Writing Out Loud: Race After Technology

Benjamin examines how technology--which we often think about as inevitably making society better--can actually perpetuate some of the worst aspects of society, including inequality. After completing the reading, please respond to the following questions.

Theme: Shifting the Paradigm


  1. Benjamin argues that “as robots become more ‘intelligent,’ that is, as they learn to think more like humans, they are likely to become more racist.” What does she mean, and why does she make that argument? Why do more advanced technologies often reproduce inequality more effectively?
  2. Benjamin says that “blackness can be both marginal and focal to tech development.” What does she mean, and what examples does she provide of blackness as marginal and as focal? What can these examples teach us about the  reproduction of inequality through seemingly neutral technologies?
  3. Many of the theorists featured in this book (Weber, Bauman, Wallerstein, Marx, etc.) highlight how everyone—even well-meaning people—can contribute to social systems that maintain inequality and violence. Benjamin agrees, showing how technology can perpetuate racism and other forms of inequality even without creators holding discriminatory attitudes. Consider your life. Think of a social system that you participate in; consider your social media activity, purchasing habits, leisure activity, etc. How does this system help maintain inequality or exploitation, and how do you participate in it? Could you stop participating in that system? Why or why not? How could the system be altered to be more equitable?
  4. Many of the theorists featured in this book highlight the dangers of imagining technology as an inevitable source of social progress. Benjamin agrees. Think back to Habermas’s writing on the relationship between rationality and democracy. Habermas argues that we need to reflect on how new technologies will change society before we adopt them. How might Benjamin’s analysis expand on Habermas’s? Whose voices need to be included in reflection, and why?
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