ATLIS READS: Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin

Our year-long book seminar for technology thought leaders continues with this guest post from Theresa Jay, who previews Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha BenjaminYou can learn more and register for ATLIS Reads here. Our final selection for our ATLIS Readsyear-long book seminar is Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. -- SD [10-minute read]


ATLIS Reads: A Book Seminar for Technology Thought Leaders
2020-2021 Theme: Leading Schools Amid Rapid Change
Registration includes 4 webinar conversations and 1 reflective micro-course; FREE to ATIS Members; $129 for non-members. Learn more and register for ATLIS Reads here.

book cover

UPDATED BOOK SELECTION: Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code 
January 27, 1 pm Easter

The time is now for addressing the embedded racism in technology. We need to go beyond the issue of getting more people of color into coding and address the cultural systems that surround technology.

How can technology leaders in schools do their part?

Guest Blogger and Conversation Leader
Theresa Jay
Chief Information Officer
Thayer Academy, MA

Did you ever question gender or race bias in technology? 

When I was in engineering school in 1983 – 1987, engineering textbooks used the master/slave terminology to explain electronic switches called flip flops which are fundamental to computing technology. It struck a nerve with me then, but I did nothing to question it. Today this terminology has been a subject of controversy due to its association with slavery, and textbooks and corporations are making changes to use different wording. If you are not immersed in the world of software or electronics engineering, you might find yourself surprised at how often the terms like “master” and “slave” are thrown around in documentation. 

#BlackLivesMatter started on social media in 2013, and today it has become mainstream in all news outlets. Our school has a Diversity Director and adopted a strategic plan to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Our recent all-school book read was Waking up White by Debby Irving.  

As technology leaders, we need to look at race discrimination in our field. What can we do to be antiracist? Ruha Benjamin's Race After Technology highlights the bias in technology. The author is both brilliant and passionate about how things change but not really. Her public persona is an extension of her teaching to include us all in the conversation.  

What I like about this book, Race after Technology, is that Benjamin terms her findings as 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.

Discussion Questions

  1. Even though technology is viewed as progressive and innovative, discriminatory old logic is built in. What can we do to change the perception that technology is less biased than human decision making?   

  2. Do you think the corporations are changing the practice to design for profit with no regard to who it may harm?  Are the new technology developments harmful and do they exclude certain people based on race?

  3. How do science and technology shape the social world? Should all STEM student training, for example, address a social view?

  4. What actions can educational tech leaders take to increase awareness of design code inequalities? What can we do to help form regulations and audits to monitor code for inequities? 

  5. Does this master/slave language offend you? Do you know if the racist terminology pervades the engineering and computer science programs at your school?

Annotated Resources

Ruha Benjamin, Ruha Benjamin Resource Page

Ruha Benjamin, From Park Bench to Lab Bench – What Kind of Future Are We Designing? TEDxBaltimore, TEDxTalks, YouTube, 5 February 2015.

Joy Adowaa Buolamwini, Gender Shades: Intersectional Phenotypic and Demographic Evaluation of Face Datasets and Gender Classifiers. Master’s Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2017. Interesting read on face scan design.

ISTE 2016 Middle Keynote -- Ruha Benjamin. ISTE, YouTube, 13 July 2016. Dr. Benjamin's talk given to edtech educators.

John Naughton, "Attempts to Stay Anonymous on the Web Will Only Put the NSA on Your Trail," The Guardian, 10 May 2014. More on Janet Vertesi trying to keep her pregnancy private.


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