The Hate-Mongers: Characterizing racism in comics

In 1963, as the Civil Rights Movement was making its presence increasingly felt, writer Stan Lee and penciler Jack Kirby introduced the Hate-Monger in the pages of Fantastic Four #21. Wearing purple KKK-style robes, inciting xenophobic outbreaks with his hate speech, and wielding an H-ray that could transform even peaceful heroes into unthinkingly enraged combatants, the Hate-Monger stokes the American animosities towards nonwhites that civil rights activists struggled against. Ultimately defeated by the Fantastic Four, the Hate-Monger is unmasked as… a clone of Adolf Hitler! The big reveal at story’s end affords Mr. Fantastic—and, through him, Lee—the opportunity to deliver a brief but clear sermon on the importance of building a world like that the activists at the time were fighting for, one in which “men truly love each other, regardless of race, creed, or color…”

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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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