I Can’t Breathe…

Ruha Benjamin from Princeton University discussed a sensitive but unfortunate reality that has become more real now than ever before. Science and technology is at an all-time high now, especially with the constant innovations of various technologies being used to understand humans better. But the question arises, are these creations helping or hurting the society it’s being made for and becoming part of? Her article Catching Our Breath highlights the studies of science and technologies with critical race theories and its contribution to examine the encouragement of “carceral approached to governing human life.” Carceral…that’s a heavy term to use, don’t you think? Benjamin is comparing regular human life to a jail or prison. But with the way technology is being used to unjustly define people, it’s no wonder that humans are living in an emotional jail of their own.

Medical gadgets and parts are being taken advantage of by designers who have their biases and refuse to “leave at the door” when working professionally. They can be discriminatory. The biases and personal values of the designers are reflected in their work, becoming a punishment for the black people that need to use it. Benjamin specifically discussed the spirometer, a medical gadget that is used to measure the air capacity of the lungs. How much can you breathe in and release? Is it less than it should be, or are your lungs to its work to the extent it should be doing? Whatever answer it is, you better hope you are a white worker in that factory who will be using this because the spirometer will only be given to you most likely, if your skin color matches the one who designed the spirometer. Dark-skinned or black workers would have to get severe symptoms and really suffer in order to qualify to get checked by a spirometer. Sad, right? Sad is actually an understatement, because it shows me that those people have no conscious. They don’t care who suffers, as long as they get to choose to suffer longer than they should.

Or let’s take this to Henry Davis, a black man that was wrongly identified by police officers and was beaten mercilessly. But there was a problem, because he was the one who was charged with a case. Shouldn’t it be the other way? No, because the judge and court system chose to reflect their biases openly and publicly, without being reprimanded and deal with the consequences of accepting racism. Davis was accused of property damage because his blood dirtied the uniforms of the police who actually committed the crime. His blood…that was wrongly flowing charged him with property damage. Nonsensical, disgusting, despicable…and I can go on. The judge ruled that the police didn’t do anything wrong and portrayed the U.S. Constitution to be filled with prejudice. Unfortunately, the legal systems customize and manipulate the constitution based on their own views, warping the document to please the supposed user of it and falsely emphasizing that it supports their biases and not what it represents: the whole country.

Because of these biases and prejudices, Benjamin compared race to technology. But in this case, I would reword it as “racism.” It’s not race that is a problem, it’s the problem with race that gives birth to racism and its consequences. And she’s right; it is a form of technology. It is a software and platform that “causes premature deaths, parallel social universes and requires a constant upgrade and maintenance.” Society needs to regularly revisit their views and how the infrastructure represents those views not only to the rest of the world but to themselves. Benjamin also talks about the fatal flaws of risk-assessment tools used in legal administrations to assist them with finding and identifying criminals. However, it wasn’t doing its job of finding criminals. It was doing a different job of falsely flagging black defendants as future criminals, who were two times more likely than white defendants. Every form of technology used in medical, education or as shown here, the legal system must be neutral and do its job for the better, not to make things worse.

Benjamin concluded stating “Social inequality is legitimized by cultural mythologies about human difference.” Accuracy, validity, truth. Her statement is all of these. We create the stories based on personal and varied experiences, only for it to be a global truth as generations go by. Whether it’s the injustice done against Muslims, blacks, etc. science and technology need to use its knowledge and power to impact society in a beneficial way rather than discriminate and widening the race gap that is already struggling to close and has been struggling for ages. Changes better be made fast. The words “I can’t breathe” isn’t racist or discriminatory; anyone is capable of saying it. So let’s step up, and make sure each and everyone’s biases are filtered and cleaned when designing and dealing with science, technology and the real world.

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