This year has been an exceedingly difficult time for us all. The Corona virus has hit us like a freight train and disrupted the world overnight. It has exposed a lot of the inequities that many of us are aware of but try to ignore. Particularly those that plague people of color more than others. By others, I mean white people. The numbers speak for themselves: Black community makes up 16% of the population and over 40% of the Corona virus cases in most large areas affected. The opportunities for improvement often don’t come over the train tracks.
When you look at what is going on in the augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality space, you see a lot of opportunities for growth. There is potential in healthcare, in manufacturing, in education, etc. The Corona virus in many ways has showed the usefulness of XR in an age where social distancing is a new norm. You don’t need to invest in expensive training equipment and training locations if you know how to utilize AR, MR, VR, and XR. You can be more efficient in your training because of it as well. You can create more immersive learning experience even when classes are online because labs are putting people at risk. The list can go on and on.
When I look at the development scene, I see that there are hurdles to access. You don’t need to be a coder, but you do need money to purchase the devices you are developing on because they are device specific in some cases. Hololens and Magic Leap cost over $2000. There is a financial hurdle. Often Black people do not have the support to participate if the participation is predicated on pay for play. There lies the disparity when we look at things objectively rather than subjectively. Objectivity is problematic when Black developers have an interest and desire, but little support. There are Black Creators making amazing stuff with very few resources or guidance because they have passion and dedication, but it can only go so far if they don’t have the support that others would have if they were in the same situation. Needing to be twice as good to get half as far rings clear in every Black man and Woman. Specifically, for Black Women in tech because they must overcome the fact that they are women in tech as well. Black people need support to participate in the space, and often Black people need a kick in the butt in the right direction to channel their efforts in the space.
I say this because Black people are notorious for their creative potential. I see the applications for any Black photographer, illustrator, videographer, singer, and dancer to enhance their work and increase their financial stability with augmented reality. A real-world example is a singer that does photography or video can use augmented reality enhance her work. By taking a photo she took, using it as an image target, and overlaying video and music when the image target is recognized, she can put an app on the app store and sell the photos as Augmented Reality prints. Now she is an artist in the tech sector because she has an app. This changes the game for black creators to control their creativity instead of being taken advantage of by these organizations and platforms that do not care about black creators, just their creativity.
#BlackOutTuesday came and went, and the most startling thing I noticed was how silent Unity Technologies, Unreal Technologies, and the whole Extended Reality Industry was. In fact, you post something, and people are quick to respond with, “don’t bring politics in here.” Really? We are talking about politics when we say Black People should not be killed by the Police disproportionately? We are talking politics when we are outraged that people remain silent after seeing a Black man murdered on video and lack of accountability by the police department to bring about swift justice? This is not about politics, it is about whiteness. Especially because white people are responding with, “I’m not saying Black lives matter, that is racist. All lives matter!” Or they are quick to point out that it is wrong to riot and loot, but have said literally nothing about the situations that have led to the riots and looting. This is not about businesses trying to survive, it is not about politics. If it was, the spike in unemployment due to these very same businesses being looted laying off and firing people would have caused the same amount of vitriol. It is a deflection to avoid the true issue, and that issue is inequity of opportunities toward the pursuit of happiness. It is a hindrance of the American Dream. Now there are allies. I see that and acknowledge that. Over the past few days, I have been invited in to XR communities with open arms, and as a Black person in the tech space, you have no idea how that makes me feel. Just feeling accepts without needing to hide or downplay your blackness is a relief. I think that experience is often brushed over and not explore as much. For Black people in tech, they worry about why they are not included as much as they should be: in conversations, in job opportunities, in promotions, etc. and whether it is because they are Black. I saw a tweet that was really telling by @BooksNCrannies_: “Can you imagine, I refrained from putting Black owned in my bio for years in fear of losing out on potential white customers? Well I am indeed Black and this is my store, and I will be screaming it from the mountain tops moving forward.”
5 years from now, when the XR industry is booming, we are going to see studies on diversity and wonder where the black people are at. With the billions of dollars the industry will be worth, we will wonder why Black people are not getting their fair share for the pie. We talk about equity and inclusion, but we never elaborate on what that actually means. Black people make up 13% of the population. If things were equal, Black people would have the same market share as white, Hispanics, Asians, and indigenous people. That’s is not equity. Equity is saying that Black people make up 13% of the population and should represent 13% of the market share. 13% of the income and profits, and 13% of the workforce. Until we reach that reality, I will continue to ask: “WHERE ARE THE BLACK PEOPLE?!”
Check out my free course on Art, Tech, and Activism in Augmented Reality: https://gum.co/OWHaN