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The Future of Humanity is White and Male (Again)

The Future of Humanity is White and Male (Again)

The History Channel’s “Life After People” is one of my favorite TV series, so I was amused to see this mention of an “Immortality Drive” that’s apparently in space at this very moment. The Immortality Drive is a kind of high-tech time capsule; put together by video game auteur Richard Garriot, it contains messages to our descendants/alien resurrectors, a list of humanity’s greatest achievements, and the digitized genetic data of “a select few” members of our species. All this is currently preserved on the International Space Station.

And who are these select few, meant to represent and possibly recreate us in case we nuke ourselves/get Raptured/are eaten by grues? Oh, you know where this is going.

These were the 10 names I could find:

Stephen Colbert (yes, the comedian; white)
Physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy (included for charity; both white)
Matt Morgan (pro wrestler; white)
Jo Garcia (female, Playboy model; Latina according to Wikipedia)
Eric Johnson (musician; white)
Patrice Pike (musician; white)
Tracy Hickman (male, if you’re wondering, and white; fantasy author)
Scott Johnson (Olympic gold medalist; white)
Brian Crecente (Kotaku editor; race/ethicity unknown, but misogyny noted)

Also, here’s some photos of the folks whose DNA is being included, from the “Operation Immortality” Facebook page.

So OK, we’ve got 30% women here, one definitive Latina, and one disabled person. No African Americans, AFAICT. No Asian Americans. No Native Americans. So the future of humanity won’t be exclusively white and male… just mostly so.

Now, in Garriot’s partial defense, “Operation Immortality” actually includes 40 people; these were just the 10 names I could find. The whole batch might be more diverse than this sample. Also, although this thing got billed as putting “the best of humanity” into space, that was BS; Garriot specifically sought to put the DNA of gamers into space, to promote his latest game (which bombed). In reality the slots got sold to the highest bidder as a publicity stunt. But y’know what? Since this was meant to be promotional, I think some consideration should’ve been given to making the Operation Immortality list at least tacitly resemble the audience that might buy the game. Since black and Latina/o gamers make up a substantial proportion of the US gamer demographic — 50% of console owners according to this 2005 study, probably more since — you’d think there’d be a few more of us in that list. Actually, given that Garriot’s game was an MMORPG, PoC make up an even bigger proportion of those players; 5 million of World of Warcraft’s 7 million players are in China. And that 30% female thing? Should be more like 65%. So I can’t help wondering if a contributing factor to the failure of Garriot’s game was his failure to use this and other promo opportunities to really connect with his audience.

What really annoys me here is not Garriot’s shortsightedness — well, yeah, OK, that annoys me too — but the fact that my tax dollars are involved. See, while Garriot himself paid for the Russian mission that shot his and his friends’ spooge into space, it’s being stored aboard the International Space Station — which is partially paid for and maintained by NASA.

Now, I’m pro-space exploration (duh, see my avatar). I know a lot of ya’ll (speaking to the black folks here) feel like it’s a waste of money given the number of people struggling to get by in our society, but I’m with Octavia; I believe the destiny of humanity is to spread among the stars. That said, it still pisses me off when my destiny, and that of other people who look like me, gets excluded from or severely underrepresented on NASA-sponsored missions like this one. I think that if NASA would try a little harder to make sure space travelers — or their genes — represent the breadth and variety of Americans, then a greater breadth and variety of Americans might actually support NASA funding. (It’s not like there aren’t other wastes of money to complain about.)

Anyway, this marks the start of another series I’ll be periodically running here at ABW, which I’m going to call I, For One, DON’T Welcome Our New White Overlords. It’ll examine all the many ways in which our society’s so-called futurists repeatedly envision lily-white futures, and what we can do to smack those visionaries in the head until they see better visions remind them that the future will be — like the present already is — 50% female, and a lot browner than they realize.

11 comments to The Future of Humanity is White and Male (Again)

  • oliemoon

    Crecente self-identifies as Hispanic, but like your link outlines, he is basically an awful human being in many, many ways. I don’t want his DNA representing my community, that’s an insult to all Latin@s everywhere.

  • Sally

    Disturbingly like the just-released-for-Canada-Day list of “10 Iconic Canadians” whose photos were shown in a survey to determine how well Canadians know “their” culture. 7 white men, 1 Metis man, 1 white woman, 1 black woman.

  • Juan

    That and the future shouldn’t be amazingly american.

    I thought it was one of the coolest things when I first heard about it, then I thought about the sort of people probably selected and it just reminded me of the usual makeup of science fiction plots like these. In fact it almost fits it perfectly, i.e. the last vestiges of humanity being mostly white and the only people of colour are women. I think I remember at least two shows like that geared towards a younger/teen demographic. One of them I think was on the scifi channel when the station first got started.

    Can’t wait to read the rest of your series.

    • nojojojo

      Juan,

      If you could remember that show’s name, I will love you forever — because I think I remember it and I had the same reaction. (“WTF, we don’t get to survive except as $%^ing breeders?”) But I can’t remember the name!!

      • Juan

        I’ll let ya know when I do. Has been driving me crazy all day long when I tried to think about what the name was.

      • ripsconscullmin

        The name of the show was Mission Genesis (here in the US) and Deepwater Black in other countries. It was loosely based on a series of books written by Ken Catran.

  • Jed

    Good points, but I wanted to nitpick one specific item:

    That Gamasutra article about the study of gamer ethnicity is very confusingly phrased, but I’m pretty sure that what they’re saying is that 50% of the black and Hispanic people surveyed in the 18-24 age group were PS2 owners, not that 50% of the PS2 owners were black or Hispanic.

    When the article says “black respondents [age 25-34] came out ahead in PS2 ownership,” I’m pretty sure that they mean that a higher percentage of black respondents had PS2s than the percentage of white and Hispanic respondents, rather than (as their phrasing seems to imply) that a higher percentage of respondents were black than were Hispanic or white.

    (PS: In a quick search, I can’t immediately find anything about what the survey meant by “Hispanic.”)

    • nojojojo

      Hi Jed!

      I think you’re right about the Gamasutra article; I read it too fast. -_- It’s hard to find demographics re the race of players (or at least buyers) in the game industry; not sure why. I haven’t seen any studies from the ESA or other big orgs. Gender, but not race.

  • M

    Yea, I agree that a project like that should be more diverse, but not only in terms of different Americans, but people from every continent.

  • ripsconscullmin

    I’m troubled by that sampling of the people chosen for so many reasons. Whether it was serious or in jest (for publicity), more thought should have been put into the choice of participants. One can only hope the remainder of the list is better.

    Note: Now that I think about it, Mission Genesis may not be the show that was referred to in the previous posts. That show was about 6 clones (3 males, 3 females) searching for a new home for humans after we were wiped out by a virus. Interestingly enough, they were in possession of a “gene bank” that (if I remember correctly) contained samples of every human alive at the time, despite the fact that we had “colonies” on planets besides Earth.