Retooling Solidarity, Reimagining Justice The power of the New Jim Code is that it allows racist habits and logics to enter through the backdoor of tech design, in which the humans who create the algorithms are hidden from view. In the previous chapters I explored a range of discriminatory designs – some that explicitly work to amplify hierarchies, many that ignore and thus replicate social divisions, and a number that aim to fix racial bias but end up doing the opposite. In one sense, these forms of discriminatory design – engineered inequity, default discrimination, coded exposure, and technological benevolence – fall on a spectrum that ranges from most obvious to oblivious in the way it helps produce social inequity. But, in a way, these differences are also an artifact of marketing, mission statements, and willingness of designers to own up to their impact. It will be tempting, then, to look for comparisons throughout this text and ask: “Is this approach better than that?” But in writing this book I have admittedly been more interested in connections rather than in comparisons; in how this seemingly more beneficent approach to bypassing bias in tech relates to that more indifferent or avowedly inequitable approach; in entangling the seeming differences rather than disentangling for the sake of easy distinctions between good and bad tech.
On closer inspection, I find that the varying dimensions of the New Jim Code draw upon a shared set of methods that make coded inequity desirable and profitable to a wide array of social actors across many settings; it appears to rise above human subjectivity (it has impartiality) because it is purportedly tailored to individuals, not groups (it has personalization), and ranks people according to merit, not prejudice (or positioning) – all within the framework of a forward- looking (i.e. predictive) enterprise that promises social progress. These four features of coded inequity prop up unjust infrastructures, but not necessarily to the same extent at all times and in all places, and definitely not without eliciting countercodings that retool solidarity
and rethink justice.