Thoughts from a Late Night: Slaves as Machines

Here are some random thoughts I had last night after reading about critical race theory perspectives on technology.

With automation, African Americans became less essential to the labor market established by whites. In a way, African Americans are machines easily cast aside in favor of more “silent” machines. I mean, think about African Slaves being called property, they are things without rights. Slaves were used as a technology, a piece of equipment that built and maintained the South’s economy. Additional tools and machines were just assemblages to slave to make him or her efficient as machine. After emancipation, black codes forced African Americans into manual, low-wage jobs that (maybe) were still useful to the South. Oppression became economic, labor focused, but automation of labor–relying on programmed robots–shifted the importance of African Americans. Some African Americans learned how to code; many went to MIT (as far back as 1941?).

Some became in charge of the machine; others made and programmed the machine. But the machine, doesn’t it just favor a system that supports whiteness? Does the technology make white hegemony ongoing (reference to critical race theory tenant that  racism never ends)? If so, doesn’t training people of color to code turn them into the (unintended) supporters of systems that oppress them? Oh and it’s every system because software IS IN every system. If new media merely digitizes what already exists in the real world, it has digitized or softwarized oppression, white privilege, etc. In a way, the African American coder is reinscribed into being useful to white hegemony, a return to his or her days as a slave, from the hot , boiling cotton fields to the cool air-conditioned office. He is not a slave, no; he’s paid for his work, patted on his back. But he might be the author of his own oppression?

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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