The Green Book Project and Why I Created an App to Fight Discrimination

In the fall of 2020, I reached an almost five-year milestone by publishing my app, The Green Book Project, to the Apple App Store. The Green Book Project is a mobile app that helps folks from marginalized communities find inclusive businesses and avoid discrimination. It allows users to utilize a platform of crowdsourced reviews to identify safe locations, as well as places to steer clear from.

Getting this app published was one of the proudest moments of my life. However, creating a mobile app is a massive undertaking that involves hours of planning, programming, and talking to potential users about their needs. For me, it required many, many late nights, thousands of cups of coffee, and a whole lot of willpower. And all of it was made more daunting by the fact that I had no idea how to code when I started. So if building an app is so hard, why did I do it?

Being Black in America and Abroad

When you grow up as a little Black boy in America, navigating racism and discrimination becomes second nature. My early experiences in the world were shaped by things like: family stories about the locations of sundown towns across East Texas and how to spot them, being denied service at restaurants and gas stations for “no reason,” and getting followed around retail stores or searched by security guards despite having never stolen anything.

Learning how to avoid racism became one of my core life skills, and at certain points in my life, I felt completely normal. But that feeling, the constant worrying and seeking to avoid discrimination, and the belief that it was simply a normal part of life, all changed during my senior year of college. In my last year of college, I traveled the world during a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. Semester at Sea is a program that takes students across the world to study and compare the politics, cultures, and beliefs of people around the globe.

In my travels abroad, I was suddenly unburdened by the many racist stereotypes that pervaded my daily life in the United States. I was able to shop and walk around malls in South Africa wearing a travel backpack while never being looked at twice. Police officers in Vietnam smiled and waved at me as I walked down the street, and restaurant owners in Myanmar sat me at the front of the house to give me dinner with a view.

However, while my experience abroad was one of privilege and a stronger sense of safety than at home, it was a different story for my friends with less privilege. While I could do a midnight McDonald’s run in Marrakech, my friends were harassed by creepy male hotel guests right as they left their room. While I was given a prime seat in restaurants in Cochin, my friends were harassed for being from the wrong caste. While I could meet and show affection for a beautiful girl in Cape Town, my friends had to hide their love for each other to avoid discrimination and/or violence.

As I witnessed and learned about the experiences of my friends who identify as women, queer, and/or come from a marginalized socio-political class, I was struck by the injustice of it all. And most of all, I was angered. Because I realized how truly absurd it is that folks like my friends and myself have to navigate our daily lives while walking on eggshells

The tech industry isn’t solving problems for people like us

In my realization at the absurdity of the daily discrimination that many of us have to navigate, the popular phrase “there’s an app for that” randomly popped into my head.

Being an International Studies major with plans to become an ESL teacher after graduating, I knew very little about the tech industry. But the popular phrase highlighting its innovation rang in my ears after one particular instance of seeing my friends face discrimination in India. So, I reached out to the one person I knew with a background in tech to see if there was some kind of app my friends and I could rely on to help us stay safe.

After my conversation with my friend, it quickly became apparent to me that the tech industry didn’t have an interest in solving these types of problems. While leaders in the tech industry are busy building things like food delivery apps and the next Silicon Valley unicorn, there’s little work being done to ensure that people like me can feel safe wherever we go.

After disembarking from Semester at Sea, I scoured the internet searching for some kind of tool that I could use to avoid danger and discrimination. My searches were fruitless and frustrating until I happened upon something amazing, a civil rights era publication called The Negro Motorist: Green Book. The Green Book was a guide to help Black travelers stay safe on America’s roads as they navigated the oppressive systems of segregation and Jim Crow.

Inspired by this old publication, I made a decision. If the tech industry wasn’t going to solve this problem, then I would. Five years later, I’m proud to say that the work to keep marginalized people safe is still going strong.

Introducing The Green Book Project

The Green Book Project is inspired by the original publication and founded on a similar mission to create a world where no one has to live in fear of discrimination. The Green Book Project is meant for anyone who faces discrimination, so if someone is Black, Indigenous, a Person of Color, a Woman, is Queer, has a disability, or is an ally to those groups, then the Green Book Project is for them.

The Green Book Project is all about helping marginalized people find places where they know they will be welcome and safe. The app accomplishes this by allowing users to write reviews detailing their experiences in the locations they visit and attaching intersections “#” (also known as hashtags) to their reviews to represent how their unique identities may have affected their experience.

For example, a user who is Black might filter reviews based on intersections like #black or #african-american, to get an idea of how they might experience a particular location. Similarly, a user who is Queer, might use intersections like #queer or #lgbtq.

So, what’s next for the Green Book Project?

The Green Book Project is growing! Every day new users are joining our digital community and writing about their experiences in new locations to help keep each other safe. You can learn more about the Green Book Project by visiting the website, or you can try it out yourself and download it from the Apple App Store today. And if you’re an Android user, sign up for the mailing list to get updates on the upcoming Android release!

This article was originally published by the author on Medium 
Christian Lowe

Software Engineer and founder of The Green Book Project

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