Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation / Tara McPherson

McPherson reflects on two experiences that reflect the disconnect between digital humanities and other modes of inquiry around race, gender, class, etc; instead of focusing on how to rupture oppressive infrastructures, conversations around tool-building and coding focused on how to build infrastructure. The answer to why the digital humanities are so white lies in this disconnect as well as the “effect of the very designs of our technological systems.” McPherson looks back at the 1960s, a time when UNIX (the basic philosophy/foundation for modern operating systems) was being developed, as well as the center of the Civil Rights Movement; she provides a compelling argument that these two extremely “different” camps are actually interdependent.

In the explanation of their vision for the UNIX, Kernighan and Plauger argue that modularity should be a priority; only the input and output should be visible to the user while the inner-workings, or the actual transformation process from point A to point B0 should not. This modularity resonates with liberal colorblindness; the “lenticular logic,” or fragmented lens, during the mid-1900s demonstrates how race is visible through its absence. “The emergence of covert racism and its rhetoric of color blindness are not so much intentional as systemic.” McPherson calls for a mergence of the two conversations that have continued to avoid each other: those on the side of technology might find new ways to understand culture, while those on the side of race discussions should “analyze, use, and produce digital forms.”

McPherson, Tara. 2012. “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? Or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 139–60. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/29.