Understanding and Combatting Techno-Racism

February 22, 2024

Technology is not neutral or objective; it is fundamentally shaped by the racial, ethnic, gender, and social inequalities that exist in society. Though our omnipresent digital technologies can be used as tools for good, their built-in biases can –– and often do –– make these inequalities worse. As society adjusts to the era of artificial intelligence and automated decision-making, recognizing and mitigating these discriminatory practices is critical to ensuring a fair and just Information Age for all. 


Understanding Techno-Racism 

Techno-racism describes how the systemic racism experienced by people of color is encoded in the technical systems used in our everyday lives. This technology often unintentionally discriminates because it’s driven by algorithms trained on data that reflects the discriminatory views and judgments of society.  

If the historical data used to train algorithms and develop technologies reflects systemic biases, they are likely to perpetuate those same historically unequal opportunities and exacerbate inequalities. Here are some of the alarming ways techno-racism show up our world. 

  1. Facial Recognition Systems: Commonly used by law enforcement to identify and locate potential suspects, these systems have been shown to misidentify people of color at rates up to 100 times more frequently than White Americans. This misidentification can lead to wrongful arrests, oversurveillance, and infringement on an individual’s personal freedoms. 

  1. Mortgage and Loans: Online lenders use algorithms to determine rates for loan applicants, if they’re offered at all. However, as these algorithms continue to use flawed historical data from a period when African Americans could not own property, they perpetuate the same biases shown by human loan officers. Redlining—or denying loans or insurance based on where they live, which is often associated closely with race—has had one of the most significant negative impacts on equitable housing for people of color over the last 200 years. 

  1. Policing and Criminal Justice: These algorithms use historical crime data to predict where crimes are likely to occur. However, this data often reflects biased policing practices, leading to over-policing in predominantly minority neighborhoods that perpetuate existing racial disparities in law enforcement. Similarly, automated systems are increasingly used in criminal justice decisions like bail judgments and parole hearings, which can disproportionately impact people of color due to biased training data or flawed assumptions about recidivism rates. 

  1. Healthcare: Some medical algorithms, such as those used for predicting patient risk or prioritizing care, may inadvertently discriminate against people of color. If historical health data is biased due to systemic racism, the algorithms trained on that data can reinforce disparities in healthcare outcomes

  1. Job Recruitment Platforms: Algorithms used in hiring processes can inadvertently favor certain demographics. For example, if historical hiring data reflects that primarily white men have been chosen for a certain type of position in the past, an algorithm trained on that data is likely to continue those same practices, affecting job opportunities for people of color

  1. Social Media and Content Moderation: Algorithms used by social media platforms to recommend content or moderate posts can inadvertently amplify racial biases. For instance, they may disproportionately flag content from minority users as violating community guidelines. 


Combatting Techno-Racism with Ethical Innovation 

While eliminating techno-racism seems daunting, it could be achieved through coordinated and deliberate action. Here are some crucial steps individuals and organizations can take to combat this issue. 

  • Empower Diversity: Building diverse teams in the tech industry is critical. By bringing together individuals from varied backgrounds and perspectives, organizations can identify potential biases when creating new technology and foster a more inclusive development process. 

  • Design Ethically: Proactive consideration of potential biases and their impact on different groups is essential during the design phase of any technological solution to ensure fairness and inclusivity are built in, rather than bolted on, to the technology. 

  • Demystify the Black Box: Algorithms often operate within a “black box,” offering limited transparency about their decision-making processes and potential biases. Explainable AI techniques can shed light on these processes, fostering trust and accountability. 

  • Detect Bias: Regular audits and bias detection techniques can help to identify discriminatory patterns in algorithms and adjust training data. Proactive measures to address emerging biases are crucial to prevent techno-racism from creeping back in. 

  • Ensure Representative Data: The data used to train algorithms serves as the foundation for their outputs. Ensuring diverse and representative data sets can prevent perpetuating existing biases and underrepresentation. 

  • Amplify User Voices: Involving users in providing feedback and establishing mechanisms for accountability creates a feedback loop that fosters responsible development and prompt responses to identified biases. This empowers communities to have a say in how technology shapes their lives. 

  • Build a Legal Framework: Advocating for policies and regulations that address techno-racism and promote fairness, transparency, and accountability in technology development and use is crucial. Legal frameworks can provide safeguards against discriminatory practices and establish guidelines for ethical development. Public education and awareness campaigns are essential to drive ethical practices and demand change from developers and policymakers. 


If technology acts as a discriminatory agent, it can cause distrust in institutions, erode social cohesion, and foster disenfranchisement. Worthy individuals face limited job prospects, are denied loans, and have their fundamental freedoms infringed. Stereotypes are perpetuated. And like the inequalities historically perpetuated by humans, the effects of techno-racism can span generations and create a long-lasting legacy of disadvantage. 

Recognizing the inherent flaws in our everyday systems is critical to fighting against their negative impacts and developing more impartial technologies. Addressing techno-racism requires a significant and intentional effort from all stakeholders—tech companies, policymakers, researchers, and the public—to dismantle discriminatory systems and foster a more equitable future. Efforts to combat techno-racism are underway, driven by a collective commitment to fairness, transparency, and inclusivity in technology. 

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