February is Black History Month in the United States. In addition to listening and learning about Black history, fellow non-Black people should also take proactive steps to address racial inequity. Below is a non-exhaustive list of educational resources, action items, and reminders for non-Black allies (as always, we are open to corrections, additions, and deletions at email@example.com).
General Action Items
People and Organizations to Support
Below are some Black creators, anti-racist educators, and Black-led organizations that you should support. Don't stop at simply following them - make sure to make meaningful contributions to their growth by financially contributing to their work if able and by engaging actively with their content (e.g. not just consuming it but also sharing it with credit, liking and commenting on it, and turning on post notifications).
That's all we have for this week. Remember that Black history is not and was never just a month - these resources are only a starting point for anti-racist work.
(The title of this post is heavily inspired by/taken from Anti-Racism Daily's 1/7 newsletter.)
This past week, we saw white supremacy on display once again, namely through an attempted coup in the US Capitol on January 6th. As has been made abundantly obvious, this is who America is and has always been - a country founded upon racism, slavery, and colonization. Just saying that is less than the bare minimum though: we need to take both immediate and sustained action to dismantle this system. Below are some action items that you, your friends/family/acquaintances, and your organizations can take, broken down roughly by category:
DC Mutual Aid
In terms of immediate action, the most pressing thing to do is to help the residents of Washington DC (mostly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) harmed by Wednesday's coup. The following are some organizations and groups to donate to as soon as possible:
Some other notes:
Abolish the Death Penalty
There are people in federal prison right now who do not deserve to die. You can make a difference, both by trying to save them and by working to abolish the cruel and unjust death penalty for good:
Racism is a national and international problem that will not be solved overnight. Below are some organizations you can get involved with to make long-term sustainable contributions towards dismantling white supremacy:
Other Important Notes
Lastly, we have some updates about our donation match campaigns and about one of our previous posts.
That's all for this post - as always, we are open to feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. 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 and the American Library Association 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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, ableism, and almost all other forms of oppression have not gone anywhere since June. Here's a list of immediate action items that you can take to do your part in fighting for social justice, broken down by issue. As always, feel free to 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:
Update as of 5/28/2021: we previously posted an incomplete and possibly incorrect account of the Chinese government's treatment of Uyghur Muslims, along with some action items related to the situation. We then realized that there had been a lot of misinformation about this issue, some of which harmed other marginalized groups in the process due to systems of governance and marginalization in foreign countries not translating perfectly to corresponding systems in the US. We then posted a document and an account that we thought had a breakdown of the facts of the situation, but we realized that that account may not have the full picture either. We apologize for spreading misinformation that was harmful to AAPI and brown Americans, and going forward, we will take greater care in fact-checking our posts and paying attention to whether it is our place to comment on every social issue that is brought to our attention.
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 or good. 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 detaining children in cages at the US/Mexico border, forcefully removing the uteruses of people who have been detained, and letting COVID-19 spread unchecked through detention centers. 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com if any of the information below is incorrect.
Where to Donate (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
This is where we post cool content about computational linguistics & machine learning as well as exciting announcements about our programs and partner programs!