Why racism and technology?

The Racism and Technology Center has been founded to help bridge the gap between anti-racism organisations and organisations that focus on digital rights. The former often feel they lack the expertise and agency to address racism in a technological context, whereas the latter more often than not have a blind spot for questions of (racial) inequality.

The founders of the Center are experienced digital rights defenders, with a good network within the Dutch anti-racist space. In conversation with these anti-racist organisations, they decided to start a non-profit with the mandate to address the intersection between racism and technology. The mission of the Racism and Technology Center is as follows:

The Racism and Technology Center uses technology as a mirror to reflect and make visible existing racist practices in Dutch society. As a knowledge center, we provide a platform, resources, knowledge, skills and legitimacy to anti-racism and digital rights organisations to help them create understanding of how racism is manifested in technology with the goal of dismantling systems of oppression and injustice.

We believe that our technology is a reflection of our society. However, it is a distorted reflection in the sense that it makes certain things more visible while hiding other things. Structural and institutional racism becomes undeniably visible in the technology that we as a society use. By using a technological lens, we want to give the fight against racism a new set of arguments (maybe even a new ‘language’) to help its cause. It is therefore not our aim to fix technology (although that would be nice too), but rather to help fix society by taking a critical look at technology.

In our work, we explicitly battle the three most common misunderstandings when thinking about racism in the context of technology. The first is that people keep thinking that technology is a neutral tool, whereas it actually creates feasibility spaces for social practice. All design is applied ethics in the end. Secondly, people think that technology can only be racist if there is racist intent behind it. This is not true. Even if nobody meant for their technology to be racist, the technology can still have racist outcomes. Finally, we fight the solutionist idea that better technology will solve things. You cannot solve racism with technological interventions.

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