Excerpted From: William Y. Chin, Weaponized Anonymity: The Continuing Marginalization of Communities of Color Through Racially-biased Anonymous Processes in U.S. Society, 22 Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal 1 (Fall-Winter 2022) (275 Footnotes) (Full Document)


WilliamChinSolving America's race problems first requires seeing them, to “really see them,” especially as racial bias shifts from overt to opaque forms in the modern era. Anonymity is one opaque form where anonymous processes are effectively weaponized, intentionally or implicitly, against communities of color. Anonymity enables hidden spaces that harbor racial bias. In anonymous venues, bias thrives and harms people of color.

Anonymity can be a shield or sword. This article focuses on anonymity as a sword thrust against communities of color. An example is the anonymous caller who lodged a building complaint against an elderly Puerto Rican widow in the Bronx. She and her husband in the 1960s converted their basement into an apartment, but their contractor failed to file documents with the Department of Buildings. For fifty years, she rented out what she thought was a legal unit until an anonymous complaint. The basement apartment is structurally safe and habitable, but there are no permits on file showing that the contractor installed the stove and bathroom fixtures in compliance with 1960s code. The widow lacks the funds to retain an architect, contractor, and lawyer to remedy the violations. The government issues failure-to-correct violations every sixty days, violations that she cannot pay. A lien will be placed on her house, and she could ultimately lose her home and end up homeless. Several properties on her block have been redeveloped recently and sell for over a million dollars each, and long-time residents believe that these recent neighborhood changes account for long-time homeowners being displaced.

The building complaint example above involves weaponized anonymity in the residential arena, but anonymity is weaponized across other societal arenas. The rest of the Article below explicates non-exhaustive examples of biased anonymity in myriad arenas, along with arena-specific remedies. Part II addresses racial bias in the 911 emergency system within the criminal justice arena. Part III discusses racial bias in non-emergency nuisance complaints within the residential arena. Part IV elucidates racial bias in reporting immigration violations within the immigration arena. Part V illuminates racial bias in child welfare services within the family and parenting arena. Part VI examines racial bias in customer feedback within the workplace arena. Part VII explores racial bias in student evaluations within the education arena. Part VIII reveals racial bias in algorithms within the technology arena. Part IX synthesizes the prior parts to distill efforts that can mitigate anonymity-enabled harms to communities of color.

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Anonymity enables inequality. Where anonymity resides, racial bias follows and nests within the dark corners of anonymous spaces in all sectors of society. People of color must contend with racial bias as they move through these anonymous spaces from the justice system to homes and neighborhoods to the workplace and more. Morphing from conspicuous to obscured, racial bias persists through time, and the advancement of technology from past to present has created not only modern wonders, but additional spaces in algorithms for anonymous bias to lodge. Anonymity creates veiled venues hiding inequitable means and methods. But the veil can be lifted so that we see racial bias, really see it, to then overcome it so that people of color can work, live, and exist equally in society.


Professor Chin teaches Race and the Law and other courses at Lewis & Clark Law School.