People Are Upset Because Rashida Tlaib Said White People Can’t Distinguish Black Faces. Science Says She’s Right

Photo: Zach Gibson (Getty Images)

Right-wing outlets and people who don’t season their wings right are up in arms after a Democratic congresswoman made a statement based on nothing but data, facts and peer-reviewed scientific research.

According to the Detroit News, on Monday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) visited Detroit’s “Real-Time Crime” center, which uses cameras and computer software equipped with facial recognition technology placed on traffic lights, businesses and streets around the city. Tlaib was invited to tour the facility after she discovered that the city she represents was using the notoriously unreliable technology and tweeted that Detroit “should probably rethink this whole facial recognition bulls**t,” the Hill reports.

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During the trip, “the Squad” member took umbrage with how many white people the police squad hired to monitor a city that is 80 percent black. 

The Detroit News reports:

“Analysts need to be African Americans, not people that are not,” Tlaib told Craig. “I think non-African Americans think African Americans all look the same.

“I’ve seen it even on the House floor: People calling Elijah Cummings ‘John Lewis,’ and John Lewis ‘Elijah Cummings,’ and they’re totally different people,” Tlaib said, referring to the two longtime Democratic congressmen. “I see it all the time, and I love them because they go along with it.”

Craig replied: “I trust people who are trained, regardless of race; regardless of gender. It’s about the training.”

“I know,” Tlaib answered. “But it does make a huge difference with the analysts.”

After the tour, when a reporter asked whether she meant white people weren’t qualified to work in the crime center, Tlaib said: “No, I think there has actually been studies out that it’s hard for — African Americans would identify African Americans, or Latinos, same thing.”

Tlaib then was asked whether that means non-whites should be barred from working as crime analysts in mostly white communities. She replied: “Look it up.”

Critics, conservatives and Detroit’s police chief immediately condemned the congresswoman’s remarks as reverse racism and other phrases used by whites as they clutch their pearls tightly.

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It’s insulting,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “We have a diverse group of crime analysts, and what she said—that non-whites should not work in that capacity because they think all black people look alike—is a slap in the face to all the men and women in the crime center.”

Many people didn’t bother to comply with Tlaib’s request to “look it up” before condemning her statements and—to be fair—neither did we, mostly because, for years, The Root has reported on the numerous studies, events and anecdotal evidence that show facial recognition technology and white people often misidentify non-white faces.

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But since you asked, here are a few key facts:

  • In July, the research journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published a study that showed the face-recognition part of the white people’s brains (yes, they only tested white people) showed more activity on when the test subjects viewed a white face than when they viewed black faces.
  • An op-ed by the CEO of the firm that developed leading facial recognition technology called the software “dangerous and irresponsible,” noting that it was “not ready for use by law enforcement.”
  • The U.S. government’s own tests revealed that facial recognition algorithms misidentify black faces 5 to 10 times more often than white faces, reports Wired.
  • Researchers at MIT noted that the technology is flawed because it learns from human programmers, who are almost all white and male, according to the New York Times.
  • So many studies have shown that people misidentify other races, scientists have given the phenomenon a name: The cross-race effect.
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Of course, Tlaib has repeatedly invoked these scientific studies, but the people who reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming, the unimpeachable data on disproportionate black police killings and the boundless evidence that their baboon-like leader is a dim-witted white supremacist with a brain the size of a flea testicle—those people don’t necessarily believe in facts.

The only proof they believe is the one printed on their moonshine bottles and the only facts they acknowledge are the ones of the “alternative” variety.

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Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.