Race and technology

This week’s readings were:

– Race, sex and nerds: from black geeks to Asian American hipsters, by Ron Eglash

– New sciences: cyborg feminism and the methodology of the oppressed, by Chela Sandoval

We also watched the video on FemTechNet called ‘Feminism, Technology and Race’, which featured Lisa Nakamura and Maria Fernandez, moderated again by Anne Balsamo.

The first article addressed the problems of ‘primitive racism’ and ‘orientalist racism’. Primitive racism is geared toward African Americans and centers around the idea that people of that background are ‘hipsters’, cool, and oversexual. Orientalist racism is geared toward Asian people and stereotypes them as undersexual and nerdy.

The article then brings up many examples of people who fought these stereotypes. Malcolm X is a notable example. The ‘X’ in his name refers to his affinity for math, where X is the unknown. The author also referenced many examples in popular culture, such as Steve Urkel from the TV show Family Matters, to Samuel L. Jackson’s computer technician in Jurassic Park. These are the anti-stereotype, the so-called ‘black nerd’, as the author puts it.

Image

“Hold on to your butts,”  Jackson’s famous catchphrase from the film.

Ron Eglash says these stereotypes reinforce ideas of masculinity, femininity and technological power. Technology is still heavily populated by white males – something the author is urging us to recognize and work to balance out.

The second article, by Chela Sandoval, focuses on the idea of cyborg life and identity.

Sandoval says cyborg is a creature of biology and technology, of reality and fiction. The author says non-white immigrant populations have been living a kind of cyborg life for hundreds of years – working in factories and living in the borderlands. The cyborg life is also flexible, diasporic and mobile in nature.

This reading ties in well with the video, in which the speakers emphasize that we mainly refer to technology as computing, but it is much more than that. Technology is a set of ways to identify things, and racism is a technology – techniques used to establish differences between people. This was something I had never considered before.

During the video dialogue, Balsamo asked an interesting question about how to avoid racist thinking now that we know it’s rampant. Nakamura put the question in a different way – how do you unthink something you don’t know you’re thinking? It is a challenging issue to tackle.

I think this is the best dialogue I have watched so far. The speakers had a lot in common and the conversation flowed naturally.

I think the stereotypes of the Asian nerd and the black hipster have been eroding over the last 10 years or so. These stereotypes were certainly around when I was in elementary and high school, but change, while slow, is happening.

This reminds me of comedian Aziz Ansari’s jokes at the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco in September. Some of Ansari’s colleagues, who all poked fun at each other in a variety of ways, focused on his race for their jokes.

For example, Sarah Silverman said, “I have been a huge supporter of Aziz for years and for only the price of a cup of coffee a day.”

Ansari retorted with humour, pointing out their jokes about race are old and very stale.

Enjoy the video. He takes down homosexual jokes pretty well, too.

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