Ch 10: Race & Technology

Power Balance

Ruha Benjamin’s Catching Our Breath: Critical Race STS and the Carceral Imagination does an excellent job in discussing the many racial inequalities that can coexist with developing technologies. It was a point that was brought up before with AI face-scanning and criminal record analysis, but this particular argument is framed around the “proliferation and intensification of carceral approaches to governing human life.”

One quote that caught my attention was by Everett Hughes, who asked “Why didn’t sociologists foresee the explosion of collective action of Negro Americans towards immediate and full integration in American society?” He makes a strong point against sociologists who did not pay enough attention towards fights for racial equality. If sociologist want to study and understand how human society is developing, is this not an idea movement to keep track of? It was a pivotal movement in America’s timeline yet there are many details and moments that have not received the same recognition that other moments have. I’m reminded somewhat of Ruby Bridges and how she paved the way towards school integration. Yet many people tend to forget that her experience was not too far long ago as we imagined it was, it’s fairly recent in the grand scheme of things which highlights the lasting affects of racism.

One shocking statistic reads as “an estimated 83,570 excess deaths each ear could be prevented in the United States if this black-white mortality gap could be eliminated.” It’s absolutely heart-breaking when almost frequently we see on the news of situations like this. Officers were trained to uphold the law and protect citizens, yet so many of them can’t help but use excess force that seems very one-sided in situations. I’d rather not get too far into this as I have my own personal experience with this I’d rather not bring up, but it’s a statement that rings true of the racial inequality going on in our world. I think back to a previous class and remember that some federal judges use pre-approved crime measurement system that can be heavily skewed in minority’s perspective. It’s a situation that needs addressing because it can be reasonably done.

This racial inequality through the use of technology even extends to employment, which I’m positive a lot of us are aware of. Like “In 1999, the world’s largest insulation manufacturer was busily trying to limit disability claims in a class-action lawsuit brought by 15,000 asbestos workers, by drawing upon the long-standing belief among pulmonologists that racial groups differed in the capacity and the function of their lungs.” We’re all human regardless of our appearances, so why have the nerve to utilize stereotypes to deny benefits for employees? The fact that the skewed information was readily available to be used in a situation like this speaks volumes of the power balance that exists between and how it favors one side more.

Even worse with this was with Henry Davis, who was charged with property destruction because he bled on an officer. The fact that the rebuttal was dismissed and the article of clothing was deemed more important than the life of a man heavily illustrates the racial balance that still permeates today. It permeates because beliefs like that are allowed to grow in our society, and we cannot progress further as a society if we do not address many of these damning claims.

I don’t want my response to be filled with just racial issues, I also want to address that many of these issues can be tackled properly if the right channels and opportunities were utilized. Like the AI face-scanning module. It only works that way because the people programming it use white faces as the ‘norm’, when they can offer a wider spectrum of appearance so that it works better. Is there really a need for a ‘default’ appearance? There’s no such thing as the perfect human base so why bother trying?

As the article concludes with, “let us not inherit the blurred spectacles of the past. Instead, it is possible to build upon existing work at the nexus of STS and the carceral, sharpening our analytic tools with the assistance of critical race approaches to science and technology.” The more we discuss about topics like these, as others and our Netnarr class do, we can find better solutions to really advance as a society and not give into old improper power balances.

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