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Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life

Editor: Alondra Nelson, Thuy Lin N. Tu, with Alicia Headlam Hines
Publisher: New York: NYU Press, 2000
Review Published: September 2005

 REVIEW 1: Andre Brock
 REVIEW 2: C. Richard King
 REVIEW 3: Angela Denise Prater
 REVIEW 4: Lisa Marie Rollins

    "With limited resources and limited access, people have been using whatever technology they can get their hands on -- secondhand, outdated, busted down, whatever -- and have been pushing it, stretching it, redefining it, and usually getting it to do much more than it was ever meant to do" Vivek Bald, p. 89.
This quote signifies the theme that runs throughout Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. The articles are written in academic form because it started as a group project in a graduate class but it is readable for mass audiences. Editors Alondra Nelson and Thuy Linh N. Tu were (at the time of the anthology's publication) both Ph.D. candidates at New York University, and Alicia Headlam Hines received her masters from NYU but is now working as an instructor at the Horace Mann School in New York. There are eleven chapters that illuminate gaps within the digital divide debate and challenge notions that assume race and technology are at odds with each other. There are several theoretical frameworks used such as feminist theory, historical analysis, post-colonial feminism, cultural studies, intersectionality, and more.

The editors claim that technology should be approached as a spectrum which includes the internet, personal computers, training and education, digital media content, telecommunication infrastructures, and access. The introduction, "Hidden Circuits," refers the complicated nature of the digital spectrum. A primary concern is with how discussions of race, class, and technology have been shaped in the United States. The editors argue that even though there is access to computers and internet in libraries and some schools, education, employment, and other technological imbalances exist within society that directly position marginalized citizens at a disadvantage. In addition, the editors claim that Blacks and Latino are most often and unfairly discussed as being the unfortunate ones who can not keep up with technology.

One of the book's key arguments is that current academic literature and discussions among politicians highlight the economic aspects while ignoring underlying social issues of inequitable wealth distribution. For example, Logan Hill's chapter, "Beyond Access: Race, Technology, Community," highlights how race and class intersect as sites of political struggle and calls for a new digital politics. Hill suggests that politicians like former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have promised universal access to computers and the internet to all Americans, however, the divide has widened because of discrepancies in education or job training. Low income users are often the ones taking online classes, online companies mislead users by giving false information regarding minorities' access, and online or high tech CEO positions are usually held by whites.

Casey Man Kong Lum's "Karaoke and the Construction of Identity" challenges the notion of a homogenous group of Asian/Chinese American citizens and examines constructions of identity (ethnic, social, economic, and gender frames) through the practice of Karaoke. The chapter shows the complexities of Chinese American culture and concludes that the ideology of Asians being the model minority often overlooks the many others who struggle with day to day life. Similarly, Amitavar Kumar's "Temporary Access: The Indian H-B1 Worker in the United States" features interviews with H-BI Indian workers which bring to light how race and geography are sites of political struggle as well. The author shows how the new structure of the workplace has declined and that in e-commerce reports there is a silence surrounding cases of Indian workers who come to the US for technology based jobs are often quite disappointed due to the unknown expenses they face along with the fear of joblessness and humiliation.

Similarly, Karen J. Hossfeld's "'Their Logic against Them': Contradiction in Sex, Race, and Class in Silicon Valley" is also concerned with high tech positions held by white male managers and third world immigrant workers. Hossfeld shows how managers use the rhetorical ideologies of race, class, sex, and nationality as a way to either enforce or deny civil rights depending on the situation. This chapter reveals how workers have used this logic as a way to resist this type of workplace labor control. For example, some management often used gender ideologies more frequently and blatantly than racist ones because they are more acceptable in society. The managers would flirt with the women, assign women "gender specific" jobs, and even have different uniforms based on gender; therefore, the work culture mirrored traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity. Naturally, these gendered duties lead to less pay, so the women would resist by performing gender and highlighting their femininity on the shop floor by grooming themselves in such elaborate ways that were contradictory to their low wages. Unfortunately for some women, these gendered ideologies carried over into their home. Hill interviews a Korean immigrant whose husband forbids her to earn more than him -- but she did. In turn, she would give some of her paycheck to her son to turn over to his father in order to appear as if the father was the primary bread winner.

Further, the chapter highlights gender and examines how it intersects with race, class, and nationality within "the new international division of labor." The author uses in-depth interviews of two hundred Silicon Valley workers, their family members, employers, and the like, and notes that out of the forty one managers interviewed all but five were US-born white males. These interviews reveal that ideologies of gender and nationality are often wrong and that the women employed used tactics to effectively deal with discrimination and poor working conditions. However, it also shows how much better these conditions are than the ones they face in their homeland but nevertheless, the author does not excuse employee exploitation. The author believes that these women have a great deal to offer and gain within national labor movements, feminist movements, and ethnic communities, yet most often they are just trying to make ends meet and rarely get involved in such movements.

Another key theme found in the book is how minority groups' interest in and use of technology may be different than mainstream society but that such a difference does not automatically translate into technological ignorance. For example, Ben Chappell's "'Take a Little Trip with Me': Lowriding and the Poetics of Scale" details the intrinsically sophisticated nature of Low Riders that began in the 1930s when Mexican-Americans took old cars and transformed them into something new and better. Chappell explains that the first type of lowrider was usually a decorated American-made sedan. He explains how the car suspension systems were replaced with hydraulic pumps from dump trucks or military surplus landing gear. This involves cutting the suspension to make the car as low as they want. Next, they have to make the wheels higher by installing lifts that are then driven by a system of hydraulic pumps and so on. In essence, Chappell gives the reader a step by step account of the very involved processes of creating a lowrider that takes time and more than just common sense knowledge. One drawback of this form of cultural expression is its largely gendered conditions in which females are objectified; however, female lowrider participation is beginning to emerge.

Guillermo Gomez-Pina's "The Virtual Barrio @ the Other Frontier: (or The Chicano Interneta)" gives a cultural critique of Mexican mythologies in relation to technology from his standpoint as one of the primary investors of an artistic technology called "techno-razcuache art." Andrew Ross interviews McLearn Mashingaidze Greaves to discuss cafelosnegroes.com, one of the few minority-owned sites for Black cultural production. Greaves notes that he intended for the site to be a place where underground Black and Latino Generation X artists could showcase their work, as well as a site for news and other information. Instead, the site became a vehicle of outreach for urban areas where he ended up teaching new media to high school kids and offered internships to Black/Latino youth. The lack of technological and entrepreneurial skills in the Black community, coupled with the fact that Greaves did not have enough capital to sustain a high risk start up business, resulted in Greaves eventually closing the site after not generating enough memberships. Greaves goes on to talk about how he has turned several online sites into successes but contends that race matters, even in cyberspace.

Tricia Rose, one of the first scholars to write about hip hop and culture, interviews Beth Coleman who creates musical expressions as a DJ using various technologies. As a DJ and Ph.D. student of comparative literature, Coleman talks about technology in relation to the type of sound equipment that she had to learn to use and the sound that she produces. She notes that her music is much like academic work that talks about "things" that break up and then reflect on themselves. Coleman also illuminates the politics of gender in her work including the interplay with race, aesthetics, and technology. Moreover, Coleman talks about the gendered activities within the business and reflects on the biased nature that favors men. She claims that women do not have the opportunity to learn from male counterparts which forces them to hire engineers to learn the more technical parts of the business. In the end, she explains about how this strain creates rivalry among female DJs.

Another example is Ben Williams' "Black Secret Technology: Detroit Techno and the Information Age" where the author recognizes African Americans with creating the unique sounds of Techno music while providing a detailed perspective of the musical genre's history. Williams' chapter traces the history of techno that began with African American musicians starting from the 1970s with Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Williams' rich analysis covers a breadth of information including the cultural, political, social, and technological developments that aided to the creation of the new sounds and styles. For example, he interviews techno producer Stacey Pullen who talks about growing up in Detroit after the race riots in 1967 and how that influenced rap artists who created music based on the disparity in the city at the time. However, Williams does not always offer a lot of depth when providing information and the reader can be lost if he/she is not familiar with the cultural products and mechanical metaphors that he incorporates in the article.

Finally, in "Tales of an Asiatic Geek Girl: Slant from Paper to Pixels," Mimi Nguyen highlights the representation of bodies in cyberspace. Nguyen uses the notion of the cyborg as a way to explain her role as a revolutionary zine/Do It Yourself publisher in order to resist discrimination against othered bodies in cyberspace. She concludes that although cyberspace is considered the "final frontier" of participatory citizenship, it is not colorblind but rather coded with information that makes race, gender, and sexuality present. Nguyen talks about her experience as a punk teenager, thinking that in cyberspace egalitarianism existed until she noticed a punk magazine that ran a column detailing the writer's office masturbation fantasies that claimed an Asian woman's eyelids without the double fold resembled a vulva. When she wrote in protest the response was shockingly sexist and invoked images of raping her.

Technicolor calls for a reconceptualization and retheorization about the discussions surrounding new media and the digital divide, and calls for a more holistic view of the issues involved. It highlights and illuminates barriers of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality from various ethnic groups. Several frameworks are used and key concepts include the new structure of the digital market, the unequal access and unfair treatment of minorities, the resistance and resilience of workers, and the complex nature of identity. This book shows how minority groups are not only assets to the digital/technological job market but indeed an untapped resource as well.

Angela Denise Prater:
Angela Denise Prater received her Masters degree from Western Michigan University and has just completed her first year as a Ph.D. student in the School of Communication Studies at Bowling Green State University. Her program has a media emphasis and her primary research interest include intersectionality with an emphasis on weight, race, gender, and class.   <pdangel@bgnet.bgsu.edu>

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