experience for young people of colour depends on the platform.

If it is one in which an individual’s identity is undisclosed then there is not much difference, since everyone is equal – we have voices that are not altered due to our identity.

However, if background is disclosed then the online experience for young people can be different. This is because it can be difficult to find role models to relate to in areas like appearance and culture.

Even so, the online world is becoming a more diverse place with a wider variety of representation and so as a young person of colour it is a much more comfortable and inclusive place.

Exposure to racism

The ability to share experiences has led to people of colour around the world being able to appreciate and take part in elements of their culture which they did not have much knowledge on before.

For example, we see a massive appreciation for music types such as Afro beats recently as it has been at the forefront of most trends on TikTok, allowing it to reach a much wider audience.

Despite the positives of this, there is the issue of young people being exposed to blatant racism as the online world [can be an unfiltered] place.

People feel comfortable online expressing their harmful views as they believe everything is anonymous, not realising that this hurts the young users who come across these types of comments.

For example, after England’s defeat in the world cup, most social media sites were flooded with harmful views and slurs. Not only was this extremely cruel to the poor players who had to endure this (the youngest being 19), but it was extremely painful for young people of colour online who had to witness the abuse thrown at people similar to them over a small mistake.

What is something that inspires you online?

Currently, the exposure to more influencers from ethnic minorities is inspiring. Growing up it was virtually impossible to find people of colour with big platforms.

As a young brown person, this prevented me and many other young people of colour from even aspiring to enter the entertainment industry, from social media to Hollywood. Therefore, it has been exciting to see media and the digital world become diverse and representative of the many heritages.

On this point, I also believe that the online world has enhanced the voices of people of colour and has provided a platform on which everyone can voice cultures and beliefs, allowing people in all corners of the world to become more educated and aware.

As a result, although progress continues to be made, online platforms have made it possible for people of colour to be heard and acknowledged on the widest possible scale so far.

Breaking down biases

Although we do face many issues online, something that inspires me to actively keep trying to make the online world a better place is the appreciation and blend of cultures. Seeing people merge their cultures together and enjoy learning about each other is something that I love to see.

It shows a level of maturity as people are venturing outside their comfort zone to learn new things and become welcoming to different practices.

I feel like if we manage to make the online world a less hostile place, we will see more people willingly trying to learn about different cultures and break down their biases.

How can others be an ally online?

The responsibility is on the people to make the online world a more enjoyable place for everyone. How do we achieve that?

Well, it’s pretty simple: Be open to learning new things and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If we start asking more questions, we can start to move away from stereotypical views which are usually very harmful. Many people will be open to answering your questions and the internet is a wonderful place to research!

Also, I think everyone could benefit from being less defensive if someone corrects them on their behaviour. Don’t see it as an attack, they are just trying to help you and everyone else by eliminating harmful statements and viewpoints.

I do hope to see a positive change in the treatment of people in the online world as it would create a much friendlier environment.

Online world is the key…

Others can be allies online by encouraging respect and inclusivity online. It is crucial that we embrace the uniqueness of people, no matter their beliefs or identity, so that we can live in a kind and positive world – online and in person – where humanity comes before anything else.

Our use of the online world might just be the key to this!