The Sketch App Helps White People Stay Safe In Black Neighborhoods

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photo courtesy of SketchFactor

Yesterday, Crain’s reported on a new app, SketchFactor, set to launch today. Exciting news, right? Yet another totally necessary app has been birthed from the ever fertile minds of two crazy kids. What a great world that tech world is! So ripe with possibility! So what could something called “SketchFactor” possibly be about? Why did this app’s creators feel like there would be a market for it in this crazy world of ours? Well, as it turns out, it’s an app designed to tell users when they have entered a “sketchy” neighborhood, so that they can get right the fuck out! In other words, the two smiling white people pictured above have decided to help the world avoid areas with people who aren’t just like them. Well, that doesn’t sound like a fear-mongering promotion of bigotry at all! Or does it? (It does!)

Crain’s reports: “SketchFactor, the brainchild of co-founders Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, is a Manhattan-based navigation app that crowdsources user experiences along with publicly available data to rate the relative ‘sketchiness’ of certain areas in major cities.” Oh, so it’s “Manhattan-based!” That makes so much sense then, really. It would be just terrible for someone from Manhattan to go to an outer-borough by mistake and not realize what a “sketchy” world they’d suddenly been dropped into. Can you even imagine?

Lest you think that this is just a couple of white Manhattanites way of telling other white Manhattanites which neighborhoods are full of people of color, rest assured, McGuire and Herrington insist that’s not the case. McGuire says, “We understand that people will see this issue. And even though Dan and I are admittedly both young, white people, the app is not built for us as young, white people. As far as we’re concerned, racial profiling is ‘sketchy’ and we are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets.” Oh, well then, as long as they admit they’re young white people, the problem is solved. The first step toward overcoming your own racism—conscious or not—is admitting that you’re white. Then the rest is easy. (The second step, by the way, would be if some of your best friends be black, then you’re really on your way!)

Although the app’s website really clearly emphasizes that it’s not racist at all (because true racists always self-identify as such), it’s pretty easy to be skeptical about something that is designed by privileged white people and is expressly meant to help fellow smartphone users avoid whole neighborhoods because of “sketchiness.” Sure, the examples of sketchiness given on the website include rat-sightings, but, let’s face it, a rat sighting isn’t what makes a neighborhood “sketchy.” The whole of the city is sketchy then! No, sketchiness hear clearly means feeling unsafe, which McGuire recounts having felt at one point while walking through a new neighborhood. How terrifying! However, as it turned out, “the neighborhood was not sketchy at all and [she] could’ve walked home. [She] would’ve saved $15 on a sketchy cab. Ironically, [she] moved to that same neighborhood one month later.” (And that, everybody, is the story of gentrification encapsulated into one idiotic anecdote!)

SketchFactor launches today, and while we would not recommend you spend a single penny downloading it, if you do, please be sure to fucking flood the thing with stories of how sketchy Murray Hill and the Financial District and the Williamsburg waterfront are. Because, well, they are. But also because it might help to balance out the extreme bullshit that you just know will be going down on that app otherwise.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen