Guess My Race iPhone app will challenge your thinking on a sensitive topic

Jun 21, 2010
Education

The discussion of race, especially in America, can be uncomfortable, but Harvard cultural anthropologist Dr. Michael Baran aims to use iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad to open the lines of communication on the topic. As part of the Race Awareness Project, the content in the new 99-cent Guess My Race iPhone app will enable users […]

The discussion of race, especially in America, can be uncomfortable, but Harvard cultural anthropologist Dr. Michael Baran aims to use iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad to open the lines of communication on the topic. As part of the Race Awareness Project, the content in the new 99-cent Guess My Race iPhone app will enable users to think more deeply about the topics of race, ethnicity, religion, culture and nationality. Using the data collected from people in Boston and Los Angeles, Guess My Race features more than 150 facial images, beautifully captured by photographer Ruthie Brownfield.

Each game includes 10 photos for which you’ll choose a race. After selecting your race answer from six options, you’ll see a quote from the photographed subject, usually offering insights as to why they identify as such, an experience related to their race, or the honest, “I think people just see me as sexy.” Swiping through leads you to a fact, thought or question that relates to the subject’s quote, which, developers hope will cause you to think more deeply on the subject of race. However, the app chooses to use a single page to display the fact (in the hard-to-read white text on black background); rather than implementing a scroll bar, the font size increases or decreases depending on length, making long answers tiny.

The race options are not always the most politically correct. While I don’t think the inclusion of some pejorative terms was wrong, I do have to question when they appear. One woman who identified as Mexican had the words undocumented, suspicious and illegal as some of her choices; a black female had the words criminal, dangerous and violent beneath her image; a white woman featured the terms white trash, hillbilly, hick, redneck and elite. An image of a self-described Afro-American male also offered the choice of African-American; the difference, if any, between the two was unexplained. In one instance, the app said a man considered himself to be Caucasian, though in his quote, he used the term white. Normally, I wouldn’t have paused, but Guess My Race had just used a fact page to inform me that Caucasian and white should not be used interchangeably, so I found it a strange choice for the app to do so itself.

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