Let Freedom Ring from your Navigation Toolbar!

I feel compelled to blog this: a browser for black people. Mostly it’s because when I tried to download it the captcha program made me enter the words “reveled Empire.” (!) But also because, as someone putatively an expert on open source and culture, I was a bit (okay very) surprised that it exists, and doubly so that it’s serious. Two things: 1) yea open source! anyone can download Firefox and create their own “Browser for X people.” As anthropologists we could make browsers for our peoples. Except that my peoples made the browser in the first place, so y’all will have to go on without me. 2) Do we need further confirmation that race is now simply a demographic marketing category, and that anyone who feels it is actually an identity has confused consumption profiles with values?

I’m off to make a browser for cynics. or maybe one for black panthers, which strikes me as something we might need more right about now.

Christopher M. Kelty is an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

10 thoughts on “Let Freedom Ring from your Navigation Toolbar!

  1. I think you’re absolutely right about race-as-consumption-profile in this case, but I don’t think the idea of race-as-identity-driven-technology is such a bad one, especially given the kind of disturbing bias in current technology. Of course, much of the bias exists in the culture of the internet rather than in something like a browser–does the browser even given any significant input? Can it? Interesting questions…

  2. A software for blacks, then one for reds, for yellows, for pinks, for whites… and let’s not forget all those mixed races, let’s have a browser for each hue and tone… (and yes, i’d like to download the software for the cynics… every time i’d search something, a little window would pop-up to say “Do not trust what you read on the net”)

    I understand the marketing potential, but the idea is dangerous. Not only it essentializes the concept of ‘race’, but it naturalizes identity politics. Race becomes embedded in the technology; it becomes part of it. And it the end, it reproduces it in ways that are deeply racist. I wonder if anyone would feel so happy about ‘cars for whites’ or ‘buses for blacks’…

  3. “Do we need further confirmation that race is now simply a demographic marketing category, and that anyone who feels it is actually an identity has confused consumption profiles with values?”

    Well, in North Carolina there is a “Race” field on your driver’s license. The NCDMV is a bit of a racket, but they don’t so much market items as force you to purchase them.

  4. “my peoples made the browser in the first place, so y’all will have to go on without me”

    Anthropologists made Firefox? You lie sir!

  5. Do we need further confirmation that race is now simply a demographic marketing category, and that anyone who feels it is actually an identity has confused consumption profiles with values?
    If I understand your point, I think I disagree with it.

    I would claim that ‘race’ is a Discourse, and that marketing is a use of that Discourse. Identifying – including ‘feeling’ ones own identity or Othering – is another use.

    Maybe you meant, “Within the context of Mozilla browser users, race is a demographic marketing category”?

  6. no, if anything I mean “the meaning of race,” since saying “race is” anything at all is impossible. So, to be more precise:

    The meaning of race is that it is now simply a demographically sophisticated marketing category, and if you experience “race” as something that is the core of your identity, you are likely confusing how you are marketed to with what makes you you.

  7. “…if you experience ‘race’ as something that is the core of your identity, you are likely confusing how you are marketed to with what makes you you.”

    I could be missing something, but I hear you saying, “If race is an important component of your sense of self then you’ve been duped by corporate capitalism.” I’ve met more than a few self-reflective people with a racial identity, though.

    Besides, where is it written that marketing can’t play a role in making you you?

  8. “Do we need further confirmation that race is now simply a demographic marketing category, and that anyone who feels it is actually an identity has confused consumption profiles with values?”

    Your statement seems a bit broad to me. I would be more inclined to agree with you if you had stated:
    “Do we need further confirmation that race as an identity is now simply a demographic marketing category,…”

    We need only read about the recent hate crimes in NY and genocide around the world to know that race isn’t simply a marketing strategy. Race and racial categories are not natural and inherent, but we can admit they have very real, and often painful, consequences. How do we get out of that without using present categories, I have no idea…

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