Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code
From everyday apps to complex algorithms, Ruha Benjamin cuts through tech-industry hype to understand how emerging technologies can reinforce White supremacy and deepen social inequity.
Benjamin argues that automation, far from being a sinister story of racist programmers scheming on the dark web, has the potential to hide, speed up, and deepen discrimination while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to the racism of a previous era. Presenting the concept of the "New Jim Code," she shows how a range of discriminatory designs encode inequity by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies; by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions; or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing quite the opposite. Moreover, she makes a compelling case for race itself as a kind of technology, designed to stratify and sanctify social injustice in the architecture of everyday life.
This illuminating guide provides conceptual tools for decoding tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism. In doing so, it challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold but also the ones we ourselves manufacture.
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About the Author
Ruha Benjamin is Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University
Winner of the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities Oliver Cromwell Cox Best Book Award 2020
Awarded Honorable Mention in the ASA Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology Section's Book Award 2020
Winner of Brooklyn Public Library's Literary Prize for Nonfiction 2020
"Race After Technology is a brilliant, beautifully argued, engagingly written, and groundbreaking work. Ruha Benjamin is that rare scholar whose sophisticated understanding of science and technology is matched by her deep knowledge of race and racialization. Here she guides us into fresh terrain for understanding and tackling the persistence of racial inequality. This book should be read by everyone committed to creating a more just world."
Imani Perry, Princeton University, author of Vexy Thing and Looking for Lorraine
"Race After Technology is essential reading, decoding as it does the ever-expanding and morphing technologies that have infiltrated our everyday lives and our most powerful institutions. These digital tools predictably replicate and deepen racial hierarchies -- all too often strengthening rather than undermining pervasive systems of racial and social control."
Michelle Alexander, Union Theological Seminary, author of The New Jim Crow
This book is the best single overview of how and why new technologies perpetuate and exacerbate racism.
Rob Reich, The Wall Street Journal
This book is worthy of the widest readership, leaving us not only with a deeper understanding of the mutual and shifting roles of race and technology, but also, importantly, with the manageable and doable tools with which to create alternative, equitable, inclusive and prosperous futures.
Shakir Mohamed, DeepMind, Nature Machine Intelligence
Race After Technology is a scintillating examination of how even something as seemingly all-oppressive as surveillance normalization is differentially oppressive -- and how we can build alternative futures and solidary coalitions all the same.
Race After Technology spins [a] web of examples over the reader's own understanding of technology and leaves the reader with a new lens to view the world around them.
Science & Technology Studies
Powerful yet accessible, [...] it is the foundation for an expanded, critical conversation about the meaning of technology in society that desperately calls for greater attention, both academic and activist.
"Benjamin's work is ideal for anyone who is unafraid to look at the historical intersections of racial injustice, technology, and where these topics inform possible solutions for the future."
"[I]mpactfully written, well researched and refreshingly clear [...] Simply said, Race After Technology will become a staple in contemporary critical thinking at a time when it is most needed."
Marx and Philosophy
Shines light on an important issue
Ruha Benjamin contributes to our understanding of the dangers of racism in the 21st century in her illuminating account of how racism and inequality underpin new technologies. Benjamin reminds us that racism is everywhere - and by its very nature not only seeps into technological advances but is part of how they are designed.
Times Higher Education
What's ultimately distinctive about Race After Technology is that its withering critiques of the present are so galvanizing... This is perhaps Benjamin's greatest feat in the book: Her inventive and wide-ranging analyses remind us that as much as we try to purge ourselves from our tools and view them as external to our flaws, they are always extensions of us. As exacting a worldview as that is, it is also inclusive and hopeful.
What sets her [book] apart is not her lucid, clear and engaging writing style but rather her broad empirical scope which covers examples from digital security and surveillance infrastructures right through to search engines and AI-powered beauty apps. They are exemplify what Benjamin calls the new Jim Code.
Ethnic and Racial Studies
Benjamin has broken new ground with this volume, which is a crucial read for a wide audience, including novice consumers of technology all the way to the most experienced coders and creators.
One of the most interesting elements of Race After Technology is that it moves us from the fantasy world of the allegedly neutral robot into a world where we have to reckon with the unintended consequences of digital discrimination.
Edna Bonhomme, Radical Philosophy
Race After Technology provides a clear and useful synthesis of concepts of race within the broader science and technology studies discourse.
The Journal of Popular Culture
"In her latest book, 'Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code' Ruha Benjamin offers a detailed, critical and sobering view of the ways in which bias is infused into technology. [....] 'Race After Technology' presents a wide range of examples of discriminatory design and offers a toolkit for understanding the ways in which technology can reinforce and deepen societal inequalities."
Denise Valenti, Press Release Point