This year we saw SketchFactor, an app which rates the ‘sketchiness’ of a neighbourhood to help individuals avoid ‘undesirable’ areas, reach the finals of New York’s Big Apps competition. Unsurprisingly, when we start to unpack what ‘sketchy’ actually means, the race implications become evident.
The 47-second preview of Obama’s interview with the New York Times took me to my first trip to a big American city, San Francisco, a few years back. The area where my hotel was situated was in ruins. My first observation was that this extremely poor neighbourhood seemed to be only populated by non-white residents, but eradicating racism is a long project, right? It is when I took a tour around the city the next day before my conference and saw the solid line (it is literally one linear road) that separates the neighbourhood I was staying at from the financial district, occupied by white America, that I realised this is not America fighting its racist past, this is the complete reign of white supremacy. To add salt to the injury there was long line ups of police motor cycles like border guards guaranteeing the safety of white citizens from dangers posed by racialised aliens. There was another group of cops, I noticed later in my walks around the city, on the other end of the neighbourhood, to protect the extremely wealthy quarter where my own non-whiteness seemed to be staining the sidewalks and dog parks.
In the preview that I watched on Saturday, Obama managed to give a concise overview of settler-colonialism and white supremacy in less than a minute. First his assertion that the Zionists scratched Israel out of rocks (just as the North American settlers think they brought Turtle Island into existence) was the utter denial of existence of a people. A genocidal statement that has become a natural part of the American (and Canadian, I might add) quotidian. It is, after all, in Canada that I’ve heard people say Indigenous people should go back to their country if they don’t like this one.
Obama then stipulates that Israel is a ‘good country’ in a ‘bad neighbourhood’; a discourse far too common that is the mirror reflection of the racial segregation in America. For Barack Obama, Israel is a difficult gentrification project, and if it were up to the American president, he’d probably advise Bibi to consult Williamsburg residents for tips on the success of their occupation. The neighbourhood is ‘bad’ because the Palestinians resist the ‘clean up’. The neighbourhood is also bad because the neighbours bring the property value down.
The United Nations can raise concerns about deaths in Gaza all they want. They can warn Canada about the living conditions of the First Nations, and they can raise red flags about the criminalisation of African Americans. But one thing is for certain, as long as SketchFactor is a finalist in the Big Apps competition, ‘good’ white people will either avoid or ‘clean up’ ‘bad’ neighbourhoods, those inhabited by pathologised others: ‘drunks’, ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’.
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Zishad Lak is a PhD student in Canadian Literature in University of Ottawa. Her thesis examines the relation between names and migration in contemporary Canadian, Indigenous and Québécois novels. Find her on Twitter @Zishad_
This piece was copy-edited by Henna Butt