When Bl ackness Enter s the Frame
In December 2009, Desi Cryer and Wanda Zamen, coworkers at Toppers
Camping Center in Waller, Texas, uploaded a video to YouTube titled “hp
Computers Are Racist.” Cryer and Zamen tested out the new Hewlett
Packard MediaSmart computer, and they recorded what happened when
“Black Desi” and “White Wanda” used the computer’s webcam. Cryer nar-
rates the pair’s video, at one point saying, “I think my blackness is interfer-
ing with the computer’s ability to follow me,” referring to the webcam’s ap-
parent inability to pan, tilt, zoom, follow, or detect any of Cryer’s gestures.1
However, “as soon as white Wanda appears,” the webcam’s automated facial
tracking feature works, meaning only when “Black Desi gets in there, uh,
nope, no facial recognition anymore, buddy,” Cryer says, also telling view-
ers, “The worst part is, I bought one for Christmas.” Cryer ends the video
by saying, “I welcome responses to why the hp webcam does not pick up
Negroes.” The video garnered close to three million views on YouTube.
Hewlett Packard later responded by first thanking Cryer and Zamen, and
then clarifying that it wasn’t that their cameras “can’t see black people,” as
one cnn news report stated; it was that the technology “is built on standard
algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the
eyes and the upper cheek and nose” and that “the camera might have diffi -
culty ‘seeing’ contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground
What Black Desi needed, according to hp, given their standard
algorithms, was better lighting. Or maybe a lantern.
When Black Desi asks that we watch what happens when his “blackness
enters the frame,” he names what has been one of the driving concerns of
Dark Matters. That is, when blackness, black human life, and the conditions
imposed upon it enter discussions of surveillance, what does this then do
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