Well, it’s been quite the week in every which way so far! Between the developments in the worlds of the Mets and Devils and the macrosystems of the MLB and NHL, and not to mention the personal milestones I hit this week, I feel like I’m in a never-ending game of Twister, and oh would you look at that my left hand needs to go to green! So, this week is going to be shorter. Nevertheless, I’m going to compartmentalize all of that (for now at least), ask that everyone tune into the glorious “Everybody Wants You,” by Billy Squier, and without any further delay, let’s foot-tap and run through Ruha Benjamin’s “Catching Our Breath: Critical Race STS and the Carceral Imagination.”
Benjamin seamlessly weaves together the threads that tie science and technological studies (STS) with critical race theory by highlighting examples that seem to run parallel to events we see today in the news. My initial thought on my cold, first-read through was: She says Eric Garner; my TV echoes George Floyd. Both could not breathe, and both came to the forefront of massive social justice movements. I’m thankful that in this course, we don’t shy away from those tough conversations and reflections that make for a more conscientious and progressive mindset. Seeing how Benjamin was able to even situate such a monumental moment in contemporary history in this setting, and do so in such a way it harkened to other events made the wheels in my head turn and wonder; who’s next? And how is tech going to synthesize their existence with pre-existing stereotypes?
Beyond this, however, Benjamin brings up the unique idea of technology as a metaphor for race and an exacerbator and gatekeeper of inequality. Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised to hear how technology is being used in a carceral sense when pertaining to prison, since I still remember testing out and reading the research yielded by this study, which was less than encouraging. (I challenge you to test it out yourself, and see how you score and what you learn!) This study looks at the flip side of the coin Benjamin examines; instead of seeking the rationale for risk assessment from professionals, it examines what goes through the minds of everyday folks like you and me. How can we learn from all of this? I don’t have the answer myself, but it’s something I marinate over quite often; has ignorance been complacency in this scenario? Moreover, there’s something about this carceral bias that I think we can see at work in this remote work and education setting. There are all these “projected outcomes” for productivity, potential grades, etc. but factored into all of this, there’s barely any attention paid to the human element; the fact that people can do unpredictable things. Yet, the more we push these standards onto workers and students, the more adherence there is. That’s carceral in a sense; being forever trapped in the charcoal space between I don’t agree with this and know something is wrong and But I can’t do much about it.
I also can’t say I was too surprised to see that there is a carceral angle to healthcare thanks to technology; I’ve heard my brother lament multiple times that it’s egregious how many questions on medical board certifying practice exams always have “in-your-face” answers that anyone could just inference based on the ethnic or socioeconomic status given about the mock patient. This is a highlight of how systemic things can be; apparently, the rationale for these sorts of questions is to serve as a reminder that “there are indeed certain illnesses that strike specific racial or ethnic groups more than others.” But, when these are the only questions where they are featured, for the most part, that’s a problem, no? The question of biometrics and race being imposed on a person is also a conversation starter; we know that AI is biased against people of color, as evidenced in the TED talk from last week, but what are the long term effects on the person being discriminated against, other than a double consciousness like W.E.B. DuBois’ theory suggests?
Policy changes are just the bare minimum that is needed to take something systemic and begin changing it from the bottom up, I’m going to offer you some optimism here, and it’s similar to what I said last week; if we diversify the teams behind the tech, there is a greater, and quicker potential for this positive push forward! There also needs to be an understanding that there are going to be new issues that arise over time, and we cannot allow ourselves to circle the drain and end up in this same spot yet again. Think of it as the roll bar on your car; it keeps you on track and reduces the effect of hitting potholes, but it can’t do everything for you, and it will break down over time. Policy is just a part of our vehicle forward!
There’s still a lot going through my mind that I just can’t articulate right now, but I’ll leave you be with this meme-ified tune and some of my best six-word stories on Twitter from the past week. (Captions provide some context and some snark!) Over and out, cub scouts!