Is Google Racist?

Now you know why every guy wants to be the Batman.
Now you know why every guy wants to be the Batman.
Let’s try an experiment. I want to find out if Google’s search algorithm is inherently racist. I want you to do an image search for the word cosplay on Google. You’ll note that the vast majority, as in all, of the images feature white or Asian people. Now I want you to search for black cosplay. You will see thousands of dark skinned people who enjoy comics just as much as I do. So why don’t they show up in the general search? Why are they segregated from the rest? You’ll get similar results if you substitute People of Color or African American for the word black. You’ll also note at the top of the image search results that Google will now give you multiple options such as Black Cosplay Ideas in case you want to make a costume. And yet not one of these thousands of images show up in a general search. Okay, maybe that’s an aberration. Let’s try hot models. Nope. All white. Now let’s try hot black models. Yep. Thousands of images of black men and women, all hot. None of whom show up in the general search. You can pick any people oriented search and you’ll get similar results.

Since Google is the most popular search engine on the planet this is important for a couple of obvious reasons. First, and foremost, lazy marketers tend to rely on Google to see what trends are happening. If they don’t see people of color represented in a general search they assume that such people don’t exist. If they don’t exist then they don’t get represented. It’s only been over the last couple of years that Hollywood and mainstream media have become aware that non-white people want to do something other than be cast as stereotypes. Simply put, not all black women are maids or hookers.

Secondly, if companies are unaware of this discrepancy they won’t promote their images correctly to reach a wider audience. So those images end up in niche searches instead of being part of the general consensus.

Lastly, when Hollywood did deign to cast a person of color in an important role it tended to come off as pandering, at best. Mostly because they tried to market the product to white people. See the nice black person? They won’t hurt you. There have been exceptions, of course (HI WILL SMITH!), but even then the person would have to be cast with a white person of stature if the movie had a serious budget (HI TOMMY LEE JONES!).

Or, if you’re feeling old school, check out Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Television, both free and cable, has been ahead of the curve, a little bit. The reason why is simple. They took a look at the national demographics and said “Search engines be damned, there’s money in them there other folks’ pockets.”

Maybe not the most altruistic motive around, but it works for now. And it did give us Good Times, which you would think would have spurred more such shows. Sadly, it did not.

Comic books have been way ahead of the curve, with varying degrees of success, for a slightly different reason. They noticed that their distributors were taking a sizable portion of their product into predominantly minority neighborhoods. Since they realized that they already had a core audience they figured they might as well build on it, and they did.

As I noted, with varying degrees of success. Having middle aged white guys trying to script modern black characters was kind of like having a polka band at Woodstock. But, fortunately for all of us, they noticed that too and things got much better quickly.

Yes, I am aware that the situation with the media has gotten better over the last decade or so, but you wouldn’t know that if all you did was search Google.

This issue isn’t new either. If you search is google racist you’ll get scholarly articles dating back a few years. You’ll also get a few articles pointing out that Google isn’t racist enough. I guess I should have expected that.

Nevertheless, the overall point of “out of sight, out of mind” is still very valid. And if it doesn’t get fixed we’re still stuck with an antiquated view of the world.

Too many companies and marketing firms use Google as their digital bible when it comes to research. More importantly, Google is used world wide. And, last time I checked, the majority of the world isn’t white.

If the entertainment industry is ever going to be goaded into not presenting a skewed perspective on the world at large, they first need to see that such a diverse world exists.

Google doesn’t have a public email, but you can share your thoughts with them by writing the address below or giving them a call.

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

telephone: +1 650 253 0000
fax: +1 650 253 0001

Obviously this is a blog and we live in a finite universe so I’m skimming to make my point. I strongly urge you to try searching yourself, based on the parameters above, and see what you find. And then share your results with Google.

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