Look beyond Marketing Rhetoric

So, as we work to understand the New Jim Code, it is important to look beyond marketing rhetoric to the realities of selling and targeting diversity. One of the companies, Diversity, Inc., which I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 1, creates software that helps other companies and organizations tailor marketing campaigns to different ethnic groups. In the process it delineates over 150 distinct ethnicities and “builds” new ones for companies and organizations that want to market their goods or services to a subgroup not already represented in the Diversity, Inc. database. Technologies do not just reflect racial fault lines but can be used to reconstruct and repackage social groupings in ways that seem to celebrate difference. But would you consider this laudable or exploitative, opportunistic or oppressive? And who ultimately profits from the proliferation of ethnically tailored marketing? These are questions we will continue to wrestle with in the pages ahead.

Finally, the New Jim Code is part of a broader push toward privatization where efforts to cut costs and maximize profits, often at the expense of other human needs, is a guiding rationale for public

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and private sectors alike.62 Computational approaches to a wide array of problems are seen as not only good but necessary, and a key feature of cost-cutting measures is the outsourcing of decisions to “smart” machines. Whether deciding which teacher to hire or fire or which loan applicant to approve or decline, automated systems are alluring because they seem to remove the burden from gatekeepers, who may be too overworked or too biased to make sound judgments. Profit maximization, in short, is rebranded as bias minimization.

But the outsourcing of human decisions is, at once, the insourcing of coded inequity. As philosopher and sociologist Herbert Marcuse remarked, “[t]echnological rationality has become political rationality.” Considering Marcuse’s point, as people become more attuned to racial biases in hiring, firing, loaning, policing, and a whole host of consequential decisions – an awareness we might take to be a sign of social progress – this very process also operates as a kind of opportunity for those who seek to manage social life more efficiently. The potential for bias creates a demand for more efficient and automated organizational practices, such as the employment screening carried out by AI – an example we will explore in more depth. Important to this story is the fact that power operates at the level of institutions and individuals – our political and mental structures – shaping citizen-subjects who prioritize efficiency over equity.

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