Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Sunday, March 18, 2012
"High Tech" Racism
SXSW generated the usual smattering of stories this year about lingering racism in the geek subculture of American "high tech" as well as the usual compensatory smattering of digital utopians handwaving about how online networks and social software will make racism a thing of the past. I have little patience for the sort of boutique anti-racism the first sort of story tends to settle for and even less patience for the celebrations of passive net-surfing and targeted surveillance that the second sort of story tends to settle for, but what I find more frustrating still about all of these discussions is that so long as this is the sort of thing we are talking about when (very occasionally if at all) we talk about racism and "high tech" what we are NOT talking about are the ways in which "high-tech" is functioning as a catch-all term diverting attention from the complex realities of, say, communication, transportation, automation developments facilitating an outsourcing of jobs that have disproportionately impacted nonwhite labor and purchasing power and quality of life in the United States, developments that have created gulags of toxic, dangerous, stressful, stultifying manufacturing plants on the US-Mexico border and in Asia (a truth more important in its truth than the truth that Mike Daisey's embellishments provided the narrative through which many came first, and inexcusably late, to grasp the horror of that truth) in which, again, nonwhite populations are disproportionately suffering hells of exploitation and despair, and industrial-extractive-petrochemical developments that contribute their substantial and ongoing measure to catastrophic climate change yielding disruption, drought, flooding, water spoilage, changed insect-vector pandemics, and already mass refugee movements that, again, disproportionately impact women, children, nonwhite populations in over-exploited regions of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southest Asia. While it is interesting and important to talk about the racist impacts of digital divides in gadget usage, tech investment, or help-desk hiring and to do online ethnographies of hip-hop fandoms among grandmas of color on social networks and all the rest, it is important to grasp both the urgent reality and larger technodevelopmental forces rendering the "high-tech" picture actually catastrophically racist through and through.