Benjamin says race is a technology. Race is obviously connected to population. Is race a technique of bio-power?
I think that the idea of race as a form of technology is a long-standing one. It is well documented throughout American history, how race is used for the furtherance of a larger objective. It can be further stated that the overall population’s alignment with its structure is parallel to the countries’ racial progress as a whole. Going back to pre-industrialized America, race was used as a justification for slave labor. With the large majority of the American public subscribing to the idea that there are fundamental differences between each race, it becomes quite easy to see how a racially based slavery culture was fertilized in the earlier days of America. Many of these ideas were predicated on the widely accepted concept of Eugenics. While it does not seem that this concept was created as a means of the technological use of race, it does hold weight as a facilitating factor in the larger creation of the early American slave trade system. In Foucault’s idea of bio-power, we humans are using race in this context as a technology of power. The race that is in control of the overall narrative roughly speaking is the one that can define the rules and limits of each race therein. In earlier America, when the justification of slavery was the necessary means to the end of a more industrious American market, there were those that used the concept of race as a means of biological power, in the human species, in order to organize the hierarchy of human existence for their own benefit.
In the modern era, we oftentimes think that these organizations of human beings are barbaric and a product of the racist past of our country, however, it is important to remember the various other contexts that are relevant to the development of our understanding and implementation of race. These concepts become especially important in developing theories of how race is used as a technology. While the less modern example seems so obvious in hindsight, it is so very often that this retrospective bias keeps us from accurately accessing and digesting how some of these kinds of dynamics may still be at play in the modern sphere. One of the most prominent examples that I can think of in the modern zeitgeist is how race is used as a technology on the internet.
Now, there are many different ways that this topic could be unpacked in relation to its use in modern society but for the scope of this blog post, I would like to focus on TikTok. I think that as a precursor to some of the opinions that I have formed in interacting with this digital medium, I should state that I am biracial, which at times can impact the way that I interact with some of the algorithms that are being used on platforms such as TikTok. With this in mind, I would like to first point out the obvious difference in why race is being used as a technology of sorts, in contemporary times, versus the past. In the world’s current use of race as a technology, the end goal is to generate interaction, that is to say, the goal of Tiktok is to create a platform experience that is engaging enough for an individual to keep their attention on the stimulus being presented for as long as humanly possible. At first, I did not realize, or have any concept of this at all in my engagement with the app. That is to say that not being aware of any of these aforementioned directives, allowed me to be fully manipulated by some of the divisive techniques that the platform is utilizing. In the context of race, for example, I grew to realize that even though I have not stated any direct affiliation with one race versus another, TikTok picks up on which content I am most likely to engage, and remain engaged with. After noticing this, I began to realize how often I was being shown videos that would elicit an emotional reaction from me, especially content that related to the concept of race. It was shocking in a way, as I began to realize just how often I was being drawn into this realm of racialized thinking, given my somewhat rigid disinterest in discussing race as a concrete topic. Even more profound too, I was shocked at just how effective these kinds of algorithms can be at keeping an audience engaged in what is being presented.
One other thing that began to puzzle me when engaging with this app, was how this data was being gathered and applied on a larger scale. I thought about the millions of users that TikTok has access to, and how these individuals are not only being somewhat manipulated by this app, but also how their patterns of usage are being analyzed to make pre-existing algorithms that much better at predicting behavior. At this moment, I have already attempted to pull back my usage of the app, as I have come to the true realization of how my inputs are being used as an incredibly small part of an overarching financial agenda to further the profits of this private entity.