Racism Revealed in Comments about Custom Browser

Mozilla, the folks that created the browser Firefox, have released a new browser called Blackbird, that offers customized search engine results thought to be of particular interest to  African Americans, or in the short hand of one blogger, it’s a browser for black people. Blackbird is operated by 40A, Inc., a company founded by three African American entrepreneurs, Arnold Brown II, Frank Washington, and H. Edward Young, Jr.     Personally, I wish someone would develop a similar upgrade for Flickr so that when I search for images I could only search for images that include people of varied ethnic backgrounds, but I digress (I use Flickr/Creative Commons to find images for this blog, for my classroom lectures and for invited talks and I work hard to include images of racial/ethnic diversity, but it’s tough going because people don’t tend to tag their photos by their racial designation, I digress even further).

Blackbird Logo

What’s interesting to note for my analysis here is the kind of white-liberal-racism that’s erupted in the comments section at TechCrunch, a popular technology blog, following the announcement of this custom browser (hat tip to: FunkDigital via Twitter).   Not surprisingly, there are a lot of white people that read TechCrunch and the introduction of a ‘browser for black people’ represents a kind of eruption of race in a medium that most whites think of “color-blind.”   And a good number of the white people commenting at TechCrunch are outraged by Blackbird, “sam,” is typical of this view, when he writes:

The President elect of the United States is Black. There is no racism against blacks, only against white heterosexual males.

Imagine that it is more difficult for a white or asian male to get into a top university.

Imagine that a black medical student, who scores much lower on his exams, will become a doctor but not a white student with slightly better results.

This is the truth – at least in the United States.

Further down, the comments by “Steve” sum up what most whites posting there say:

I’m sorry, but it’s things like this that perpetuate racism. How can the black community demand equality then turn around and build a web browser just for themselves? This is ridiculous…

“Steve” is making that mistake that a lot of white people make when first beginning to think about race, and that’s thinking that it will fit into neatly symmetrical categories where “white” is the equivalent of “black.”  What’s wrong with this sort of thinking and the fake symmetry it invokes is that it leaves out power.   (I’ve written about this here before.) The reality is that racism, and white privilege, get built into technology in a variety of ways.   Search engines are no exception.   Yet, this point can get little traction in the comments section over at TechCrunch.   The first comment in a hundreds-of-comments-long-thread is from “Daniel,” who asks:

So when is the white version coming?

Several others pile on and agree with “Daniel,” then “Jake” inserts a bit of a reality check when he writes:

You guys are missing the point.

The “white” version is the standard default version in America.

Mozilla is white. Regular TV is white. Most of government is white. Mayonnaise is really white.

There’s no need for a white version because the original version is designed for the average white person.

And thus begins the long, long thrash at TechCrunch about race.     Reading through all those comments, I came away with the sense that the white people commenting there seem to be crying “foul,” as in, “hey no fair, we thought we were in the color-blind web!”

What those white folks at TechCrunch fail to grasp is that the notion of a “color-blind web” is just as fictional as the notion of a “color-blind” society.  Indeed, as noted scholar Henry Jenkins wrote way back in 2002 (light years in Internet time), the notion of a color-blind web is little more than a fantasy to assuage liberal guilt.   White people need to stop denying race and racism, then crying “foul!” anytime race unexpectedly (for white people) comes up.   I think it’s really long overdue for white folks to get smarter about race and racism.