As AI Advances, Here’s Why It’s Important To Break Down Dividers In The African Diaspora

Kwame Som-Pimpong
Written by Kwame Som-Pimpong
African Diaspora
As AI advances, the African diaspora is vulnerable to job displacement, yet the impacts are discussed in silos. How could this conversation look different? Image: “Black Panther” movie screenshot

The forces that unite us are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart.

Kwame Nkrumah

Much of what I have written in this column over the past few months has been focused on the technologies that are over the horizon, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence. Further, I have paid particular attention to the impact AI could have on Black folks and the role Black folks can play in shaping the future development of the technology.

In this piece, I’m going to pay particular attention to one of the key things that needs to happen for us to effectively shape the development of AI and other technologies. We have to reimagine what it looks like to address the challenges that Black folks face and move beyond trying to address them within the bounds of the U.S., African or Latin American countries.

The Black struggle in silos

McKinsey & Company, a leading consulting firm, recently released a report outlining the impact automation could have on the African-American community. The data are very concerning because they quantify just how many lives automation could negatively impact in our community if we don’t figure something out. 

“African Americans have one of the highest rates of potential job displacement when compared with other groups,” according to McKinsey. “While the Asian population has a displacement rate of 21.7 percent and the white population has a displacement rate of 22.4 percent, the African American population has a potential displacement rate of 23.1 percent, which is outpaced only by the Hispanic/Latino population displacement rate of 25.5 percent. While these differences may seem minimal, they translate to a potential loss of approximately 132,000 African American jobs due to automation by 2030.”

Last year, when I first started reading McKinsey’s work on African Americans and the future of work, a big question in my mind was this: What role does taking a lead spot play in addressing these challenges we face in the development of AI technology and connecting members of the African Diaspora?

This brings me to a recent report published by Oliver Wyman, another leading consulting firm, which indexes more than 100 cities around the world based on their readiness to handle the disruption AI will bring. The African cities that made the list were all at the bottom of the index — Cairo, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi, and Cape Town. You also had cities in South America with large populations from the African Diaspora on the bottom half of the list. Cities in the U.S. with large Black populations were in the mix with other cities, but the McKinsey & Co. report disabuses us of hopes that that preparedness includes Black folks. 

“We found that most cities do not address major societal changes driven by AI and other technologies. They focus on smart city developments and on opportunities, mainly ignoring or downplaying risks,” the authors wrote.

Around the world, you have members of the African diaspora who are slated to be extremely vulnerable to the advancing artificial intelligence. Yet these impacts are being discussed in silos. How could this conversation look different if we took a step back and looked at the rise of artificial intelligence? And what we do about it collectively as members of the African Diaspora?

We need to think beyond our boxes in the African Diaspora

Black people are 400 years into the journey of trying to figure out how to maximize our potential socially, politically, and economically in this world after going through the experience of the transatlantic slave trade. Over the course of this time, we have seen glimpses of our potential to close the gap when it comes to wealth creation; when it comes to governing; when it comes to shaping society. That said, we’re nowhere near where we can be. In too many areas, in fact, we are regressing.

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Considering this and the tremendous speed at which technology is shifting the playing field, it’s worth going back to the drawing board and breaking down the dividers we have allowed to remain between us.

What does this look like?

The exercise of breaking down the dividers is one that we will not complete in a short period of time. It will require an enormous amount of time and attention. So many Black people who have never been to Ghana will be in the country this winter. This is happening because of a concerted push to elevate the commemoration of the 400 years since the first enslaved Black person landed on the shores of what became the U.S.A. During this time, there will be ample opportunities for conversations to take place that hopefully open eyes to the shared struggle we face and how our connecting socially, politically, and economically could change the game. 

This is one example of the time and attention required to break these dividers down. The conversations that took place following the release of “Black Panther” fostered conversation around these dividers between us. Beyonce’s “The Gift” helped bring us a bit closer to one another. More points in time like these are what it will take to break down the dividers between us and focus on elevating our collective experience in this world. 

With the dividers gone, Black folks globally can take a holistic approach to addressing the challenges we face. Together, we can identify where our challenges are similar and different. We can merge our various worldviews to build new technologies, imagine new paths to wealth creation and shape policy solutions that we would not have been able to think up in our respective silos. I’m excited about what we can build together and will keep writing until we get a critical mass of folks doing this.

Kwame Som-Pimpong leverages relentless research, a knack for connecting dots, human-centered design approach, and effective communications strategy to help organizations realize their strategic objectives. Over a 10-year career, Kwame has supercharged grassroots political organizing efforts, assessed the effectiveness of U.S. federal agencies, managed an international program, founded a digital media startup, and advised government agencies on delighting their end-users. He earned a BA in Political Science from Davidson College and Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. He can be reached at kwame.som.pimpong@gmail.com.