Advancing Racial Literacy in Tech
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Advancing Racial Literacy in Tech

Thank you for coming
to this conversation. I’m really excited. My name’s is Mutale. I am a fellow at the
Berkman Klein Center, and this conversation
that I’m hosting is part of my ongoing work. But I’m most excited to host
it during Black History Month– and wearing my black, red, and
green for unity and liberation, just to let you know. So welcome. So this conversation
is being recorded. We are not alone, so
please be mindful of what you say, in terms of comments. If you do want to tweet at
us, our handle is @BKCHarvard. And I am very excited, so just
a little bit of place setting– I have worked in technology
for the last seven years, but 10 years prior to that,
I was actually a journalist. I worked in
broadcast at the BBC, and the beat that I looked
at was science, technology, and youth– which ultimately
meant black people– what are the black people
doing, and how can you help us tell those stories? I moved to the US
around 14 years ago now, worked at CNN, and ABC,
and all the letters. If that’s your
field, come and find me [INAUDIBLE] same newsroom,
different boss, basically. And I got roped into technology
around 2013 in New York City, when we were first
starting to have hackathons and first thinking about
teaching kids to code. And that work led me into
non-profits, led me to Google, led me to ultimately Weapons
of Math Destruction, which is a book by Cathy O’Neill. Cathy O’Neill and
I both work in– both live in Brooklyn, New York. It was really easy to actually
find her, because at the time, prior to her book
coming out, she was coming to my local library
to talk about this book that she didn’t
think would sell. So it did sell. I did meet her. And as we went through
the book, I began to be– I began to ask questions
about the legality of the technologies
that she was describing, because many of them seemed
predatory and many of them seemed to break rules. And I had, while
transitioning out of broadcast and into
technology, worked on the Obama campaign in Philadelphia,
so had developed a huge Rolodex of people
within the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive caucuses,
and start to basically send them emails pretty much every
day, where I was saying, this is happening in technology
and this is actually illegal. And this has racial and
social justice implications, and somebody needs to be
thinking about that [INAUDIBLE] that into– eventually into
becoming a fellow. I’m currently on the fellowship
industrial complex [INAUDIBLE] as we speak at
Harvard and Stanford, and in my first fellowship,
was able to deliver on the introduction
of three bills to Congress that were
looking at technology. But the way that I sold those
to each of the committees was around this idea that
anti-black racism was a threat to our national security. Luckily, for me,
Cambridge Analytica happened just soon after,
and then the Mueller report. And it was within
the Mueller report that we were able to see how
advertising algorithms were used to create black
online identities and to reduce the Clinton vote. So even though I seem
very extreme initially by making that statement,
and I seem very bold, the statement ultimately
caught up to me, and ended up introducing the
Algorithmic Accountability Act, which I can talk
about afterwards. This is not for
this conversation. DEEPFAKES Accountability
Act– because obviously, as a visual journalist,
as a documentarian, I’m very concerned about the
integrity of truth in the film. And then finally,
the No Biometric Barriers in Housing
Act, which was looking at facial recognition as a way
to gain entry into an apartment that you already own
in Brooklyn, New York– and ultimately, I’m here. So without further ado, I
think you know who I am. I’m going to get
into a conversation. It’s my pleasure
to introduce you to Dr. Howard Stevenson, who
is a clinical psychologist. He works at the Graduate
School of Education at the University
of Pennsylvania. And even though this
has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation,
but it gives me a kick, he’s Bryan Stevenson’s
older brother, and is actually depicted
in the blockbuster movie– I’m claiming it– Just Mercy, which
is in screens– on screens now, right? On screens now– and were
you at Super Soul Sessions when your brother met Oprah? No, I wasn’t. OK, so didn’t meet
Oprah, but close. And it really has provided
the theoretical frames for this idea of racial
literacy and technology. So if you wouldn’t mind
just welcoming him, I would appreciate that. [APPLAUSE] He’s in conversation
with Dr. Jessie Daniels, who teaches at the CUNY– City University of New York– with appointments at
the Graduate Center. She has been
researching race and– technology and white supremacy
for the last 25 years. I consider her one
of my first teachers in this field
after Cathy O’Neil, and then some other really cool
white women in data science who were not scared to
talk about race with me. And she really was the
intellectual leader and drive behind a report
that we published through Data and
Society last year called Advancing Racial
Literacy in Tech. So if you wouldn’t mind
welcoming her also– [APPLAUSE] So I’m going to start
with you, Dr. Stevenson. Would you mind telling us a
little bit about who you are, how you came– and how you came to this work? So I am a clinical psychologist. I run a center called the Racial
Empowerment Collaborative, and I have a team
of colleagues, where we founded a partnership
called the Lion Story, where we do training around the
country around how to navigate racially stressful encounters,
with the focus of helping people make healthy decisions
in less than two minutes. And we’ve been working
with young people as young as fifth
graders to adults across a variety of police,
education, health spectrums. And so I started this
because I grew up in a family with
my brother Bryan and my sister Christy
that seemed to have– to talk about, as
well as try to deal with racial politics growing
up in southern Delaware. Anybody here heard
of Delaware before? Well, we grew up in a very
southern part of Delaware, which is different than the
northern part of Delaware, where people were
thought of, regardless of their racial background,
as lower slower– very country, very rural,
very much like the south. And the politics of
race where we grew up was very much like being in
the south because of the way in which folks would
treat us in public spaces. My father and mother–
very different people, multi-culturally different. They had different
styles about how they navigated racial politics. My father, growing up
in southern Delaware, his belief for us and
dealing with racial conflict was to have us in church 24
hours a day, seven days a week. He believed, if
anybody bothered us because the color of
our skin, your job was to not get physical, not
put your hands on anybody, but you’re supposed to pray
for them, believing that God would get them back in the end. He believed in retaliation. It was just a
spiritual retaliation. And so growing up in
southern Delaware, church folk meant a
lot to us, but they socialized us to think about
praying around racial conflict. My mother grew up
in North Philly. I don’t know if anybody’s
heard of North Philly, but it’s very different
from southern Delaware. She said, if anybody bother
you because of your race or your skin, you could not
only put your hands on them– you could pick up anything to
help you navigate the problem– very different processes,
very different strategies. She’s very direct,
more Malcolm X-like. He was more Martin
Luther King-like. His approach, in
my view, has led us to think about, how
do you prepare, process racial moments? And my mother’s view was more
around, how do you speak up? How do you develop the
skills to do– to protest? And so my upbringing,
as well as my brother’s, would be around
this notion of, how do you navigate those two kinds
of approaches when you are confronted by racial moments– in particular, by racial
problems writ large? Thank you. And Dr. Daniels, what
brought you to this work? Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s such an honor to be in
conversation with both of you today. So I was born and
raised in Texas, and grew up with
two parents who were ardent segregationists, and
racist, and was very much their daughter– and began arguing
with my father early on about race in various ways. And when I eventually
ended up in graduate school at the University
of Texas Austin, I went into graduate school– I’m deeply embarrassed
to tell you all, I went into graduate
school still believing the lie– one of the lies that my
father had taught me, which was that I was Cherokee. And part of what is so
embarrassing about that, as most of you probably
know in this room, is there’s a wonderful
book by Vine Deloria– which I read in
graduate school– which is Custer Died For Your
Sins in which he says, yes, every day in my office– he
worked at National Indian Affairs at the time– every day, every
week in my office, I have some white person
comes in and tells me about their Cherokee
grandmother. And you may have heard a similar
story on the political trail just recently. So it’s a very common
belief among white people. And I was chagrined to learn
that I was not, in fact, Cherokee, and that I was kind
of a cliche for believing that. But I think that one
of the things that did for me is it
kind of inoculated me in a particular kind of
way against whiteness, because I was already in my 20s
when I was in graduate school, and I hadn’t really subscribe
to the idea of being white, even though I was
included in that group. And then I began
working with Joe Fagan and studying race and racism. This was in the late
’80s, early ’90s. And I got interested in
the production of rhetoric by white supremacist. I went to the Klanwatch
archive in Montgomery– about a seven-hour drive from
Austin, Texas– and studied printed publications
of Klan and allied groups that were producing this
white supremacist rhetoric. That was my dissertation. It became my first
book, called White Lies. And part of what I found
in doing that research was that these broadsheets,
these newsletters produced by ardent white supremacists
in the contemporary American context actually
sounded very much like the mainstream political
rhetoric I was hearing. So this is the early ’90s. You may be familiar
with somebody named Pat Buchanan,
who was running for president at the time
on the Republican ticket. He gave a speech at
the RNC that year that Texas humorist by
the name of Molly Ivins said sounded much better
in the original German– and tracks very closely to
the kind of rhetoric that we– the anti-immigrant
rhetoric that we hear today in political circles. So I was really
fascinated, by the way, that this extremist
literature mapped onto the mainstream political
white supremacy, and how we– we meaning white people– who
thought about white supremacy use these sort of
extremist groups to distanced ourselves from
this uncomfortable truth that this was really at the core
of extremist white supremacy. In the middle of doing
that dissertation, I was at a beloved aunt’s house. I pulled the book off the shelf. It was Thomas
Dixon’s The Clansman. I said, Aunt Marie, why
do you have this book? And she said, I don’t know. I think it was your
granddad’s– my father’s father. Why would he have this book? Oh, he was in that group, honey. I was like, what? So there I am in the middle
of doing a dissertation on the Klan, and I learned
that my paternal grandfather had been in the Klan. And for me, part of the
reason of telling that story– which also, I’m quite
still ashamed about– is that it drives home, for
me, the fact that this is a– it’s a personal issue. This is also the
grandfather that molested me when I was a child. And I wrote about
that in the White Lies book, the preface to that
book before it came out. And I thought that my father
would be very so proud of me when I wrote it. It’s a lovely piece of writing. And instead, he had me locked
in a psych ward for 72 hours. So for me, I tell all
of that story to say– PS, by the way, I’m
working on a memoir– but I tell that
story to say this is very much, for
me, a personal issue. People oftentimes will come up
to me and say, oh, it’s so– I actually had someone
say to me one time, it’s so good what you’re
doing for the black people. And I was like, that is not
why I’m doing this work. This is very much for
my own liberation, which I see as tied to the
liberation of other people here. So fast forward to– the internet happened
after I wrote that book, and I followed those same
groups into how they were making use of internet technology. And that was my second
book called Cyber Racism. I’ve written several
others since then, but that experience of
writing about white supremacy before and after the
internet is where I come from– and also have
a very personal connection to this ideology. Fun fact– when
I told my parents that I was working with the
granddaughter of a Klansman, they were like, really? Is that what you want to do? You can come home. And then I did tell
them that I was also working with Howard
Stevenson, and they were like, does he know Bryan Stevenson? And I was like yeah. And they were like, well,
why did you work with him and not her? Because she just doesn’t
seem like a good idea. But I didn’t listen, obviously. [INAUDIBLE] So my next question
really gets to– thank you both for being so
honest about that– this notion of racial literacy and
technology, which is what has brought the three
of us into conversation. So last year, like
I said, I’m truly on the fellowship
industrial complex. I had a rap sheet, it
would be very long. So last year, Jessie and I were
fellows that Data & Society in New York City. It’s a research
institute started by Danah Boyd, who’s also a
former fellow of Berkman Klein. And one of the things that we
became really interested in is we came to the Kennedy School
for a conference on technology, and it was public
interest technology. And in all the conversations
that we had throughout the day, nobody spoke about race. And I had just come
from really doing this intense work in Congress
and with black legislators around the racial impacts, so
we wanted to put something out– a very, very short report
called Advancing Racial Literacy in Tech. We were looking for
a theoretical frame to help us think about
race and racism in a way that it’s not this huge
thing that nobody can solve– and we’re certainly not going to
solve it in this conversation– but to give us
some tools to talk. Really, we were talking about
billionaires at the time. I think that was our goal. We were like, if only Jeff Bezos
could get this [INAUDIBLE].. Probably still hasn’t read it. Hi, Jeff. And that’s how we
came into conversation we’ve talked to Stephenson,
who had written for schools. So we were looking
to take a theory that was meant for families
and for school communities into the technical
spaces that we were working– in my case, Congress. And I sometimes speak
with tech companies– and in Jessie’s case, the same. So my second question
is really around– for the people in this room so
that we can start to discuss the concept– could you in a really– succinct way as you
can, really talk us through what racial literacy
is and how potentially we could become racially literate? So for 30 years,
I’ve been studying a topic called racial
socialization, which predates the way we think
about racial literacy. And that is, does it
matter, for example, when parents talk to
their kids about race? Does it help them
navigate the world? Does it help them feel
better about themselves? So these are questions
I’ve been asking, and colleagues have been
asking for 30 years. And the example I give you is
my mother being stressed out basically by being
in southern Delaware, because her style was different,
her approach was different. She alienated
people, even when she walked through supermarkets. And we would go with her. Before we would
go into the store, she would give us the talk. Don’t ask for nothing. Don’t touch nothing. I don’t care how many other
kids are in the supermarket. They’re not my kids. You got to listen to me. Anybody else get that talk
when they’re growing up? OK, that is a form of
racial socialization. And we never acted up. We never would get
out of trouble. She’d give us that talk over
and over and over again, and the question– I was always wondering, why
do you give us the talk? No, we’re not going to act
up, because we were too scared to act up, because we were
in church all the time. The reason she did
it, though, was to teach us a lesson that you
can’t just be concerned about. You also to be concerned about
how other people perceive you. And that is a particular
kind of skill. And so racial socialization
is the conversations that parents might have
with their children, verbal or nonverbal, but racial
literacy is, what skills do you take away from those
conversations that would allow you to be more agentic to with
withstand the oppression that comes after you? Whether it’s around
profiling, whether it’s around slights or
microagressions, or whether it’s blatant
physical assaults, how do you psychologically
manage that? So for us, racial
literacy is three things– how well do you read,
how well do you recast, and how well do you resolve
a racially stressful moment? Reading would be, do I
notice when a racial moment is happening around me? Some people got this. Some people really don’t get it. They don’t know when a
racial moment is occurring. It’s also, well, how
well do I read what’s happening inside me– my body? Do I know what my
thoughts are doing? Do I know what my body’s doing? And do I know what my
emotions are doing? All of these influenced
the decisions I’m going to make next. Recasting is if I’m on
a scale of on to 10– 10 being highly stressful, one
being not stressed at all– if I’m at eight, nine,
or 10, we consider that a threat-like condition, and
you’re a lousy decision maker if you are stressed during a
racial moment at that level. And recasting is, how– what strategies–
mindfulness, prayer, support– do I have to help me bring
my eight, nine, or 10 down to a five, six, or seven? We think a lot of police
officers in these moments– if you think about
Tamir Rice example, he had about six seconds
before the decision was made. If you’re at 8, 9, 10 sort of
scenario, we think any of us could make very unhealthy
dangerous decisions in less than a couple of minutes– so recasting. Now, resolving is, how well do
I make a healthy decision that isn’t an underreaction to a
racially stressful moment, or an overreaction? And do I walk away deciding in
a way that matches my social justice values– and not just
beliefs, but I act justly– not believe justly,
but act justly? And so racial literacy is,
how skillful can I negotiate? How competent can
I be in negotiating a racially stressful moment? Thank you. An Dr. Daniels, just taking
the conversation back to technology, you
were an expert witness in the briefings around the
DEEPFAKE Accountability Act. And specifically, what
I’m interested in– what I would like for you to share
with the room is, in terms of technical systems,
how in your work have you seen them become
racialized, and how and why specifically, if
they are anti-black, how has that shown up? One of the things– and I
mentioned the second book I did, which is called
Cyber Racism– it came out in 2009, which was early to be
talking about race in tech– but I had the advantage
of having seen– having watched these groups and
printed publications before, and I was interested
in how they were making use of this newfangled
internet technology. So some of them didn’t make
it, and that’s a first thing to say. Some of them didn’t make the
transition, and some of them were just like, oh, internet. Sorry– peace out. And others made a very
clunky transition. There were some that did a– tried to do sort of a copy
and paste of the newsletter broadsheet form online– and OK, but nobody was
really clicking on that. The most pernicious
and nefarious of the presence I found
in the early internet was a site that many of
you may have come across, which is the website. And this was what I
call a cloaked website, and by that, I mean it was
an early form of propaganda or disinformation. And what they were
trying to do was disguise the authorship of that website. And part of what
they were doing was they got domain
name nomenclature. It’s the early days
of the internet. Most of your probably too
young to remember this, but there was a time when
we were teaching people and internet literacy, well,
if you just look at the URL, if it doesn’t say GeoCities
forward slash somebody’s name, then it’s probably good to go. And I interviewed
people for that– young people, aged 15 to 19–
for that book and asked them, so what do you think
of this website? What do you think of– when they would find it
through a search engine– at the time, AltaVista or Yahoo. But it always came up in the
top three or four results. And they would say,
well, I would trust it, because it has the URL. It ends in .org, so they
must be dedicated to that. That’s one of them said. And then I had
another young person in that research who looked
at the text of the page, and she said,
well, I don’t know. This seems like they’re
dedicated to Dr. King, but it looks like it was
created by a young person. So she was sort of cluing
into the really basic GUI, and she was sort of
cluing into that. But the danger in that
right is that you just need a better GUI. You just need a better
graphic designer to make a more
pernicious presence. The ones that really
scare me, or the ones that really alarm me
were the students– there was another page on there,
the young people who said, this page looks like
it’s another cloak site. This page looks
like it’s against– sorry– this page looks like
it’s saying slavery is OK, and I guess there are
two sides to everything. Which we’ve heard very recently. Yeah, right– an idea
that has not gone away. But part of what I took from
that was that our internet literacy– the way that we were
teaching internet literacy was flawed, because we were
only talking about a kind of technical literacy
about recognizing the URL, or figuring out who– using the WhoIs database. God bless you– using the
WhoIs database to find out who published the site. And those are all important
technical skills to have, but there was
another young person that I interviewed who said, I’m
reading this text about slavery being OK, but I know
from other things that I’ve read that
slavery’s not OK– that it was brutal, that it was
violent, that it was vicious. And to me, what that
young person demonstrated was a kind of racial literacy. And so for her, she was able
to suss out and figure out the cloak site was a
form of propaganda, because she had not
only internet literacy, but she had racial
literacy as well. And so that’s actually in the
conclusion of Cyber Racism, that I call for we need
something more than just internet literacy– we
need racial literacy. And it was before I knew
of Dr. Stevens’s work. But I think that there’s a
real way in which we have to combine those, and that
came out just recently when we looked at– when
I was at Congress at [INAUDIBLE] invitation,
and I was on a panel with Shireen Mitchell,
who was talking about the
disinformation campaign by the Russian government
and Russian bots. And part of what
they did was they exploited our racial ignorance. They would create accounts
that were fake black people, and that was part of what they
used in that disinformation campaign. So I just want to say one
other thing, if I could– a slight caveat on our visit to
the Public Interest Technology Summit that was at the
Harvard Kennedy School. It’s not quite the case that
no one was talking about race, because they had the super
smart, lovely professor Latanya Sweeney who spoke. And everyone was blown away. And she did her
presentation on her research about how Google advertising,
the native advertising that you see when you sign into Google– if you have a black
sounding name like Latanya, then you’re going to get
these ads served up that are searching arrest records and
bail databases for your name. And she stumbled upon
that, and found it– and has done wonderful
research on that. And everyone in that room,
which was predominantly white– all these people who were doing
public interest technology fellowships were all
like, that’s fantastic. They were blown away by
what she said, but then when she got off the dais– when she got off
the stage, everybody was like, OK,
well, we don’t have to think about race anymore. And that was really–
for me, was a moment– I was like, no, no. All the rest of us need to
keep having that conversation. We can’t just let Professor
Sweeney, as wonderful as she is, carry
all that weight. So in a way, for me, the
racial literacy in tech is about sharing that
burden, if you will, and sharing that challenge of
thinking about race in tech. How is tech building
race into these systems? And we can’t only
leave it to people who are racialized as black
or other racial identities to think about that. We have to all be
engaged in that thought. So thank you for that. One of the things that I found,
when I was working in Congress and really trying to think
about compelling storytelling– specifically around
facial recognition– was to try and think about– try and find case studies and
try and think about scenarios where there was a
certain civil rights frame because I’m speaking
to a bunch of lawyers, and I’m trying to convince
a bunch of lawyers. One of the helpful things
I was able to find out was, in New York
City in the 1700s, the city council passed a
law called the Lantern Law. And what that meant
was anybody who was racialized as black
would have to hold a light up against their face in the
dark, because they were deemed dangerous by white New Yorkers. There were no street
lights at that time, so my assumption is we couldn’t
see white New Yorkers either. And they may be
dangerous too, but they didn’t have to have lanterns. And what that did was made me
go and look at the projects close to where I live– I live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn– BK in the house? Brooklyn– That’s what I’m saying. Yes. Always– so I live in Bed-Stuy. I call Bed-Stuy
Wakanda, because it has these gorgeous
brownstones which are surrounded by projects. And it’s one of the reasons
our gentrification looks a certain way, because you’re
always close to the projects. No matter how much you
buy that brownstone for, you are close to the projects. But one of the things
that I realized is that they floodlight the
projects too in the same way that the lantern laws were
being used in the same way that facial recognition
that was being used. And the reason we were able
to enter that bill was I was speaking to the
Congressional Black Caucus. Many of them looked
at the projects in their own
districts, and realized that there was a history of the
surveillance of black bodies around this narrative
of blackness and danger. And what we were doing through
facial recognition was now building technical systems
with those logics in mind, even though the response
from companies were often, we didn’t think about that,
we didn’t mean to do it. And I’m famous for, in my
work, saying your intention could kill me– I’m interested in impact– which is probably more like
your mother than your father, but hey. So my final question,
before we start to bring all the brilliant
people in the room into the conversation, is
many of the people that are listening to us now may
be in similar scenarios, whether they’re creating
policies, they’re creating– they’re sitting in
a tech company maybe and they’re looking
at new products. And how can we use some of these
ideas about racial literacy to an audience who
are not necessarily thinking about justice,
who probably don’t have social justice values– the ones that we share? But how could we,
in three minutes, push through to that
particular audience? Three minutes [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, solve racism– You go first. –in three minutes. OK, three minutes– Yes. OK, well, I think the racial
threat research is helpful here in understanding, when
people are face to face– we’re a culture that
does not talk about race, but the reason we don’t
talk about it is we’re viscerally fearful of what
will happen to us if we start a conversation. Will I be thought of
in a particular way? Will I be stereotyped? Will I be socially humiliated? And so part of the
notion of threat is that, if I spike at eight,
nine, or 10 just when the word race shows up, let
alone a racial tension, conflict that shows up– or if I’m responsible,
say, in my classroom on my beat in my family
to navigate that problem, I feel incredibly inept. But you could argue that not
just interpersonal interaction creates that sense of
threat, but information. So any information that
comes to me around history that I don’t know, I may
just decide to not include it in my analysis,
which is where I’ve learned from the two of you
about how the stereotypes that– in the same way that families
socialize children around race, you could argue society has
been doing it for centuries. And so if I’m uncomfortable
with information around race, why would I use any
narratives from that frame in my creation of products
or in creation of code? How you all have taught me
that who we are gets sort of socialized into the
work that we do– and we know that’s true in
education and curriculum development. We know that’s true
in health care. We know that’s true in
justice around arrest, as well as sentencing. So why wouldn’t it be
true in technology? Yeah. Yeah, I totally
agree with all that. And I would just add, Dr.
Ruha Benjamin from Princeton was in this very
room last semester talking about abolitionist
tools for liberation– that we’ve got to learn
to build tools that work for our
collective liberation, rather than perpetuating
surveillance, and entrapment, and all that. And I would just say that I– the question that I
asked her at the time– and still my provocation for
that wonderful work that she does in the book Race
After Technology– is I don’t know that we’re going to
get to building abolitionist tools without the scaffolding
of racial literacy. I really think that
we need to build up a capacity for racial
literacy among people who are building the technology. The other thing
that I would say is that I think that the
moment we’re in right now tells us that the tech companies
over the last 20, 30 years have not demonstrated an
ability to regulate themselves. And so I think there really
needs to be actual government policies, when we get back
to having a government that makes policies
and enforces them, that regulate the tech industry. So those are my two. And I was going to ask
you just to go slightly– Sure. –forward, if I may,
before we open up, because I always think about the
shooting in Charleston, and how Dylann Roof went
into the church. So a white supremacist– he’s
radicalized on the internet, and then goes in and shoots
nine people at Bible study– similar kind of narrative
around Christchurch, this radicalization online. And we know from work of
Joan Donovan, Claire Wardle, and others that
algorithms are actually optimized to spread information
that satisfies virality. So could you just
speak a little bit more about how white
supremacy travels online, and how the technical systems
that we build enable that? Because I think that
that’s also useful, as we think about
rules and regulations and around those technology. Right. So when I was finishing
my dissertation and change that into a book–
was about 1995. And for those of you who
remember, April in 1995 is when the Murrah
Building in Oklahoma City was blown up by a
white supremacist. So this is early
days of the internet. Most people didn’t have
the internet in their homes or on their devices
walking around, but that– the description of that event
and the technology that he used, being a rented
moving truck and a bunch of fertilizer– that got posted
onto the internet. That inspired a
white supremacist killing in Oslo, Norway some 10,
12 years later, and then that– specifically the
killing in Oslo, Norway inspired the killing in
Christchurch, New Zealand. And Dylann Roof was in
all of that as well, the one in Charlottesville. So the point of that
is saying that– one of the points I
made in Cyber Racism is that the spread
of white supremacy is happening globally. It’s so much easier
now than when I drove from Austin
to Montgomery to get our cars from
the Klanwatch archive. Now it’s very easy to get access
to that same kind of extremist material. And what’s happened
since about 2007, 2008 is that
algorithms have sped up the spread of that information. So like [INAUDIBLE]
was just saying, as you probably all
know, algorithms optimized for
virality, and that’s part of what happened
in Christchurch when he put the shooting
on Facebook Live and streamed it as he
was killing people. And people are drawn to
clicking on that, watching that, even if they are morally,
spiritually, physically repulsed by it. There’s still something
about the technology that compels us to click and
share horrific things that we see online. And white supremacists know
that and are exploiting it. They’re what I call
innovation opportunists. They see these back
doors and the technology, and they walk right
through them and use them for their own ends. Thank you. Thank you both. So we’ve spoken a lot. I’m hoping that this
is a conversation that we can have as family,
as a community in this room. And I would like to
open up for questions. Hi. Sorry. I’m Todd [INAUDIBLE]. I’m a journalist and
a fellow this year at Bergman Klein and
Nieman Foundation. And thanks so much for starting
this conversation– really appreciate it. I’m really curious
what type of response you’ve gotten when
you’ve talked to people at technology companies. Have they been welcoming
to this type of discussion, or have they been closed? And has it been
changing over time? I’m going to take that. It’s interesting. We talked to people
at tech companies when we were developing the
report for Data & Society, and since then, we’ve
heard from a lot of people at tech companies. There’s kind of a bimodal
distribution of responses that we hear. There’s the sort sotto
voce, on the down low– this is great, love
what you’re doing. Officially, we have no
need of this, the things that you’re speaking of here. So it’s really a
separate conversations. The sort of official
response is, we don’t need any
sort of education about racial literacy. We are doing our own thing. It’s usually implicit bias,
and we’re done after that. But people who work in HR
at some of the biggest tech companies that you would
recognize the names of, were I to name them, are
like, this is really important and we need to have this. And we also had one
person specifically– and I think maybe this
is in the report– say that the usual discussions
around diversity, equity, inclusion– DEI– they say as
a is often a cover. It’s a way to avoid
talking about race, and that the actual– very much to Dr.
Stevenson’s work, that the very word
race is racially stressful for the
majority of people that are working in tech companies. So it’s like it’s a non-starter
just because it’s so stressful to even say the word race. So the report only came
out in May last year, but one of the things that I’ve
started to see a change around is, as my work has– is turning
towards disinformation and is really facing journalists, and
people understand that I am a journalist and I know how to
use that tool, that certainly, people from– people who are
working in advertising are beginning to– I’m noticing who’s
following me on Twitter. And that’s because of
the Mueller report, so it was nothing
that we said, but it was this external report,
and the Blacktivists, and Woke Blacks,
and these other– so the Blacktivists and Woke
Blacks, just for context, were social media pages created
by the IRA in St. Petersburg to develop black
online communities that I was a part of
spreading that disinformation. They started out with
stuff like Girl Crush– Woman Crush Wednesday. I was like, yes. Black girl magic, me,
and I’m part of this, and then I start to notice–
and this is in the report– it became Hillary Clinton
doesn’t like black people– which one of the things I will
say about this information is that it starts in truth– not saying she
doesn’t like them– don’t know– still retweeting–
and then eventually, just before the election,
don’t vote for Hillary Clinton. And then the report
came out, and I think that there has been
some reckoning around race, particularly from
platform companies when they realized that they were
gamed through these back doors. But the idea of racial literacy,
just to be nice to black people, just doesn’t–
it’s not compelling. It’s really not. We were actually
told that we would have to go for people’s
reputational risk, which is a strategy– like shaming people into
calling them racists, and that’s not really
the work either. Thank you very much. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I am a fellow at the
Berkman Klein Center also, and I’m a PhD student
at NYU [INAUDIBLE].. So I have a question
around the use of racial literacy in some– I wouldn’t say contradiction,
but some different ways of reflecting race within
marginalized communities. We have this concept of opacity. Many communities of color are
claiming this right for opacity to be against that
transparency, and this idea that also, to be
complex doesn’t mean to be completely transparent. And I know that part of
the work that you’re doing with racial literacy somehow– to push transparency [INAUDIBLE]
understand all this interaction within race. So how to be articulating
[INAUDIBLE] that is important, [INAUDIBLE] social justice,
but at the same time, respecting this opacity that
some communities of color want to reclaim their
role in society? I think that that’s
an important point. I just think that,
without racial literacy, the people in tech
companies or people who are making tech
policies are never going to understand
or acknowledge the desire, the request,
the demand for opacity. There’s no place that that can
anchor in their understanding, because why wouldn’t you
want to be recognized? It just doesn’t land with them. I can certainly speak– I didn’t work on this
piece of legislation, but Jessie and I
have a colleague who worked on a predictive
bail instruments. And there was a bill introduced
in October of last year, and we were really
trying to support her as she argued that
criminal justice has– is a racialized area. Therefore, when we think about
how these algorithms should be audited, in terms of
who deciding to get bail, we would have to have a very
strong conversation about race. And what we were being
told on the other side is that this is just
about technology, and it’s not about race,
and some people are bad. We were arguing
against lawyers who graduated from this law school. Not to call the place that’s
given us free lunch out, but it just seemed like a
very rudimentary argument. And there was no fact. The call for what communities
of color [INAUDIBLE] in the spaces that
we’re describing are not relevant, because
communities of color are just not relevant. Did you have a question? [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] For each of you, what
is the one thing that– if you had the ear of Amazon,
and Google, and Facebook, what’s the one
thing you want them to do right now that would
advance toward the goal that you want? Because I’m interested in
how people react to moments, I’d be interested in how the
folks you would identify, who write and who create
these technologies– what they would do emotionally
and physiologically when they’re presented with
information about race, and politics, and history. And just to have a lesson– and if we could hook
them up to some gear that would allow us to understand
how their bodies are reacting during these
conversations, it would be a way to get a sense of this
is not just benign information. Race is involved in how we
also exclude understanding, in the same way that we
think about white flight, in the same way that we think
about the sense of threat that this information
means about me. Many of us who are
academics, we struggle with, how are we going to
deal with new knowledge that we didn’t grew up with that
we’ve still got to integrate is threatening to us? And so I think the
same is true for those who haven’t even been exposed. And I think you’ve both
described the level of ignorance around race in
our society in the way that, we could argue, in
families like mine, where it was socialized
more directly– not only through
actions, but music– you could argue other people
are equally as ignorant. And so every young
person that shows up who hasn’t had an exposure– not only to racial
knowledge, but how to manage it emotionally– that is not a threat
to who they are– to learn this stuff. We’re going to be working
very hard for time to come. The only other thing I
would add to that is I feel very hopeful, if people
are willing to face those fears, that they could bring
their eight, nines, and 10’s down to
five, six, and seven, and they can see
their own stories and their own narratives, as
you described your own narrative as not a sort of indictment
on your own humanity, or being bad, as it were. So it’s very hopeful,
if people can listen, if people can admit
to these notions. So I would love to watch people
and talk to them while they’re processing this information. I think, if I had their
ear, I would say to them, accept regulation and back off– and not because I
believe in the– well, two things– I grew up in the UK. I grew up with a welfare
state cradle to grave. I grew up with unions
being part of how we lived. And I also, in my very early
life– my very young life– grew up hearing my parents talk
about what a disaster Margaret Thatcher was. So I’ve grown up in a country
that has– is imperfect, and moving to the right, like
many other countries in Europe, and making really
poor decisions. But this idea that the state
will protect poor people, the state will protect
marginalized people is very strong in my imaginary. And I’m very much struggling
with the libertarian ideals of Silicon Valley. So last week, I was at Stanford. I went to John Perry
Barlow’s archive. They just got it recently. That’s what I thought. And as I was
reading the papers– my friend is writing a book
based on these archives, so I was reading the papers, and
the kind of romanticism around the market will save us and– the market will save us
mad me kept thinking, but the state has, in many
ways, saved me, both as a child, both as an adult. And we do need people who
can think about regulations that both allows for
innovation and allows for capitalistic growth,
but at the same time, we can, if we see
hate speech online, that there are some at least
guidelines around that– if we are looking at
technologies that are predatory and racially marked, that there
can be a legal standard for us to even consider that. We were in a smaller
conversation prior to this, where we were
looking at the NYPD’s defense of facial
recognition technology in identifying suspects, and the
very last line in the article was basically, we
have no rules so we’re going to do what we want. That scares me. The NYPD– not the friends
of the people living in– with the blacks. That’s the thing
that I would say, and that’s a conversation
that I’m in back and forth. Yeah, I think I
would say ban Nazis. Take the white supremacist
threat to your tech platform seriously, and get them off. And there’s a whole
other conversation to be had about free
speech and hate speech, and I just think we can adopt
the European model, where you value free
speech, but you also see it as balanced in a
human rights framework as in conversation
with the right not to be annihilated
or have your people– the recommendation of your
people being annihilated. I think that’s one
of the first things. And secondarily, I would just
say, rethink surveillance. Think of a different business
model than surveillance. Jeff Bezos, don’t sell
anymore Ring doorbells. Just zero that column
out in your spreadsheet. Don’t need any more of those. Pull them off the market. Get rid of them. It’s a terrible technology. It’s going to get someone
killed, if it hasn’t already. Hi– Jessica [INAUDIBLE],,
assistant director of the Cyber Law Clinic here. Last month, we released a study
on a bunch of the different AI ethical principles that
are around the world, and I was thinking about– one of the principles that
we saw pretty commonly in that report was a call
for increased inclusively on development
teams for AI tools. And I was thinking
about that in terms of the theme of today’s talk,
racial literacy and technology. And this is sort of a follow-up
on the previous question set me up well which is, if these
companies that are developing AI tools are going to
build more inclusive teams, what do they have to do to
help their existing staff get prepared to work effectively
on more diverse teams? Want to take that? Well, if we look at what
happens in other institutions, where diversity– and usually, it’s a
demographic diversity call. In some places, it’s
a brochure diversity. You only see it in the
brochure of the institution. But when changes are
made in the team, the stress levels
go up dramatically. And so one argument in hiring
process is why many places think about fit as the final
determination of– between two candidates about who should
get in, it’s usually based on– fit is a– is code for this
person would stress me out less or would stress us out less–
or they get our mission better, which is they’ll
stress us out less. And I think that is a
form of racism that’s unintentional and intentional,
because it’s systematically consistent across
different systems. And so I would
prepare every system about that, what you’re
going to be afraid of, from the before the
hiring process begins– and to take notes along the way. And I think this is true
for those of us who’ve been the only one in the room– whether it’s around gender,
around race, or whatever– that you have to also
have your own medal and be prepared for
how you use your voice. [INAUDIBLE] will never be
known as long as the hunter is the one’s to tell it. So who is going to be
the voice in those rooms courageous enough
to challenge others’ stress around difference? And I think, in a
sense, we’ve always had one person in a room,
but one is not enough. But how you get
two in the room– I think leaders can
be better and more literate about how they are
also afraid in those processes. And we can do
something about it. Yeah. I just want to add
one thing to that. I totally agree with
all that, and I think– I’ve seen it play out before. I left academia for a while and
went to work in a dot-com back when that was still
the first bubble. And I was the only
out lesbian there, and I became fast friends with
the only African-American who was employed by that company. We both ended up getting
laid off at different times, but so I’ve seen
this dynamic in– play out in tech companies. And one of the things
that I would just add to talking about how diverse
teams change that dynamic is that there’s something– and
I’m struggling for a better way to say this, so pardon
the academic jargon, but there has to be a move
to de-center whiteness. And here’s what I mean by that. If I’m white– I’ve grown up
in or if I’m included in that category of whiteness– I’ve grown up in a culture, in a
society which has at every turn told me that I’m the
smartest person in the room, I know the answers,
I need to lean in to take over leadership
of whatever group I’m in. And de-centering whiteness,
to use that clumsy phrase, is to learn to read the room
and go, oh, look, there are racial dynamics happening here. The first in your three-part
step is read the racial moment and go, oh, I’m participating
in this thing that’s happening. And if I can just shift so I’m
not the smartest, the one that needs to lean in and take over
leadership– if I can just step back a little
bit, it’s going to change the
dynamic in the room. And that, I think, is a crucial
skill in racial literacy that white people
have to develop is to learn not to lead, not
to be the first one on the mic, not to be the one
who’s going to– well, I can run that committee. Step back and see if
things don’t feel better for everybody in the room. And I think, for
me, I recently– I wrote an op-ed in the summer,
and as part of my research, I was looking at the number
of black researchers in AI across Facebook,
Google, and Amazon. And I found one. And she’s an intern [INAUDIBLE]
she’s not an intern anymore. She was an intern last year. and she went to Berkeley. And I contacted her, and
she just really needed that internship to
finish her program, but she felt so uncomfortable,
because every racial– she worked on the
Google Brain team, so they’re doing a lot of
health– predictive health work. And she just felt
incredibly stressful, because white people were
constantly asking her, are you OK? Are you comfortable? And she had to say yes, because
she needed the internship, but she was like,
no, I hate it here. I straight up hate it here. There is no way for me. So I don’t necessarily know
how to prepare the teams. There has to be some
type of culture shift that the organization makes,
while it’s still white, to prepare itself, because the
black person’s prepared often, and is going to war late. I’ve been on this for–
this is my second semester. This is my third hairstyle. I have to do certain things when
I’m moving in certain spaces to get what I want, because
even just showing up is so threatening. [INAUDIBLE] Thank you so much for
hosting this event. So a follow-up to the
previous question– I mentor a lot of undergrads and
grad students, and some of them are going into these spaces that
are majority white, majority male. How do I advise
them, in terms of, on one hand, I do want them to
succeed in these spaces that are not open to them– at the same time, I don’t want
them to feel excluded or feel mentally unwell because they’re
dealing with racism and sexism in their everyday workplace. Do you have any advice? [INAUDIBLE] So James Baldwin said
that the mouse always knows more about the cat than
the cat knows about the mouse. And part of that
is there’s no way you could be in any
of these systems and not take a hit
on your health, both physical and mental. The argument for why we
need socialization taught is to prepare you. And this is my
mother’s interest, that I can’t change
those environments. It would be nice if I could. The supermarkets should just
be where you go get food. It shouldn’t be a warzone
for racial stress. But it is that, and so I’m
going to prepare you for that. And I think we don’t
do that, particularly in these Ivy League
institutions, where there is this sort of mantle
of smart hanging over everyone. But it means something
very different. So the issue is not if
you’re going to be stressed. You’re going to be stressed. The question– are
you prepared for it? And I would argue, in
my in 30 years at Penn– I used to be the faculty
master at the boys’ College House, which was a safe
zone for students of color– particularly African-American
and African students. But part of it was socializing
them to prepare them to go back into the rest of the campus. And we took that seriously,
and I think a lot of places don’t take that seriously,
because we think of egalitarianism as not
speaking very directly to how some people–
this is a fair place, and for other people,
it’s not a fair place. So I wouldn’t let you go
out into the cold with just your underwear on and
freezing, and the same is true in the racial
climates that we exist. And I think we can be
prepared for these notions. And I think it affects
us internally as well. To not get the
protection means we’re going to question ourselves. We’re going to
question our histories. We’re going to question
people who look like us. And we’re going to sometimes not
finish the trek or the journey while we’re here. There’s another thing we
say is that our job is to help you fall in love
with your own story. And part of that
means preparing you for other people who
clearly create narratives about you where you are not
human, you’re not adequate. So it’s not if. It’s a matter of when,
and are you ready for it? Can I just add one
thing to close– almost close this out? I just want to say that
there’s another piece here that we haven’t really talked
about, and that’s the– so many of us in the
room are our scholars or are scholars in training
around doing technology. And I just want to make
a plug for the fact that, if you’re
studying technology, if you’re interested
in technology, that you have to take
into account race, that you have to understand
that systemic racism is not something that’s in
a separate bucket– that it’s woven into technology. And if you, say, come out
with a giant book that’s 700 pages about
surveillance capitalism and you never
mentioned race, I think that’s a form of
scholarly malpractice. You’ve got to take
seriously the way that racism is implicated
in these systems, and if you don’t, then you’re
only telling a partial story. Thank you, everybody,
so much for your time and for your attention. And come and see us afterwards,
but thank you so, so much. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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