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How does technology mediate belonging in an era of both rising connectivity and xenophobia? The rhetoric of globalization would have us believe we are entering a new era of integration facilitated by advances in transportation and information technology, while racist populism is finding currency unseen since the Second World War. These perspectives represent very different views of how the world should work, and reflect one’s position and ability to navigate multiple, entangled systems of belonging, and the technologies making such movement possible.

We order our world with technology, in ways so mundane they escape detection without effort to separate representation of the world from the world itself. This is difficult because language itself is a sort of representational technology. Think of language as the software used in “hardware” (like stop signs or birth certificates) designed to order society. more...

Williams Response

Before the first word was written, Orange is the New Black was already fucked.

In an essay we posted earlier this week, guest author Apryl Williams refers to the 4th season of Orange is the New Black as a spectacle, comparable to the lynch mobs that used the destruction of black bodies as a form of entertainment. In her excellent post, Williams especially laments the lack of a trigger warning accompanying the graphic death of a key black character, one which unapologetically mirrored the 2014 suffocation of Eric Garner. Had there been black writers, Williams contends, things would have been different—she would have been warned instead of just “entertained.”

Williams and others critique the writing decisions that played out in Season 4 and attribute the season’s missteps to a very white writing crew. Indeed, by Isha Aran’s careful calculation, exactly zero black people have been involved in writing Orange is the New Black across its 4 seasons.

Undoubtedly, Williams is right that the series, and the 4th  season in particular,  would have been generally better, and also more carefully written and produced, with a racially diverse staff. The issue of racial representation in the writing room is one that pervades the popular media industry, and Orange, a show about prisons that tells stories about race, is a cautionary tale. Rather than reimagine how much better the season could have been with the inclusion of writers of color, however, I think the critique of a whitewashed profession and industry stands strongest when we table the quality of the writing altogether. Because even if Orange is the New Black Season 4 had been the greatest story of our time, it would remain, unacceptably, told by the wrong people. more...

Redlining

Redlining refers to the racist policy and/or practice of denying services to people of color. The term was coined in the 1960s by sociologist John McKnight and referred to literal red lines overlaid on city maps that designated “secure” versus “insecure” investment regions, distributed largely along racial faults such that banks became disproportionately unwilling to invest in minority communities. In turn, realtors showed different, more desirable properties to White clients than those they showed to clients of color, thereby reinforcing segregation and doing so in a way that perpetuated White advantage. Redlining was outlawed in the 1970s but its direct effects were intergenerational and versions of redlining continue to persist.

Versions of it like this: more...

Snapchat_blackface1

Outrage over the Bob Marley Snapchat filter was swift following its brief appearance on the mobile application’s platform on April 20 (The 420 pot smoking holiday). The idea of mimicking Bob Marley in appreciation of a day dedicated to smoking marijuana enabled users to don the hat, dreads, and…blackface!? News outlets that day covered the issue pretty quickly. CNN.money and The Verge noted the negative reactions voiced on social media in regard to the filter. Tech publisher Wired released a brief article condemning it, calling it racially tone-deaf.

The racial implications of the Bob Marley filter are multifaceted, yet I would like to focus on the larger cultural logic occurring both above and behind the scenes at an organization like Snapchat. The creation of a filter that tapped into blackface iconography demonstrates the complexity of our relationship to various forms of technology – as well as how we choose to represent ourselves through those technologies. French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote in The Technological Society of ‘technique’ as an encompassing train of thought or practice based on rationality that achieves its desired end. Ellul spoke of technique in relation to advances in technology and human affairs in the aftermath of World War II, yet his emphasis was not on the technology itself, but rather the social processes that informed the technology. This means that in relation to a mobile application like Snapchat we bring our social baggage with us when we use it, and so do developers when they decide to design a new filter. Jessie Daniels addresses racial technique in her current projects regarding colorblind racism and the internet – in which the default for tech insiders is a desire to not see race. This theoretically rich work pulls us out of the notion that technology is neutral within a society that has embedded racial meanings flowing through various actors and institutions, and where those who develop the technology we use on a daily basis are unprepared to acknowledge the racial disparities which persist, and the racial prejudice that can—and does—permeate their designs. more...

Polling

Horse-race style political opinion polling is an integral a part of western democratic elections, with a history dating back to the 1800’s. Political opinion polling originally took hold in the first quarter of the 19th century, when a Pennsylvania straw poll predicted Andrew Jackson’s victory over John Quincey Adams in the bid for President of the United States. The weekly magazine Literary Digest then began conducting national opinion polls in the early 1900s, followed finally by the representative sampling introduced the George Gallup in 1936. Gallup’s polling method is the foundation of political opinion polls to this day (even though the Gallup poll itself recently retired from presidential election predictions).

While polling has been around a long time, new technological developments let pollsters gather data more frequently, analyze and broadcast it more quickly, and project the data to wider audiences. Through these developments, polling data have moved to the center of election coverage. Major news outlets report on the polls as a compulsory part of political segments, candidates cite poll numbers in their speeches and interviews, and tickers scroll poll numbers across both social media feeds and the bottom of television screens. So central has polling become that in-the-moment polling data superimpose candidates as they participate in televised debates, creating media events in which performance and analysis converge in real time. So integral has polling become to the election process that it may be difficult to imagine what coverage would look in the absence of these widely projected metrics. more...

DroneNick Bilton’s neighbor flew a drone outside the window of Bilton’s home office. It skeeved him out for a minute, but he got over it. His wife was more skeeved out. She may or may not have gotten over it (but probably not). Bilton wrote about the incident for The New York Times, where he works as a columnist. Ultimately, Bilton’s story concludes that drone watching is no big deal, analogous to peeping-via-binoculars, and that the best response is to simply ignore drone-watchers until they fly their devices away. With all of this, I disagree.

Drone privacy is a fraught issue, one of the many in which slow legislative processes have been outpaced by technological developments. While there remains a paucity of personal-drone laws, the case precedent trends towards punishing those who damage other people’s drones, while protecting the drone owners who fly their devices into airspace around private homes. Through legal precedent, then, privacy takes a backseat to property.

Bilton spends the majority of his article parsing this legal landscape, and tying the extant legal battles to his own experience of being watched. He begins with an account of looking out his window to see a buzzing drone hovering outside. He is both amused and disturbed, as the drone intrusion took place while he was already writing an article about drones. He reports feeling first violated and intruded upon, but this feeling quickly fades, morphing into quite the opposite. He says:   more...

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This is the year of #BlackLivesMatter. In response, it is also becoming the year of White Supremacy. It’s not that Black Lives didn’t matter before, nor that Whiteness didn’t reign supreme. Rather, dramatic and highly publicized incidents of violence against Black citizens by those charged with protecting them have created a cultural dynamic in which the value of Black Lives and the respondent assertion of White Supremacy, have reached a point of articulation.

When you clean house, the roaches emerge. As a nation, we are cleaning house, finding and scrubbing out the blaring and hidden spots of racism, many of which have seeped deep into the layers of our social fabric. A White Supremacist presence is therefore unsurprising. The Supremacists wriggle out in defense of their comfortable home that the elbow grease of mobilization threatens to upend. They are gross but expected. However, their pervasiveness and seeming capacity to garner sympathy, is less expected. more...

 Front page of one of Columbia’s local papers the day after the resignations
Front page of one of Columbia’s local papers the day after the resignations

The story emerged for me two Thursdays ago, when a colleague at the University of Missouri, where I work, asked if I wanted to accompany her to find a march in support of Jonathan Butler, a graduate student on hunger strike with demands that president Tim Wolfe resign over his inaction towards racism on campus. We encountered the protest as it moved out of the bookstore and followed it into the Memorial Union, where many students eat lunch. This was the point at which I joined the march and stuck with it across campus, into Jesse Hall, and finally to Concerned Student 1950’s encampment on the quad where the march concluded. Since then I’ve been trying to read up on what led up to this march, sharing what I find as I go. This task became much easier after Wolfe’s announcement on Monday that he would resign, and the national media frenzy that followed. At first, however, learning about the march that I had participated in proved far more difficult than I expected. more...

FBI director James B. Comey’s recent comment that police scrutiny has led to an uptick in violence is a villainization of #BlackLivesMatter activists. I rerun this piece as a response to Comey’s position.15407587706_6f3ccf86c2_z

 

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me…It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. Then too, you’re constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision…It’s when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it’s seldom successful… ~Ralph Ellison (1932), Invisible Man

In what follows, I argue that the Black Lives Matter movement is a hacker group, glitching the social program in ways that disrupt white supremacy with glimpses of race consciousness. It is a group that combats black Americans’ invisibility; that “bumps back” until finally, they are recognized.  As Ellison continues:   more...

African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.
African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.

Towards the beginning of Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo sits with Kublai Khan and tries to describe the city of Zaira. To do this, Marco Polo could trace the city as it exists in that moment, noting its geometries and materials. But, such a description “would be the same as telling (Kublai) nothing.” Marco Polo explains, “The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet.” This same city exists by a different name in Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. It’s protagonist, Julius, wanders through New York City, mapping his world in terms reminiscent of Marco Polo’s. One day, Julius happens upon the African Burial Ground National Monument. Here, in the heart of downtown Manhattan, Julius measures the distance between his place and the events of its past: “It was here, on the outskirts of the city at the time, north of Wall Street and so outside civilization as it was then defined, that blacks were allowed to bury their dead. Then the dead returned when, in 1991, construction of a building on Broadway and Duane brought human remains to the surface.” The lamppost and the hanged usurper, the federal buildings and the buried enslaved: these are the relationships, obscured and rarely recoverable though they are, on which our cities stand. more...