This Native American Heritage Month, it's time to destroy the harmful Thanksgiving myth. The common story that our white supremacist education system (at least in the US) teaches us is that the Pilgrims who came to Plymouth hosted a celebratory dinner alongside the Indigenous Mashpee Wampanoag peoples on Thanksgiving in 1621. However, the truth is that Thanksgiving marked a massacre of Indigenous people (specifically the Pequot community) and part of the beginning of the violent settler colonialism that is the foundation of today's United States (source: @dineaesthetics on Instagram).
To properly honor this National Day of Mourning, there are some important things that non-Native people (everywhere, but especially in the US) should do. Below is a non-exhaustive list of resources and action items.
We Are Matching Donations!
One of the most substantial and concrete things that you should do if you have the means is to financially repay the Indigenous peoples whose land you stand on. This falls under the broader concept of land acknowledgement, a process in which you identify and acknowledge the tribes whose land you reside on and build authentically supportive relationships with those communities.
To that end, LingHacks has held physical events on Chochenyo, Ohlone, Ramaytush, and Tamyen land, and we are committing to match up to $1500 in donations to these communities as well as other Indigenous mutual aid funds. This amount is approximately equal to the venue fees we have paid to hold our events on these lands. To get your donation matched, make a donation to one of the organizations/funds below, and send your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure the receipt clearly indicates the name of the organization that you donated to. Below are the organizations that we will match donations for (thanks in part to Harvard's Institute of Politics for some of these links):
If you run an organization (e.g. a hackathon, nonprofit, conference, club, etc), especially one that has held physical events, we encourage you to (1) run a similar donation match, (2) factor compensation for Indigenous lands into your venue fees going forward, and (3) use your social media platforms to amplify Indigenous creators, organizers, and mutual aid funds.
Other Ways to Help
We recognize that not everyone has the means to donate at this time. If you are not able to financially contribute right now (or even if you are), here are some other ways you can help Indigenous communities:
That's all for this post. As always, please email us at email@example.com with questions, concerns, comments, suggestions, and/or corrections.
This past week was Transgender Awareness Week, and November 20th was Transgender Day of Remembrance. Transgender people have been systemically oppressed in the United States and abroad - from being killed by police at higher rates than cisgender people to being misgendered to not being legally protected (among many other forms of transphobia). Below are some resources that you can utilize to take action to fight for trans rights. Once again, we are posting this after the formal day and week for recognition have passed because trans rights cannot be reduced to a week per year. This year (and going forward), we are also paying particular attention to the intersections of marginalized identities by highlighting Black trans creators and resources serving Black trans people.
Everyday Actions to Be a Better Ally
Books by Trans Authors
Instead of supporting the transphobic J.K. R*wling, reflect on how you probably didn't read many books that represented or centered trans people in school, and begin to change that with these books! Source: @theconsciouskid on Instagram.
Trans Creators to Support
Follow these awesome people on social media and support their work monetarily if you're able! As a standard disclaimer, this list is not exhaustive.
Trans Rights Organizations to Support
These organizations are doing critical work - from fighting for legal protection for trans people to providing mental health support to freeing trans people from prison to creating safe spaces in schools. Make recurring donations if able, and follow them on social media!
That's all for this week. As always, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org with any corrections or additions to this post or others. Thanks for reading, and keep fighting!
Monday, October 12 was Indigenous People's Day, a celebration of Indigenous peoples, their histories, and their cultures. We in the United States are on stolen land - as such, Indigenous People's Day is really every day. Here are some educational resources and action items surrounding Indigenous rights and lives:
As we've said before, language reflects culture and history. So, in our effort to decolonize all facets of life, we need to also decolonize our minds* by learning about and appreciating African and African American languages and language variations. The title of this post was taken from Dr. Anne Charity Hudley's recent talk at Duolingo's Duocon, and this post was largely inspired by her talk as well. Dr. Hudley put things in words better than we ever could, so we'll offer a brief summary followed by lists of resources and action items.
*While we need to decolonize our minds through education, we also need to actually tear down systems of oppression and be careful not to metaphorize decolonization, thereby settling for symbolic justice. Language and education are just one small step in decolonizing our world - see this paper for more on the harms of metaphorizing decolonization.
Decolonizing The Mind via Language
Some key points from Dr. Hudley's talk:
These resources have been provided by Dr. Hudley and by Harvard's Introduction to African Languages and Cultures course.
Besides taking advantage of the resources above, here are some more actions you can take to de-center whiteness via language. These action items are provided by us but inspired by Dr. Hudley and Professor John Mugane.
Racism, sexism, and human rights violations haven't gone anywhere since June. Children are still in cages, Uyghur Muslims are still being murdered in concentration camps, Black people are dying at the hands of police, people are dying of COVID-19, and our human rights are in critical danger (and for some of us, they are already nonexistent). Here's a list of immediate action items that you can take to do your part in fighting for global human rights, broken down by issue. As always, let us know via email if any of this information is incorrect.
US General Election
This election is quite possibly the most important one in our lives thus far. Matters of literal life and death are on the line - from bodily autonomy to LGBTQ+ equality to racial justice to climate change to public health. The election is so important that Scientific American, which has never endorsed a presidential candidate in 175 years, has endorsed Joe Biden because we simply cannot survive four more years of science denial and fascism. Here's what you can do to salvage what's left of our semblance of a democracy:
Uyghur Muslims in Concentration Camps
Uyghur Muslims are being abused and murdered as we write this. A brief description by the Campaign for Uyghurs: "The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses and specifically targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan. These heinous crimes committed by the Chinese government constitute genocide as defined by The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was signed by the United National General Assembly in 1948." The Chinese government has also employed "final solution" rhetoric - referencing the ethnic cleansing of Jews that Hitler and the Nazis carried out during the Holocaust in World War II. Here are some things you can do (credit to Campaign for Uyghurs):
US Supreme Court
On September 18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. Though would be lovely if we could collectively take a few days to just mourn her death, President Tr*mp and Senate Republicans are already rushing to confirm her replacement. With this 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, our lives are on the line - women's rights to bodily autonomy, LGBTQ+ people's rights to exist, the fates of millions of immigrants, and the fate of our environment are all at risk. While RBG fundamentally served a racist, anti-Indigenous, and capitalist ruling class, replacing her with a Tr*mp nominee will only mean more people dying. Hence, we are not going to idolize her, but we will encourage you to take action within the scope of our current system. Some resources:
Many of you who are based on the west coast of the United States probably woke up to orange skies sometime in the past few weeks. Needless to say, this is not normal. While the air quality may be improving slightly now, people are still struggling to recover from the wildfires, and the policies (or rather, lack of policies) being implemented by our governments are only going to make this situation worse, ultimately leading to the destruction of our environment. California just passed legislation to allow former prisoners who served on firefighting crews to become paid firefighters, but this is barely the bare minimum. What to do:
Children in Cages
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is committing atrocious human rights violations. Not only are children being detained at the border in cages, but ICE is also violently and forcefully removing the uteruses of people who have been detained. This is nothing short of ethnic cleansing and White supremacy. What's more, COVID-19 is still ravaging these detention centers unchecked. What to do:
Black Lives Matter
As always, the movement for racial justice is not over. Please continue to check this site for resources. Some concrete things to do:
This Post Is Not Exhaustive
There are obviously many more injustices occurring in the world than were covered in this post - from human rights abuses in Yemen to disaster recovery in Lebanon to a pandemic still ravaging the United States for completely preventable reasons. We will continue publishing more action items on this blog, and be sure to also check out this site for resources.
We can't be out here virtue-signaling about racism and human rights if we don't have a reckoning with the field our organization was founded upon: computational linguistics (known in the engineering world as natural language processing). Several (though not nearly enough) papers have been written about the racism that is both inherent and actively perpetuated in NLP. In this post, we'll summarize the key points of those papers and offer some action and accountability items of our own. Of course, one blog post in a corner of the internet is barely a start for accountability and anti-racism in an entire field, so this post is merely an infinitesimal subset of information and action items needed to combat injustice in NLP. Again, in observance of the Bender rule, we acknowledge that while these trends of racism apply across all languages, the research and action items that we summarize are primarily based on findings from English language models and data.
Some of the Literature
In this section, we'll link and summarize some articles and papers that have been written about ethics and bias in NLP.
Oxford Insights: Racial Bias in Natural Language Processing
Link to paper: here.
Vox: Hate Speech Detection Algorithms are Biased Against Black People
Link to article: here.
To summarize the key findings from these two pieces: racism is found at every level in the natural language processing pipeline - from the data to the brains of the humans who label the data to the word embedding algorithms to the downstream tasks. The racism is particularly amplified against Black people and speakers of AAVE. Given that these systems are used widely across both academia and industry, it is an understatement to say that NLP is racist, and we have a lot of work to do.
This section describes some action and accountability items for anyone remotely involved in the NLP (or even general AI/machine learning) space. This is by no means a comprehensive or authoritative list - these items were gathered from some academic and news sources as well as the personal experiences of the authors of this post in doing NLP research.
Check Your Data
As incredulous as it may sound, loads of NLP datasets are floating freely about the internet with egregious errors. As the Vox article mentioned, a lot of these errors are due to human bias in labeling text in a linguistic variation unfamiliar to them as more negative or offensive than SAE language. Another lot of these errors are due to the unchecked use of automatic data annotation tools (or models that are works in progress that are inappropriately used as authoritative annotation generators, such as SpaCy and SciSpacy), which are racist due to the racist context that they've been trained on.
In a particular auto-annotated dataset for named entity recognition in the COVID-19 domain that one of the authors of this post had some experience working with, the word "Asia" was consistently labeled as a "Disease or Syndrome" when it was clearly a "Location" - a clear reflection of both the highly politicized nature of the novel coronavirus and the racist ways in which medical researchers name non-European diseases after the locations in which they originated (we hear "China virus," "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome," and the "Asia 1" flu serotype, but we never hear "European smallpox"!). The absolute bare minimum that researchers and practitioners must do with every dataset they use is to check the labels for egregious errors.
Deliberately Diversify Your Data
An overwhelming majority of training data (and an even more overwhelming majority of "positive" training data) is written by White people and/or published by White-owned sources. These White-authored sources obviously underrepresent (or in a lot of cases, completely do not represent) terms and syntax used in non-SAE dialects of English and in everyday discourse among BIPOC. At the very least, dataset creators and users must make a deliberate effort to seek out and incorporate text from BlPOC-authored sources into their data.
As a concrete example, for people working in or near the domain of news, Blavity and Essence are some great Black-owned media outlets to draw from, and the Navajo Times is a wonderful Indigenous-owned source. Data from sources like these not only increases the general linguistic style variation in training datasets but also gives representation to terms like "rez" (word for Native American reservation), names of Black and Indigenous doctors/scientists/journalists/celebrities, names of Indigenous tribes, and various African and Indigenous cultural terms that are just not found in White-owned media.
Add More Diverse Data to the World Wide Web
Wikipedia is a heavily utilized source of natural language data. Right now, it has a shameful amount of underrepresentation bias for BIPOC. Luckily, Wikipedia is maintained by the public, so you can directly edit it! To decrease racism on Wikipedia, you can add and/or expand on biographies of famous BIPOC, de-center Europeans and White people from history pages, and add/amend entries on research/innovation by BIPOC, among many other things. Don't know where to start? Way ahead of you. Some wonderful organizations combatting racism on Wikipedia already exist! Two of them are AfroCROWD and Women in Red. They both have great guides, resource collections, and edit-a-thons from which you can learn about Wikipedia and contribute to BIPOC representation on it - we highly recommend that you get involved with them!
Hire and Retain (Emphasis on Retain) BIPOC Employees, Especially For Leadership Roles
It unfortunately goes without saying that there is still massive inequity in employment, compensation, representation, and treatment of BIPOC in tech (and by extension, in natural language processing). When BIPOC are not present or heard in decision-making processes or algorithm development processes, the algorithms and technologies suited for White men are falsely generalized to be suited for everyone else. This leads to massive barriers in utility, accessibility, and effects of technology for BIPOC, which is unacceptable. Don't just invite BIPOC to the table (implying that White people still have power) - give them ownership of the table. Also (this one is for corporations and the humans behind them), pay your BIPOC employees equally! Do not use diversity for profit by exploiting BIPOC as cheap labor. Put your money, culture, and executive board where your #inspirational LinkedIn bro-posts are.
Develop an Ethics Code and Form an Ethics Review Board for NLP
Medicine and psychology have institutional review boards. Why doesn't NLP? Natural language processing technologies have increasingly profound effects on people's lives, and that cannot go unchecked. A paper detailing ethics best practices for NLP can be found here - it explains this much better than we can.
Educators and Educational Institutions: Teach Tech Ethics and Promote the Liberal Arts
The buzzword "interdisciplinary" has been floating around for quite some time now. Despite the fact that it has been co-opted as a meme, the fundamental idea behind the word is still crucially important. Especially with the rise of coding bootcamps and computer science programs that teach tech in a vacuum as if it doesn't exist in a society, engineers are entering the workforce dangerously uninformed about the consequences of the technologies they develop. Because we exist in a society in which oppression is the default, lack of awareness of tech's social implications directly perpetuates continued danger and injustice.
To combat this at the educational level, we must normalize, encourage, and require that students in computer science and related fields take liberal arts courses that contextualize the impacts of their careers on society at large. A tiny subset of example courses to take: Introductory Linguistics (emphasis on African and Indigenous languages and cultures), Introduction to Philosophy/Morality/Ethics, proof-based math (not for worldly context, but for equipping students with the tools and the mindset to rigorously explain the "why" behind their decisions and their technologies), World History (particularly non-Eurocentric world history), Comparative Government, History of Racism, Tech Ethics, Science, Technology, and Society (STS).
That's all we have for this post. As always, this is barely the beginning of the work we need to do to delete racism, and we'll keep on publishing content and using our platform to fight for justice. Also as always, please reach out to email@example.com if any of this information is incorrect or misleading. Go forth and process natural language, ethically!
July is Disability Pride Month. Though the month is ending, anti-ableist and anti-racist activism shouldn't. Once again, so many people have created resources that put things into words better than we can, so we've compiled a non-exhaustive list of some of these resources. As usual, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if any of the information below is incorrect.
Organizations to Donate To (Credit to NY Mag, Nylon, and getinformed.carrd.co)
That's all for this post. Remember to keep being intersectional into your activism, and check this site frequently for action items!
On this day in 1776, White men gained freedom from Great Britain by trafficking, exploiting, and grossly violating the rights of Black and Indigenous people. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things to do and resources to take advantage of instead of celebrating.
Readings (Credit to Leah Thomas [@greengirlleah on Instagram], more resources on Leah's account)
Organizations to Donate To (Credit to Leah Thomas)
Other Links and Things To Do
Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to ensure that all enslaved people were freed. It serves as a powerful reminder that "nobody is free until everybody is free." Despite the fact that Congress has repeatedly refused to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday, Juneteenth is a holiday that should be a testament to the resilience, optimism, and strength of Black people.
It is important to actively fight racism every day, and it is especially important to honor today's holiday. Below are some resources to learn about Black history and racism and to contribute to the Black Lives Matter cause.
Films and Videos:
Where you put your money on a daily basis is a crucial form of advocacy! To fund antiracism work and help close the racial wealth gap, it's important to regularly donate to BLM organizations and buy from Black-owned businesses (as you are able and within your financial means, of course). In addition, all Black lives cannot matter until Black female, Black LGBTQIA+, and Black disabled lives do, so we strongly encourage you to donate what you can to organizations that support LGBTQIA+ Black people. Below are some pointers.
Organizations to donate to:
We recognize that not everyone has the financial means to donate, and that's okay! Here are some free ways to contribute to BLM:
That concludes today's post. As usual, please do not hesitate to email us at email@example.com if we have made a mistake (whether it's incorrect information or racist language). Happy Juneteenth, and remember that persistence is key in activism!
Update 6/20/20: a previous version of this post stated that Juneteenth should be recognized as the true Independence Day. However, this article points out that this is flawed because the enslaved people's "freedom" was only in name. This is due in large part to the establishment of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that indirectly continued slavery. We apologize for the error in the original post.
In honor of #ShutDownSTEM Day, we are taking today to step back from computational linguistics. In particular, we are doing a deep dive into how systemic racism and anti-Blackness are embedded within human language. After all, technology is only as good as the humans behind it, so computational linguistics is only as just as the human language it is built upon.
In this post, we'll highlight some common terms in everyday conversation that are actually rooted in racism and White supremacy. These aren't the sadly still-widespread racial slurs that are outright horrendous--rather, they're more subtle words and phrases that are still ubiquitously used. While subtle racism in language may not seem important, it matters because it shows just how deeply white supremacy is embedded in our society. Language is a direct reflection of culture: to combat systemic racism, we need to not only abolish unjust institutions and stop murdering Black people, but we also need to change our fundamentally racist culture from the roots up.
A few notes before we dive in:
Observing the Bender Rule, we want to state upfront that this post focuses on racism embedded in the English language and, by extension, in American society. We acknowledge that racism is present in other languages as well and that the analysis that follows may be English-specific.
We at LingHacks also acknowledge that we have used some of these terms in our programming in the past without realizing that they were racist, and we sincerely apologize for that. By calling ourselves out, we hope to also normalize the process of learning and changing opinions given new information.
Another (at this point standard) disclaimer: the author of this post is not Black and is by no means an expert on linguistics or racism. If anything in this post is incorrect or if you have any concerns about the content in this post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll correct our information.
Without further ado, here are some racist everyday terms (in that vein--we realize that we're saying the word "racist" a lot in this post, but we think it's important to be direct about this crisis instead of using euphemisms out of a thesaurus).
"Whitelist" and "Blacklist"
Putting something on a whitelist (or whitelisting something) usually means marking it as safe, allowed, or good. Putting something or someone on a blacklist means marking them as banned, dangerous, or bad. This is racist for pretty apparent reasons--it implies that white is good and black is bad. LingHacks apologizes for previously asking participants to whitelist our email domain so that hackathon and workshop registrants could get notifications from us. This isn't the only pair of terms that implies that darkness is bad, but it's just one prominent example that is especially relevant in the technical and professional spheres.
In the particular context of asking people to make sure your emails don't go to their spam, an alternative to "whitelist" would be "mark as safe" or "mark as safe sender"--it's more to the point anyway. In general, an alternative to "blacklisting" someone is "writing someone off" or "no longer associating/engaging with someone." As nouns in general, some have proposed "allowlist" and "blocklist."
"Master" (and "Slave") Branches
This one is for everyone in STEM who uses some form of version control (e.g. Git[Hub]/[Lab], BitBucket, etc). For those unfamiliar with American history, "master" and "slave" refer to the relationship between Black slaves and their White owners back when slavery was legal in pre-Civil War America.
If you are a Git user, rename all your "master" branches to "main"! You can do this using the guide here. Alternatively, run ```git checkout -b main``` followed by ```git push origin main```. Then, go to your remote repo (i.e. on the GitHub, GitLab, or whatever website), click on "[x] Branches", change the default branch from "master" to "main", and delete "master."
Though this isn't as common as "master," if you have a "slave" branch, rename it to something remotely indicative of what that branch is actually for (we really hope that "slave" doesn't fit that bill). Do the same thing as you did for "master" --> "main", but just don't change the default branch if it isn't your default branch (simply delete "slave" after the renaming is done).
We also call on leaders in industry, academia, nonprofits, and government--engineers, program managers, system administrators, data analysts, research scientists, and anyone who has ever used version control in industry--to stop using "master" as their default Git branches and rename everything to "main" and to abolish "slave" branches as well.
Color (e.g. to color one's judgment)
Saying something "colors" your judgment of something else is commonly defined as that something making your judgment worse or less reliable. For pretty obvious reasons, this implies that coloring something degrades it. This is wrong!
Along the same line, saying that something "blackens" your judgment, experience, or view is racist for the same reasons.
Say what you mean. In general, "impair" or "negatively affect" are probably better choices. If you can be more specific, be more specific. As a silly example, if you've just eaten a Jolly Rancher, instead of saying that that "colors" your judgment of the savory chicken tenders you're about to eat next, just say that the sweetness of the Jolly Rancher might make you taste the chicken tenders to be more bitter than they actually are.
You might be noticing a common pattern here--several of these terms are just blanket generalizations of more specific things. By more directly stating the particular message you're trying to convey, you'll probably be able to avoid using these terms altogether!
Capitalize "Black" and "White"
This article explains it better than we do, but in a nutshell, people often refer to Black and White people as black and white people (lowercase). We capitalize Asian American, Latinx, and Native American, so it's important to also recognize Black and White as races and not the colors that their lowercase counterparts refer to (again, important to decouple color from race). Moreover, both Black and White need to be capitalized because referring to White people as white people implies that being White is the standard or default--that is racist.
UPDATE 11/21/20: new scholarship has been published about the capitalization of "white" (see this article from the Columbia Journalism Review). While some argue that it is racist to capitalize one of Black and white, others say that capitalizing "white" legitimizes whiteness as an ethnic or cultural group, which it is not (it is a social construct). Black culture exists because Black Americans have had a unique experience, but white culture does not exist. Furthermore, racial groups are not monoliths, so the article (quoting from several sources) mentions that one should probably be more specific when possible (e.g. specify African or African-American instead of Black, specify nationality or ethnicity instead of race). That said, there are some issues that are issues of racial groups (e.g. white supremacy), and it is a tough call whether to capitalize the "w." Given this new information, we at LingHacks will lean towards not capitalizing "white" when we need to use the term, but we welcome additional sources that support or challenge this decision. In any case, do make sure to capitalize Black because Blackness encapsulates the unique lived experiences of a group of people and not just skin color. Thank you to one of our Instagram followers for raising this issue!
This isn't referring to the word "autocorrect" or any specific word, but we thought it was important to highlight nonetheless. Autocorrect repeatedly misspells Black people's names (more generally, most non-White names), even when you type them in correctly. This is largely due to the systemic issue that autocorrect is trained on datasets that do not contain these names. With many back-and-forth exchanges happening through messages and social media posts, the repeated misspelling of Black people's names can cause misrepresentation of Black culture on a large scale. This is dangerous and perpetuates continued injustice.
The fix for this is both personal and institutional.
First, we call on Apple, Google, and all companies that employ autocorrect technologies to train their autocorrect programs to recognize Black names (the list of Black people who have been unjustly murdered in the past decade is a good starting point).
Second, while companies work on that, you as an individual can also take a few actions to mitigate the misrepresentation caused by autocorrect. (1) Make sure to learn the spellings of Black names before you use them. (2) Make sure to proofread your texts and posts. (3) It's probably good to turn autocorrect off, but if you can't or don't want to (which may be valid), then write as many messages and posts as you can and force-revert any autocorrects to Black names so that your local system learns.
That concludes our list of racist everyday words that we wanted to highlight. This list is by no means comprehensive--it's just a few of the most prominent terms that the members of our team have encountered in our circles and daily lives. More resources on racist language can be found here and here. Be sure to persist in your activism in the long term and actively work toward being anti-racist every day.
To conclude, and because it bears repeating: Black lives matter, now and forever.
This is where we post cool content about computational linguistics & machine learning as well as exciting announcements about our programs and partner programs!