Part of the Microsoft Lecture Series on Race & Technology:Computing technology as racial infrastructure: A history of the present and blueprint for Black future(s)
Dr. Charlton McIlwain
Vice Provost, and Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU
In recent years computing technology stakeholders have increasingly begun to ask questions about how to make our technology less biased, more fair, increasingly equitable, and even explicitly anti-racist. When it comes to how to make this happen, however, we have fewer answers than we do questions – particularly when it comes to thinking about these challenges through the lens of race and ethnicity. If we are to imagine, conceptualize, design and build new technological systems that are anti-racist, the technology community must understand, engage and grapple with the historical paths that lead us to our current point. Our history contains many of the starting points for realizing a significantly different technological future.
For the past decade I have investigated a variety of questions at the juncture of race and technology – from how does racial inequality manifest on the Internet, to how do activists, advocates and lay citizens mobilize technology affordances to produce racial justice movements, to what is the historical relationship between Black people and technology? This final question serves as the basis for my presentation, which provides a historical narrative that demonstrates how computing technology as an enterprise “became racist” and how it has served to promote racist outcomes.
Audiences will come away from my talk with more insight into how computing technology and race first fused to one another; how that fusion manifest in terms of a key technology problem-design-solution scenario that positioned BIPOC communities as the central problems that new technologies were meant to solve; How this race-as-problem-tech-as-solution scenario laid the foundation for our present-day technology infrastructure that has produced arguably the most racially disparate and destructive outcomes through the institution of law enforcement and policing; and finally, what we must do in order to begin to imagine what systemic, structural technological change might look like – one that provides the infrastructure for more racially just outcomes.