Pitfall #4: Normalizing Surveillance

Ultimately, when you’re pitching for that next social justice mapping project, think to yourself: whose interest is this map serving? Am I just doing a project because I want to do something “good”, but really normalizing the processes of extraction (see last blog post) and surveillance?

Scholars Evelyn Nakano Glenn and Patrick Wolfe speak at length to the ways in which the United States was formed as a settler colonial strategy. As many people know and acknowledge, this strategy involved eliminating native peoples who held claim on the land in the quest to create a new, uninhabited frontier. In this process, native people were often forced into processes of assimilation to the colonial society in order to delegitimize their claims to the land. 

Less commonly known, however, is the ways in which anti-blackness and anti-native sentiments were a crucial joint effort. In contrast to the assimilation processes forced on native peoples, the reproduction of black people in the United States was seen as inherently profitable for white colonizers because of the value their labor held. As a result, the cultural lines for when one could be identified as black were drawn loosely. This is famously known as the “one drop rule” as one drop of black ancestry meant blackness to the colonial society. 

In the same way that the social sciences have justified extraction from native communities as being “in their best interests,” they have also justified surveillance of black communities as being crucial to the provision of social services, when in fact, the carceral state, police, and courts use this data to disproportionately target black and brown people. In the case of Google Maps Street View, did we really need a 360 view of most places in the United States? Did anyone even consent to their bodies being present in the moving all-encompassing camera? Why do we talk positively about this project without reservation? 

Moving forward… Stop normalizing the use of advanced technologies, like 360 cameras, in digital mapping projects unless (1) it actually significantly contributes to the impact of the particular work at hand, and (2) meaningful, enthusiastic consent is obtained from the populations who may be affected by this footage. 

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