What can blind people tell us about race?
For several years now, a quiet revolution has been underway in consumer electronics. Gadgets that are a part of our everyday lives have learned to see. Relying on optical devices and software that can detect faces and track body motions, cameras, gaming systems, phones, and other tools have gained access to the mechanisms of visions and recognition that were once considered the unique province of sentient beings.
But some of these technologies have a problem: they have a hard time seeing people of color.
Race is made visible by social practices—a claim that is confirmed, ironically, by the experiences of the blind.
In December 2009 Wanda Zamen and Desi Cryer, two employees at a camping supply store in Waller, Texas, noticed something peculiar about an HP computer at the shop. The computer featured a digital camera that detected and tracked human faces. The system had no problem identifying and following Wanda, who is white, but it could not do the same for Desi, who is black. He demonstrates the glitch in a YouTube video that has been viewed almost 3 million times. “As you can see, the camera is panning to show Wanda’s face. It’s following her around. But as soon as my blackness enters the frame, . . . [the camera] stops,” he says.