Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
It's not in your mind -- that soap dispenser is racist
If women and people of colour are excluded in how tech is made, it won't serve us when we need it to work, writes Vicky Mochama.
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I have never liked automated machines in public bathrooms. I inevitably end up begging a machine for permission to wash my hands.
In all likelihood, the machine I chose has run out of the Thing — soap, paper towel, the desire to flush — and I am standing there waiting for a Thing that will not arrive. In a public bathroom, I'd prefer not to do a jazz hands routine just to get the water out of the taps. I prefer to do all my jazz routines in the privacy of my home.
At my home, where nothing is automated, the water comes out of the tap when I turn on the tap. It's a simple system that has worked for as long I have had it. In fact, the only automated part of my household (besides my best friends: the phone and computer) is the Apple TV box which works in stereotypical millennial fashion, i.e. when it is good and ready, and also not before noon.
"The machines hate me" was an opinion I always felt was true, but could never prove. Until now.
A recent viral video exposed a soap dispenser that only served lighter-skin hands. When a dark Black person tried to get soap, they got nothing, while a light-skinned (read: white) hand was given a burst of foaming soap. Chukwuemeka Afigbo, the man who posted the video captioned it, "If you have ever had a problem grasping the importance of diversity in tech and its impact on society, watch this video."
I assumed that my crankiness was the reason I felt so strongly about automated dispensers. Turns out it's society! (It's also my crankiness but that too is probably due to society.)
Society has evolved so that women wear pants and vote, but it hasn't changed everywhere. Diversity in the tech world is pretty abysmal. Take, for example, Snapchat, a photo-sharing app, which recently unleashed a new update that allowed users to share not just their pictures but also their location. Unsurprisingly, the app's many female users were uninterested in broadcasting their exact location to the denizens of the web.
When James Damore was fired from Google for circulating a memo that suggested women were, in a dazzling array of ways, incapable of being engineers, it was proof of an attitude that has pushed women out of STEM fields.
If women and people of colour are excluded in how tech is made, it won't serve us when we need it to work.
Maybe it's not the machines that I'm up against; maybe it's their creators.