Film’s use of Déjà Vu

The film’s use of déjà vu is helpful for considering the relationship between seemingly trivial technical glitches and meaningful design decisions. The glitch in this context is a not an insignificant “mistake” to be patched over, but rather serves as a signal of something foundational about the structure of the world meant to pacify humans. It draws attention to the construction and reconstruction of the program and functions as an indication that those seeking freedom should be ready to spring into action.

A decade before the Matrix first hit the big screen, Black feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins conceptualized systemic forms of inequality in terms of a “matrix of domination” in which race, class, gender, and other axes of power operated together, “as sites of domination and as potential sites of resistance.”19 This interlocking matrix operates at individual, group, and institutional levels, so that empowerment “involves rejecting the dimensions of knowledge, whether personal, cultural, or institutional, that perpetuate objectification and dehumanization.”20 Relating this dynamic to the question of how race “gets inside” technology, the Roman numeral glitch of Google Maps and others like it urge us to look again at the way our sociotechnical systems are constructed – by whom and to what ends.

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Racist glitches – such as celebrity chef Paula Dean’s admission that “yes, of course” she has used the N-word alongside her desire to host a “really southern plantation wedding” with all-Black servers;21 or a tape-recorded phone call in which former Los Angeles Clippers owner and real estate mogul Donald Sterling told a friend “[i]t bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”22 – come and go, as provocative sound bites muffling a deeper social reckoning. In my second example, the scandal associated with Sterling’s racist remarks stands in stark contrast with the hush and acceptance of a documented pattern of housing discrimination exercised over many years, wherein he refused to rent his properties to Black and Latinx tenants in Beverly Hills and to non-Korean tenants in LA’s Koreatown.23 In the midst of the suit brought by the Department of Justice, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People nevertheless honored Sterling with a lifetime achievement award in 2009. Only once his tape-recorded remarks went public in 2014 did the organization back out of plans to award him this highest honor for a second time, forcing the chapter president to resign amid criticism.

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