THE BLOG
08/06/2010 11:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ice Cube Talks Diversity in the Digital Age

Given that just this week Comcast boldly declared that their proposed merger with NBCU would be easily approved by the government by the end of 2010 (with nary a tech-centric provision in their diversity initiatives which conveniently focus primarily on television channel creation), and reports of Google and Verizon cozying up to create certain "standards" outside of FCC input, I decided to chop it up a bit with legendary recording artist and successful filmmaker/television producer Ice Cube to get his thoughts on diversity in the digital age -- particularly as it pertains to the future of moving images via on-line and mobile phone platforms.

As the music seems to begin to slow a bit as mega-companies move around the chairs of digital partnerships and mergers, one can't help but ask if the result will be the same homogeneous, unbalanced rule from which legacy media still suffers. Who gets to partake, deal make, share, decide and generate what we are watching become legacy wealth machines that are essentially controlling the avenues to thought and image via digital avenues right before our very eyes? This is a particularly troubling question when one looks at the amount of diverse consumer dollars contributed which enables these giants to become the titans they are yet a return flow has been basically limited.

So Ice Cube, as a notable entrepreneur who continues to be at the forefront of integrating images of diverse people via innovative means and as one who has a better understanding of the digitally over-indexing African American than most in various tech-media ivory towers had a few thoughts to share:

Ice Cube as told to me: The Digital Gauntlet

Some of us as (recording) artists remember what it was like before when there were record stores and video stores. You'd go and maybe what you wanted was already even gone. [That experience] made you feel like entertainment was precious, and now I feel like a lot of entertainment is just free. This is how things are changing. But for me, Black and minorities don't seem to be there in this changing (digital) space yet -- that wave hasn't hit just yet where we have more execs and businesses in this game.

I'm not quite sure why. Maybe sometimes when you believe you have to go through the gauntlet of the industry to get there -- giving blood, sweat and tears (laughs) -- you may just decide it's not worth it. In reality, it may or not be [that tough]. On the other hand, the biggest hurdle for some [people of color] is the intimidation of the technology -- not consuming it but being part of distributing and controlling it. It's time for us to start to see ourselves on the other side of that fence. The tech generation right now seems to be more consumers. That's the way it's been in the past with us too for a number of reasons. That needs to change -- forget that bottom-up thinking.

But do tech companies have a responsibility to also create diversity inside as well as create partnerships? Sure. Naturally your biggest consumers (see Pew Research Center) should be represented in (or through) your company so that they can get what they need. It's just smart business; you want people to be satisfied. A lot of times what I think is happening inside these types of companies is there is that traditionalist and institutionalist school of thought. That's not gonna work in this new game.

And it's interesting to look at, for example, this NBCU-Comcast situation. Here's a (proposed) super-merger and almost no real regulations. Not enough questions are being asked, like, "what's the actual product at the end?", "what's the outcome?" And in the past a lot of these types of situations have leaned heavily on the white perspective. In my experience, when it comes to money - especially as the digital space heats up - people are not giving things out of the kindness of their hearts. That's why things like discrimination laws were put on the books.

Basically everyone is walking around today with a TV in their pocket thanks to phones. So we should be able to contribute to this new space. Otherwise, it's just a missed opportunity for everyone.