We are told that technology is an essential tool for social liberation and empowerment; that technological progress creates new arenas for representation and resistance for subjugated groups and will eventually eliminate human biases that have plagued them for centuries.
But the idea that the technological space is independent from society has led to a recreation of social dynamics that serve to reinforce patterns of racial hierarchy by marginalising vulnerable groups. The most prominent example of this was in 2015, when freelance web developer Jacky Alciné noticed that Google Photos had categorised his black female friend’s face as a gorilla. Google apologised, claiming that this was an innocent mistake. They are yet to find a long-term fix, and have instead censored the word ‘gorilla’ in their categorisation of images.
For black people, this ‘innocent mistake’ follows a history of claiming that they are subhuman. This ‘monkey racism’ is nothing new, comparisons have always been made between the supposed similarity between black people and non-human primates, with pseudoscientific claims alluding to this being popularised in the eugenics movement.