The Enduring Anti-Black Racism of Google Search
How neoliberalism, Google, and the U.S. porn industry coded searching for ‘black girls’ with racism
When Algorithms of Oppression was published in 2018, it was a landmark work that interrogated the racism encoded into popular technology products like Google’s search engine. Given that many Americans are currently using Google search to try to understand racism after the national uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd, it’s a good time to remember the architecture they are using to do so is itself deeply compromised — and how that came to pass. This excerpt, from Safiya Umoja Noble’s enduring work, explains why anti-Black racism appears, and endures, in tech products we are told to view as neutral.
On June 28, 2016, Black feminist and mainstream social media erupted over the announcement that Black Girls Code, an organization dedicated to teaching and mentoring African American girls interested in computer programming, would be moving into Google’s New York offices. The partnership was part of Google’s effort to spend $150 million on diversity programs that could create a pipeline of talent into Silicon Valley and the tech industries. But just two years before, searching the phrase “black girls” surfaced “Black Booty on the Beach” and “Sugary Black Pussy” to the first page of Google results, out of the trillions of web-indexed pages that Google Search crawls.
In part, the intervention of teaching computer code to African American girls through projects such as Black Girls Code is designed to ensure fuller participation in the design of software and to remedy persistent exclusion. The logic of new pipeline investments in youth was touted as an opportunity to foster an empowered vision for Black women’s participation in Silicon Valley industries. Discourses of creativity, cultural context, and freedom are fundamental narratives that drive the coding gap, or the new coding divide, of the 21st century.
Neoliberalism has emerged and served as a framework for developing social and economic policy in the interest of elites, while simultaneously crafting a new worldview: an ideology of individual freedoms that foreground personal creativity, contribution, and participation, as if these engagements are…