“GhettoTracker.com” : Technology, Race, and Place

Web developers created a site called “GhettoTracker.com” which PandoDaily yesterday called “the worst site on the Internet” for its thinly veiled racism.  The stockphoto of an uber-white family on the main page raised the question for at least one reporter if the site might not be satirical.

(Image originally at GhettoTracker.com – screenshot from PandoDaily)

When the site’s creator was asked whether the site was meant as satire, he gave the confusing answer:

“The only thing that’s satire is the name, and I’d classify it as more tongue-in-cheek. The functionality is very real and serious.”

The “very real and serious” function of the site can only be understood within the context of the (imagined) white family who would be threatened by a “ghetto.” Yet, the site’s supposed “ghettos” aren’t identified based on actual crime statistics, or any data, but rather they are determined by the site’s users and delineated by their prejudices. Yet, when people responded negatively to the site, the creator was reportedly “surprised.” 

In some ways, the developer shouldn’t have been surprised given the flop of the racist “Avoid Ghetto” app last year. Although, as Gawker points out, such a worldview would not be out-of-place in Silicon Valley, which has turned its disrupting gaze towards weeding out less fortunate members of society.

In the day or so since then, the URL has been redirected to “Good Part of Town,” and the stockphoto of the white family replaced with one of a black family.


(screenshot from Gawker)

The shift from “GhettoTracker” to “Good Part of Town,” along with the shifting iconography of white to black family, suggests a shift from race to class as the main signifier but is no less offensive for this shift.

As with the “Avoid Ghetto” app debacle of last year, this current eruption of racism disturbs the usual ‘colorblind’ discussions about technology. For a time, many leading scholars of technology assumed we were entering a colorblind techno-future.  That turned out not to be the case.

Rather than using Internet technology to “escape” racialized embodiment and spaces, human beings have continually invented new ways to reinscribe race on place and bodies.

Internet technologies like “GhettoTracker” are also revealing for what they tell us about the white fear of crime (part of the white racial frame) and the construction of so-called ‘bad’ neighborhoods. The reality is that “high risk” neighborhoods are most dangerous to those who are living in them, most often poor people, not the more affluent people who are driving through them. To the extent that race and class are mapped onto each other, technologies such as “GhettoTracker” will continue to appeal to their intended audience.