To build an antiracist future, we have to take a hard look at today’s creations.

This moment feels different.

It seems overnight, the world is overcome with injecting anti-racism into every endeavor. Some colleagues, for the first time, are coping with the weight of the oppressive system. Others, fortunately, have collected countless resources posed to help design a more equitable future.

Unfortunately, racism proves to be larger, more abstract, and more elusive than the objects traditional designers are used to constructing. To some extent, it’s not their fault: racism’s been designed into our society for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, designers still fail to recognize the countless ways — tangible, yet invisible — that racism has been injected into our technologies.

It’s time to do more.


A couple of months ago, I logged onto ‘Design Twitter’ to see how the community was coping at large with the political climate. I happened upon a tweet thread, started by @LabSpecEth, which asks the design world this question above.

When we think about racist artifacts, we lean on products of the past: figurines, old advertisements, and other anachronisms. Droning on past designs keeps us from recognizing the objects that continue to affect us today. What are the objects that were designed to, or are used as unique leverage points towards racial inequality?

But before we get started, let’s make something clear. Just because a design isn’t intentionally made by a racist doesn’t mean it hasn’t adopted racist politics.

Sure, racism is woven into every part of our society; but how deep does the rabbit hole go? Surely some of these designs weren’t made to oppress black folks, right? Of course, the cotton gin, the noose, and slave ships were racist. But does the banjo count, because it was designed and popularized by black people. Sure, countless racist books have been created; but is the book itself racist?

The truth is, some of the most corrosive racism is camouflaged. Just like racism is bigger than a single KKK member, a racist design doesn’t only come from the intentionally racist designers. You’ll see many shades of grey with the designs below: some were intentional, and others corrupted by the system we collectively inhabit.

We must approach the task with nuance and care. We must consider history, context, the capabilities, expectations, and unintended consequences of tools communities take for granted.

Admittedly, this casts a wide net. You might be surprised at some of the options on this list, and many of them continue to do tangible good in the world. However, our designs contain multitudes, and it’s up to us to reconcile the many sides of our creations.

These truth and reconciliation projects will reveal to us — piece by piece — the invisible, intentional, and collateral damage that racism has on our history. If you want to debate, let’s have them. If you have examples of other racist objects, come forth and share.

Things cannot be changed unless they are faced.

1. The Speculum


The speculum we see today — that duck-billed apparatus that clicks open, giving doctors a line of sight to the cervix — is fundamentally quite similar to the one [Dr. James Marion Sims] used on his slave women. In 1870 a man named Thomas Graves updated the device slightly, and gave us the form we see today.


2. Kidney Function Tests

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

In nearly all hospitals and clinics across the country, calculations of kidney function are “adjusted up” by African American race. A black patient will be estimated to have higher kidney function, a.k.a. glomerular filtration rate (GFR), when compared to non-black patients with otherwise similar characteristics.

Overestimation of kidney function can lead to devastating consequences, delayed referrals for specialty care and transplant evaluation, and improper counseling and treatment. Against a backdrop of statistics demonstrating that African Americans are more than three times as likely to develop end-stage kidney disease (which requires transplant or dialysis for survival) and wait twice as long for transplants, such scenarios are especially disturbing.


3. The Craniometer

Swedish professor of anatomy Anders Retzius (1796–1860) first used the cephalic index in physical anthropology to classify ancient human remains found in Europe.

These brain classification terms were used… [to divide] humanity into various, hierarchized, different “races”… the “Homo europaeus (Teutonic, Protestant, etc.), the “Homo alpinus” (Auvergnat, Turkish, etc.), and finally the “Homo mediterraneus” (Napolitano, Andalus, etc.). “Homo africanus” (Congo, Florida) was even excluded from the discussion.

“Craniometry” also played a role in the foundation of the United States and the ideologies or racism that would become ingrained in the American psyche.


4. Government-Mandated Curfews

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Unsplash

Indeed, the use of curfews to suppress freedom of Black people stems from the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were employed to prevent slaves from gathering at night and inciting mass rebellions against slave masters. Later, during the Jim Crow era, notices prohibiting Black people from inhabiting entire towns after sunset effectively created what’s known as “sundown towns” — all-white cities that segregated the country.

Because people often work during the day, putting a time limit on a demonstration can effectively shut it down, she explained. Curfews also work by making it easier for the police to arrest someone. Typically, police are required to suspect illegal activity in order to arrest someone. With a curfew, simply being on the street is reason enough.


5. The Cervical Cap

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

[The Prorace cervical cap] is a barrier contraceptive. They sit over the cervix and act as a barrier to sperm entering the uterus. This ‘Prorace’ brand of cervical cap was a modified version of a French design. Dr Marie Stopes (1880–1958) adapted the design to incorporate a higher dome. She believed this encouraged the cap to maintain its shape with the body.

The trademarked ‘Prorace’ is related to Stopes’ belief in eugenics. This widely held theory in the early 1900s argued selective breeding could remove ‘undesirables’ from society.


6: Optical Heart Rate Monitors in Wearable Fitness Trackers

Photo by Artur Łuczka on Unsplash

Nearly all consumer devices that track heart rate rely on optical sensors that continuously monitor the volume of your blood. In between beats, there is less blood volume at your wrist, and therefore more light that is reflected back to the sensor. But not all devices rely on the same kind of light.

In short: Skin with more melanin blocks green light, making it harder to get an accurate reading. The darker your skin is, the harder it gets.


7: Medical Cadavers


Although illegal in Texas in the early twentieth century for the bodies of indigents to be used as medical cadavers, archival accounts document Dallas’s early medical schools duplicity in such acts, with secret agreements between medical schools and city and county officials. Evidence of African-American bodies stolen for use as medical cadavers was also uncovered archaeologically during the Freedman’s Cemetery Project in Dallas, Texas, in the early 1990s.


8, 9, 10, 11, 12: HPV Vaccinations, Telomere Research, Polio Eradication, Human Genome Mapping, and Virology

What tied these transformative, yet separate biological professional together? They used the cells of Henretta Lacks.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Despite the vast distribution and use of the HeLa cell line worldwide, Henrietta’s family were never compensated for the resulting patents or profits. — Source

The HeLa cells survived, thrived, and multiplied outside her body, so much so that they have been in continual use in labs around the world for 65 years, even though Lacks herself succumbed to cancer in 1951. But their use has raised challenging issues about medical samples taken without consent and how individuals and their families should be compensated for discoveries based on their tissues.


13. The Spirometer


…[R]ace-based [respiratory] measurements still persist. Today, doctors examine our lungs using spirometers that are “race corrected.” Normal values for lung health are reduced for patients that doctors identify as black.

Not only might this practice mask economic or environmental explanations for lower lung capacity, but the logic of innate, racial difference is built into things like disability estimates, pre-employment physicals, and clinical diagnoses that rely on the spirometer. Race has become a biologically distinct, scientifically valid category despite the unnatural and social process of its creation.

— Source

14. Halloween Costumes


The shelves of most costume stores still stock the “Arab Sheikh” outfit complete with the sinister mustache. Or you can order the “Ride a Camel Adult Male Costume.” There are the “Mexican” costumes: wide sombreros, ponchos, handlebar mustaches. There are the people who darken their skin to pose as a black or brown person, although many people now understand the degrading and dehumanizing history of blackface now. And every year, there is always the generic “Native American” costume of the woman or man wearing fringe, fake suede, feathers and braids.


15. Medical Tests

The most prominent example, of course, is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Unfortunately, there are many other examples across history.


The larger American public views this abuse as a thing of the distant past. However, sadly, that is not the case. For example, in the 1990s, the Kennedy Krieger lead abatement repair and maintenance study intentionally exposed Black youths to lead in their homes to study the effects of partial lead abatement.

In the same decade, the fenfluramine study was attempting to explore potential links between genetics and aggression in a disproportionate number of Black and Latino boys. Those conducting the study told caregivers that they were investigating the emotional and physical welfare of families with children in the court system while actually subjecting these children to a drug that was later discovered to have negative cardiac impacts.


These issues directly affect whether black people would believe in the effectiveness, for instance, of a COVID-19 vaccine.

16: Wet Nursing


“ Feeding another woman’s child with one’s own milk constituted a form of labor, but it was work that could only be undertaken by lactating women who had borne their own children. As a form of exploitation specific to slave mothers enforced wet-nursing constituted a distinct aspect of enslaved women’s commodification.

Black milk, slave mother’s milk, was stolen in vast, unknown, incalculable quantities as generation after generation of white infants ‘drank, and drank’ from the nipples of the ‘Mammy’.”


17. The Face Covering

Photo by pisauikan on Unsplash

The French government confirmed that its years-long ban on wearing burqas, niqabs and other full-face coverings in public will remain in place, even as face masks become mandatory on Monday. While French citizens nationwide will be covering their faces, women who do so with Islamic garb are still subject to punishment.


18. Maps

Maps don’t have to be as myopic as you think they are. Sometimes, “implicit assumptions about what the world is intended to look like is powerful enough to cause international incidents or perpetuate inequality.”

Source — used by the Marshallese to navigate the Pacific Ocean by canoe off the coast of the Marshall Islands.

Maps aren’t just about space; they’re about ideas, values and cultures- not just what’s on the ground. What may seem stupid, misleading or pointless to outsiders, may in fact be an excellent map. If you don’t get it, it may simply not be for you.”


“Correct” maps of the world, like many other artifacts, exclude other important artifacts, communities, and relationships of marginalized folks. Learning about their biases helps us understand why maps matter to subaltern communities.

19. The Highway Bypass

Photo by Romain B on Unsplash

Robert Moses a prominent Urban Architecture and a person considered to be the “master designer” of our public roadways from the 1920s-1970s, developed a highway system that became the favorable way of developing mass transit. He developed a bridge system that discouraged the use of public transportation.

The bridges were built 9 ft tall, not allowing the 12 ft tall public busses to use the highway system in New York City. In doing this, he purposely excluded people of a lower socioeconomic status, mainly people of color, who primarily use public transportation from specific areas of New York City.


20, 21: The Picnic And The Noose

So, the word Picnic did not come from the phrase, “pick a nigger,” like I heard growing up. It doesn’t mean how lynchings were tied to outside excursions weren’t completely horrific.

The charred corpse of Will Brown after being killed, mutilated and burned. 28 September 1919. Source: University of Washington

Lynching was an undeniable part of daily life, as distinctly American as baseball games and church suppers. Men brought their wives and children to the events, posed for commemorative photographs, and purchased souvenirs of the occasion as if they had been at a company picnic….After the lynching of a mentally challenged 17-year old black male in the story, the crowd celebrated and collected body parts as souvenirs.


22. The Border Wall

It’s poetry, it seems, that the border walls can’t weather the storm.

On January 31, 2020, The Atlantic profiled a prototype test on the Mexico Border, where “Border Patrol officers had to attempt to climb, dig under, or breach the structures using techniques employed by immigrants and drug dealers.”

23. Grocery Stores

English: A corner shop in Boston, Massachusetts. Source

Some grocery brands follow a list of standards communities must meet before the chain is built; industry experts have posited that Trader Joe’s operates this way. Criteria includes demographics like population density, median household income, and education. Building a Trader Joe’s outpost also increases property value, a trend that RealtyTrac has been noticing since 2015….

If you make it to the register with a cart full of everything you need without being followed by employees who think you may be stealing just based on how you look and their own internal prejudice, you’re almost there. Although, you still face the chance of being stopped at the door to have your bags checked because you’re speaking Spanish (my family has experienced this first-hand) or simply because of how you look.


24. Defensive Architecture


Defensive architecture acts as the airplane curtain that separates economy from business and business from first class, protecting those further forward from the envious eyes of those behind. It keeps poverty unseen and sanitises our shopping centres, concealing any guilt for over-consuming. It speaks volumes about our collective attitude to poverty in general and homelessness in particular. It is the aggregated, concrete, spiked expression of a lack of generosity of spirit.

Ironically, it doesn’t even achieve its basic goal of making us feel safer. There is no way of locking others out that doesn’t also lock us in. The narrower the arrow-slit, the larger outside dangers appear. Making our urban environment hostile breeds hardness and isolation. It makes life a little uglier for all of us.


25. Deed Restrictions

Photo by Kruse Collins on Unsplash

Racial deed restrictions became common after 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court validated their use. The restrictions were an enforceable contract and an owner who violated them risked forfeiting the property. Many neighborhoods prohibited the sale or rental of property to Asian Americans and Jews as well as Blacks.

In 1948, the court changed its mind, declaring that racial restrictions would no longer be enforced, but the decision did nothing to alter the other structures of segregation. It remained perfectly legal for realtors and property owners to discriminate on the basis of race.


26. Marijuana Dispensaries

A variety of strains at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado. Source

Cannabis culture may be open in ethos, but so far, with few exceptions, the industry has proven itself glacier white. Horton and fellow advocates offer three reasons for this.

[1], most states have barred anyone with a criminal record from entering the industry.

[2], by varying degrees, depending on the state, the economic barriers to entering the industry (application fees, license fees and startup fees) are extortionately high.

[3], even where there are funds to be sourced, communities of color are often loath to take a chance on openly doing business with a drug they have seen too many of their kin targeted, criminalized and locked up over.


27: Zoos


For more than a century (from the Hottentot Venus in 1810 up until the Second World War in 1940), the exhibition industry attracted over one billion four hundred million spectators and staged somewhere in the range of thirty and thirty-five thousand performers from the four corners of the world. “Human zoos” aimed to establish a boundary and hierarchy between the ‘civilized’ and the ‘savage’…


28. Project Buildings

Grenfell Tower fire, 4:43 a.m.

When the early New Deal first constructed public housing in New York City and elsewhere, projects for blacks were built in existing ghettos or undeveloped areas where planners wanted to shift existing black neighborhoods. But projects for whites were built in existing white neighborhoods, places like Woodside, where the Klein family lived.

By the mid-1930s the government began to lure white families out of public housing with federally insured mortgages that subsidized relocation to new single-family homes in the suburbs. With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords.


29. The Passport


Nemat decided to leave Iran for Europe as he had no place, neither in Afghanistan nor Iran. The main problem, however was acquiring a proper passport, or a “right” passport as he put it. Without one, Nemat had no place in the world….

Mundane, instrumental, and sometimes not even at stake for the privileged population of the world, namely, white middle-class citizens of the Global North, a passport tends to be directly embedded in the lives of the majority of the world’s population: most prominently in the lived experiences of stateless refugees, undocumented migrants, and border transgressors, as well as working-class citizens of the Global South.


30. The American School Public Funding System

Nationally, EdBuild researchers found that school districts that mostly serve nonwhite students get $23 billion less in state and local spending each year than those with predominantly white student populations — even though they educate roughly the same number of children.

Photo by Mwesigwa Joel on Unsplash

That breaks down to about $2,200 per student, affecting roughly 10 million kids. Predominantly nonwhite districts received less funding than majority white districts in 21 states and they received more in 14 states.


…financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color…


31. Prison Census Laws

The Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they remain legal residents of their homes. This transfers political clout to the legislative districts that host prisons, giving them a perverse incentive to defend punitive policies that experience has told us do not work.


32: The Nextdoor App

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Outside of the platform’s moderation problems, Nextdoor has spent years recruiting law enforcement onto the app, according to OneZero. Not only do police departments post on Nextdoor’s community forums, but the platform launched a function in 2016 that allows users to forward their own crime and safety posts directly to law enforcement.

Serah Blackstone-Fredericks, a black writer from Oakland, found a post in her local Nextdoor forum…that was just a photo of a black man on a bike in her neighborhood. “Suspicious man looking into Del Rio Cir Carports,” the post was titled. Singling out black people as “suspicious” is commonplace in Blackstone-Frederick’s community forum, and it has happened frequently enough that she decided to take things into her own hands…penning a letter to Nextdoor’s CEO Sarah Friar, demanding that the app forbid users from profiling each other based on race.”


33: University Campuses

Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

The colleges were imperial mechanisms to expand European control and to enrich white planters and traders. The original students at Harvard for example, were young men who sought to build their futures in the British Caribbean as planters and traders. At William and Mary, the original trustees came right out of slaveholding families and arranged for colleges to be funded from the profits of slave labor.


34. Superfunds

Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash

We build off the original UCC study and present an analysis of minority populations in relation to superfund sites, using the geometric complexity of congressional districts (CDs) as a proxy for gerrymandering within the lower 48 states.

there is a statistically significant relationship where race becomes “whiter” and less “African American” as the Euclidean distance increases from superfund sites. While there is a strong relationship between the gerrymander coefficient and the proximity to superfund sites.

We also found a strong relationship between the percent white and a higher gerrymandering coefficient, indicating that minority populations are effectively “gerrymandered out” of the white and lower environmental hazard districts.


35: Central Park

Photo by Barron Roth on Unsplash

What Rush didn’t know was that the land where the Church would stand, part of a thriving African American community, had been condemned two weeks before as part of the plan to create New York’s Central Park.

The community, called Seneca Village, began in 1825 and eventually spanned from 82nd Street to 89th Street along what is now the western edge of Central Park. By the time it was finally razed in 1857, it had become a refuge for African Americans.


36: The American National Park System

Photo by Drew Darby on Unsplash

Making the land safe wasn’t the least of the problems for the Native American tribes. In a “park” now protected and preserved from “the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit,” how were the tribes to eat, sleep, hunt, gather food, light fires? They weren’t. Forced off the land now considered a natural preserve by the government, Indians were once again removed from their ancestral home.

In Dispossessing the Wilderness, Mark David Spence recounts the peoples’ “ejection” to make way for park tourists. This was far from a smooth process. In 1877 an infamous incident called the “Nez Perce War” arose, when the U.S. government pursued several bands of the Nez Perce tribe into the park in a series of violent battles, between 2,000 federal soldiers and 700 Nez Perce, over the tribe’s relocation from Oregon to Idaho.


37: Redlining

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

The government’s efforts were “primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families,” he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects….

The term ‘redlining’ … comes from the development by the New Deal, by the federal government of maps of every metropolitan area in the country. And those maps were color-coded by first the Home Owners Loan Corp. and then the Federal Housing Administration and then adopted by the Veterans Administration, and these color codes were designed to indicate where it was safe to insure mortgages. And anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.”


38: Museums

Museums have a history of glorifying empire. In the nineteenth century, they were used to showcase the empires built by western powers as they seized control of other countries.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Sir Hans Sloane was an Irish physician and prolific collector during the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, just as European colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade was beginning.

Sloane worked as a physician on slave plantations in the Caribbean, where he started to record the plant specimens that enslaved Ghanaian men and women collected for him. Returning to London, he then used his power, wealth and influence to send out surgeon-come-naturalists on slave ships, while also receiving specimens from other people collecting in remote outposts.

After his death in 1753, Sloane’s extensive herbarium was bought by the British Museum. It contained specimens from as far afield as Jamaica and North America, western Africa and southern Asia. This collection eventually became one of the foundations of the Natural History Museum.


39: The Computer Keyboard

Though ubiquitous, the QWERTY keyboard does not accommodate character-based languages like Chinese, but these writing systems have been forced to adapt. It’s not just the keyboards, the history of telecommunications reflects and reinforces the linguistic hegemony of the Latin alphabet and subordination of non-Latin languages.

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

The presumed universality of the western alphabet — and the linguistic imperialism underlying this belief — has pervaded the history of information technology from telegraphy to computing.

…this linguistic pecking order insinuates an underlying racial hierarchy, whereby linguistic proximity to the West confers value. Moreover, non-alphabetic languages are disadvantaged under this system. Indeed, technological innovation in the field of information technology is built on the foundational assumption of alphabetic supremacy.”


40, 41: Cork and Shoe Polish

Photo by Lina Verovaya on Unsplash

To lend evidence to the institutional nature of racism, from 1888 to 2008, the very name of University of Virginia’s yearbook, Corks and Curls, was a direct reference to racist costumes, explains cultural history professor Rhae Lynn Barnes in a Washington Post column. The title borrows from minstrel slang, referring to tools used for racist impersonation: a white person would darken their face with burned cork, and wear a curly wig to mimic an afro.


42. The American Entertainment Structure

Photo by Vishnu R Nair on Unsplash

The very structure of American entertainment bears minstrelsy’s imprint….The varied structure of songs, gags, ‘hokum’ and dramatic pieces continued into vaudeville, variety shows, and to modern sketch comedy shows such as Hee Haw or, more distantly, Saturday Night Live and In Living Color.

Jokes once delivered by endmen are still told today: ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ ‘Why does a fireman wear red suspenders?’ Other jokes form part of the repertoire of modern comedians: ‘Who was that lady I saw you with last night? That was no lady — that was my wife!’ The stump speech is an important precursor to modern stand-up comedy.


43. Artificial Beaches

Lake Keeowee. Photo by Brennon Williamson on Unsplash

What the lauded black scholar W. E. B. Dubois called “the color problem of summer,” the National Park Service called the “spectacular acceleration [of] private and commercial development” of America’s coasts. What DuBois was referencing, and what the Park Service was ignoring, was the violent pushing out of former black landowners into segregated, polluted nooks of the shoreline, if not off the land altogether….

Kahrl not only details the deleterious impacts of racial segregation in his book, but also how the white overthrow of black landholdings — from Maryland shores to Texas — was closely linked to the pursuit of reckless environmental policies in the name of profits. Many of the same properties stolen from African Americans are today threatened by climate-change-fueled sea-level rise and coastal erosion.


44: Children’s Songs

Here are some of the original lyrics to “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me.” Check it out for yourself.

“If I sleep in the sun this nigger knows,
If I sleep in the sun this nigger knows,
If I sleep in the sun this nigger knows,
A fly come sting him on the nose.

I feel, I feel, I feel,
That’s what my mother said,
Whenever this nigger goes to sleep,
He must cover up his head.”

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.

‘Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe’?

‘Five Little Monkeys’?

‘Ten Little Indians’?

‘Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at These’?

‘Oh! Susanna’?

‘Jimmy Crack Corn’?

‘Camptown Races’

‘Do Your Ears Hang Low?’

‘Short’nin Bread’?

The list is longer than we’d like.


45: Accents

The Mid-Atlantic accent, or Transatlantic accent, is a purposefully cultivated accent of English that blends together the most prestigious features of American and British English (specifically Received Pronunciation for the latter).

It is not a native or regional accent; instead, according to voice and drama professor Dudley Knight, it is an affected set of speech patterns “whose chief quality was that no Americans actually spoke it unless educated to do so.” William Tilly (né Tilley), teaching at Columbia University from 1918 to around the time of his death in 1935, introduced a phonetically consistent American speech standard that would “define the sound of American classical acting for almost a century”,

Now sometimes identified as a Mid-Atlantic accent, this consciously-learned pronunciation was advocated most strongly from the 1920s to the mid-1940s and was particularly embraced in this period within Northeastern independent preparatory schools mostly accessible to and supported by aristocratic American families.


46: Prescriptive Language

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Repugnant as it may be, the simple answer is that we need to learn prescriptive English because that’s the way the people in power communicate. As far as daily survival is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the origins of this linguistic power structure are racist, classist, or élitist, or whether they’re based on the whims of dead white males. This is how the system works right now, today, and in order to best get the attention of those in power, to begin to effect change, we must be able to use their dialect. We must know their rules.

This is not even to mention the descriptivists’ dirty little secret. When it comes time for them to write their books and articles and give their speeches about the evil, élitist, racist, wrongheadedness of forcing the “rules” on the masses, they always do so in flawless, prescriptive English. Ensconced behind a mask of noble ends, something obscenely disingenuous is happening here. How easy it is for a person who is already part of the linguistic élite to tell others who are not that they don’t need to be. Or, as Joan Acocella puts it, the descriptivists will “take the Rolls. You can walk, though.”


47: Rum

Photo by Anders Nord on Unsplash

The first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on the sugarcane plantations there in the 17th century. Plantation slaves discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. Then, distillation of these alcoholic byproducts concentrated the alcohol, and removed some impurities, producing the first modern rums….

By the late 17th century rum had replaced French brandy as the exchange-alcohol of choice in the triangle trade. Canoemen and guards on the African side of the trade, who had previously been paid in brandy, were now paid in rum.


48: Monosodium Glutamate

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

“This perception, which activists argue is outdated and racist, is so widespread that the Merriam-Webster dictionary has an entry for the term “Chinese restaurant syndrome” — a type of condition that allegedly affects people eating “Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate,” with symptoms like dizziness and palpitations.

‘To this day, the myth around MSG is ingrained in America’s consciousness, with Asian food and culture still receiving unfair blame,’ said the company in its campaign website. “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome isn’t just scientifically false — it’s xenophobic.”


49: Superfoods

Photo by Jannis Brandt on Unsplash

Like other “superfoods,” açaí labels commonly use warrior imagery and references to warriors to depict Amazon ribeirinhos. Warrior imagery is often a component of the “noble savage” stereotype, which stems from colonial ideology and theology.

This long-standing stereotype casts non-white ethnic groups as pure, wise stewards of the land that are removed from capitalist processes and urban societies. Likewise, on some online açaí sites, consumers are invited to “join the tribe,” i.e. sign up to their mailing list or loyalty program. Other labels feature what appears to be a man with a dramatically protruding bottom lip, a slanted forehead, and tribal jewelry as a logo (Amazon Power Açaí Smoothie Packs, Amazon Power Pure Açaí Pulp and Organic Açaí Capsules, Amazon Power Pty Ltd.) Protruding lips are a facial feature focused upon in racist pseudo-science to assign inferiority to certain races.


50. The Short-Handled Hoe

Known as “el brazo del diablo” (the devil’s arm) or “el cortito” (the short one), the short-handled hoe was often used in the sugar beet and lettuce fields of California in the early 20th century.


The common hoe allows the gardener to stand, while the short handle of this hoe (10–12 inches) required field workers to spend the entirety of their long, sometimes 10–12 hour, shifts bent over. Chronic back pain and long-term effects on child workers, whose bodies had not fully developed, were rampant.

Protests against the hoe first began in the 1920s, though these protests were rendered ineffective as the Great Depression soon lowered wages and increased unemployment, leaving any job, even the most back-breaking, desirable. Fifty years later, the United Farm Workers of America, led by César E. Chávez, again fought to eliminate use of the hoe, and in January 1975, California became the first state to ban the short-handled hoe.


Let’s take a breath.

A hundred designs is a lot, right? The more we go through at one time, the less time we have to reflect. Admittedly, there’s a lot to reflect on.

The categories are much broader than we initially expected: we found the industries of medicine, of app development, celebrations and cultural venues, childcare, religion, urban planning, real estate, and domiciles, education and criminality, environmental science, computers, entertainment, and communication. What’s more, we still have fifty left.

Next, we’ll see clothing and personal adornments, travel. gaming and fantasy, brands of all flavors, artificial intelligence and hardware, innovation infrastructure, aerospace technologies, even space and time itself. It’s almost as if racism is enveloped in every aspect of our society.

So take a breath. When you’re ready, come learn from Part Two. We’ll be waiting.

we think about transformation + liberation.

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