Regulating Facial Recognition Technology to Reduce Bias

By Khortlan Becton, JD, MTS, The Restorative Education Institute (1)

This blog post is an excerpt from the 2023 Hooks Institute Policy Papers “The Promise and Peril: Unpacking the Impact of A.I. and Automation on Marginalized Communities.” Read more here.

I. Introduction

From unlocking a phone to identifying shoplifters in real-time, facial recognition technology (“FRT”) use is increasing among private companies and having an increasingly large impact on the public. According to one study, the global FRT market is expected to grow from $3.8 billion in 2020 to $8.5 billion by 2025 (MarketsandMarkets, 2020). Domestically, FRTs are a central aspect of artificial intelligence (“AI”) use and development in the U.S. pri- vate sector. The following statistics demonstrate the growing prevalence of FRT use in the U.S. private sector: 72% of hotel operators are expected to deploy FRTs by 2025 to identify and interact with guests; by 2023, 97% of airports will roll out FRTs; excluding Southwest Airlines, most major US airlines currently use FRTs (Calvello, 2019).

This explosion of private FRT use has prompted many professional organizations and community organizers to call for a moratorium on FRT use until the enactment of state and federal regulatory actions. One such group noted that industry and government have adopted FRTs “ahead of the development of principles and regulations to reliably assure their consistently appropriate and non-prejudicial use” (Association for Computing Machinery [ACM], 2020). Among the stakeholders calling for such moratoriums is a concern over the alarming level of bias present within commercial FRT systems. Given the widespread integration of FRTs throughout society, both presently and to come, the presence of bias in FRTs is particularly troublesome as decision-making driven by biased FRT can lead to significant physical and legal injuries. For example, self-driving cars are more likely to hit dark-skinned pedestrians (Samuel, 2019). Biased FRTs also have the likelihood of producing discriminatory hiring decisions, credit approvals, or mortgage approvals.

Though the observable and conceivable consequences of bias in FRTs are virtually boundless, state and federal regulatory schemes have not adapted to the growth of FRTs. A continuing lag in regulations designed to address bias in FRTs will likely lead to a range of discriminatory effects that existing agencies do not have the capacity to prevent or redress. Therefore, a federal regulatory scheme propagated by a new agency specifically authorized to regulate AI technologies will better ensure the governance of private entities’ use of facial recognition technologies to address bias than the current regulatory scheme.

A. The Relationship Between AI and FRTs

In popular usage, AI refers to the ability of a computer or machine to mimic the capabilities of the human mind and combining these and other capabilities to perform functions a human might perform (IBM, 2020). AI-powered machines are usually classified into two groups—general and narrow (Towards Data Science, 2018). Narrow AI, which drives most of the AI that surrounds us today, is trained and focused to perform specific tasks. (IBM, 2020). General AI is AI that more fully replicates the autonomy of the human brain—AI that can solve many types of problems and even choose the problems it wants to solve without human intervention (IBM, 2020).

Machine learning is a subset of AI application that enables an application to progressively reprogram itself, digesting data input by human users, to perform the specific task the application is designed to perform with increasingly greater accuracy (IBM, 2020). Deep learning, a subset of machine learning, allows applications to automatically identify the features to be used for classification, without human intervention (IBM, 2020).

Facial recognition technologies are artificial intelligence systems programmed to identify or verify the identity of a person using their face (Thales Group, 2021). “A general statement of the problem of machine recognition of faces can be formulated as follows: given still or video images of a scene, identify or verify one or more persons in the scene using a stored database of faces” (Chellappa et al., 2003). Face recognition is often described as a process that first involves four steps: face detection, face alignment, feature extraction, and face recognition (Brownlee, 2019).

  1. Face Detection. Locate one or more faces in the image with a bounding box.
  2. Face Alignment. Normalize the face to be consistent with the database, such as geometry and
  3. photometrics.
  4. Feature Extraction. Extract features from the face that can be used for the recognition task.
  5. Face Recognition. Perform matching of the face against one or more known faces in a prepared database (Brownlee, 2019).

Companies are developing and implementing FRTs in new and potentially beneficial ways, such as: helping news organizations identify celebrities in their coverage of significant events, providing secondary authentication for mobile applications, automatically indexing image and video files for media and entertainment companies, and allowing humanitarian groups to identify and rescue human trafficking victims (Amazon Web Services [AWS], 2021). Recently, FRT has been in the news for its application in the investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capital riot (Sakin, 2021). Other news stories about facial recognition have centered on the coronavirus pandemic. One business proposed creating immunity passports for those who are no longer at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 and to use FRTs to identify the immunity passport holder (Sakin, 2021). A MarketsandMarkets (2020) study estimates that the global facial recognition market is expected to grow from $3.8 billion in 2020 to $8.5 billion by 2025.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) recent settlement with Everalbum, a California-based developer of a photo storage app, exemplifies the growth of FRT use in the commercial sector and the liabilities companies may face for implementing the technology. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that Everalbum, which offered an app that allowed users to upload photos and videos to be stored and organized, launched a new feature that, by default, used face recognition to group users’ photos by faces of the people who appear in the photos (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). Everalbum also allegedly used, without affirmative express consent, users’ uploaded photos to train and develop its own FRT (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). Regarding its implementation of FRTs, the FTC charged Everalbum
for engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices, in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, by misrepresenting that it was not using facial recognition unless the user enabled it or turned it on (Everal- bum, Inc., n.d.). In January 2021, Everalbum settled the FTC allegations concerning its deceptive use of FRTs. The proposed settlement requires Everalbum to delete all face embeddings the company derived from photos of users who did not give their express consent to their use and any facial recognition models or algorithms developed with users’ photos or videos (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). The company must also obtain a user’s express consent before using biometric information it collected from the user to create face embeddings or develop FRTs (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). Everalbum’s recent settlement with the FTC underscores the nascency of federal governance of FRTs, as the Everalbum settlement is among the first of few federal agency enforcements targeting commercial use of FRTs (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2019) (2). Signaling the potential for increasing regulation and enforcement in this area, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra noted that FRT “is fundamentally flawed and reinforces harmful biases” while highlighting the importance of “efforts to enact moratoria or otherwise severely restrict its use” (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], (2021).

B. Bias in Facial Recognition Technologies

Although proponents of FRTs boast high accuracy rates, a growing body of research exposes divergent error rates in FRT use across demographic groups (Najibi, 2020). In the landmark 2018 “Gender Shades” report, MIT and Microsoft researchers applied an intersectional approach to test three commercial gender classification algorithms (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). The researchers provided skin type annotations for unique subjects in two datasets and built a new facial image dataset that is balanced by gender and skin type (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). Analysis of the dataset benchmarks revealed that all three algorithms performed the worst on darker-skinned females, with error rates up to 34.7% higher than for lighter-skinned males (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). The classifiers also performed more effectively on male faces (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). The researchers suggested that darker skin may not be the only factor responsible for misclassification and that darker skin may instead be highly correlated with facial geometrics or gender presentation standards (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). Noting that default camera settings are often optimized to better expose lighter skin than darker skin, the researchers concluded that under-and overexposed images lose crucial information making them inaccurate measures of classification within artificial intelligence systems (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). The report also emphasizes the need for increased diversity of phenotypic and demographic representation in face datasets and algorithmic evaluations since “[i]nclusive benchmark datasets and subgroup accuracy reports will be necessary to increase transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence” (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018).

In 2019, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) released a series of reports on ongoing face recognition vendor tests (“FRVT”). Using both one-to-one verification algorithms and one-to-many identification search algorithms submitted to the FRVT by corporate research and development laboratories and a few universities, the NIST Information Technology Laboratory quantified the accuracy of face recognition algorithms for demographic groups defined by sex, age, and race or country of origin (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018). The NIST used these algorithms with four large datasets of photographs collected in U.S. governmental applications (3) (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018), which allowed researchers to process a total of 18.27 million images of 8.49 million people through 189 mostly commercial algorithms from 99 developers (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018).

The FRVT report confirms that a majority of the face recognition algorithms tested exhibited demographic differentials of various magnitudes in both false negative results (rejecting a correct match) and false positive results (matching to the wrong person) (Crumpler, 2020). In regard to false positives, the NIST found: (1) that false positive rates are highest in West and East African and East Asian people, and lowest in Eastern European individuals (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018) (4), (2) that, with respect to a number of algorithms developed in China, this effect is reversed, with low false positives rates on East Asian faces; (3) that, with respect to domestic law enforcement images, the highest false positive rates are in American Indians, with elevated rates in African American and Asian populations; (4) and that false positives are higher in women than men, and this is consistent across algorithms and datasets (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018). In regard to false negatives, the NIST found: (1) that false negatives are higher in Asian and American Indian people in domestic mugshots; (2) that false negatives are generally higher in people born in Africa and the Caribbean, the effect being stronger in older individuals (5) (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018).

Encouragingly, the NIST concluded that the differences between demographic groups were far lower in algorithms that were more accurate overall (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018). This conclusion signals that as FRTs continue to evolve, the effects of bias can be reduced (Crumpler, 2020). Based on its finding that the algorithms developed in the U.S. performed worse on East Asian faces than did those developed in China, the NIST theorized that the Chinese teams likely used training datasets with greater representation of Asian faces, improving their performance on that group (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018). Thus, the selection of training data used to build algorithmic models appears to be the most important factor in reducing bias (Crumpler, 2020).

Although both the “Gender Shades” and FRVT reports identify under-representative training sets as major sources of algorithmic bias, another recent study of commercial facial algorithms led by Mei Wang showed that “[a]ll algorithms . . . perform the best on Caucasian testing subsets, followed by Indians from Asia, and the worst on Asians and Africans. This is because the learned representations predominately trained on Caucasians will discard useful information for discerning non-Caucasian faces” (Wang, 2019). Furthermore, “[e]ven with balanced training, we see that non-Caucasians still perform more poorly than Caucasians. The reason may be that faces of coloured skins are more difficult to extract and pre-process feature information, especially in dark situations” (Wang, 2019).

Between 2014 and 2018, the accuracy of facial recognition technology has increased 20-fold (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018). However, further applications of FRT will almost certainly bring new challenges if the prevalence of bias remains unchecked. According to Jan Lunter, co-founder and CEO of Innovatrics, facial recognition companies can approach the issue of bias using the insights that the biometrics industry has gained over the past two decades. “Any failure to use these techniques,” Lunter warns, “will not only fan public mistrust, but also inhibit the iterative pace of improvement shown over the past five years” (Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST], 2018).

II. Current State and Federal Regulatory Schemes

Against a backdrop of scant federal regulation of commercial AI use, including FRTs, several states have adopted their own regulatory schemes to govern the emergent technology. Illinois (740 Ill Comp. Stat), Washington (Wash. Rev. Code), California (Cal. Civ. Code), and Texas (11 Tex. Bus. & Com. Code) have each enacted legislation that targets private sector use of biometric information, including facial images. The states’ legislative schemes commonly define biometric identifiers that encompass facial images by describing them as “face geometry” or unique biological patterns that identify a person (Yeung et al, 2020). However, the states each employ vastly different methods of enforcement. In Texas and Washington, only the state attorney general has enforcement power (11 Tex. Bus. & Com. Code). In California, the state attorney general and the consumer share responsibility for taking action against entities that violate privacy protections (Cal. Civ. Code). While, in Illinois, any person has the right to pursue action against firms and obtain damages between $1,000 and $5,000 per violation (740 Ill. Comp. Stat). Consequently, companies such as Google, Shutterfly, and Facebook have been sued in Illinois for collecting and tagging consumers’ facial information (Yeung et al., 2020).

Facial recognition bans, which range in scope, are on the rise at the municipal level. In September 2020, Portland, Oregon, banned facial recognition use by both public and private entities, including in places of “public accommodation,” such as restaurants, retail stores and public gathering spaces (Metz, 2020). The Portland, Oregon ban does allow private entities’ use of FRTs (1) to the extent necessary to comply with federal, state, or local laws; (2) for user verification purposes to access the user’s own personal or employer-used communication and electronic devices; or (3) in automatic face detection services in social media apps (Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, 2020). Similarly, Portland, Maine passed an ordinance in November 2020 banning both the city and its departments and officials from “using or authorizing the use of any facial surveillance software on any groups or members of the public” (Heater, 2020). The ordinance allows members of the public to sue if “facial surveillance data is illegally gathered and/or used” (Heater, 2020). Importantly, the Portland, Maine ban does not apply to private companies.

The federal government’s national AI strategy continues to take shape with constant new developments. On November 17, 2020, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), pursuant to Executive Order 13859, issued a memorandum addressed to the heads of executive departments and agencies that provided guidance for the regulation of non-governmental applications of “narrow” or “weak” AI (6) (The White House, 2020). The OMB’s memo briefly recognized the potential issues of bias and discrimination in AI applications and recommended that agencies “consider in a transparent manner the impacts that AI applications may have on discrimination.” Specifically, the OMB recommended that when considering regulatory or non-regulatory approaches related to AI applications, “agencies should consider, in accordance with law, issues of fairness and non-discrimination with respect to outcomes and decision produced by the AI application at issue, as well as whether the AI application at issue may reduce levels of unlawful, unfair, or otherwise unintended discrimination as compared to existing processes.”

Pursuant to the National AI Initiative Act of 2020 (The White House, 2020), the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (“OSTP”) formally established the National AI Initiative Office (the “Office”) on January 12, 2021. The Office is responsible for overseeing and implementing a national AI strategy and acting as a central hub for coordination and collaboration for federal agencies and outside stakeholders across government, industry and academia in AI research and policymaking (The White House, 2020). On October 4, 2022, the OSTP released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights (the “Blueprint”), which “identified five principles that should guide the design, use, and deployment of automated systems to protect the American public in the age of artificial intelligence” (The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP], 2022a).

The five guiding principles are: 1. Safe and Effective Systems; 2. Algorithmic Discrimination Protections; 3. Data Privacy; 4. Notice and Explanation; and 5. Human Alternatives, Consideration, and Fallback.” (The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP], 2022a). The AI Bill of Rights further provides recommendations for designers, developers, and deployers of automated systems to put these guiding principles into practice for more equitable systems. The Biden-Harris administration has also announced progress across the Federal government that has advanced the Blueprint’s guiding principles, including actions from the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) (The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP], 2022b).

Most recently, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has spearheaded efforts to manage AI by circulating a framework that outlines a proposed regulatory regime for AI technologies. Schumer declared on the Senate floor, “Congress must move quickly. Many AI experts have pointed out that the government must have a role in how this technology enters our lives. Even leaders of the industry say they welcome regulation.” Schumer’s nod towards industry leaders is likely in reference to the several congressional panels that held hearings on AI with industry experts during the week of May 16, 2023. Most notably, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, the company known for promulgating ChatGPT, testified before a Senate committee on May 16, 2023, imploring legislators to regulate the fast-growing AI industry. Altman proposed a three-point plan for regulation that called for: 1. A new government agency with AI licensing authority, 2. The creation of safety standards and evaluations, and 3. Required independent audits. In response to Altman’s plea, Senator Schumer met with a group of bipartisan legislators to begin drafting comprehensive legislation for AI regulation.

The FTC has already taken an active role in regulating private sector development and use of FRT, as evidenced by its recent settlements with Facebook and Everalbum. Further solidifying the FTC’s regulatory stance, acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter made remarks at the Future of Privacy Forum specifically tying the FTC’s role in addressing systemic racism to the digital divide, AI and algorithmic decision-making, and FRTs (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2019).

On April 19, 2021, the FTC published a blog post announcing the Commission’s intent to bring enforcement actions related to “biased algorithms” under section 5 of the FTC Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021). Importantly, the statement expressly notes that, “the sale or use of—for example—racially biased algorithms” falls within the scope of the FTC’s prohibition of unfair or deceptive business practices (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021). The FTC also provides guidance on how companies can “do more good than harm” in developing and using AI algorithms by auditing its training data and, if necessary, “limit[ing] where or how [they] use the model;” testing its algorithms for improper bias before and during deployment; employing transparency frameworks and independent standards; and being transparent with consumers and seeking appropriate consent to use consumer data (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021).

III. Argument

The fledgling federal, state, and municipal AI and FRT regulations exist in a loose patchwork that will likely complicate enforcement and compliance for private companies. These complications could hamper or, in some cases, de-incentivize the reduction of bias in FRTs as companies could seek shelter in whichever jurisdiction is most permissive. The federal government’s creation of the National AI Initiative Office does not ensure reductions in FRT bias because the Office is primarily authorized to facilitate AI innovation and cooperation between the government and private companies, rather than addressing any inherent biases present in the FRTs. The FTC’s recent enforcements against private use of FRTs and its recent guidelines indicate that it has an interest in addressing the use of FRTs and FRT bias. However, the FTC possesses limited authority in this context and has historically struggled to compel compliance from large corporations. Thus, a new agency, specifically authorized to regulate and eliminate issues of bias that arise from commercial FRT applications, is needed to effectively address the presence and effect of bias within FRTs.

A. The States’ privacy protections for consumers, comprised of a patchwork of state and municipal regula tions, are inadequate to sufficiently address the issues of bias anticipated from the commercial use of FRTs.

In the absence of federal laws that regulate the commercial use of AI, much less FRTs, state and city laws have attempted to fill the regulatory gap. State governments may be regarded and valued as “living laboratories” in some respects, but their collective piecemeal legislation concerning commercial AI and FRT use may negatively impact the reduction of bias in FRTs and could likely lead to a deregulatory “race to the bottom.”

Significantly, three states–Illinois, Texas and Washington—have recognized the urgent need to address the burgeoning use of AI in the private sector and put privacy protections in place for consumers. The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, passed in 2008, requires commercial entities to obtain written consent in order to capture an individual’s biometric identifiers (including face geometry) or sell or disclose a person’s biometric identifier (740 Ill. Comp. Stat). The Illinois Act also places security and retention requirements on any collected biometric data (740 Ill. Comp. Stat). Although Texas and Washington have enacted similar laws, their laws vary significantly from Illinois’ in that only the attorney generals are authorized to enforce the laws against commercial entities (11 Tex. Bus. & Com. Code). Illinois’ law, on the other hand, includes a private right of action, which has led to several lawsuits against companies such as Clearview AI, Google, and Facebook (Greenberg, 2020; Yeung et al, 2020).

The variance among the entities empowered to enforce these states’ laws will likely create enforcement and compliance difficulties, particularly as it pertains to bias, because AI and FRTs inherently transcend state borders. Based on recent studies of the presence of bias in commercial FRTs, the selection of training data used to build algorithmic models appears to be the most important factor in reducing bias (Crumpler, 2020). Thus, the reduction of bias in commercial FRTs would be significantly hindered if companies are unsure whether they have access to certain images based on specific state laws. For example, Everalbum’s settlement with the FTC revealed that the international company compiled FRT training datasets by combining facial images it had extracted from Ever users’ photos with facial images obtained from publicly available datasets (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). Everalbum’s FRT development was geographically constrained on a state-by-state basis to exclude images from users believed to be residents of Illinois, Texas, Washington, or the European Union (Everalbum, Inc., n.d.). From the perspective of increasing representative training datasets, the company’s exclusion of facial images from users in Texas and Illinois, specifically, would have negatively impacted the representation of Latinx people and other racial minorities (7) (Krogstad, 2020).

Given uncertainty among AI and FRT developers within the patchwork state regulatory scheme, paired with researchers’ recommendations to increase phenotypic and demographic representation in face datasets and algorithmic evaluations (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018), companies will likely want to conduct business in locations that enable them to have access to large amounts of data. In response, states may avoid enacting AI and FRT regulations that deter companies from conducting business in those states, resulting in what is termed as a deregulatory “race to the bottom” (Chen, 2022). If a “race to the bottom” situation was to occur in response to the patchwork of state AI regulations, then companies would likely seek to build and train FRTs in those states where consumers had less rights to their biometric data since the companies would have access to more information to compile larger datasets.

On the one hand, enabling companies’ ability to compile larger datasets seems like a great avenue to reduce bias in FRT applications, as the larger datasets would provide increased phenotypic and demographic diversity. However, a lack of state standards governing the quality and collection of biometric data could negatively impact FRT accuracy and, in turn, exacerbate the presence of biased results. According to one study, non-Caucasians may perform more poorly than Caucasians on FRTs, even with balanced training, because “faces of coloured skins are more difficult to extract and pre-process feature information, especially in dark situations” (Wang et al., 2019). Similarly, the “Gender Shade” researchers noted that default camera settings are often optimized to better expose lighter skin than darker skin (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). This observation led the researchers to conclude that under-and overexposed images lose crucial information making them inaccurate measures of classification within artificial intelligence systems (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). If biased FRT performance is linked to the difficulty of extracting and pre-processing feature information from non-Caucasian faces, especially in dark situations; and, if sub-optimal camera lightening of non-Caucasian faces often produces images that lack crucial information rendering them inaccurate datapoints; then, lax state regulations on the quality and collection of biometric data will likely widen the discrepancy between FRTs’ performance on Caucasian and non-Caucasian faces, undermining efforts to reduce bias in commercial FRT use.

B. The current federal regulatory scheme lacks the scope and capacity to sufficiently address the issues of bias anticipated from the commercial use of FRTs.

The U.S. federal government, in passing the National AI Initiative Act of 2020 and creating the National AI Initiative Office (the “Office”), decided to primarily focus its resources on the support and growth of AI and its attendant technologies, including FRTs (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, 2021). The Act also (1) expanded and made permanent the Select Committee on AI, which will serve as the senior interagency body responsible for overseeing the National AI Initiative; (2) codified the National AI Research Institutes and the National Sciences Foundation, collaborative institutes that will focus on a range of AI research and development areas, into law; (3) expanded AI technical standards to include an AI risk assessment framework; and (4) codified an annual AI budget rollup of Federal AI research and development investments (The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP], 2021). Further, on January 27, 2021, President Biden signed a memorandum titled, “Restoring trust in government through science and integrity and evidence-based policy making,” setting in motion a broad review of federal scientific integrity policies and directing agencies to bolster their efforts to support evidence-based decisions making (The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP], 2021). In spite of these nascent attempts to federally regulate commercial use of FRTs, the existing commercial applications of FRTs and the instances of bias that arise from such use remain largely unregulated.

The National AI Initiative Office lacks the capacity and authority to regulate bias arising from current commercial FRT use since, according to its enabling statute, the Office is principally concerned with supporting public and private AI innovation. The National AI Initiative Act describes the Office’s responsibilities as serving as a liaison between the government, industry, and academia; outreaching to the public, and promoting innovation (The White House, 2020).

None of the enumerated responsibilities described in the National AI Initiative Act authorize the Office to specifically regulate existing commercial AI use, let alone address any issues of bias. The first two responsibilities establish the Office’s authority to “provide technical and administrative support” to other federal AI Initiative committees and serve as a liaison on federal AI activities between a broadly defined group of public and private entities. The last two responsibilities charge the Office with reaching out to “diverse stakeholders” and promoting interagency access to the AI Initiative’s activities. The Office’s enabling statute does not clearly indicate whether the regulatory body has enforcement authority on private actors as there is no provision that confers on the Office the ability to promulgate rules or regulations. Likewise, the Office does not seem to have the power to impose sanctions in order to ensure industry compliance. Instead, the Office is focused on building coordination between the private sector and governmental entities to promote further AI innovation. Thus, the Office does not have explicit regulatory authority over any existing private use of AI or FRTs.

Supporters of the National AI Initiative Act and the Office may argue that the Office is appropriately situated to address issues of bias arising from the commercial use of FRTs, however that argument is undermined by the express statutory language of the Act. A supporter of the Office may point to the entity’s responsibility to serve as a liaison on federal AI activities between public and private entities to argue that, by facilitating the exchange of technical and programmatic information that could address bias in AI, the Office would help FRT developers reduce bias. However, the statute does not appear to enable the Office to influence or contribute to the substantive contents of the information shared between the public and private sectors about the AI Initiative activities. If the Office lacks the ability to influence the substance of information exchanged, then it also lacks the ability to specifically direct information sharing that could redress bias in commercial AI applications. A supporter of the Office may also point to its outreach responsibility to argue that the Office will work to address bias by reaching out to diverse stakeholders, including civil rights and disability rights organizations. Yet, the statutory language is vague as to the substance of this “regular public outreach” responsibility. Without a clearer indication that the Office’s public outreach efforts are directed toward or will somehow result in a reduction in AI and FRT bias, the assumption that coordinating public outreach with diverse stakeholders will sufficiently address bias in commercial FRT use remains unfounded. Hence, reducing bias that arises from the commercial use of FRTs is not an articulated central focus, nor an explicitly intended effect, of the Office’s enabling statute.

Close analysis of the statutory language establishing the National AI Initiative and the Office reveals that the Office will likely operate more like a governmental think-tank to ensure coordinated AI innovation than a regulatory body with enforcement power. Such a scheme is inadequate to properly address the existing issues of bias shown in today’s commercial FRTs since the AI Initiative will likely promulgate industry standards that stem from and reflect the market itself, including its apparent biases.

The few FTC regulatory decisions that have been handed down concerning existing commercial FRT applications are products of the FTC’s recent actions to regulate private AI use (Facebook, Inc., n.d.). Based on its latest posts and statements, the FTC anticipates broadening its regulation of private AI and FRT use to not only focus on user consent, but also biased algorithms (Jillson, 2021). However, the FTC has limited enforcement power to sufficiently address the wide-ranging applications of FRTs and reduce the perpetuation of bias.

The Federal Trade Commission Act empowers the FTC to, among other things:

(a) prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce;
(b) seek monetary redress and other relief for conduct injurious to consumers; and
(c) prescribe rules defining with specificity acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive, and establishing requirements designed to prevent such acts or practices (15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58).

As stated in its enabling statute, the FTC’s enforcement power is limited to “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce” (15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58) The FTC asserts its authority over certain issues or subject areas by deeming a certain commercial practice unfair or deceptive, which is exactly what the FTC did when it released its recent AI blog post categorizing the use or sell of “biased algorithms” as an unfair and deceptive practice. Yet, the FTC will likely run into future enforcement issues in trying to prevent the use and sale of biased algorithms because they lack the willingness to enforce orders and expertise in AI training and development. Despite the FTC’s recent blog post indicating its intention to bring enforcement actions related to biased algorithms, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra provided a statement to the Senate noting that “Congress and the Commission must implement major changes when it comes to stopping repeat offenders” and that “since the Commission has shown it often lacks the will to enforce agency orders, Congress should allow victims and state attorneys general to seek injunctive relief in court to halt violations of FTC orders (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021).

In support of his first suggestion concerning the issue of repeat offenders, Commissioner Chopra emphasized that, “[w]hile the FTC is quick to bring down the hammer on small businesses, companies like Google know that the FTC simply is not serious about holding them accountable” (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021). If the FTC is currently struggling to “turn the page on [their] perceived powerlessness” (Federal Trade Commission [FTC], 2021), then it follows that it is most likely ill-suited to successfully take on emerging global leaders in commercial AI technology. Furthermore, the Commissioner’s plea for Congress to allow victims and state attorneys general to access the courts for injunctive relief underscores the FTC’s inability and unwillingness to enforce its orders. Shifting the burden onto consumers and judges to regulate the exploding commercial use of FRTs and reduce bias is less than ideal as the courts lack the expertise and resources to adequately address bias in commercial FRT use. Also, courts are bound by justiciability principles, which limits their ability to regulate and reduce bias. Therefore, Congress should create a new agency that is solely authorized to address issues of bias in commercial FRT use, has power to regulate, and teeth to go after private parties who violate its regulations.

C. Congress must establish a new federal agency specifically, but not solely, authorized to regulate and eliminate issues of bias that arise from commercial FRT applications.

In order to effectively address the pervasiveness of bias in private FRT use, Congress must establish a new regulatory agency specifically, but not solely, authorized to regulate and eliminate issues of bias that arise from commercial FRT applications. The new agency should be created according to the following enabling statute to ensure its appropriate scope and capacity:

The [agency] is empowered, among other things, to:

(a) prevent private entities’ development, use, or sale of FRTs in circumstances that perpetuate bias based on ethnic, racial, gender, and other human characteristics recognizable by computer systems;
(b) seek monetary redress or other relief for injuries resulting from the presence of bias in FRTs; (c) prescribe rules and regulations defining with specificity circumstances known or reasonably foreseeable to perpetuate bias that is prejudicial to established human and legal rights, and establishing standards designed to prevent such circumstances;
(d) gather and compile data and conduct investigations related to private entities’ development, testing, and application of FRTs; and
(e) make reports and legislative recommendations to Congress and the public. (8)

Part (a) of the new agency’s enabling statute delineates the scope of the agency’s enforcement power to specifically regulate private entities’ development, use or sale of FRTs in settings that perpetuate bias. The phrase “development, use, or sale” is designed to extend the agency’s regulatory scope to include the development or creation of FRTs in recognition of the fact that biases can originate from either the algorithm or the training dataset. Including the development stage within the agency’s regulatory authority will allow the agency to effectively regulate the sources of bias—the algorithm, training datasets, and photo quality. Additionally, the inclusion of all three stages—development, use, and sale—enable the agency to have the conceptual framework and authority to regulate any future sources of bias that are yet to be discovered (9) (Learned-Miller et al., 2020).

Part (b) confers the agency the power to impose sanctions in the form of monetary penalties or other appropriate type of relief for injuries caused by a private party’s violation of the agency’s regulations. Part (b) is of utmost importance since it will give the agency power to bring down the hammer on violating entities and shirk the perception of “powerlessness.” The agency will compel compliance from large companies by bringing timely actions against violating parties, requiring violating parties to make material changes to their algorithms that eliminate or significantly reduce bias, and maintaining a reputation for rigorously holding companies accountable for their algorithms.

Part (c) functions hand-in-hand with Part (b) in that the agency’s promulgation of rules and regulations creates the legal claims through which the agency can seek monetary redress or other forms of relief from violating companies. Requiring the agency to prescribe rules and regulations that specifically define circumstances known or reasonably foreseeable to perpetuate bias will require significant technical expertise. The agency should employ and regularly consult with preeminent AI and FRT scholars and researchers so that it can stay abreast of industry standards, norms, and developments. The agency must also develop rigorous testing standards to identify and address algorithms’ rates of bias, which will require it to compile large datasets that are phenotypically and demographically representative.

Part (d) significantly empowers the agency to continually request information from private FRT developers so that it can promulgate rules and standards that can effectively address the identified sources of bias in commercial FRT applications. Without the power to gather and compile data, the agency’s regulations and standards would run the risk of becoming obsolete or irrelevant to the FRT industry, which would hinder its ability to reduce bias. Similarly, the power to conduct investigations related to FRT development, testing, and applications is crucial to the agency’s regulatory authority so that the agency can actively ensure companies’ compliance without needing to wait on injured parties, who often lack AI expertise or access to representation, to bring claims. Based on its investigations, the agency can further ensure the sustained reduction in FRT bias by making reports and recommendations to Congress and the public.

Part (e) can be best realized by the agency because of its broad authority to regulate every aspect of FRT development and application. Thus, the agency sits at a critical juncture between FRT developers, legislators, and the public. Consequently, the agency can emphasize legislative reform as needed to effectively reduce bias and contribute to a nascent body of knowledge that the public has only begun to understand.

A new federal agency, empowered to investigate and regulate FRT development, testing, and application can reduce the presence of bias more effectively than the current regulatory scheme because of its broad authority and enforcement power. The FTC is limited in its authority to regulate bias, and its regulatory power has repeatedly bowed to the will of large corporations. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the Office has the authority to even promulgate rules or standards. Yet, FRT technology is a growing market, and researchers have only scratched the surface of how FRTs perpetuate bias. To this end, the Association of Computing Machinery’s U.S. Technology Policy Committee observed that industry and government have adopted FRTs “ahead of the development of principles and regulations to reliably assure their consistently appropriate and non-prejudicial use” (Association for Computing Machinery [ACM], 2020). A new agency, specifically targeting the development, training, and application of FRTs can have the necessary breadth and expertise to reduce existing sources of bias and discover unknown sources of bias. Furthermore, the agency’s narrowly tailored focus on FRTs can help to lay a foundation for its future expanded regulatory authority over additional AI attendant technologies, which are likely more complex systems. Since large corporations have not dealt with the new agency yet, the agency will be able to set itself apart from agencies with waning respect from corporations by strictly enforcing its regulations, erring on the side of caution, and crafting settlement agreements with provisions that require violators to make material changes to reduce FRT bias. Though the existence of completely unbiased FRTs is sure to be difficult to realize, the new agency will deploy all of its authority and resources to reducing FRT bias to the point of elimination.


The inundation of commercial facial recognition technology coupled with a lagging federal regulatory framework to govern commercial FRT development and use has led to a precarious environment where individuals bear the un- due burden of redressing unprecedented harms. The following policy recommendations, while ambitious, aim to support a national regulatory scheme that would reduce the frequency and severity of FRT bias and discrimination:

  • Establish a federal agency with the explicit authority to regulate commercial AI and its attendant technolo- gies, like FRTs, in accordance with the following enabling statute:

The [agency] is empowered, among other things, to:

(a) prevent private entities’ development, use, or sale of FRTs in circumstances that perpetuate bias based on ethnic, racial, gender, and other human characteristics recognizable by computer systems;
(b) seek monetary redress or other relief for injuries resulting from the presence of bias in FRTs; (c) prescribe rules and regulations defining with specificity circumstances known or reasonably foreseeable to perpetuate bias that is prejudicial to established human and legal rights, and establishing standards designed to prevent such circumstances;
(d) gather and compile data and conduct investigations related to private entities’ development, testing, and application of FRTs; and
(e) make reports and legislative recommendations to Congress and the public.

  • Create uniform guidelines for states’ regulation of the commercial collection and use of biometric data;
  • Develop and encourage the increased implementation of phenotypically and demographically diverse face datasets in commercial FRT development, training, and evaluation.


  1. Khortlan Becton graduated summa cum laude from the University of Alabama with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Religious Studies and African American Studies, received a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a Juris Doctor from Temple School of Law. Khortlan is a Truman Scholar Finalist, a member of Phi Beta Kap- pa, and recipient of numerous awards from the various academic institutions that she has attended.
    While attending law school, Khortlan began studying and advocating for the regulation of artificial intelligence technologies, including facial recognition technology. She served as lead author for a summary of recent literature on algorithmic bias in decision-making and related legal implications. That paper’s co-author, Professor Erika Douglas (Temple School of Law), presented the literature review at the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Spring Meeting in 2022.Through holding various service and leadership roles, Becton has developed a deep appreciation for creative and collaborative problem-solving to address intergenerational issues of poverty and systemic inequality. Becton has continued to pursue her passion for education and justice by launching The Restorative Education Institute. The Institute is a non-profit organization purposed to equip youth and adults to practice anti-racism through historical education and substantive reflection.
  2. The FTC, which is playing an active role in the misuse of facial recognition, previously imposed a $5 billion penalty and new privacy restrictions on Facebook in 2019. Similar to the allegations against Everalbum, the complaint against Facebook alleged that Facebook’s data policy was deceptive to users who have Facebook’s facial recognition setting because that setting was turned on by default, while the updated data policy suggested that users would need to opt-in to having facial recognition enabled.
  3. The four large datasets of photographs are: (1) Domestic mugshots collected in the U.S.; (2) Application photographs from a global population of applicants for Immigration benefits; (3) Visa photographs submitted in support of visa applicants; and (4) Border crossing photographs of travelers entering the U.S.
  4. This effect is generally large, with a factor of 100 more false positives between countries.
  5. These differing results relate to image quality: The mugshots were collected with a photographic setup specifically standardized to produce high-quality images across races; the border crossing images deviate from face image quality standards.
  6. The OMB memorandum defines “narrow” AI as “go[ing] beyond advanced conventional computing to learn and perform domain-specific or specialized tasks by extracting information from data sets, or other structured or unstructured sources of information.”
  7. According to Pew Research, Texas is one of two states with the most Latinx people at 11.5 million. Illinois’ Latinx population increased from 2010 to 2019 by 185,000 people.
  8. The new agency’s enabling statute is modeled after the Federal Trade Commission Act because the Act succinctly embodies the power of a narrowly focused agency. The FTC Act is primarily focused on “unfair and deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce,” which has contributed to the FTC’s broad authority. The new agency will need a similar breadth in their jurisdictional scope since researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of bias in FRT applications.
  9. Specifically defining the concepts used to describe the creation and management of FRTs is of utmost importance to delineating the scope of not only the AI attendant tech- nology, but also the breadth of an agency’s regulatory framework. Researchers have recently endeavored to provide specific definitions for the creation of a federal regulatory scheme for FRTs that will likely be a necessary addition to the enabling statutory language proposed here.


11 Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 503.001 (2019). 11 Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 503.001(D).
15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58.

740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 14/1 (2008).

740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 14/20 (2008).

Amazon Web Services [AWS]. (2021). The Facts on Facial Recognition with Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from

Association for Computing Machinery [ACM]. (2020, June 30). U.S. Technology Policy Committee: Statement on Principles and Prerequisites for the Development, Evaluation and Use of Unbiased Facial Recognition Technologies. Retrieved from recognition-tech-statement.pdf

Brownlee, J. (2019, July 5). A gentle introduction to deep learning for face recognition. Machine Learning Mastery. Retrieved from

Buolamwini, J., & Gebru, T. (2018). Gender shades: Intersectional accuracy disparities in commercial gender classification. Proceedings of Machine Learning Research 81, 1-15.

Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.100 – 1798.199.100 (2018).

Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.150, § 1798.199.90 (2018).

Calvello, M. (2019, Oct 23). 22 eye-opening facial recognition statistics for 2020. Learn Hub. Retrieved from

Chellappa, R., Phillips, P.J., Rosenfeld, A., & Zhao, W. (2003). Face recognition: A literary survey. ACM Journals, 35(4).

Chen, J. (2022, Oct. 3). Race to the bottom. Investopedia. Retrieved from race-bottom.asp#:~:text=The%20race%20to%20the%20bottom%20refers%20to%20a%20competi- tive%20situation,can%20also%20occur%20among%20regions

Crumpler, W. (2020, May 1). The problem of bias in facial recognition. Center for Strategic and International Studies Blog Post. Retrieved from problem-bias-facial-recognition

Everalbum, Inc., (n.d.) FTC Complaint No. 1923172. Retrieved from cases/everalbum_complaint.pdf

Facebook, Inc., FTC Stipulated Order No. 19-cv-2184. Retrieved from documents/cases/182_3109_facebook_order_filed_7-24-19.pdf

Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. (2019, July 24). FTC imposes $5 billion penalty and sweeping new privacy restrictions on Facebook. Retrieved from ftc-imposes-5-billion-penalty-sweeping-new-privacy-restrictions

Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. (2021, April 20). Prepared opening statement of Commissioner Rohit Chopra, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on “Strengthening the FederalTrade Commission’s authority to protect consumers”. Retrieved from files/documents/public_statements/1589172/ final_chopra_opening_statement_for_senate_commerce_committee_20210420.pdf

Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. (2021, Feb. 10). Protecting Consumer privacy in a time of crisis, remarks of acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, future of privacy forum. Retrieved from system/files/documents/public_statements/1587283/fpf_opening_remarks_210_.pdf

Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. (2021, Jan. 8). Statement of Commissioner Rohit Chopra, in the matter of Everalbum and Paravision, Commission File No. 1923172. Retrieved from files/documents/public_statements/1585858/ updated_final_chopra_statement_on_everalbum_for_circulation.pdf

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. (2021, April 23). Artificial intelligence and automated systems legal update (1Q21). Retrieved from artificial-intelligence-and-automated-systems-legal-update-1q21/#_ftn3

Greenberg, P. (2020, Sept. 18). facial recognition gaining measured acceptance. State Legislatures Magazine. Retrieved from facial-recognition-gaining-measured-acceptance-magazine2020.aspx

Grisales, C. (May 18, 2023). Schumer meets with bipartisan group of senators to build a coalition for AI law, schumer-meets-with-bipartisan-group-of-senators-to-build-a-coalition-for-ai-law

Grother, P., Ngan, M., & Hanaoka, K. (20190. Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) Part 3: Demographic Effects. Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol., NISTIR 8280. Retrieved from

The White House. (2020, Nov. 17). Guidance for regulation of artificial intelligence applications, H.R. 6395, § 5102. 2, OMB Op. Retrieved from uploads/2020/11/M-21-06.pdf

Heater, B. (2020, Nov. 4). Portland, Maine passes referendum banning facial surveillance, Retrieved from portland-maine-passes-referendum-banning-facial-surveillance/

Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. (2020, Sept. 10). Portland, Oregon first to ban private-sector use of facial recognition technology. Privacy & Information Security Law Blog. Retrieved from https://www.huntonprivacyblog. com/2020/09/10/portland-oregon-becomes-first-jurisdiction-in-u-s-to-ban-the-commercial-use-of- facial-recognition-technology/

IBM. (2020, June 3). What is artificial intelligence (AI)? IBM Cloud Education. Retrieved from com/cloud/learn/what-is-artificial-intelligence

Jillson, E. (2021, April 19). Aiming for truth, fairness, and equity in your company’s use of AI. Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. Retrieved from aiming-truth-fairness-equity-your-companys-use-ai

Kang, C. OpenAI’s Sam Altman Urges A.I. Regulation in Senate Hearing,, (May 16, 2023), https://

Krogstad, J.M. (2020, July 10). Hispanics have accounted for more than half of total U.S. population growth since 2010. Pew Research. Retrieved from hispanics-have-accounted-for-more-than-half-of-total-u-s-population-growth-since-2010/#:~: text=Some%20of%20the%20nation’s%20largest,of%20the%20nation’s%20Hispanic%20population

Learned-Miller, E., Ordóñez, V., Morgenstern, J., & Buolamwini,J. (2020, May 29). Facial recognition technologies in the wild: A call for a federal office. Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences. Retrieved from

MarketsandMarkets, (2020, Dec. 2). Facial recognition market worth $8.5 billion by 2025. Retrieved from

Metz, R. (2020, Sept. 9). Portland passes broadest facial recognition ban in the US., Retrieved from

Najibi, A. (2020, Oct. 4). Racial discrimination in face recognition technology. Harvard University, Science in the News. Retrieved from racial-discrimination-in-face-recognition-technology/#

National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act. U.S. Public Law 116-283 (2020).

Natl. Inst. of Stand. & Technol. [NIST]. (2018, Nov. 30). NIST evaluation shows advance in face recognition software’s capabilities. Retrieved from nist-evaluation-shows-advance-face-recognition-softwares-capabilities

Sakin, N. (2021, Feb. 11). Will there be federal facial recognition in the U.S.? International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). Retrieved from

Samuel, S. (2019, March 6). A new study finds a potential risk with self-driving cars: Failure to detect dark-skinned pedestrians. Retrieved from self-driving-car-racial-bias-study-autonomous-vehicle-dark-skin

Solender, A. & Gold, A. (April 13, 2023). Scoop: Schumer lays groundwork for Congress to regulate AI,,

Thales Group. (2021, March 30). Facial recognition: Top 7 trends (tech, vendors, markets, use cases & latest news). Retrieved from biometrics/facial-recognition

The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP]. (2021, Jan. 12). The White House launches the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office. Retrieved from briefings-statements/white-house-launches-national-artificial-intelligence-initiative-office/

The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP]. (2022a). Blueprint for an AI bill of rights. Retrieved from

The White House Office of Science and Tech. Policy [OSTP]. (2022b). Biden-Harris administration announces key actions to advance tech accountability and protect the rights of the American public. Retrieved from announces-key-actions-to-advance-tech-accountability-and-protect-the-rights-of-the-american-public/

Towards Data Science. (Sept. 14, 2018). Clearing the confusion: AI vs machine learning vs deep learning differences. Retrieved from vs-deep-learning-differences-fce69b21d5eb

Wang, M., Deng, W., Hu, J., Xunqiang, T., & Huang, Y. (2019). Racial faces in-the-wild: Reducing bias by information maximization adaption network, IEEE/CVF International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV), Seoul, Korea (South). pp. 692-702, doi: 10.1109/ICCV.2019.00078

Wash. Rev. Code § 19.375.020 (2017).

Wash. Rev. Code §19.375.030 (2017).

Yeung, D., Balebako, R., Gutierrez, C.I., & Chaykowsky, M. (2020). Face recognition technologies: Designing systems that protect privacy and prevent bias. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Zakrzewski, C., Tiku, N., Lima C. & Oremus W. (May 16, 2023). OpenAI CEO tells Senate that he fears AI’s potential to manipulate views, Washington, ai-congressional-hearing-chatgpt-sam-altman/

Artificial Intelligence and Automation and Its Potential Impact on Race and Class.

Foreward to the 2023 Hooks Institute Policy Papers

To say the world is in the throes of a technological revolution spearheaded by artificial intelligence (“AI”), and automation, may be one of the most understated observations of this century. While “Fake News” ran rampant on social and other media and influenced the November 2016 presidential election, that election provided ample warning of how media manipulated to mislead can have enormous negative consequences for every segment of life, including personal and employment relationships, national security, elections, media, etc.

However, something is intriguing about AI and automation. It gives us access to a futuristic society allowing us to explore unchartered waters. Bill Gates has argued for years that AI has its proven benefits. Potential uses of AI include creating personalized teaching models for students so that educators can maximize students’ educational experiences (Gates, 2023). “AI can reduce some of the world inequities” (Gates, 2023) through its problem-solving capabilities, enhance worker productivity, and “[a]s computer power gets cheaper, GPT’s ability to express ideas will increasingly be like having a white-collar worker available to help you with various tasks” (Gates, 2023).

As for the immediate future, AI may create as many casualties as opportunities. Undergirding the Writers Guild of America, strike were Hollywood writers’ concerns that AI, specifically the program ChatGPT (which can produce creative writing and audio in response to prompts), might reduce or eliminate the need for screenwriters in the future (Fortune 2023).

Individuals, governments, and organizations have used AI in insidious ways. In public housing complexes, surveillance cameras create over-policing of people of color. Despite the lack of evidence showing that Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) makes public housing complexes safer, “many of the 1.6 million Americans who live [in public housing] . . . are overwhelming people of color [who are subjected] to round-the-clock surveillance” (MacMillian, 2023). For example, in the small town of Rolette, North Dakota, the public housing complex has 100 residents un- der the surveillance of 107 cameras, “a number of cameras per capita approaching that found in New York’s Riker Island complex” (MacMillian, 2023).

FRT has led to evictions for minor or alleged infractions that have uprooted lives. In Steubenville, Ohio, a resident was evicted for removing a laundry basket from the washing room of the complex, and another was threatened with eviction because she loaned her key fob to an authorized guest (MacMillian, 2023). The latter resident demonstrated that her vision loss required the help of her friend, who brought her groceries, thus successfully pleading

her case against eviction (MacMillian, 2023). A single mother of two in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who received an eviction notice in 2021, stated that the public housing authority “made [her] life hell” when they alleged that
her ex-husband – who was taking care of their children while his former wife worked during the day and attended school at night – was staying in the apartment without contributing rent in violation of the rules (MacMillian, 2023). Even Bill Gates acknowledges that the new frontier of AI is not without rugged and scorched terrain that produces inequities. Gates recognizes that “market forces won’t naturally produce AI products and services that help the poor- est. The opposite is more likely.” He contends that “[w]ith reliable funding and the right policies, governments and philanthropy can ensure that AIs are used to reduce inequity” (Gates, 2023).


The speed with which technology and automation are transforming the landscape is taking place with unprecedented velocity, even outpacing the rate with which changes occurred during the industrial revolution. “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. Compared with previous industrial revolutions, the [technological revolution] is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance (Schwab, 2015).

This technological revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world (Schwab, 2015). By contrast, African Americans, Hispanics, and marginalized people clustered in service,

warehouse, and other low skills occupations are the least likely beneficiaries of AI and automation gains because they are the most susceptible to job loss because of it. (McFerren & Delavega, 2018).

As the nation and world grapple with the societal impact of AI and Automation, the Hooks Institute remains focused on a core question central to promoting justice and equality: what policies and practices will prevent AI and automation from discriminating against people of color and other marginalized groups? How can AI and automation aid our nation in eliminating racial, economic, health, educational, and other disparities?

The policy papers in this edition analyze the impact of AI and automation in three crucial areas. Khortlan Becton, JD, MTS, explores the urgent need to regulate AI to eradicate existing and potential policies and practices that disproportionately discriminate against African Americans and minorities. Becton proposes the creation of a new federal agency to regulate AI.

Susan Elswick, EdD, LCSW, a faculty member at the University of Memphis School of Social Work, seeks a path to using AI and Automation to provide social work counseling to those in need. Elswick not only explores how effective client counseling is dependent upon access and ability to use technology by clients but also argues that social workers require formal training from institutions of higher learning on how to use AI and automation to benefit their clients.

Meka Egwuekwe, MS, founder and executive director of Code Crew, approaches AI and automation from the perspective of a practitioner who teaches others to write computer code. Recognizing that the world is experiencing a revolution in how work is performed, Egwuekwe proposes recommendations that reskill or upskill the workforce, increased support for startups and small businesses, and a societal framework that will embrace universal basic income as a resource to aid those displaced by AI and Automation.

The world has entered the frontier of AI and Automation. Let’s ensure everyone has an equitable opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we embark on this evolving and transformative frontier.

Daphene R McFerren, JD
Executive Director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change

Elena Delavega, PhD
Professor, Department of Social Work

Daniel Kiel, JD
FedEx Professor of Law, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Editors

June 30, 2023

Read the full 2023 Policy Papers through this link.


Cole, J. (2023, May 5). Chat GPT is the ‘terrifying’ subtext of the writers’ strike that is reshaping Hollywood. Fortune. Retrieved from hollywood-writers-strike-wga-chatgpt-ai-terrifying-replace-workers/

Gates, B. (2023, March 21). The age of AI has begun: Artificial Intelligence is as revolutionary as mobile phones and the internet. GatesNotes. Retrieved from

MacMillian, Douglas (2023, May 16). Eyes on the poor: Cameras, facial recognition watch over public housing. The Washington Post. Retrieved from surveillance-cameras-public-housing/

McFerren, D. & Delavega, E. (2018) The robots are ready! Are we? Automation, Race and the Workforce.
Hooks Policy Papers. Retrieved from

Schwab, K. (2015, December 12). The fourth industrial revolution: What it means and how to respond. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from gy=1116078

World Economic Forum. (May 2023). The future of jobs report. Retrieved from WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2023.pdf

Sustained the Championing of Civil Rights and Social Justice: The Hooks Institute

It is ironic, if not exhausting, that seemingly basic issues, like the right to vote, remain at the forefront of dissension in American life. However, as Coretta Scott King poignantly stated, the struggle for civil rights “is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” When speaking about civil rights, the late Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks would say to young people, “it’s your time now.” The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change programming seeks to fulfill the mandate of the civil rights movement and its legacies.

Universities have a profound role in engaging students and communities to encourage rigorous thinking and constructive action to promote racial equality, inclusiveness, and fairness. The Hooks Institute, an interdisciplinary center at the University of Memphis, plays this pivotal role. Our mission is teaching, studying, and promoting civil rights and social change. Our work is vitally important during this critical moment as the nation struggles with race, voting rights, and the increasing marginalization of minorities and the poor. The Institute’s scholarship and community engagement are made possible through the support of the University of Memphis, donors, and grantors. We are grateful for this support.

Held throughout the year, the Hooks Institute lecture series engages local and national thought leaders in the university and greater community to address the legacy of the civil rights movement and its continuing relevance to today. These events are free, open to the public, and available on streaming platforms.

As an outcome of a Policy Paper published by the Institute, the Hooks Institute formed a coalition that included the UofM School of Urban Planning and Policy and community development corporations to assess the impact of rent-to-own purchase agreements. These agreements, often entered by people of color and immigrants, contain draconian terms for renters. In October, working with local real estate attorneys, the Institute and the coalition led training for staff of the City of Memphis, Code Enforcement, on how to identify those in rent-to-purchase agreements, and, if appropriate, refer them for housing counseling. Additionally, in August, the Hooks Institute and UofM faculty trained the staff of a federal agency on the impact of race, poverty, and other disparities on Memphis communities.

The Hooks Institute’s historical narratives on civil rights and social justice include the Fayette County, Tennessee exhibit on voting, a short documentary series on civil rights history in Memphis, titled “Stories to Inspire Change,” and feature-length documentaries, including our upcoming documentary on civil and women’s right activist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931).

Created in 2015, the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) focuses on increasing the retention and graduation rates and career readiness of African American males enrolled at the UofM. While the HAAMI programs aid students in achieving personal success, HAAMI also aids Memphis to become a destination for employers seeking a prepared workforce.

Because of the struggle for freedom and civil rights, African Americans, like no other group in American history, have fundamentally changed the nation’s Constitution, its laws, and the trajectory of American history. The beauty that can be found in this struggle is that the gains of the civil rights movement have benefitted all people, making the United States a more just nation.

The future of civil rights remains to be written. We remain optimistic about the future, but this future requires dedication and work from many. At the Hooks Institute, we are focused on ensuring that the struggle for civil rights is never forgotten and that its gains are sustained and nurtured for generations to come.

Daphene R. McFerren
Executive Director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change

This article was originally posted by the University of Memphis Alumni Association. Read the original article through this link.


Over the last two weeks, many people, both black and white, have contacted me expressing their outrage over the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by the police asking “What can I do? Where do we start to fix this problem?” They, like me, know that police brutality and racism are not just a Black people’s problem; it’s an American problem, which makes it a white people’s problem too.

I commend the protestors who are demanding justice for George Floyd and other African Americans who were murdered at the hands of the police. However, we must prepare to relieve protestors, who can’t stay on the frontlines of street demonstrations indefinitely, with sustained action to transform policing and racist practices in America. What can you do?

  • Learn with an open mind: Educate yourself and your children about the origins of American racism, focusing on how slavery, the civil war, the civil rights movement and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, among others, have been efforts to perfect the America’s political, legal and social system from the vestiges of slavery and continued racism. There are numerous online resources that provide accurate and accessible information. This education is especially critical in white communities where individuals do not confront racist practices in policing and other areas of daily life.
  • Grow where you are planted: Start consistent and ongoing conversations with people within your sphere of influence, such as the workplace, church, temple, country club, fraternity or sorority, neighborhood association, golfing group, book club, etc., about what each of you can do to make a positive difference in addressing policing and other community problems that arise because of race. Be courageous enough to hold yourself accountable, speak up, and hold people in your networks and circles accountable for their words, actions, and even silence.
  • Donate: Many organizations, including the Hooks Institute, work toward a mission to uplift communities of color and the poor. Your donated dollars will support work taking place every day for justice and equality.
  • Vote: Racism has no place in local, state or national politics. It’s not a liberal, moderate or conservative thing. Racism is a lack of character thing. Character must come before the elected office.
  • Meet with your elected officials: City, County, and Congressional leaders serve us. Demand an accounting of their efforts to address police reform and systemic racial bias against Black and brown people.
  • Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint: Although Mr. Floyd was physically killed by the four Minneapolis police officers, the officers’ conduct is connected to an historical backdrop of customs and practices that have injured and suppressed advancement of Black people for centuries. This backdrop makes it a Herculean task to accomplish systemic changes. Movements for racial equality and justice are, therefore, never swift but morally and ethically imperative.

The horrific murder of George Floyd is a call to action by each of us to end police brutality and racism. Only in this way, can African Americans and other brown people enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – a promised made to each us in the Declaration of Independence and by the U.S. Constitution. We the People have work to do. Please get started. Now.

Daphene R. McFerren is the executive director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis.

To support the Hooks Institute’s mission of teaching, studying and promoting civil rights and social change visit

Locking Up Our Own: A Word From the Hooks National Book Award Committee Chair

For the past three January’s, I have found myself confronted by an intimidating, but exciting sight.  As chair of the Hooks Institute’s National Book Award committee, I have the task of selecting five finalists from a pool of two to three dozen books focused on the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its legacy.  The nominees are diverse in subject matter and style, from biographies to critical studies of art, literature, or music, from studies rooted in history to works connecting history to the unfolding movements of our own time.  My task is to whittle the nominees down for the other members of the committee – this year, those colleagues were Beverly Cross (College of Education), Ernest Gibson (Rhodes College), Aram Goudsouzian (Dept.of History), and Terrence Tucker (Dept. of English).

And then the hard work begins.  Every year, the quality of the finalists makes the committee’s decision very difficult.  This year’s group of finalists really stretched us because these five books spanned the civil rights struggle from its early period to its contemporary legacies.  Plus, they were each excellent.  This year’s finalists were:

  • We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nahesi Coates
  • Locking Up Our Own, by James Forman, Jr.
  • Harambee City, by Nishani Frazier
  • My Life, My Love, My Legacy, by Coretta Scott King and Barbara Ann Reynolds
  • The Making of Black Lives Matter, by Christopher Lebron

This year’s winner stood out among this outstanding group.  The winner of the 2017 Hooks Institute National Book Award, Locking Up Our Own by James Forman, Jr.’s, is a tremendous contribution to today’s vibrant discussions about mass incarceration and the criminal justice systems that continue to devastate black communities.  It provides a layer of complexity to those discussions by investigating local decisions that gave rise to mass incarceration, decisions that were often endorsed by black leaders.  With a compelling personal touch, Forman frames the problem as a series of smaller decisions rather than as a massive conspiracy, providing a sense of hope that there is an opportunity to incrementally confront an incrementally-constructed system.  This book is a worthy winner of the Hooks Institute’s National Book Award as it illuminates readers on a central civil rights struggle of our time.

It has been a privilege to serve on and chair the book award committee.  Not only do I get to see a vast array of work being done by brilliant writers from a variety of fields, but I also get to serve with colleagues who share the Hooks Institute’s vision to apply the lessons of the past to impact the present.  As I pass the task of chairing the committee on for next year’s award, a part of me will miss that giant stack of books staring at me next January.

By Daniel Kiel, Professor of Law, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Chair, Hooks National Book Award Committee.

Hooks National Book Award Presentation and Lecture Featuring James Forman, Jr.

Thursday, January 31, 2019 | Reception 5:30 p.m. | Lecture 6 p.m.
University Center Theatre University of Memphis

Presenting Sponsor: Just City

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. was selected as the winner for the 2017 National Book Award. In his book, Forman argues that America’s draconian sentences for drug crimes were created not only by whites but also inadvertently by exasperated African American leaders whose communities were facing an unprecedented drug epidemic starting in the late 1960s. Forman encourages a candid examination of this history to tackle criminal justice reform.

Sponsored by these University of Memphis entities: African and African American Studies, Black Law Students Association, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Department of Anthropology, Department of History, Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities and Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice; and by Burke’s Book Store and The Wharton Law Firm.

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

The University of Memphis, 499 University St., Memphis, TN 38152. Convenient parking is located at the public parking garage on Zach Curlin.

Reporting Social Justice

“The most dangerous place to be a journalist in America is at a protest.” That was the conclusion of the watchdog organization U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, as well as of two writers for the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2017. The hazards are not new, however. Covering political activism has always involved considerable personal risk, and no one knew that better than the men and women who reported on and wrote about the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when they faced regular harassment, intimidation, and violence. L. Alex Wilson, editor of the Tri-State Defender, was viciously attacked at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 and died three years later. Paul Guihard, of Agence France Press, was murdered while covering the 1962 riot at the University of Mississippi.

Yet, like activism itself, journalists who pay attention to such issues have always been in the minority, blinded by majority obliviousness or callousness, cowed by conservative voices in the newsroom, or pressured by antsy advertisers. That was the impetus for creating a course to directly address the need for information about injustice and inequality.

Journalist Wendi Thomas visits the Reporting Social Justice class as a guest instructor.

All ten students who took Reporting Social Justice in the spring of 2018 had completed Dr. Aram Goudsouzian’s Memphis and the Movement class the previous semester, so they were already steeped in the history of the city’s race relations. Our curriculum was not just confined to racial justice, though. I brought in speakers to talk about poverty, educational inequity, environmental discrimination, gender and sexuality bias. We took a field trip to OutMemphis, and one of our textbooks was Randy Shilts’ bestselling classic And the Band Played On, about the AIDS epidemic. Students’ first projects accordingly spanned the gamut of social justice issues—from economic burdens and the wealth gap to criminal justice disparities.

But the special focus of the course was journalism about the movement for racial justice in Memphis. The first book we read as a class was Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. Local MLK50 columnist Wendi Thomas co-taught the course twice, focusing on discrepancies in news coverage about African-Americans in Memphis, especially poor people of color.

Students of the Reporting Social Justice Course celebrate the end of the semester.

The course’s capstone project was interviews with activists from different decades—from people who marched with King to those who fought to remove Confederate statues in 2017. Students were paired up in teams to interview more than a dozen activists. We chose to do the interviews in an oral-history style, meaning they were longer (about an hour), less often interrupted, and more free-form than is typically the case with a journalistic interview. Our main goal was to get these individuals to talk at length, to share their memories, to remember what they could. Together with the interviews we conducted during the summer, these in-depth video sources will be given to and archived at both the McWherter Library’s special collections and at the National Civil Rights Museum, where historians and other scholars looking to understand race relations in the city of Memphis will have a permanent multimedia resource they draw on for years.

The other purpose for the interviews is to use excerpts in a documentary and on a website we will be creating this fall. The latter will be interactive, allowing residents to make comments, share stories, ask questions, and otherwise participate in this endeavor. We see this as an ongoing story with different audiences. So all three outlets—the archive, the film, the website—are a means to show to and share with the community a unique and important story: activism for racial justice in Memphis, Tennessee.

By Joseph Hayden, PhD, Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, The University of Memphis

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.

Memphis and the Movement

By Aram Goudsouzian, Ph.D.

The 1968 Sanitation Strike and assassination of Martin Luther King are defining events in the history of Memphis. Across the city, we are grappling with how to tell the story of those events, and how to understand their connections to our present circumstances. This fall I joined two professors from the Department of Journalism on one of those efforts, a project called Once More at the River: From MLK to BLM.

Sanitation Workers Strike. 1968. C/o Preservation and Special Collections Department, University Libraries, the University of Memphis.

Roxane Coche is the driving force behind it. She conceived of the idea, recruiting me to teach a Fall 2017 course on the history of the civil rights movement in Memphis. In the spring of 2018, Joe Hayden will teach a course in which those same students interview activists in Memphis. Finally, Roxane and Joe will enlist student help and co-produce a documentary film that explores social justice movements in Memphis.

Roxane spearheaded our successful application for a Discovery and Development Grant from the University of Memphis and reached out to the National Civil Rights Museum, which offered to make contacts and house the video archive of interviews. We have since attracted more funding for the documentary project, including from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.

This fall, I taught “Memphis and the Movement.” In my thirteen years at the University of Memphis, this was one of my most rewarding experiences. We were a mixed bunch: History majors and Journalism majors, undergraduates and MA candidates, men and women, young and old, black and white. We had four senior auditors and another senior citizen enrolled; they shared firsthand experiences in Memphis that stretched back to the 1960s. “Dr. Joe” was a frequent visitor in the back corner chair, while “Dr. C” hustled over whenever possible.

The students were ALL IN. They dove into the assigned readings, asked questions, drifted off on tangents, and argued with me and each other. Sometimes the material was raw, as we read about instances of grotesque violence or racist maneuvers. And because it was local, it was personal – we were talking about our city, our neighbors, our lives. At times, some students got angry, and others got uncomfortable. But those emotions were necessary and important.

The course was divided into three units. We started in the nineteenth century, as cotton and slavery transformed Memphis, and discussed the repression of African Americans during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. We then explored the city’s unique political landscape during the long reign of E.H. “Boss” Crump. Among our readings were excerpts from Stephen Ash’s A Massacre in Memphis, Elizabeth Gritter’s River of Hope, and Laurie Green’s Battling the Plantation Mentality.

The second unit centered around the civil rights era in Memphis, especially the sanitation strike. We read Michael Honey’s masterwork Going Down Jericho Road, giving the class an intimate, detailed, and comprehensive look at this watershed moment, which illustrated the promise of a movement that fused racial and economic justice, as well as the tragedy of failed city institutions, resulting in the circumstances that led to Martin Luther King’s assassination.

The final unit took us from 1968 to the present. We read historians, journalists, political scientists, and sociologists as we explored the ways that African Americans in Memphis staked claims to political power and cultural space, yet suffered from enduring, racialized issues of prejudice and poverty.

We took a class visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, where we got a first-class tour from Ryan Jones, and we visited Special Collections at McWherter Library, where Gerald Chaudron familiarized us with the Memphis Search for Meaning Committee records, an incredible archive on the sanitation strike. For their final project, the students selected and analyzed oral histories from this collection.

The best parts, we all agreed, were our special guests. I exploited as much local expertise as I could! My colleague in History, Beverly Bond, talked about black women in slavery and freedom. Daniel Kiel came over from the Law School and screened his film The Memphis 13, about the first graders who integrated Memphis City Schools. Before leaving for his new job at Colorado College, Anthony Siracusa taught us about nonviolent direct action and Rev. James Lawson. Journalist Emily Yellin presented her ongoing project of interviewing sanitation workers and their families. Steve Ross visited from Communication to show his film about the strike, At the River I Stand. Rhodes College professor Charles Hughes discussed Memphis music and his great book Country Soul, while Otis Sanford, the Hardin Chair of Journalism, recalled the election of Willie Herenton, as told in his new book From Boss Crump to King Willie. Finally, the crusading Wendi Thomas showcased her important project, “MLK50: Justice through Journalism.”

Wendi’s visit was the perfect transition to Joe’s spring course, Reporting Social Justice. Hopefully, we provided the students with the historical background and critical approach to enrich their interviews and articles. Look for Joe’s post on the Hooks blog later this spring!

Dr. Aram Goudzousian

Aram Goudsouzian is the Chair of the Department of History at the University of Memphis. He is the author of Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear and the co-editor, with Charles McKinney, of An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee.

Race, Representation & Photography in 19th Century Memphis: from Slavery to Jim Crow

Race, Representation, and Photography in 19th Century MemphisRace, Representation, and Photography in 19th Century Memphis: from Slavery to Jim Crow, is an in-depth study of African American visual culture and history. Using Victorian era photographs, pictorial illustrations, and engravings from local and national archives, I examine intersections of race and image within the context of early African American community building. The city of Memphis serves as the case study, wherein black agency and photographic images intersect to reveal the hidden history of racialized experiences in the urban south during slavery and freedom following the Civil War. My interdisciplinary research links the social history of photography with the fields of art history, visual culture, critical race studies, gender, and southern studies.

I was inspired by Frederick Douglas, black abolitionist, and pioneering intellectual of the nineteenth-century. Douglas, as the most photographed celebrity of the era, understood the influence of the new visual media to impact people’s thinking. At the height of the Civil War Douglas began to write and lecture about the potential of photography to transform society.  He argued that the new technology offered former slaves the power they sought to represent themselves the way they wanted to be seen; with dignity and control over their own lives as free human beings.

Photograph: Catherine Hunt. From Life as a Slave
Photograph:  Catherine Hunt, from Life as a Slave, Tennesse4Me,

The book begins with the story of the slave trade, urban slavery, and the Civil War, telling stories from the perspectives of the enslaved in Memphis. Rare photographs of Catherine Hunt, enslaved as a nursemaid in the Driver-Hunt Phelan antebellum mansion located on Beale Street, enabled the author to focus on the experiences of black women. A tintype of a young teenager named ‘Harry,” owned by one of the largest slave-owners in the region, John Trigg, allowed me to tell the story of freedom through his eyes. A picture of women, men, and children in an area contraband camp helped to tell the story of the thousands who escaped slavery on rural plantations to seek refuge in Union occupied Memphis. By the end of the war the black population in Memphis had swelled to over 16,000.

Jenkins Privite Collection
Photograph: African American Woman in Memphis. Ca. 1890 Jenkins Private Collection

During Reconstruction freed people in Memphis organized benevolent societies, and shared resources in order to establish churches, schools, businesses, and cemeteries to bury their dead. They secured jobs as “clergyman; brick-molder; farmer; build cisterns; mattress-maker; lumberyard; physician; drayman; grocery keeper; teamster; laborer; fireman; painter; carpenter; coachman; lamp lighter; machinist; steamboat foreman; brickmason; saloon keeper; cotton planter; stock driver; picks cotton; bartender; whitewasher; gardener; foundry molder; hatter; cooper; waiter; cupola-man’ stonecutter; brakeman; sailor; broom maker; and mail gatherer.”

Sacred institutions like ‘Mother Beale,’ Collins Chapel, and Avery Chapel, were among the first churches freed people constructed. They survive to this day. The freedmen school first established as Lincoln Chapel in Camp Shiloh grew into LeMoyne Normal Institute, and finally LeMoyne Owen College. And in 1877 Zion Cemetery was established as a beautiful, park like resting place of fifteen acres along South Parkway in the suburbs of Memphis.

African American Woman in Memphis. Late 19th Century. Photographed by James P. Newton
Photograph:  African American Woman in Memphis. Late 19th Century. Photographed by James P. Newton. Preservation and Special Collections Department, University Libraries, University of Memphis

By the 1880s Memphis was a thriving black community with social, educational, and commercial opportunities associated with the excitement of urban living. Although the specter of Jim Crow was looming and political rights eroding, African American leaders held on to political offices through the 1880s. Lymus Wallace served on the city council between 1885 and 1891; Josiah T. Settle became the first assistant attorney general in 1885, and Ed Shaw was wharf master during the early 1880s. Isaac F. Norris and Thomas Cassells were elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1881. Entrepreneur Robert Church Sr. continued his rise to prominence by expanding his assets in saloons, hotels, and real estate.

Women like Catherine Hunt remained in Memphis, working as a laundress all her life.  She joined Beale Street Baptist Church and was a member of the church organization that established Zion Cemetery, where she was buried in 1899. She had the foresight to leave a will, and the few hundred dollars Catherine managed to save was bequeathed to relatives more poor than she. Numerous black women supported their families as seamstresses like Jane Wright, and teachers like Julia Hooks, Virginia Broughton, and Ida B. Wells. The book includes a number of extraordinary photographs representative of black social life in Memphis within the broader context of the Victorian era.

Photograph: James P. Newton from Sparkling Gems of Race Knowledge Worth Knowing. Jenkins Private Collection

James P. Newton, the first professional black photographer in Memphis opened his studio in 1897on Beale Street, by then the epicenter of the early black community. Photographer-entrepreneurs like Newton, would play an important role in combatting race in America. By the turn of 20th century, scholars like W.E. Dubois were at the vanguard of attacking racial stereotypes, formulating his ideas in theory and practice, into a movement that came to be known as the ‘New Negro.’ Black photographers provided them with the visual weapons, as evidence, to do so, documenting everyday life, and aspirations in the communities to which they also belonged. Their pictures of black beauty, pride, ambition, and success were disseminated in black newspapers, books, journals, and magazines across the nation, and in world fairs and expos abroad in Europe. A mesmerizing visual record of African American history, these early photographs today, inspire contemporary artists in all media. The spoken and written words of Frederick Douglas proved indeed, to be prophetic.

About the Author

Earnestine Jenkins, PhD

Earnestine Jenkins is Professor of Art History in the Department of Art at the University of Memphis.She teaches courses in African American and African Diaspora arts and visual culture. Her areas of research include early African American photographic history, the study of the African diaspora in Europe focused on the relationship between the arts, slavery, colonialism and empire; 19th century Ethiopian manuscripts, African Diaspora cinema, Gender Studies, and the history of blacks in the urban south.

Do Real Men Share? HAAMI and African-American Male Mentorship

By Dr. Gregory Washington

Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI Session.
Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI session.

The opportunities are great for African-American men on campus.  The challenge for many of us whether student or faculty is to take advantage of the paths trudged by our ancestors and elders. We need direction but we sometimes we don’t have it, recognize it, or accept it from other men who look like us. I have had the privilege to mentor African-American male professionals and students for several years now and I frequently reflect on the lessons I have learned. I want to believe and sometimes get feedback related to how my sharing has benefited others, but I am increasingly aware of the value I get by staying connected to other men. The United States can be a cruel and harsh place for black males without guidance. I was fortunate to have my father available to guide me for over fifty years of my life and still at times I went crazy left instead of right.

Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI Program.
Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI program.

There are unwritten rules that African-American boys and men learn and use as they move through the world.   Successful African-American men understand the rules of the game as they relate to interacting with those different from them, and many of them understand the rules of ‘the streets’ are equally, and in some cases, more important. Teaching these rules to boys and young men of color can be a valuable part of helping them and ourselves avoid the traps this society has set for us and supports critical understanding of the masculine and nurturing components of ourselves.  Yes, there are traps from the Old and New Jim Crow laws in place and whether they are inadequate schools, selling the easy package, or the omnipresent get rich without work message in the media. It is important to realize successful African-American males have learned to operate in the society of the United States by strategically maximizing the resources available to them and carefully choosing ways to challenge the racism and inequity found in social institutions. These resources include relationships with successful African-American males.

Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.
Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.

Safe places and networks where men can be honest are rare. We need more men and boys sharing nurturing places where conscious African-American men, who understand history, culture, politics, and the economics of exploitation, can be real.  Part of the challenge includes the fact that men typically consider sharing feelings feminine in part because it emphasizes self-awareness and vulnerabilities. Some men see it as a sign of weakness to share emotions, particularly men of color from urban neighborhoods.  We are frequently taught that sharing feelings, fears and insecurities can make us vulnerable to harm but exploring emotions, coping skills and vulnerabilities are frequently important tasks that promote our growth. Let me be clear, real men connect and share. We have successes and challenges to share, join the real men at HAAMI.

Dr. Gregory Washington Bio

Dr. Gregory WashingtonGregory Washington, LCSW, Ph. D is the Program Coordinator of the Hooks Institute  African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Memphis. He is also Director of the Center for the Advancement and Youth Development (CAYD) and Co-Director of the Mid-South Institute for Family and Community Empowerment. Dr. Washington is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He works as a community clinical practitioner and has practiced as an individual, family and group therapist in Illinois, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee. His research interests include culturally-centered empowerment methods and the risk and protective factors associated with youth development. A major goal of his work is to identify and promote the use of innovative culturally-centered group interventions that reduce risk for disparities in behavioral health and incarceration outcomes among young people of color.

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.

Why HAAMI Matters

By Dr. Elena Delavega                                                                                                    September 9, 2015

I once had a friend from Ghana tell me that he did not know he was black until he came to the United States. That statement overwhelmed me. It makes me wonder what we are telling our black youth.  It makes me wonder about the messages we are sending about their value as human beings. It speaks to the exclusion to which we relegate our African American population in this country.

According to data from the 2014 Census, Memphis is ranked #1 in poverty among cities with over 1,000,000 residents. However, poverty does not affect everyone in Memphis equally. The differences between African American poverty and White poverty in Memphis are striking. Many of the people living in poverty are African Americans under the age of 18 (43.2%). African Americans under the age of eighteen are three times more likely to live inpoverty than non-Hispanic Whites of the same age.  Moreover, since 2009, poverty rates among non-Hispanic Whites in Memphis have steadily declined, while poverty rates for minorities have increased at the same time.

While poverty is hard on all children, it is harsher on teenagers who are keenly aware of their situation. African American teens have a rough time in this city, with 42% of African Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 living in poverty in Memphis through no fault of their own.

HIAAM logo FNL 2015

Young African American males, in particular are hit by the double scourge of poverty and unemployment. Unemployment rates are almost three times as high for African Americans (13.8%) as for whites (5.9%); in the case of African Americans (both sexes) between the ages of 16 and 19, the unemployment rate is almost 50%. This is not because they are not capable. In Memphis, 35% of African Americans have a high school diploma as their highest educational attainment, more than the general population (29%).

Sadly, high school completion does not necessarily translate into college degrees for this population. Only 14% of the African American population in Memphis have bachelor degrees or higher (the rate among the general population is 24%). I am immediately confronted with the toll of poverty and exclusion on educational attainment. I have met many wonderful African American men and women. They are intelligent, quick, witty, wonderful in every way. The young men participating in the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) are delightful in every way; brilliant and hardworking young men, whose GPA averages are better than the average for the entire University of Memphis. Why is it, then that degree attainment among African Americans in Memphis is so low? I cannot help but think there are some exclusionary forces at work.

We cannot become the city of the 21st century that we want to become when we are leaving so many of our residents behind. Given that the city of Memphis has an African American population that is almost 60%, African American poverty and exclusion is a huge concern for Memphis. We cannot continue the systematic exclusion of such a large percent of our population and expect sustainable economic development for our region. Unless we work together to include this very excluded portion of our population, Memphis cannot succeed as a city.

Hooks HAAMI Staff
Hooks Institute HAAMI staff. (Left to Right) Tim Rose, Daphene McFerren, Dr. Elena Delavega, Dr. Gregory Washington.

When poverty rates decline for whites but not for African Americans, when Black unemployment is twice to three times that of White unemployment, when African Americans are graduating from high school but not completing college at the same rate as Whites, I have to wonder, what kinds of opportunities are we providing for our African American males? Are we really providing opportunities?

How unwise of us, how wasteful, to not take advantage of all our resources, of our strong, smart, wonderful young black men. What an absolute travesty and nonsense not to insure that our African American males have every single opportunity for success. Every single one.

Education is the engine of our economy, and mentoring is a crucial element. We are here today to begin the work to reverse the trend with HAAMI.