United States of Amnesia: What White America Doesn't Understand About the Baltimore Protests

Baltimore’s young people responded to the police theft of Freddie Gray’s life with protests that eventually grew into a spasm of violence. While the direct motivator, Gray’s death is not the only direct cause of the uprising. The protests and violent exhalations by Baltimore’s black youth (and others) are the result of a long pattern of police abuse, harassment and violence toward that city’s African-American community in the context of systemic class inequality, custodial citizenship and mass incarceration.

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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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