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Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code

(Race, Migration & Demography)

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  820 ratings  ·  105 reviews
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 appearin
ebook, 172 pages
Published June 17th 2019 by Polity Press
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May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’m a bit obsessed with books like this. Here we get the intersection of racial stereotypes, the all-too-human created worlds of technology, the double-psychology of the oppressed (as Du Bois would say) and the strange mirror world of apparently objective truth based on what we take to be the best of human rationality. Humans are rarely more terrifying when they believe they have created a fair and rational world. And when that world has been almost exclusively created by white males – what is p ...more
Alok Vaid-Menon
Technology is often imagined as outside prejudices like racism and sexism and is offered as a panacea to the fallibility of human bias. However, Dr. Benjamin argues that technology can be a vehicle of racism. In doing so, she disrupts a liberal progressive arc which positions technological innovation as a strategy to overcome racism, instead revealing how it comes to re-constitute it in subtler, but no less sinister, ways. She coins the term “The New Jim Code,” to account for this re-inscription ...more
Divya Shanmugam
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book expanded my understanding of technology as it relates to race.

I'll talk about one quote, but it's one of many highlights:
'something that irks me about conversations regarding naming trends is how distinctly African American names are set apart as comically “made up”'

This is similar to a point that came up this past summer: academic papers frequently point to Ebonics as the special failure case of language models. While this isn't comical, it tokenizes the dialect and treats it as an e
Mar 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: quarantine-reads
I picked up this book in preparation for an event where the author was speaking, now cancelled due to COVID-19. As someone that thinks about the intersection of technology and race, I was initially excited to read it. I didn't dislike like the book, especially since I agree with the premise and what the author refers to as the New Jim Code. My biggest problem while reading was that it felt like a collection of essays loosely tied together around the topic of technological injustice. I wish the e ...more
Cara M
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technoculture
4.5* but i'm rounding up because this kind of scholarship is still so necessary.

an incisive examination of different facets of race and technology which intersect and overlap and reflect in so many ways (though there's still a kind of willful ignorance of professed technologists to admit those relations exist at all). i personally found this book to be a very solid synthesis of scholarship and research that touches on concepts of race and technology - Benjamin brings together a variety of more d
Carlos Martinez
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: racism, technology
Interesting and important, but I thought this book could have been better organised, shorter, and more focused. The core issue - lifting the mask of objectivity from highly subjective machine learning algorithms - is covered in much less space but perfectly effectively in Hannah Fry's Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms. However, the New Jim Code metaphor is useful, and Benjamin goes much further than Fry in terms of suggesting solutions and relating the fight for algorithmic equal ...more
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fellow book club member expressed their frustration because this book did not give any solutions. The solutions are there, they are just not quick and easy. To technologists this may sound like a real crisis because quick, cheap, and objective have been the value proposition of technology. After decades of internalizing the idea that tech can only make the world better, can technologists admit that their work looks less like innovation and more like techno status quo?

Ruha Benjamin uses the met
I think I went into this book with the wrong expectations. The “technology” piece of this book is in actuality a broad term used to encompass anything from a soap dispenser to cameras to AI to anything Silicon Valley adjacent — because of that, the majority of the content and examples of racial injustice were already familiar to me from other novels or articles I’ve read. Instead, I think this book would be better suited for someone who works outside of the tech industry/Silicon Valley, or has n ...more
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is a must read for anyone who uses technology and has not critically considered the embedded codification of racism within it. IF you have considered these things (or study them or work toward actively dismantling systems of oppression) this book will come off a little basic. It is a great introductory text that is easy to read and flags the major issues with how technology is made and incorporated into society.
Mark Gomez
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book couldn't be more of an important read, especially given the context post insurrection. The concept of the New Jim Code and tools of abolition in tech are so needed. Get this book. Ask more questions. ...more
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the exact combination of research, critical race theory, abolitionist thinking, and technology that I've been looking to read, especially on technology and surveillance as the next form of mass incarceration.

interesting points i'm still thinking about:
- Sylvia Wynter: different genres of humanity, where the pseudo-universal version of humanity ("the Man") is only one form and it is predicated on anti-Blackness.
- "Posthumanist visions assume that we have all had a chance to be human. H
jasmine sun
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
would def recommend to someone looking for a 101 on current race/technology issues, but those who've read more might already be familiar with the theories and examples presented.

i especially resonated with benjamin's framing of race as technology - one of many method bureaucrats devised to clean, cluster, and control population data.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thought-provoking look at the way technology encodes and perpetuates bias, while cloaking it in a false veneer of machine objectivity. Examples include predictive policing systems that take as inputs the already deeply- biased outcomes of the deeply biased law-enforcement system, or hiring systems meant to eliminate interviewer bias while taking as inputs the profiles of people who have thus far been successful in the industry-overwhelmingly white males, so that nonwhite, nonmale metrics of ex ...more
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A must read for our time.
Tom Williams
Jan 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
I overall very much liked this book. I wish the overarching argument structure had been a bit cleaner, but it's still one of the best books on race and tech that I've read, and would make a nice reading for many of my CS students. ...more
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
so many lovely nuggets in here that changed the way I think about diversity in tech, and the intersection of race + tech. read this if you're new to the topic, or even if you've done some reading already. :)

big new ideas for me:
1. getting more POC in tech isn't always the fix, like how hiring Black/Latinx cops hasn't decreased police violence. I feel like I've advocated for diversity as the end goal for years, and this added an important nuance to my thinking
2. institutions commodify racial div
Christopher Lee
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
I don’t want to be “that guy” that’s like THIS BOOK SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING FOR THOSE GOING INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY because that’s annoying, but if you are going into the tech industry and especially if you are not a BIPOC, this book is an important read. Benjamin does a really good job of examining the “promises” and ideals of the current tech world and applying racial theory to show these promises actually tend to devalue POC, especially Black bodies. I didn’t used to be afraid of AI, but no ...more
Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it
The focus on race makes it an excellent addition to the literature on bias in technology. There are many other books that include discussions of racial bias and are much clearer/easier to follow for people not already familiar with the jargon and style of critical race studies. Weapons of Math Destruction, Automating Inequality, Technically Wrong, and Hello World all have excellent explanations of how modern algorithms work (or fail to work). While they're not centered on race the way this book ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I took my time finishing this book because it relates so deeply both with my work and my lived experiences. If you’re interested in how technology is impacting Black and Brown lives and learning more about who is helping undo the harm, I’d say this book is for you. Some of the examples I already knew of but there were many that I didn’t. Ir also inspired some new lines of thinking in my own work as I look to incorporate social justice into my research.
Jessica Dai
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Benjamin argues that race should be understood as a form of technology, and that technology and race are mutually constitutive (i.e. technology is productive of race as much as race informs technology). I especially enjoyed ch.3, on invisibility, hypervisibility, and "exposure" -- this analysis was particularly clear and brought together really disparate topics (literal photography, legibility, financial risk, surveillance/sousveillance) in a coherent, non-obvious way.

Race After Technology is r
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book, great intro to and overview of racism as/and technology. Accessibly written and uses academic theories without getting bogged down in jargon. Recommend for anyone interested in the ways our technology is not value neutral and what we can do to have more ethical tech, tech industries, and relationships to them. Would be great especially for undergrad courses on STS/critical race studies. If you're up to date with studies in STS/critical race studies you might not get much new know ...more
Mary Heath
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: school
One of my favorite books of the year. A beautiful synthesis of ideas from industry leaders, scholars, philosophers, etymology, and science fiction, Benjamin provides a strong argument for the multifaceted ways that technology (re)produces racial - and other intersectional - inequities. Focusing on impact rather than intention, the book explores opportunities for the use of technology to fight off discriminatory design.
Nicole Beier
Dec 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Only rating this a 4 because it was a bit dense at times, making it a little inaccessible. Despite that, I found it enjoyable to read and learned a lot from this book. This is a very important book as tech gets more embedded in society and further entrenches white supremacy. I love her abolitionist framework for tech projects in the last chapter.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
None of the technological details in here should be new/surprising to anyone who studied CS, but the arguments she makes about the danger of framing predictive algorithms trained on inevitably biased data as “objective” and of regarding any innovation as progress are both really important critiques of the tech industry. I appreciated that she described some technical solutions, and I’d be super interested in hearing what a CS prof thought of them.
Sep 20, 2020 rated it liked it
A very good essay. However, it is fascinating to read so many books from the US with critical approaches to Artificial Intelligence that actually omit any deep analysis of the economic system.
Everyone in North America should probably read this book, if nothing else as an introduction into how we might (and probably should) analyze and understand racism as part and parcel of technology. It's a very provocative book that everyone can learn something from.

That said, there was a significant portion of the writing which I really couldn't wrap my head around. In general I would say it's not the author's responsibility to make themselves understood by the reader—and let's not forget that th
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Essential & accessible reading for folks interested in the intersections of race, surveillance, and digital tech. Dr. Benjamin gives readers lots of food for thought and I especially loved the last chapter that centered an abolitionist framework.
Sharad Pandian
Great overview of social science literature on racial bias in algorithms, which manages to be accessible both in language and the kinds of case studies used. And manages to actually be funny and well-written, which is shocking in work by academics.
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An essential book on race in the age of apps and big data, briskly and powerfully written and impeccably theorized and researched.
Good if at times somewhat academic book on how white supremacy is encoded in and reinforced by modern technology, often in ways we don't immediately realise. ...more
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Ruha Benjamin is an interdisciplinary scholar who examines the relationship between science, technology, medicine, and society. She is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and is the author of People's Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press 2013).

Ruha received a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California Berkeley and compl

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53 likes · 6 comments
“Invisibility, with regard to Whiteness, offers immunity. To be unmarked by race allows you to reap the benefits but escape responsibility for your role in an unjust system.” 4 likes
“the New Jim Code”: the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequities but that are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory systems of a previous era.8” 4 likes
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