The events of 2020 have drawn renewed attention to longstanding inequalities in the invention and innovation ecosystem and Black Americans’ complex relationship with technology. In the United States, Black men and women are less likely than other demographics to earn STEM degrees, receive patents, or commercialize new products and services. Black scientists and engineers experience unconscious bias and outright discrimination in the high-tech employment sector, while Black inventor-entrepreneurs face persistent difficulties in gaining access to venture capital, intellectual property protection, and commercial networks. With Black technologists largely absent from the invention process, supposedly neutral apps and algorithms are encoded with racist assumptions that perpetuate negative stereotypes and deepen social inequality. And yet, Black Americans regularly invent, tweak, and deploy technology in the course of cultural and political expression and develop new products and services with global reach.
Through presentations by an interdisciplinary group of thought leaders and engaged discussions with our online audience, this “state of the field” workshop will identify critical questions, seek out new case studies, and articulate conceptual themes to inform the next generation of research, archival collecting, museum exhibitions, and educational initiatives.
The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center gratefully acknowledges The Lemelson Foundation for its generous support of the Black Inventors and Innovators: New Perspectives webinar series.