Seeing racism through technology

There are obvious ways in which technology perpetuates as well as lessens racism, but then there are the not so obvious yet important technologies which have similar effects but are not often spoken about in the discussion of technology and racism. Sure we have the internet as an amazing yet dangerous tool but the internet is not the only relevant technology.

Mink, a 3-D makeup printer although aims to make “buying” makeup more convenient, easier, and with unlimited possibilities, it points to a major problem within the industry of cosmetics. The founder of Mink, Grace Choi, pointed out that “a lot of the colors that you see [on the shelves of well-known cosmetic stores] happen to be very fair-skinned Caucasian colors”. Women of color typically have to mix a few colors together to get the correct complexion. Grace points out that manufacturers produce what will help them make the most money, which is usually makeup for women who are white. In her article, “Technology could ‘disrupt’ racism and sexism — if Silicon Valley disrupts itself” Sarah Jeong writes, “ the economics of the cosmetic industry often lead to racist — and sometimes unquestioned — outcomes”.

Just searching the word makeup on google, the first images which appear are those of women who appear to be Caucasian. Even as I scroll down, the women seems to be very similar skin complexions.

Uber is also an interesting example which Sara points to. She writes about a comment that Clinton Yates once made in the Washington Post that African-Americans have a harder time hailing taxis. Although not purposefully, Uber is one of the technologies, Sara points out, that “is changing how people of color experience and are represented in the world”.

On the contrary, there are incidents such as that of 2009 when it was discovered that the facial tracking software in HP webcams did not detect the faces of dark skinned people. This technology shows that most of the designers and testers were most likely of lighter colored skin. Though most likely an accident, this shows that inequality which so clearly exists. These technologies are not necessarily the causes of any racism but they help shed light onto the extent to which racism exists in different industries as well as in day to day interactions.

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