A Hundred Racist Designs: Part Two

To build an antiracist future, we have to take a hard look at today’s creations.

I’m glad you’re back.

If you made it here first, you might want to check out A Hundred Racist Designs, Part 1. It will clarify the context for you.

If you have, I’d love to hear how your reflection went. What racist objects inhabit your daily life? What changes can we make so the things we make are more equitable? How are we making oppression more visible to our objects, day by day? It’s important to note how truth-telling is only one step on the journey. What’s next for you?

Glad to hear your perspective. How, to the task at hand.

Let’s reclarify the question: What are the designs that were designed to, or are used as unique leverage points towards racial inequality?

Let’s dive in.

51. Cameras

Heard of the Shirley Card?

Named after Shirley Page, a white woman who worked at Kodak which “was used to ensure the colors and densities of the prints were calibrated correctly,” which was in turn used as the standard of determining how pictures were taken across the economic reach of the Kodak company?

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Source

An important point: the economic pressure of a black customer base wasn’t even enough to pressure companies to develop Shirley cards of black people:

52. Stock Photos

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Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

53. Steel Glasses

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Masala Tea and South Indian Filter Coffee — Chennai Banana Leaf, Syndal AUD2.50 each

54. Makeup Shades

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Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

55. Skin Colored Crayons

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Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

56. ‘Nude-Colored’ and “Skin-Colored” Clothing

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Searching for ‘Nude bra’ in Google.

Note: That article above was published in 2013; and an entrepreneur is listed having made darker-colored band-aids 15 years prior. Band-Aid said they were adding different colored colors in June 2020.

57: The “Asian Super Consumer”

Source

58. Automatic Faucets

Source

59. Airport Scanners

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Photo by William Navarro on Unsplash

60. The Banjo

Admittedly, the banjo came to America with Gambian slaves. According to musicologists, the akonting from the Gambia has the closest resemblance to the banjo we’ve come to recognize today. So, how is it racist?

61. The Server Tipping System

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Photo by eggbank on Unsplash

62. Hair Straightening Tools

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Photo by Shari Sirotnak on Unsplash

63: Fusion Food

64: Magic: the Gathering

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Photo by Wayne Low on Unsplash

65: Cigar Boxes

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Source

66: Disney Movies

Take your pick. Which Disney movie has more racism?

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Photo by Joel Sutherland on Unsplash

The Jungle Book?

Dumbo?

Peter Pan?

Fantasia?

The Aristocats?

The Little Mermaid?

Aladdin?

The Song of the South?

At least they added this disclaimer into Disney+ show and movies on their streaming platform :

67: Food Brands Featuring People of Color

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Photo by Duncan Kidd on Unsplash

Butterworth’s.

Aunt Jemima.

Cream of Wheat,

Uncle Ben’s.

Eskimo Pies.

The global uprising’s got these companies shook.

68. Dolls

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Photo by Kirill Sharkovski on Unsplash

69: Standardized Testing

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

70: Tenure

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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

71. Facial Recognition Technology

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(Pikrepo, Creative Commons Zero — CC0)

72, 73, 74: Political Prediction Algorithms, Predictive Text, and Word Processing Software

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Source

75. Computer Chips

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Photo by Yannick Pipke on Unsplash

76. DNA Tests

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

77. Speech Recognition Technology

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Photo by Ben Koorengevel on Unsplash

78: Time

Source

79. Video Games

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Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

80. Guineamen Ships

You likely know them as slave ships.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

81. The Rickshaw

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Photo by Nischal Masand on Unsplash

82: The Bible

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Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

83, 84, 85, 86: The Whip, The Punishment Collar, The Muzzle, The Iron Mask

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Source

87. Cotton Gin

This one’s a bit obvious.

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Photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash

88. Chattel Slavery

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Slaves of General Thomas F. Drayton

89. The Welfare Queen

Have you heard of Linda Taylor?

She was the person for whom the infamous stereotype, the Welfare queen, was stereotyped. Her story, amazing as it is, was warped into stereotypes intent on destroying a system helping the most marginalized of American society.

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Source

90: American Patent Support Systems

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Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

91. Last Names

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Photo by Allie on Unsplash

92: The Electoral College

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

93: The Census

Race categories are complicated.

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Photo by Enayet Raheem on Unsplash

94. Credit Scoring Algorithms

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Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

95. The Drone

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Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

96: Anthropology

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Source

97. The Birth Certificate

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Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

98: The Lawn Jockey

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

99: Clowns

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A golden skinned Piet featured in a store display window during the 2015 holiday season.

100: Nuclear Families

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Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

If you want more explanation, each link offers more discussion about each artifact. and I hope you dig into the examples that resonate.

This much is clear: there are many more out there. I argue it’s harder to find the alternative; namely, designs that aren’t free of racism’s effects.

Additionally, racism intersects — by design — with sexism, transphobia, ableism, classism, nationalism, and all other oppressive systems. Whether developing technologies that hinder reproductive freedom for black women, or defensive architecture intended to ‘cleanse’ a city of the poor, each of these projects likely oppresses more than a single identity. As Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

These artifacts are foundational, but they’re not above contestation. Once they’ve found value in society, no matter their racial politics or intent, it’s extremely hard to find alternatives. Those with decision-making power, their customers, and the economic system developed to support the design adds enough value to make designs seem incontrovertible.

Fortunately, we can dream bigger.

Race hides in the artifacts we use and develop every day. As we create, use, and shape things to be used in society, certain objects embody meaning never intended by their initial designers — in some situations, not even by the people who use them. This is why culturally pluralistic design is such an important endeavor.

Designers, engineers, scientists, cooks, policymakers, artists: we all must cope with the reality of how race makes these products, and how products embody oppression. Design is a manifestation of humankind’s beliefs and values: what people believe, they construct and ossify. Therefore, if we want to live an anti-racist society, there are no better places to start than the designer’s tabula rasa.

What’s the next antiracist design you’ll create?

You made it! I can’t thank you enough.

I can feel it; you have a lot to say on this topic. My ear is yours. Let’s find a reason to connect.

Written by

How does your design shift power? | http://www.piercegordon1.com

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