MLA13 Proposal: Representing Race: Silence in the Digital Humanities

I’m very honored to be part of an exciting panel proposal for MLA13 in Boston, titled, “Representing Race: Silence in the Digital Humanities.” Alondra Nelson (!!!) will be responding to a roundtable consisting myself and four other amazing junior scholars, including a fellow #transformDHer, Moya Bailey.

Here’s the proposed presentation line-up:

  • Anne Cong-Huyen, “Thinking of Race (Gender, Class, Nation) in DH” (UCSB)
  • Moya Bailey, “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave” (Emory)
  • Hussein Keshani, “Race and State Patronage of Digital Islamic Studies in the UK” (U of British Columbia)
  • Adeline Koh, “Archival Silences and Colonialism: The Technology of Race” (Richard Stockton College)
  • Maria Velazquez’s “Blog Like You Love: Anti-Racist Projects, Black Feminism and the Virtual “(U of Maryland)

Description from our proposal:

This roundtable presents new work by younger scholars on the issues of race, ethnicity and silence within the digital humanities. Despite being widely acknowledged as important structural norms, race and ethnicity continue to be neglected analytical concepts within this growing field. This silence extends in various forms: in the calibration of digital humanities tools, projects and datasets, which fail to provide mechanisms to examine race as an important category of analysis; in how race structures forms of online identity in computer-mediated forms of communication; and in racialized silences within digital archives. In all of these forms, race and ethnicity persist as undertheorized, haunting signifiers within the digital humanities.

For my part, I’ll be discussing the work of #transformDH at ASA 2011, and the hesitation from some within digital humanities to our concerns about the relative absence and necessity of critical race and ethnic studies, feminist and queer theory in DH. The abstract I submitted to the panel is below :

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Lisa Nakamura have recently argued that rather than living in a “post-racial” moment, we are witnessing a new kind of “color-blind racism” or “racism-lite” based on “‘New Racism’ practices that are subtle, institutional, and apparently nonracial.”[1] This less overt, seemingly benign, and consequently less harmful racism is of particular importance to the digital humanities, which has been lauded as one of the more democratic academic spaces. Much of the conversations in DH, however, have been about the successes and potentialities of DH, and the possibilities that its (race-less, sex-less, class-less) technologies can offer. Yet little has been said about the racialized aspects of the digital: from code and language, to the larger material cultures that rely on the systematic and networked exploitation of racialized workers of the global south[2]. One of the concerns of #transformDH (Transformative Digital Humanities), when we set out to organize an American Studies Association panel in 2011, was to theorize, discuss, and put into practice our ethical concerns regarding race in DH, in conjunction with gender, sexuality, class, and disability. Some of the hesitation to our efforts (especially after MLA12[3]), which we have endeavored to make very transparent and inclusive, speaks to the privileged notion of DH as an idealized and egalitarian space, but this contradicts with the realities experienced by those aligned with such marginal positions, and those providing the labor to produce the technologies and the materials that make DH work. I would like to talk about the materialities that are ingrained and that emerge when we forget about race, that lead to inequity within the academy and in larger, more global contexts

And I’d like to thank Adeline, for graciously organizing the panel, recruiting our respondent, and for putting together the proposal. Hopefully, we’re accepted and the collaboration can continue!

[1] Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America, 3rd ed. Plymoth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. 3. Lisa Nakamura, at MLA12, referenced Bonilla in her talk “Digital Trash Talk: The Rhetoric of Instrumental Racism as Procedural Strategy.”

[2] Many scholars have already been outspoken on this topic, including Tara McPherson, Anna Everett, Lisa Nakamura, Wendy Chun and others.

[3] Whitson, Roger. “Does DH really need to be transformed?” < http://www.rogerwhitson.net/?p=1358>

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