The First Rule of Blackface: It’s Not Hard to Understand, Everyone

Two troubled souls in Florida – Greg Cimeno and William Filene — decided that it would be “fucking hilarious” to dress up as George Zimmerman and a murdered Trayvon Martin for Halloween. Filene donned a hoodie with blood painted in the center and put on black face paint. His friend Greg put on a T-shirt that said “neighborhood watch.” In the picture that Caitlin Cimeno put up on Facebook, the two men smile and laugh for the camera with Caitlin standing in the middle having a blast.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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