(e)race: of memory & invisibility

For this project I want to reflect upon the connection between institutional racism and everyday lived experience. By telling my story, I hope that others will feel comfortable sharing their stories too.


On Tara McPherson’s “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation”

“[S]cholars of race must analyze, use, and produce digital forms and not smugly assume that to engage the digital directly is to be complicit with the forces of capitalism” (my emphasis 152).

There was something about this chapter that made me a bit apprehensive, but it wasn’t until I got to this line that I was really bothered. I wondered how many scholars of race she has met? What was critical race theory and its practice of incorporating storytelling as a vital importance with many recording those stories digitally? What was her distinction between critical race theory versus racial formation theory or was she conflating the two? Mostly, I was hoping she might answer the question for which her title begs to answer. (And why are we characterized as smug?!)

She spent a lot of time with the nuances of UNIX* but seems to gloss over the civil rights era and certainly doesn’t spend much time discussion racial formation of that time, although, I do appreciate her arguments on modularity and “lenticular logics.” But I still am stuck with comments like “scholars of race mock the computational, seeing it as corrupt” (154); it seems like a sweeping over-generalization of many different fields: American studies, ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, sociology, African American studies, Asian American studies, Chicano/Latino studies (and the list goes on).

I am writing during a time when the nation is gripped with racial tension from the Michael Brown killing and the grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer, Darren Wilson. I wonder how may scholars of race can sit smugly watching these events? Aren’t these times the reminders of why we got into the field to try to address racism?

While McPherson obviously wrote outside of that event, she certainly must have been aware of other covert and overt forms of racism. After all, isn’t what one of the premises of critical race theory that racism is an inherent part of American social fabric? In the end, she seems trapped by her own lenticular logics that placed all scholars of race into one module to be conveniently discarded. I wonder if in this move she is aware in participating in racial formation whereby this article represents a site where racial meanings are being situated in covert ways.  In the end, “scholars of race” are clearly not a part of her audience, and we can infer that her audience is extremely white, which leaves us with a sense of irony in her title.

*For an insightful discussion on this issue see mythospraxis’ post: https://culturalstudiesperceptionandrealism.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/on-why-im-on-the-fence-about-digital-humanities/

I’m including the “digital denied” as a link below to try to nuance this discussion a bit beyond my rants:

The Digital Divide through the Lens of Critical Race Theory


David MacDougall, “Beyond Observational Cinema”

“I would instead prefer a principle of multiple authorship leading to a form of intertextual cinema.  Through such an approach ethnographic film may be in a better position to address conflicting views of reality, in a world in which observers and observed are less clearly separated an in which reciprocal observation and exchange increasingly matter” –MacDougall

Nanook of the North

We chose this film as a problematic example of participatory cinema.  In a way, it blurs the lines between observational and participatory cinema.  It’s not clear how much Flaherty was at the disposal of his subjects. “Nanook” is not a participatory filmmaker but a subject.

Co-written by Seth Alt

On Visual Anthropology

“Our fascination with the native, the oppressed, the savage, and all such figures is therefore a desire to hold onto an unchanging certainty somewhere outside our own ‘ fake’ experience.  It is […] a not-too-innocent desire to seize control.”
-Rey Chow, “Where Have All the Natives Gone?”

Margaret Mead’s “Visual Anthropology in a Discipline of Words” had me thinking about the history of scientific intervention on the “Other” — or perhaps I should all it “scientism.” Mead is calling for newer approaches to anthropology using film, photography, and audio recordings for documentation. In making her case, she makes a delineation between visual and written arguing that anthropology is caught in privileging the written documentation over visual and auditory. Her ultimate motive is for a more refined “scientific” approach. However, she seems to either be oblivious or ignores objectification and fetishizing nature of her approach. While she’s bemoaning the disappearance of indigenous cultures and practices, she never points to why these people and their practices are disappearing. Rather, she is preoccupied with capturing the “authenticity” of the Other. Of course, James Clifford’s (and the postcolonial) critique of anthropology has yet to be made as she is writing


Mead’s approach is a bit reminiscent of older “scientific” approaches that reinforced white dominance. While certainly her methods are not as pernicious, they still reinforce the binary between civilized and uncivilized, “us” and the “other.” The anthropologist is the recorder of cultures not able to resist the modern world and progress but are locked in a “backward” traditions soon to become extinct.


From Anne McClintock’s _Imperial Leather: Race Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest_.


From Anne McClintock’s _Imperial Leather: Race Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest_.

The above illustrations reinforced social Darwinism — the idea that some races were more evolutionarily developed than others. Mead’s conception of the role of anthropology and its subjects continues this racial legacy in new ways.

Racial Formation: Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Social Media

Select Links:

▶ The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy -YouTube

After Ferguson, U.N. Calls on U.S. to Get Its Act Together on Race Discrimination | American Civil Liberties Union

OK, There Are A Lot Of Black Men In Prison. But There’s A Reason For That.

No Charges in Ohio Police Killing of John Crawford as Wal-Mart Video Contradicts 911 Caller Account | Democracy Now!

Ohio Walmart CCTV captures John Crawford shooting – video | US news | The Guardian

On the Myth of the Superpredator:

The ‘Superpredator’ Scare – Video – NYTimes.com

Superscapegoating superpredators — FAIR

SAGE: Preventing and Reducing Juvenile Delinquency: A Comprehensive Framework: Second Edition: James C. Howell: 9781412956383

On Twitter:

Cable, Twitter picked up Ferguson story at a similar clip | Pew Research Center

Ferguson Reveals a Twitter Loop – NYTimes.com

Watch the explosion of Ferguson on Twitter in this animated map – Quartz

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown Shows How Black People Are Portrayed in Mainstream Media – The Root

RE: Donna Haraway, “The Persistence of Vision” (VCReader)

“The God-Trick”
I was looking at National Geographic’s website since Haraway mentions the magazine’s 100th anniversary issue regarding “Space.” I thought it is an interesting illustration of her notion of the “god-trick”–flying through space while looking down upon the world.

The Dominance of Male Perspective in Traditional Scientific Objectivity

The above image is from the article “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” by Eileen Pollack in the New York Times Magazine website.

Situated Knowledge: Rosalind Franklin and the Continued Dominance of the Watson and Crick Model


Francis Crick and James D. Watson continue to dominate science textbooks as the discoverers of the double-helix structure of DNA. Yet without an x-ray image Rosalind Franklin had taken,  known as photo 51, supplied to them by their colleague Maurice Wilkins, they would not have concluded their work.

Photo 51

See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/rosalind-franklin-legacy.html