Everyday Racism: First Mobile App to ‘Step into another Skin’

Racism happens in everyday encounters, in interactions between people.  Resistance to everyday racism happens everyday, too.  Now, there’s an app for that, too.

A new app for iOS and Android that enables you to expand your understanding of everyday racism by experiencing some of what it’s like in Australia as an Indian student, a Muslim woman or an Aboriginal man. The app, called Everyday Racism, has just been released this week and is available now for free for iOS and Android.

 

Everyday Racism App

The idea behind the Everyday Racism  game/education style app is that players are challenged to  live a week in ‘someone else’s skin.’

The app a joint initiative by national anti-racism charity All Together Now, the University of Western Sydney, University of Melbourne and Deakin University.  the University of Western Sydney, Deakin University and Melbourne University are behind this project and the content of the everyday racism app has been developed based on ground-breaking research in the field of racism and anti-racism. A group of 8 panelists from diverse ethnicities have been consulted to make sure the app would be based on real-life experiences of everyday racism in Australia.

How do you think you might use the app? Download it and let us know what you think.

Microsoft’s “Avoid Ghetto” App: Racism Built into Technology

Microsoft has developed and filed a patent for a new “Avoid Ghetto” GPS app. The app connects to your smartphone (or dashboard GPS) and let’s you know when you’re getting close to a neighborhood with high rates of (street) crime.

A story about this dreadful new technology appeared in this piece by Ross Kenneth Urken, who talked to a CUNY colleague of mine, Sarah E. Chinn, author of Technology and the Logic of American Racism. Chinn observes:

“It’s pretty appalling. Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods. I can’t imagine that there aren’t perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft, and rape in every area.”

Of course, Sarah’s absolutely right about this. (Strangely, The Root mentions her book, uses the same quote, but totally mangles attribution.)

Here’s the way this app is supposed to work, according to the white-fearful-of-crime-imagination (again from Urken):

On the other hand, consider how this app could potentially help wayward drivers in some cities. In Detroit, for example, the city has a central downtown from General Motors headquarters up Woodward Avenue to Ford Field and Comerica Park where comparatively little crime happens. But just a few blocks outside that area, and a driver can find himself amidst streets of abandoned buildings and street-gang territory.

Although this is speculation, I’m sure this is just what the app developers had envisioned when they created this bit of software.  It’s all very Bonfire of the Vanities, really.  Why if Sherman McCoy had this app, he’d have never gotten into all that trouble in the Bronx. But that’s just it, the app doesn’t track the kind of crimes that are really damaging to society as a whole, say, like bank fraud or subprime mortgage scams by “Masters of the Universe” like McCoy.  No, in this app, crime only happens one way: between dangerous street thugs (read: black and brown people) and drivers (read: white people).

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(Creative Commons License photo credit: dblstripe )

Urken goes on to downplay the racial implications of the “Avoid Ghetto” app, by turning to Roger C. Lanctot, a senior analyst at someplace called “Strategy Analytics,” who views the “Avoid Ghetto” app as potentially useful.  Lanctot asserts that “drivers” should have a right to know when they are passing “high-risk” areas.  Here’s what Lanctot had to say:

“We’ve all had that experience when you take the wrong exit and go, ‘Oh shoot,’ because you end up in a neighborhood you shouldn’t be in. Should you look down at the GPS and have a red flag with an exclamation point, ‘Get out!’? I hate to say it because of the racial implication element, but what father wouldn’t want such a capability for their daughter. I’ve seen plenty of dads having their daughters call them every half-hour: ‘Where are you?’ ‘Where are you?’ They would have more piece of mind if they knew their daughters had an app to avoid driving through bad areas.” [emphasis added]

This quote is an interesting rupture in the usually ‘colorblind’ discussions about technology, yet the element of race is so clear, Lanctot wants to distance himself from the implications of what he’s saying.  It some ways it’s also a revealing moment about the white fear of crime (part of the white racial frame) and the construction of so-called ‘bad’ neighborhoods as always black or Latino. The reality is that “high risk” neighborhoods are most dangerous to those who are living in them (that is, predominantly black and brown people), not the white people who are driving through them.

Racial Inequality and Faculty of Color at Elite Universities: An MIT Report



A new report from MIT’s Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, according to this summary, examines

how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of Black, Hispanic and Native American professors at MIT [and] urges the Institute to strengthen its efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minority (URM) faculty.

The report took two and half years on the part of nine faculty members. The methodology is this:

[A] quality-of-life survey administered to the entire faculty in January 2008, in-depth interviews of all URM faculty and a small comparison group of White and Asian faculty, and a salary analysis. To compare promotion and tenure rates and other hiring data by department and school, the committee also reviewed a cohort analysis of faculty who came to MIT between 1991 and 2009.

The report notes there have been gains in the URM faculty, but are very uneven across colleges and departments. MIT President Susan Hockfield is quoted as accepting the report and commenting that “A richly diverse America does not await us, it is upon us; it is our present and our future.” The main findings of the Initiative are these:

* MIT recruits heavily from its own departments and from a few peer institutions — such as Harvard and Stanford — which suggests that broadening the recruitment search could yield larger numbers of URM faculty.
* Compared to their White peers, a higher percentage of URM faculty leave before or after they are promoted to associate professor without tenure, suggesting that efforts to retain URM faculty may be especially critical in their first three to five years.
* Poor or negative faculty mentoring experiences are more frequent for URM than for non-URM faculty, partly because mentoring across the Institute lacks consistency.
* Overall, URM faculty report more dissatisfaction than their White counterparts. However, it is the URM non-tenured faculty, particularly black faculty, who are most likely to be “very satisfied” with their lives at MIT.
* There is “great awkwardness” in addressing race and racial differences openly at MIT, meaning that discussion of race-related issues is avoided.

Sadly, these are findings the researchers on this site could have easily predicted. The recruitment of faculty, the report notes, is very heavily and disproportionately from Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, and then from other elite schools–which will of course severely limit the diversity of a faculty hiring pool. This is the kind of incestuous racism that takes place at elite colleges and universities and has for many years. This is not meritocracy, but elite-ocracy at work.

The next two points really signal internal racism in operation, a failure of mentoring and support of many kinds. Some of this internal racism in universities is blatant and intentional, but much of it is subtle or a type of passive bystanding wherein white faculty members “do not want to get involved” or “do not know how to relate” to people of color. Such faculty have mostly never had an education in such things as stereotyping 101, racism 101, and antiracism 101. Like most of the population in the country.

On the faculty dissatisfaction side, they could have long ago learned a lot about what everyday college life is like for faculty of color from key books and research articles on the subject by leading scholars like Professor Christine Stanley (also a vice president now for diversity at the fortunate Texas A&M University), Professor Mark Chesler, and Professor Roxanna Harlow. Or this report I did for the American Council on Education (see discussion here). Apparently, reading social science on these matters is beyond MIT’s leaders? They did not need to spend so much time here reinventing the wheel. Science?

The main MIT report recommendations for change are these:

* Each academic unit should work with its academic dean and the associate provost of faculty equity to develop strategies for improving recruitment efforts of URM faculty. … Formal mentors should be assigned to junior faculty hires, and mentors and mentees should be informed about expectations. …MIT should broaden faculty searches to other carefully selected institutions. MIT should create forums where race and cross-cultural interactions are openly discussed, and the Institute should harness its most highly respected scholars, scientists and engineers to act as spokespeople on diversity issues.

Typical stuff and useful if there is commitment at the very top to carry this through, and well. But this is not enough. Change should begin, IMHO, with a very thorough study of MIT’s own deep structures of white racism, those long structured within the hoary institution, and with a real commitment to change those as well.

HP Webcam: A Case of Cyber Racism?

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a lot of discussion whirling around the web these days about a HP-designed webcam that seems to read the faces of white people and not the faces of black folks.  Some are accusing HP of racism.  Is this a case of cyber racism? It all got started by this, rather funny, video (2:16):

I have to agree with Angry Black Woman (and cross-posted at Alas, a Blog) ~ I see a case of “privilege and blindness” with regard to race rather than intentional racism.

Teaching Doctors to Recognize Racism

Racism and unconscious bias in medicine is a persistent problem in the delivery of medical care in the U.S.   Now, it seems there may be a way to use virtual simulations to teach doctors how to recognize racism.

I wrote here recently about the racism in virtual worlds that some researchers.  Other researchers at the University of Florida have been using the same technology subvert the trend toward racism among medical doctors.

Take a look at this short video (1:31) about new research using virtual worlds to teach doctors to recognize racism (sorry, no video embed available). Finally, a promising use of new technologies to address racism.

Racism in Virtual Worlds

Two social psychologists from Northwestern University conducted one of the first experimental field studies in a virtual, online world and found racial biases operate in much the same ways that they do in the material, offline world.   The study’s co-investigators are Northwestern’s Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral student in psychology, and Wendi L. Gardner, associate professor of psychology and member of Northwestern’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior.  The study was conducted in There.com, which is similar to Second Life, and offers users a relatively unstructured online virtual world where people choose avatars – or human-looking graphics – to navigate and interact.

This next bit gets a little technical, so bear with me.

The experiemental study design is referred to as a “door in the face” (DITF) and it works like this:  the experimenter (in this case an avatar) first makes an unreasonably large request to which the responder is expected to say no, followed by a more moderate request.  In the past, researchers have found that people are more likely to comply with the moderate request when it was preceded by the large request than when the moderate request was presented alone, and this held true in the virtual world as well.   In the virtual world, the experiment’s moderate request was: “Would you teleport to Duda Beach with me and let me take a screenshot of you?” In the DITF condition, that request was preceded by a request of the avatar to have screenshots taken in 50 different locations — requiring about two hours of teleporting and traveling.

Still reading?  Good.  What these researchers then did was to vary the skin tone of the avatar making the request, like this:

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What’s interesting to note is the way that the skin tone change altered the responses:


In one of the most striking findings, the effect of the DITF technique was significantly reduced when the requesting avatar was dark-toned. The white avatars in the DITF experiment received about a 20 percent increase in compliance with the moderate request; the increase for the dark-toned avatars was 8 percent.

While it may not be surprising to learn that people take their racism with them into these (supposedly) new virtual worlds, this research is still noteworthy both for its innovative methodology and because it challenges the conventional wisdom on two fronts: one that we are living in a post-racial society and that the Internet is an inherently liberatory technology that offers an escape from old hierarchies of oppression.

Race, Genomics & Health

The October issue of the journal Social Studies of Science has an excellent special issue on race, genomics and health that’s well worth checking out if you have any interest in race or in science and technology studies (hat tip: Julie Netherland).  The introductory piece is by Joan H. Fujimura (UW-Madison), Troy Duster (NYU), and Ramya Rajagopalan (UW-Madison).  The authors frames the volume around contemporary genetics research on race, ancestry, population, and disease.  A key theme that weaves the articles together is the tension between those scientists who argue that their research does not biologize race, and those who argue that their findings do demonstrate racial differences.  Fujimura and colleagues explore what this tension might mean for our understanding of race and for science and technology studies.

All the articles in this volume are really exceptional, and I’d like to highlight a couple that I found particularly interesting.   In “Bare Bones of Race,” Anne Fausto-Sterling examines what she refers to as “claims of racial difference” in bone density studies to explore what she calls the “architecture of racial difference in bone health and disease” (p.658).   While most of Fausto-Sterling’s previous writing about the social and the biological has dealt with sex and gender, here she applies a similar analysis to race.   She contends, rather provocatively, that:

“Rather than relying solely on efforts to understand the body from the inside out, I argue that medical and social scientists should reverse course, and investigate the body from the outside in, thus bringing the social components of disease formation back into the discussion” (p.658, emphasis in the original).

As with the devastating critique of the way that medical and social scientists have used scientific knowledge to sex the body by reading social categories that presume a gender binary onto biological categories that do not exist as a binary, Fausto-Sterling makes an equally persuasive case here about race.   An expert in molecular biology, and with a finely honed analysis of the social world, Fausto-Sterling’s analysis of the bone density literature is both compelling and surprisingly approachable.

Still, social constructionists such as Fausto-Sterling face an uphill, even Sysiphean, struggle if their goal is to persuade a wide audience that “race” is a social construction that does not exist as a meaningful, genetic category.  And, perhaps the place that many people become familiar with genetics as a window on race and ancestry, is through efforts like the PBS-sponsored Skip Gates project, “African American Lives,” which engaged a number of celebrities (most notably Oprah), to participate in genetic genealogical testing (Oprah learned that her assumptions about her African origins residing in the Zulu nation were wrong).

Although she doesn’t address the PBS television series specifically, Alondra Nelson (Yale),  in “Bio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry,situates such racial projects as originating with Alex Haley’s (1976) best-selling book and subsequent television series, Roots: The Saga of an American Family.   Nelson writes that Haley’s work “established an expectation among a generation of readers and viewers, in the U.S. and abroad, that recovering ancestral roots was not only desirable, but also possible” (p.763).   And, she goes on to note that many genealogists of African descent often site Roots as the prompt for beginning an ancestral quest.

Nelson’s analysis draws on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with African-American and black British consumers of genetic genealogy testing, and she uses this qualitative data to make a nuanced argument about the way that race is, and is not, deployed.   For American and British black folks that Nelson interviewed and observed, there is some acquiescence to genetic notions of  ancestry and ‘race,’ yet at the same, those of African descent who took genetic tests also resist purely biological interepretations of these results and construct their anecestral narratives in such a way that they are in line with what Nelson refers to as “genealogical aspirations,” that is, what people hope to learn about their ancestry.  It’s a fascinating, if dense, article with an well-crafted argument.

I’m struck, as ever, by what an asymmetrical quest genetic geneaology is, which Nelson signals in her subtitle, “the pursuit of African ancestry.” The asymmetry I’m referring to is that there are very few white people who are trying to trace their ancestral lineage in this sort of race-conscious way, often specifically and purposively through slavery.  Instead, when white people trace their ancestry it’s often in the language of a “race-blind” narrative that traces “family” without acknowledging race or slavery.  There are a handful of exceptions to this.    Ed Ball, traced his family’s slave-owning heritage, as did the white DeWolf family who traced their lineage back to their New England slave-trading ancestors.   But this sort of racial project carries with it much different “genealogical aspirations,” to use Nelson’s phrase, than those of the people in her study.   I would argue that for people of African descent to trace their lineage is one that holds with it the promise of a kind of redemption of a history of oppression and reclaiming it within a context of racial and ethnic pride; whereas for white people of European descent, tracing their lineage requires either ignoring race altogether or examining a painful legacy of racial oppression with our ancestors playing the role of the oppressors.

Taken as a whole, the special issue of this journal often implicates whiteness yet  “whiteness” as a racial category remains largely unexamined.  My points about this asymmetry and the unexamined quality is evident in the PBS series I mentioned,  “African American Lives.” Included in that series, is Bliss Broyard.   Broyard learned after her father’s death that he was “part black” and has written about this in a number of places, including a book called One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life — A Story of Race & Family Secrets (2007).   In the interview with Gates following the results of her genetic test, Gates reveals to Broyard she has “17.8% African ancestry,” and then asks, “Does this make you black?”    Broyard answers thoughtfully and says that she feels like a “cousin to blackness,” and that this is a lived experience rather than something rooted in DNA.  She ends up by saying, “I’m a person of mixed-race ancestry, but I don’t think I’ve earned the right to call myself ‘black.'” Broyard couldn’t have answered better, but the problem really, in my view, is the question that Gates poses.  What’s of interest about Broyard and her story is the “one drop” of African ancestry, not the 78% of her European ancestry.  By setting up this genetic, geneaological quest (and a television series around it), this racial project continues to locate “race” at the genetic level and leaves whiteness unexamined.

This just gets more interesting…

Do you Twitter? This is a kind of instant-message service for “friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” I’ve recently become addicted to Twittering and find some interesting stuff there. Somehow, I ended up following / being followed (Twitter-speak for whose updates you get) Tavis Smiley. Or, more precisely, some intern that works at the Tavis Smiley Show. Anyway, some good stuff has popped up there recently, such as this teaser for tonight’s show with Sen. Ted Kennedy:

“Why do many white, male senators support Obama but majority of the Congressional Black Caucus supports Clinton?” Sen. Kennedy responds tonight on Tavis Smiley.

And, even more interestingly, a link to this blog entry, “Race for the Race Vote,” written by Rose Capozzi. Here’s a snippet:

Some are calling the South Carolina primary the “black primary” because African-Americans will make up the largest voting demographic for the Democrats. Of those African-Americans voting, there will be more women than men at the polls.

For Senator Clinton, South Carolina may not be a make-or-break for her campaign, but it will certainly be a test of her appeal with minorities. Can Bill Clinton’s reputation as the “first black President,” transcend to his wife, or will African-Americans favor someone who is actually black, as Katharine Seelye of the New York Post [sic] puts it.

The African-American vote is going to make a big difference in this election, if not in numbers, then at least in perception. For the black female vote, individual cultural expectations will compete with individual gender expectations. The results of the South Carolina primary will send a message to those of us listening—it may very well tell us what matters most for black Democrats: race, gender, or political differences between the candidates.”

It’s a thoughtful piece (though she meant New York Times, not the New York Post), and I’m gratified to see someone mentioning the black female vote. And, I’m delighted to have stumbled across this via Twitter. If I figure out how to post a Twitter ‘badge,’ I’ll post that up.