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A round table featuring participants in the Anti-Racist Critical Code Studies Working Group
Opening Post: Sarah Ciston, Zach Mann, Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino
In his 2019 book How to be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi defines the anti-racist as “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” The anti-racist actively works against racism. They work to produce change. Throughout the book, he offers more specific definitions for anti-racism with regard to biology, gender, culture, and other areas. What would a definition of anti-racist critical code studies look like?
During recent years, scholars have been teaching us how to approach software through race-critical lenses. Jessica Marie Johnson, Safiya Noble, and Mark A. Neal ran a pivotal week of the 2018 Critical Code Studies Working Group, entitled “Race and Black Codes,” which examined the relationship between codes that regulate Black bodies and human and technological responses to them. That week was built on a special issue of The Black Scholar entitled “Black Code.” Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression and Ruha Benjamin’s Race after Technology also provide direction for how to approach software and other technological objects through the lens of anti-racism.
Our reading group gathers at the intersection of race and software studies, following the lead of such luminaries as Lisa Nakamura and Alondra Nelson, who was recently appointed the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s inaugural Deputy Director for Science and Society. We look to Joy Buolamwini’s work in the Algorithmic Justice League. We have arranged a screening of her 2020 film Coded Bias during the reading group.
We also learn from the example of senior research associate Tara McPherson, who offers a key methodological model in “U.S. Operating Systems at Mid-Century: The Intertwining of Race and Unix.” In this article, which we will discuss in the group, rather than removing technology from its historic contexts, McPherson traces the relationship between an operating system and the racist culture in which it emerges.
In this reading group, we hope to explore strategies for incorporating anti-racist thought and practice into Critical Code Studies. Using the readings, we will discuss broadly the many ways that computer programming inherits racist histories of its authors, even how seemingly neutral code can operate in, reproduce, and also resist the racialized systems in which it operates. We will look at concrete examples of source code which intersect with these concerns. These code snippets will be added to the code channel. We invite you to post new ones.
We invite participants of the Anti-Racist CCS Reading Group to bring insights from those discussions here and for all in CCSWG22 to join in this topic.
But feel free to pick up any of the threads that came up in that Reading Group.