Have you ever asked someone where they are from just because the color of their skin? Have you followed up with: “Yes, you’re from here, but your parents, where did they come from?” These microagressions feel like mosquito bites for those concerned — seemingly small at first, but over time they start collecting and becoming deeply uncomfortable.
Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff works with US police departments to help public safety be more equitable and less deadly. He develops what he calls a “data driven vaccine against racial disparities in policing”, showing us how technology and data can be used for promoting positive change.
IBM announced a couple of weeks ago it will stop developing or selling facial recognition software due to concerns the technology is used to promote racism. Amazon followed suit and bans the use of its facial recognition AI for law enforcement for the next year. Error rates for facial recognition systems from major tech companies for identifying darker-skinned individuals were dozens of percentage points higher than when identifying lighter-skinned individuals. To some extent the issues lie in the data sets used to train the systems, which can be overwhelmingly male and white. Despite the advances in AI, biases remain along the lines of race, ethnicity, age and gender.
Some examples of what white people have in their knapsack of white privilege quoted from this research by Peggy McIntosh:
Wearable heart trackers, including those from Fitbit, Garmin, and Samsung, rely on optical sensors that monitor blood volume. But skin with more melanin blocks green light, making it more difficult to get an accurate reading, and making it less reliable for consumers with darker skin.
“It goes to a bit of a deeper issue, when you start talking about who’s in the room when these devices are being tested, who’s in the room when these devices are being designed, and … are the companies taking the time to make sure that the entire population is represented when they’re developing this technology.” — Vernon Ross
From the 17th to the 19th century, ships carrying weapons sailed from Europe to Africa to exchange them there for slaves. People in Africa were enslaved and shipped to America to be sold there. In America, these slaves produced products e.g. coffee, sugar or cotton, which was then shipped back to Europe. Even though no slaves were transported directly to Europe, Europe was actively involved in the transatlantic triangular trade.
Taken from a conversation between Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre, the two music moguls whose partnership eventually led to building Beats Electronics and Beats by Dre which was sold to Apple for $ 3 billion.
May the voices we include in our creation process be as diverse and inclusive as the users we create for — only then will we truly be sure to represent and develop meaningful human-centric experiences for all. Read the whole interview from Invision with Chan Williams to learn why representation is so important in creating good experiences.
One way to start acknowledging and learning from marginalized groups is to confront yourself with their view on the world. This does apply to all groups, from ethnicity to gender, from body types to users with a different social status. Learn from their voices, from their views and experiences by diversifying your feeds. It can start small by adding someone new on Twitter or Instagram. Tools like Proporti.onl and #Diversifyyourfeed support you in checking how (gender) diverse your Twitter feed is and are fun to play with. Let’s work on our empathy for different perspectives and experiences of life.
Happyland is home to convinced non-racists who live in the agreement that only bad people are racist. Even the accusation of being racist weighs worse in Happyland than the effects of being racist itself. Racism is a societal, social construct which is interwoven into all structures and areas of our society. We must actively shape the system in which we live. It’s long overdue to leave Happyland.
The discourse around decolonizing design makes us question how we arrive at our acquired design taste which we employ in our daily work. “The work designers make is inspired by taste, and taste is often derived from what we’re exposed to during our upbringing. But design values and history is taught through a canon; that accepted pantheon of work by predominantly European and American male designers that sets the basis for what is deemed “good” or “bad”. The authority of the canon has undermined the work produced by non-Western cultures and those from poorer backgrounds.”
Human-centric design without considering issues of race and ethnicity fails an entire group of humanity.
Racism starts at our own doorstep. Coming back to the topic of microaggressions from one of our first posting, this “mosquito bite” happened in the Hamburg Verkehrsamt Mitte. The protagonist wanted to renew her driver’s license, but wasn’t recognized and captured by the automated photo machine. After several tries of even recognizing her face, the photos were automatically rejected and flagged as “conspicuous”.
The port of Hamburg connected the colonies with the German Empire. Colonial goods such as palm oil, ivory, coffee, cinnamon, cocoa, bananas and tea were stored in the newly built Speicherstadt since 1888 and sold from there. Hamburg was often the last stop for colonial officials, missionaries, merchants and settlers who went to the colonies. At the same time Hamburg was the first station for people from the colonies.
Hamburg’s claim to be the gateway to the (colonial) world was underlined by the establishment of its own Ethnological Museum in 1879 (today called MARKK) and in 1908 by the founding of the Colonial Institute, from which the Hamburg University emerged. Like the Völkerschauen in the Hagenbeck Zoo, these institutions were closely linked to colonial ideology and culture.
Alexis Ohanian, founder and former CEO of reddit, decided to resign as his way of protesting racial injustice. The move can be viewed from different standpoints: on the one hand it is a strong message. On the other hand one might ask whether it will really contribute to change or rather is a clever self-marketing move? Recently we saw a different kind of change in our very own organization: Accenture Ventures announced the Black Founders Development Program to “elevate black founders in technology”. It will be interesting to see how our industry will make a collective effort for positive change in the coming years.
The words we use can quickly lose their original meaning and become wrapped in layers of connotation. It’s important to consider this and not use coded-language to avoid addressing the exact issue at hand. Words like “community” and “diversity” have, unfortunately, become words to use to hide our discomfort with race — but not addressing race is not enough, in fact, it often only continues racism. Learn more about coded-language here.
How to actively avoid using coded-language: Consider the words you are using when discussing programs or race-related topics. Are you using unspecific words? Be mindful and leave no room for misinterpretations. Never underestimate the power your words hold — in everyday conversations or even presentations. Words are where change begins.
While Black people represent 13 % of the total U.S. population, recent diversity reports from Facebook, Google, and Apple indicate that only 3.8%, 3.7%, and 9% (go Apple) of their employees identify as Black. An even smaller proportion fill technical or leadership roles. Amazon's diversity report boasts over 26% Black representation. This is both true and misleading, because only a small fraction of that 26% gets to build or manage Amazon's technology. (Most of the Black people Amazon employs work in fulfillment centers.)
As Pinterest is a highly visual tool, the company sought out to make their search more inclusive in the last years. Based on its mission statement to “bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love” the focus shifted to everyone in this project. This article gives insight into how Pinterest made their search more inclusive and, yes, more user-centric through that. “These new skin tone ranges are paving the way for more inclusive inspirations to be recommended in search”. It’s inspiring to get access to the teams’ approach and line of action.
Ali Can brought the hashtag #MeTwo to life. It stands for the fact that humans can have more than one identity. People reported under this hashtag experiences with everyday racism:
Ali Can also runs a hotline for “concerned citizens” to help Germans overcome their fear of refugees.
(*All tweets are translated by me.)
When the same voices are being amplified, a large portion of the population goes unheard. This is true when it comes to the world of tech, and especially in the cases of tech podcasts. In hearing the same perspectives, and those most often from a place of extreme privilege, we begin to live in a bubble that perpetuates the same thoughts and opinions — failing to support alternative experiences or mindsets.
Code-switching is a concept that was first developed in linguistics, as the ability to switch between languages or dialects based on the needs of the situation. The concept was later contextualized in other sciences, such as sociology, and extended to behavioural modifications, as the ability to switch between cultures through the alteration of inflection (in speech), the use of different sets of vocabulary, but also hairstyles, music, clothes, hobbies and more to meet the criteria to be accepted in a situation, location, workplace and other countless settings.
One the one hand, it can be perceived as a special skill to be able to react and adapt to one’s surroundings. But on the other hand, code-switching is utilized in settings in which negative stereotypes “of black people run counter to what are considered “appropriate” behaviors and norms for a specific environment”. In the workplace it might even prevent an employer from getting promoted, e.g. as a Black person in predominantly white work spaces. (Extend this to an intersectional perspective and you see where black women or non-binaries are even more discriminated against.)
The constant need to adapt and deny one’s own heritage also puts enormous additional stress on a person, a burden they have to bear based solely on the colour of their skin. Read more here to dive into an article illuminating “The costs of code-switching” in the Harvard Business Review and understand how valuable representation in the workspace really is.
Be it Mozart, Monet or Goethe (who I adore) – in many areas of established art we know mostly only white men. In the past centuries there were also other people practicing than white man – but they have not gone down in historiography. Who or what decides what defines our taste and what kind of art will survive the centuries?
Some projects try to rediscover already forgotten artists from past centuries. Some examples:
26% of the population in Germany are either immigrants themselves or children of at least one parent not born with German citizenship. This means every 4th person. Do you think this is reflected in our work environment?
A major factor in Germany’s lack of diversity across its companies’ boards is the lack of data on the country’s racial demographics. This creates a problem for identifying underrepresentation in corporate Germany.
“The discussion is on another level [in the U.K.] because we have data on BAME [black, Asian, and minority ethnic] employees there, and you can combine those data with other diversity dimensions, for example, gender,” says diversity and inclusion consultant Floria Moghimi. “It becomes really obvious that women of color definitely find it harder to get the same salary or leadership positions as their white counterparts. It’s visible because there’s data.”
This proves that data is crucial not only for representation, but for showing where change is needed. Read the whole article here which also covers how Citizens for Europe and several other organizations—with the support of Germany’s Federal Antidiscrimination Agency—are working to close this data gap.
From socioeconomic disadvantages and housing to healthcare discrimination and higher-exposure from working in service industries, minority groups are more likely to be disproportionately affected by and/or infected with Covid-19. What’s more, chronic stress and fatigue from discrimination and oppression further put minority groups at risk. This highlights how racial privilege affects every aspect of life — it’s important we not only be mindful of health equity, but actively work toward achieving it. In our work, but also in our daily lives, it’s important to call to mind these hard truths, as it’s the first step in change.
According to the CDC, change must start with everyone working together: “Community- and faith-based organizations, employers, healthcare systems and providers, public health agencies, policy makers, and others all have a part in helping to promote fair access to health. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must work together to ensure that people have resources to maintain and manage their physical and mental health, including easy access to information, affordable testing, and medical and mental health care. We need programs and practices that fit the communities where racial and minority groups live, learn, work, play, and worship.”
The earth is a sphere. It is impossible to show a sphere on a flat surface. All the maps we know are only an approximation to reality. That’s why there are a bunch of map projections existing today.
A famous map projection is the Mercator projection. It was especially suitable for sailors in the 16th century, because it is accurate in the representation of angles. But its weakness is the visualization of size ratios. Europe and North-America appear larger than they are and Africa looks really small. However the Peters projection is true in its size ratios. But it’s not true in the shape of continents. The Mollweide projection represents a compromise between surface and angular accuracy.
Since we are no longer sailors and have invented better projections, there is actually no reason to stick to the Mercator Projection, in which Africa is represented in a wrong size ratio.
Psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt explores unconscious bias and its consequences for society.
What’s that? In her TED talk she explains how our brains create categories to make sense of the world, recognize patterns and make quick decisions. But this ability to categorize also exacts a heavy toll in the form of unconscious bias. So in order to interrupt quick decisions based on bias, she suggests slowing down the decision-making process. This is what she terms "creating friction".
Execution in digital design: A successful implementation of this principle was done in cooperation with the neighborhood community platform nextdoor. The platform noticed a massive problem with racial profiling when it came to posting safety concerns in neighborhoods. By defining a high bar for racial profiling and asking users to specify their reportings, they managed to reduce posts containing racial profiling by 75 %.
Shonda Rhimes, a female black showrunner of some of the most successful and long-running shows in the US in the past fifteen years like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, reflects on her own role and burden she had to bear because of her ethnicity and gender in her book “Year of Yes”.
“I was doing a thing that the suits had said could not be done on TV. And America was proving them wrong by watching. We were literally changing the face of television. I was not about to make a mistake now. You don't get second chances. Not when you're an F.O.D [First Only Different]. Second chances are for future generations. That is what you are building when you are an F.O.D. Second chances. As Papa Pope told his daughter Olivia: “You have to be twice as good to get half as much … ”I didn't want half. I wanted it all. And so I worked four times as hard.”
We all have popular examples in mind, when thinking about those trailblazers, F.O.D.s. Barack Obama becoming the first black president only 12 years ago, Shonda Rhimes, a female black showrunner in a male-dominated world of suits fifteen years ago, Kamala Harris being the first female black Vice President in the US … having to represent not only their personal success, but being scrutinized for representing a big chunk of a population and thusly held to a higher standard to open the doors for those who might come after them.
You might’ve made a similar statement, coming from a place of wanting to state how for you everybody is equal and you don’t act based on someone’s skin colour.
But what it really does is negating the real-life experiences and unequal treatment of people with different skin colours. Colour ignorance seeks to erase racism by not acknowledging systemic inequalities – by way of living in Happyland (see post #10).
Scientists of the “Jenaer Erklärung” (2019) call to stop using the term “race”. There is no biological justification for a division into human races. The concept of race is the result of racism and not its precondition. Nevertheless this term is still used in the german constitution (hopefully it will change in the future).
“With the concept of race one has tried to separate African people from European people. It has been tried to prove scientifically that there is a big difference between these humans, so that the white people do not enslave their own kind but animal-like creatures.” Sami Omar
According to Ibrahim X. Kendi, the idea of races and hence the attribution of qualities to races can be traced back to the Portuguese royal chronicler Gomes Zurara in the 15th century.
The Portuguese Prince Henry was then creating Europe’s first transatlantic slave-trading policies. As biographer of the prince, Gomes de Zurara created racial difference to convince the world that Prince Henry (and thus Portugal) did not slave-trade for money, only to save souls.
“Gomes de Zurara grouped all those peoples from Africa into a single race for that very reason: to create hierarchy, the first racist idea. Race making is an essential ingredient in the making of racist ideas, the crust that holds the pie. Once a race has been created, it must be filled in—and Zurara filled it with negative qualities that would justify Prince Henry’s evangelical mission to the world.”
Although there are no different biological human races existing, university teachers in Germany are still interested in race research.
The survey (see page 15) unfortunately does not give any further answers to this tragic statistic and its further meaning.
Until today Germany has not recognized the genocide of the Nama and Herero. After the genocide more than 1000 human remains of the Nama and Herero arrived in Germany. Some of them are still located in german archives, magazines and clinics. The “Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz” has announced that skulls and bones from former German colonies will be returned if it turns out that they were unlawfully brought to Germany. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to prove exactly where the remains came from, as many documents were lost during the world wars or during archive relocations.
The rights for the opera “Porgy and Bess” are held by the heirs of the composer George Gershwin. According to Gershwin’s wish they determine that the work may only be performed by black people. There have also been attempts to avoid the regulation: In 2019 in Budapest the roles were cast by white singers who then made a written declaration that they felt African-American (→ Süddeutsche Zeitung / german).
In Germany it is almost impossible to perform this opera. The ensembles of german opera houses rarely contain black singers. Only with great effort enough black singers can be found to perform this piece. The other side is, if a black singer in Germany performs a classical song, it is usually the song “Summertime” from the opera “Porgy and Bess”. It was a sensation as three black singers were performing in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” (= not “Porgy and Bess”) at the Salzburger Festspiele 2017, because it was not usual to finally see so many black singers outside of “Porgy and Bess”.
Hamburg is a harbor city. In the past centuries many people have sailed around the globe and brought foreign goods from far away. About 265,000 of them are now stored at the museum MARKK.
Provenance research investigates the origin of cultural assets and seeks information about their former owners. The museum MARKK does not employ a single provincial researcher (at the time of the interview in 2018) – although the “Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste” provides funding for provincial researchers in a colonial context.
This thought experiment shows that black people have never been privileged.
Visit this interactive timeline about 400 years of slavery and injustice to learn more about the long-lasting systematic suppression of Black people.