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Being Black, Brown, Female, and Poor in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism”: Looking at Inequality Through the Lens of “Braxites”

(Source: Forbes. April 2020)

“Social Distancing is a Privilege” – Charles Blow

In his April 5, 2020 op-ed, Charles Blow reports on the inequality of the COVID-19 is that “less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers can work from home” (Economica Policy Institute). Many African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans do not have the option of working at home, to protect themselves and their families. Recently, the New York Times published data on the COVID-19 deaths based on race. (See the chart.)

Coronavirus Deaths Per 100,000 People

In New York City, deaths from the coronavirus, adjusted for the size and age of the population, have disproportionately affected Hispanic and black people.

Hispanic: 22.8

Black: 19.8

White: 10.2

Asian: 8.4

(Source: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)

It appears that our politicians did not anticipate the inequalities of COVID-19. For instance, the owners of grocery stores should have given their employees masks and gloves at the very beginning of the quarantine, not on Day 23. As the racial data are released, we see the stark inequality with COVID-19 deaths. Yet, politicians waited until now (with close to 15,000 deaths) to address the disparity.   

In the short film “Braxites,” the protagonist is an African-American college student, Jai Dideero, who is a victim of surveillance capitalism. Big Brother flagged Jai for posting a picture of herself with a glass of wine. She was not supposed to drink while on her WellBreathe anxiety medication. Consequently, Big Brother labeled her as being “non-compliant,” and her doctor denied her access to her medication. Since she was unable to pay full-price for her anxiety medication, she agreed to wear a tracker. This scene is a crucial moment in the film where the protagonist relinquishes her right to privacy and her civil rights because of financial reasons. (What if she had the economic power to pay for the full price for her medication?)  

Here is the dilemma: In the Age of Surveillance, Capitalism, will Big Brother deprive the poor, the uneducated, and the weak of their civil liberties? How will our elected leaders protect us from possible infringements of our rights? How will our politicians protect the vulnerable?

I do know that the rich, the well-connected, the highly educated, will thrive during the Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Some capitalists will make a lot of money in this new economy. At the same time, the underdogs who are unaware of algorithms, fine print, and terms of the agreement will be cheated, manipulated, and exploited. 

The good news for Jai is that she is a knowledge college student who was very upset when she learned that Big Brother was tracking and monitoring her every move without her consent. She felt violated, and therefore, she deleted all her social media: ZOLA, the friendly app, and WellBreathe, her anxiety medication. At the end of the film, Jai was able to delete Big Data and regain her privacy and her freedom.

I am privileged to be a graduate student. As a graduate student, I understand that it is my obligation to use my knowledge to help the underdog. I want to thank Dr. Singh for her cautionary tales that warn us of the seductive and oppressive power of Big Data.  

One question: Why is the film titled “Braxites”?

One reply on “Being Black, Brown, Female, and Poor in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism”: Looking at Inequality Through the Lens of “Braxites””

These numbers you brought in for the inequitable (as in deadly) outcomes for the COVID19 virus pretty much show the situation is as it has been. Politicians are not doing much directly as their prime interest is staying on office. And this is a good point that Jai’s situation was funneled this way because of economic status.

The victimization shown in Blaxites is in treating healthcare like a commercial commodity, where optimization and moving patients through the system takes priority over the “care” part of healthcare. Like that 19 year old who died of the virus because they had no access to healthcare.

Maybe Jai undid her invasions of privacy, but did she really gain freedom? How will she be able to go through her studies day to day without even the help she got at the cost of her privacy? As was pointed out in the discussion, she did not seem to have a close support network (there was a reference to a grandparent in the opening scene, but that was via social media).

I’m hoping everyone can start thinking about some of the things we deal with regularly that might be a starting point to imagine their own speculative fiction story. It need not be large, just something that might get darker if it had a more pervasive aspect of surveillance.

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