It’s a question almost everyone I know is asking. What does it really mean to be fully anti-racist? I am a white person living in a gloriously diverse community. We have these exchanges more now than ever before but in that context I mostly am in listening, learning, and supporting mode.
This post offers preliminary answers as they relate to my work as an inventor and Descant, the technology. I’ll delve into each in more detail later but here are my first thoughts:
1. My tech projects reflect who I am as a musician-turned-lawyer-turned ethics professor-turned entrepreneur. That eclectic background puts me in something of a connector mode, seeing linkages across groups that may not know each other.
That background also opens up opportunities to highlight work the tech industry needs to do so we are not automating, hiding, and amplifying biases. New York City is rich in research and proposals from: a) Think tanks that show how algorithms amplify biases and surveillance technologies that somehow always end up further marginalizing the marginalized; and b) Social impact organizations and foundations that are crafting standards and recommending policies to promote technology for good.
I’m an awkward academic at best but I do understand the research and I know it is not embedded in products that many people already use or who are suffering from their so-called unintended consequences. Predictive policing and fintech apps, all attracting big investors, come to mind as most likely to undermine our best efforts to embrace anti-racism and systemic transformation.
I find that many of my activist friends and colleagues are not familiar with all the ways technology governs who can access economic opportunity much less live free of biased policing. I share what I know and hope to join forces with others to take this on in more substantive advocacy.
2. Descant is a digital platform that opens up much greater economic opportunity for small businesses that are vital to their communities but have too often fallen outside credit and financing options.
The best use of Descant I can imagine is making a difference in communities that already were hit hard by the pandemic. I am concerned that critical efforts to address all the ways we have let black people down on an individual basis will ignore how racism continues to hold back small businesses. It wasn’t a coincidence that some of the worst race-related devastation in our history came at a time when black entrepreneurs were beginning to thrive.
These are starting points but please let me know of other ways to offer meaningful support.