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African Americans online face three distinguishable but related categories of vulnerability to bias and discrimination that I dub the “Black Opticon”: discriminatory oversurveillance, discriminatory exclusion, and discriminatory predation. Escaping the Black Opticon is unlikely without acknowledgement of privacy’s unequal distribution and privacy law’s outmoded and unduly race-neutral façade. African Americans could benefit from race-conscious efforts to shape a more equitable digital public sphere through improved laws and legal institutions. This Essay critically elaborates the Black Opticon triad and considers whether the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (2021), the federal Data Protection Act (2021), and new resources for the Federal Trade Commission proposed in 2021 possibly meet imperatives of a race-conscious African American Online Equity Agenda, specifically designed to help dismantle the Black Opticon. The path forward requires jumping those hurdles, regulating platforms, and indeed all of the digital economy, in the interests of nondiscrimination, antiracism, and antisubordination. Toward escaping the Black Opticon’s pernicious gaze, African Americans and their allies will continue the pursuit of viable strategies for justice and equity in the digital economy.


panopticon, ban-opticon, con-opticon, Black Opticon, African Americans, privacy, data protection, platform governance, Data Protection Act, FTC, Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act

Publication Title

Yale Law Journal Forum

Publication Citation

131 Yale L. J. F. 907 (2022)