At first, I was equal parts irritated and confused. My Instagram posts swarmed with cryptocurrency traders marketing themselves. They made claims of astronomical bitcoin profits. I’m the first to admit that as much as I like to play on social media, I am very much an analog Generation Xer. So I decided to do a bit of digging into the decentralized digital currency that is bitcoin. I didn’t get it.
Now I’m starting to understand. These traders claim that they are particularly skilled at making decisions on a daily basis about the market value of digital assets, and they promise high profits. I also noticed that there seems to be a Black-targeted crypto arena on Instagram and that Black people are investing in cryptocurrency at a higher rate than others. In addition to the barrage of messages underneath my posts, there are people I know in the flesh who have implored me through Instagram messaging to sign up with their traders. I believe they are well intentioned, but I haven’t ever heard them talk about how high-risk and speculative crypto is, or how volatile, which means it is easier to become ruined than rich through it.
I do understand the particular appeal of crypto to Black people. It promises an accessible form of investment and wealth production, one that likely seems especially attractive to people who have been historically excluded from investment because of both racial discrimination and economic vulnerability. The idea of getting rich quick on crypto might seem like it could turn the tables on race and wealth.
And boy, does it feel like those tables must be turned. It is well understood by now that social media is a site of cultural extraction when it comes to Black people. African American dance, music, and speech patterns are globally popular and therefore lucrative on social-media platforms. And both performers and media companies get ideas from the content created by Black users.