There’s An App For White People to Avoid ‘Sketchy’ (read ‘Black’) Areas
In the 1930s, Victor H. Green created a nifty handbook for black motorists travelling in their newly built Fords from the Jim Crow South to the North, Midwest, and Western coast of America. The aptly named Green Book was meant to let black folks know exactly what areas to avoid because blacks could be harassed, arrested, denied service, or even lynched. The guide was created out of necessity – for the purpose of survival. Now, two white people in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in New York are launching an app to protect themselves from ‘sketchy’ areas. Seems Green’s concept has come full circle in the most dubious of ways.
Technology is a beautiful thing. It can help us figure out what areas are best to put down our roots. It can be used to connect families across great distances. But, it can also be used to harm communities of color. A new app called SketchFactor is poised to do just that and lucky for us, it’s available for download on iTunes now.
The two young white creators, Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, seem to believe this app will “give a voice to voiceless.” They see the process of ranking areas on a “relative sketchiness” five-point scale as liberating for folks who encounter street harassment, poorly lit alleyways, or other “sketchy incidents.” Clarifying that they aren’t racists, bigots, or sexists, they note that “sketchy reporting is not based on feelings alone.” You know, because racism, bigotry, and sexism are only rooted in feelings. According to these admittedly privileged whites, “incidents” cannot be interpreted via lenses of racism, bigotry, and sexism. It is the feelings associated with said incidents that makes them wrong. I am guessing they have never researched and/or cared about racism, sexism, or bigotry enough to really understand how structures and institutions propagate and nurture all of them simultaneously.
The site for the app already notes that many folks have taken issue with the premise behind the application. But, they deny any ill-intentions.
“We have a reporting mechanism for racial profiling, harassment, low lighting, desolate areas, weird stuff, you name it. When people actually download the app, they see that this is truly a tool for everyone. These hit pieces have attacked the founders personally. We get it, they need clicks. However, the reporters of these pieces never contacted us, never interviewed us, and the app wasn’t even live when they wrote it.”
By claiming that this app is for everyone, the two white creators are attempting to absolve themselves of any of the abuses which might occur. I mean, how does one define ‘sketchy’ anyway? They mention racial profiling but that might only be sketchy for black and brown people. Racial profiling might actually be a completely un-sketchy and rather welcomed occurrence to many whites. To some whites, racial minorities are pretty sketchy. What’s to keep the app from being used to avoid minority communities altogether?
My one ‘laugh out loud’ moment was reading how developers “consulted with literally hundreds of different people, dozens of community groups across New York City, tested it with ~100 beta testers. This is that app that came of it.” Apparently 100 is a whopping sample to them. They are so impressed with themselves only sampling a DMV-sized group in one, non-representative city in the US that they professed it proudly on their front page.
Let me just break down why this is so wrong.
First, latent racism, sexism and bigotry are not only based in feelings. And, since all human beings experience “incidents” differently, what one deems sketchy will likely differ vastly with what another does. For example, many people saw video of Eric Garner being choked to death by the NYPD. However, there were stark racial differences in how this “incident” was judged in the jury of public opinion. If all those folks ranked the event on their “sketchiness” scale, how might that play out for racial minorities? This app, like much of America, will not represent the “voiceless.” In the same way that elected representatives don’t necessarily represent the district from which they have been elected, this app will be yet another opportunity for privileged whites to water down and drown out the voices of those who face the most ongoing danger at the hands of real criminals, cops, and unchecked environmental factors.
Second, testing an app in one city with 100 beta testers is a joke. New York City – though highly diverse – is not representative of most, if any, other cities in this country. Age, race, and gender ratios vary immensely from state to state. Similarly, ideological and religious differences color much of human interaction and we know how differently those things are from locale to locale. Let’s face it: some states and cities are just chock full of racist, sexist, bigoted ass holes (read The South). Saying, ‘Hey, we aren’t racists, bigots, and sexists’ doesn’t keep those non-beta tested folks from downloading and using the app to further isolate, stigmatize, and ostracize communities of color because they themselves are indeed racist, sexist, and bigoted.
Lastly, this app is the embodiment of colorblindness. Using a word like ‘sketchy’ to help people avoid other people is the precise reason why schools, neighborhoods, and communities are so segregated now. White people just don’t need another tool to protect them from the world around them. Privileged whites could probably learn a thing or two by venturing into the ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods the rest of us grew up in, nurture our children in, and struggle to improve with little to no assistance from the people on the other side of the tracks. Why help them avoid neighborhoods they have a hand in making sketchy in the first place?
Victor Green was onto something when he figured out how to help black families seeking respite, comfort, and safety while traversing unknown areas of the United States. He was doing precisely what McGuire and Herrington think they’re doing. Give me an app that tells me exactly where not to go to avoid being senselessly killed by police because of the color of my skin and you might have my business. Perhaps they can create an app that will let me catalogue every geographic coordinate where I have been called a “black bitch” or been threatened or stared at or cut in line or dismissed or undermined all because of the color of my skin. Problem is, they can’t make an app like that because then whites would have to come to terms with that fact that every safe place for them is potentially a sketchy place to us.
Plus, that version would point out the “relative sketchiness” of the entire US. I’m pretty sure white folks ain’t having none of that.
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