The Invisible People

The movie “12 Years a Slave” was a creative depiction of a true story in the antebellum south. In one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, the slave character named Patsey(Lupita Nyong’o) is brutally beaten with a whip. The beating was in response to violating the jealous slave master’s wife’s cruel objection to Patsey washing. Upon returning from a neighboring plantation, Patsey was caught with soap that she had attained from that plantation. This black woman was denied soap.

In the days of the Jim Crow Laws of separate but equal(far from equal), the Negro drinking fountains were subpar at best, and restrooms were likewise.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and in the days of COVID-19’s no-touch hyper sanitation, technology has recreated segregation with the automatic soap dispensers found in public restrooms. The detector’s sensitivity to persons of darker hues is lacking. African American’s are once again living in a separate and unequal system that once again denies them soap. In the middle part of the decade, news story descriptions said that infrared detectors would pick up the light reflected off of hands, therefore dispensing the soap. Unfortunately, darker skin complexions were not sufficient to reflect enough light to get dependable efficiency. One may ask, why does this matter?  

In a world whitewashed by privilege and bias, is it no wonder why the statement Black Lives matter is so very relevant to a society that flirts with another Jim Crow era? Some may say, “this whole argument is a reach, by trying to connect dots that are absent of proximity.” As a pushback, a serious look into new ways that technology discolors society must take place.  

Algorithmic bias is perpetuated by data scientists who train algorithms based on patterns found in historical data. These biased results are then used by humans to make decisions with implications that are systematically prejudiced towards communities of color.” Civil Rights Violations in the Face of Technological Change October 22, 2020: Dominique Harrison Aspen Institute

Facial Recognition Technology is yet another barrier placed before darker complected people. An MIT study revealed the flawed science involved in facial recognition to detect many African Americans accurately. This can be crucial when coupled with the “New Jim Crow,” criminal justice system described by Michelle Alexander. Such a system produces exaggerated percentages of African Americans in the prison population. With law enforcement using Facial Recognition Technology more and more, the potential for injurious missteps increase.

“Massachusetts Institute of Technology facial recognition researcher Joy Buolamwini stands for a portrait at the school, in Cambridge, Mass. Buolamwini’s research has uncovered racial and gender bias in facial analysis tools sold by companies such as Amazon that have a hard time recognizing certain faces, especially darker-skinned women. Buolamwini holds a white mask she had to use so that software could detect her face.” Insurance Journal: Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report from Hillsboro, Oregon.

Those fighting to end systemic racism must increase vigilance, even as evidence reveals that some vaccine testing lacked proper representation of Blacks and other people of color. From healthcare, voting rights, biotech, technology to AI, now is not the time to say Jim Crow can never happen again. Even in the nuance of technology, Black Lives Matter. This nation must expose attempts to make communities of color invisible. 

“The data and algorithms used by tech companies must be made available (also known as “algorithmic transparency”) so that researchers can conduct studies that examine potential pitfalls for communities of color. The allure and attraction of the online world needs to be connected to the discrimination and hate of the real world. And for this, data must be used for good.” Civil Rights Violations in the Face of Technological Change October 22, 2020: Dominique Harrison Aspen Institute

Kevin Robinson Executive Director of Accord1

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