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Technology’s Role in Uncovering Racism

In light of recent events in our country, it feels unimportant to write about anything but social justice.

The wrongdoings that have been captured in images and videos across the country are horrid. They highlight the shortcomings of our government and our police.

But I am thankful that the reaction across our country is so widespread and fervent. Even in my small hometown of ~19,000 residents in Plattsburgh, NY – a town that is 85%+ caucasian – there have been holders of “Black Lives Matter” signs.

Though the eruption of frustration across the US has been inspiring, I have also encountered those who believe “nothing has changed.” I am baffled that some believe this is true. I’m even more saddened by the lack of hope from which that type of statement originates. Many look to the US as a beacon of hope and an exemplar of an ideal society. Many are now questioning whether that is the case because of recent events. This is where it’s important to separate what is perception from what is reality.

In exploration of why some believe nothing has changed, I want to describe three relevant forces at play in the US.

  1. Level of Racism. It has in fact declined in the United States. Though difficult to quantify, survey research does support, that over time, Americans have consistently become more supportive of racial equality. It is slow, but it is progress.

  2. Smartphone Penetration Driving the Ability to Document. Over the last twenty years, there has been a rapid rise in the percentage of Americans who own at least one smartphone. Each owner of a smartphone is a holder of a device that enables them to document acts of racism around them.

  3. Social Media Penetration Driving the Ability to Distribute. There has been a rapid rise in the percentage of Americans who are on at least one social media platform. The growth of these social networks has unlocked growing distribution for user generated documentation of acts of racism.

Below is a visualization of these three forces over time.

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Using these three underlying variables, we can then visualize the observed surge in “recognized racism,” as shown below. Recognized racism is the amount of racism that is both documented and distributed.

Recognized Racism = Level of Racism Level of Documentation Level of Distribution

2-5588e6.png

“Recognized Racism” is rising rapidly. We are “recognizing” far more racist events today than we were in the past. As a result, it may feel as though “nothing has changed” or perhaps, that things are even worse. That is perception, not reality.

Although we are far from true racial equality, a lot has changed.

275,000,000 of us have smartphones and social media accounts. Technology is serving to help us document and distribute racist acts in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago.

It’s important to not conflate the rise in “recognized racism” with the gradual decline of actual racism. Progress is being made, and every action we take today matters, just as the ones before them have in helping us get to where we are now.

It feels as though we are at a tipping point in terms of accountability. Thanks to the rise of crowdsourced documentation and distribution, we can see racism more clearly than ever before. As saddening as these videos and images are to see, it is their very proliferation that is enabling us to have the opportunity to weed out racism more comprehensively. We have to capture it and share it before we can get rid of it.

The protests across this country feel more American to me than anything I’ve witnessed in my adult life. They embody the American spirit to relentlessly pursue better, and never settle for less than perfect.

In a time where many are criticizing or losing hope in America, I look at the uproar of Americans across the country and feel more hope for continued change than ever before.

Keep documenting. Keep distributing. We will keep changing.


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