Category: Books

BooksinclusionSocial Justice

Aspiring towards anti-racism

The Atlantic magazine posted an a day ago article “We’re All Tired of Being Called Racists”. The article presented views of some supporters of the current (as of August 1, 2019) U.S. president at a recent rally. Many were perplexed at being labeled “racist”.

One of those interviewed in the piece insisted that they couldn’t be racist because their children were of mixed race. Yet Strom Thurmond — one of the U.S.’s most virulent segregationists of the 20th century — had an African American daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams. Eduard Bloch was a Jewish Austrian doctor protected from anti-Semitic terror for a number of years during the 1930’s — a lone act of compassion during the anschluss. There are many cruel contradictions in this landscape.

Strict definitions of what racism is and isn’t aren’t fluid enough deal with the capacities that we each have for compassion and prejudice. Showing compassion for a daughter when enacting so many repressive laws doesn’t seem an acceptable bar. Yet, don’t we all deserve a path to redemption.

It seems so much easier and just to think in terms of allow all of us to escape binary traps, to aspire to, and ultimately attain some better version of ourselves and our society.

I think that this quote from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is spot on when he writes:

No one becomes ‘not racist,’ despite a tendency by Americans to identify themselves that way. We can only strive to be antiracist on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage. We need to read books that force us to confront our self-serving beliefs and make us aware that ‘I’m not racist’ is a slogan of denial.

We can each actively aspire to be the anti-racist. Some first steps could include:

If all else fails, think in terms of how the children of one hundred years from now will judge you, and then work backwards.

BooksData ScienceHistorically Black Colleges

Black data science book giveaway

The Atlanta University Center Consortium — the umbrella organization of Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, and Morehouse School of Medicine — just launched a Data Science Initiative. To celebrate, I am giving away two books!

Here’s an excerpt from the announcement:

The AUCC Data Science Initiative brings together the collective talents and innovation of computer science professors from Morehouse College and other AUCC campuses into an academic program that will be the first of its kind for our students,” said David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College. “Our campuses will soon produce hundreds of students annually who will be well-equipped to compete internationally for lucrative jobs in data science. This effort, thanks to UnitedHealth Group’s generous donation, is an example of the excellence that results when we come together as a community to address national issues such as the disparity among minorities working in STEM.

Announcement of the Atlanta University Center data science initiative at http://d4bl.org/conference.html

To commemorate and honor the founding of this initiative, I’ve set up two book giveaways at Amazon. The first book is W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. W.E.B. DuBois was a sociologist who taught at the Atlanta University Center. His visualizations of African American life in the early 20th century still set the standard for data visualization and this book is a collection of visualizations that he and his Atlanta University students produced for the 1900 Paris Exposition. If Atlanta University students were doing amazing data science 100 years ago without laptops, we can only guess what the future holds. Click this link to get your book.

The second book is Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life by Dr. Ruha Benjamin, a contemporary African American scholar at Princeton whose work addresses “the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine”. Click this link to get a copy of Captivating Technology.

There is only one copy per book available so the first person to click gets the book.

If you want to know more about the work being done by Black data scientists, you should check out the DATA FOR BLACK LIVES III conference.

I’ll close with one of the sessions from the first Data for Black Lives conference. Where are the Black (data) scientists? Definitely at the Atlanta University Center!

BooksData ScienceMigration

The Little Shop of Data Science Stories

I am happy to announce that The Little Shop of Stories bookstore in Decatur, GA is awesome for data science! A few blocks away from us, it is such a regional treasure for children’s books and events. Diane has brought game changing books, authors, and programs to Atlanta and environs.

But last week I was ecstatic when I came across a treasure of data visualization on the shelves.

Who knew data science could bring this much joy?

The book I am referring to is W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. But if you live in the Atlanta area, please get it at Little Shop — Amazon can make it without your dollars.

You may be aware of Dr W.E.B. DuBois work in championing and defining civil rights for peoples of the African diaspora during the first half of the twentieth century. You might be aware of his book The Souls of Black Folk , his leadership of the NAACP, and his intellectual nurturing of African independence efforts. But his work at the Atlanta University Center (now Clark Atlanta University) stands the test of time for how to do good data visualization.

Visualizing Black America pulls together the amazing visualizations that he and his AUC students developed for the 1900 Paris Exposition. They are beautiful, innovative, meticulous and tell the story of Black America at the beginning of the 20th century.

that he and his AUC students developed for the 1900 Paris Exposition. They are beautiful, innovative, meticulous and tell the story of Black America at the beginning of the 20th century.

We are so lucky in the Atlanta area to have a bookstore with the vision to stock this treasure. Stop through if you are in the ATL.

AtlantaBooksinclusionMigrationWriting

Gayatri interviews Yuyi Morales at Decatur Book Festival

My partner Dr Gayatri Sethi is interviewing celebrated writer and illustrator Yuyi Morales today at the Decatur Book Festival today, Saturday, September 1 from 1:00 to 1:30. They’ll be discussing Morales’ new book Dreamers.

Isn’t it time you talked to your children about what is going on at the border? Dreamers talks about Morales’s own 1994 journey from Xalapa, Mexico to the US. with her child. It is such a beautifully illustrated book, and a profound story with so many layers.

If you’re in looking to add a highlight to your long weekend, please come through!

BooksTravel

Books on a plane

Next week, the team I am on at Automattic is meeting up in Tel-Aviv to attend the NetSci X conference. There is so much to be excited about — the opportunity to spend 10 days with colleagues, the interesting talks on network theory and analysis, the opportunity to visit the holy sites of the Bahá’í faith and soak up the spiritual energy, the gift of spending days in some of humanity’s most ancient cities, and then the magic of the unexpected.

I am looking forward to experiencing and blogging about those adventures. I want to take time to discuss one of my favorite things to do on long plane rides — reading books that I have long had on my list and rarely get the chance to dive into.

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There is a Lonely Planet travel guide to Israel (maybe better for pre-travel reading? My colleague has hooked it up!), the memoir Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret who I’d enjoyed listening to on Fresh Air, Blood at the Root an analysis of one Georgia town’s painfully recent struggle with its history of racism, The Attention Merchants on the impacts of the behavioral advertising models that dominate the Internet, and Weapons of Math Destruction which I’d started but not finished. I have laid them out on the table tonight and thinking today about which one or two to take with me.

Usually it happens that a fellow traveler feels compelled to share something and I am all there to listen. On a journey back from Vancouver, a fellow traveller shared beautiful and haunting pictures she and her husband made of the botanical gardens around Vancouver.

I want to be open to all that can happen on this journey. But it is great to have books on the plane to share the ride.

BooksHistory

Granted

It seems that my last post set sparked a lot of questions in my mind about the Civil War era, it’s impact on my family, the repercussions upon Georgia, and how it is still being grappled with to this day.

There is a lot that I am still unpacking but I’ll start simple. For some reason I have been fascinated by Ulysses S. Grant since since sometime in grade school: at some point in the fifth grade I had written a play about a family of newly freed slaves encountering him on their way to a new existence in the north.

I encountered a biography, Grant by Jean Edward Smith which was fascinating in laying out many of the details of the Civil War I’d forgotten. He has a great story-telling style that seemed to make the intrigue of the early days of the Civil War jump out, and brought to life the way in which life in the 19th century seemed to straddle the complexities of a long ago time with our own.

I read a few chapters of it before returning it to the library, and then shortly a long awaited biography American Ulysses came out. Prescient. I vowed to complete this one end to end. As the politics of the 2016 US presidential election came to their head, I was reminded time and again, how far and how little progress the US has made confronting what I would simply call White supremacy. Several insights began to stand out as I continued reading the book.

  • One conclusion that one comes to is that the relative low ranking of Grant in terms of presidents seems in part due to the revisionist US history that unfolded after Reconstruction was abandoned. That is, objectively Grant stands out as an equal to LBJ and his predecessors as an aggressive advocate of civil and human rights. Yet after his time in office, the country effectively began to turn a blind eye to the racial violence and dis-enfranchisement of African Americans ( and Native Americans, and ethnic minorities ) that would envelop the South for a hundred years. I think the historians bought into this narrative.
  • The degree to which he evolved as a thinker on race and equality seems unparalleled in politics. These kinds of evolutions are certainly rare in US politics, the closest thing that I can think of in this evolution would be Robert Kennedy’s evolution from a critic of the 1960’s Civil Rights in his time as Attorney General to being an unqualified advocate at the time of his assassination.
  • Andrew Johnson’s impeachment seems to have really arisen over his refusal to enforce any of the Civil Rights measures passed in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. This biography argues effectively that (Andrew) Johnson didn’t have any interest in African Americans having voting rights . To quote Johnson “to grant the privileges of citizenship to blacks would show prejudice against whites.” We still seem to be having the same zero sum game issues in 2016.
  • It is amazing to note his development of and unflinching support of the 14th and 15th amendments. To quote: “I will not hesitate to exhaust the powers thus vest for the purpose of securing to all citizens of the United States the peaceful enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and laws.”
  • Grant’s development of a real relationship with Mexico in dealings with Benito Juarez and Matias Romero — again remarkable for the “manifest destiny” era — again have lessons for today. I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how Grant would react to a fellow American Republican president building a wall to separate the two countries.

In sum the book was an odyssey of hope. The journey of a man who evolved from being indifferent to slavery to one of the architects of a multi-racial society is dramatic and pulled off with great story telling on White‘s part. Especially insightful and compelling are White’s narrative of the how Grant confronted the Ku Klux Klan. The gem of this story is how Grant pulled in an ex-Confederate from Georgia, Amos Akerman, who would champion civil rights as U.S. attorney general and as a lawyer in Georgia when he left the cabinet.

There is a quote, though antiquated, that White pulls out that seems to sum up what a real politics could be “Treat the negro as a citizen and a voter, as he is and must remain, and soon parties will be divided, not on the color line, but on principle. Then we shall have no complaint of sectional interference.” In essence when we are all free to express our voice, not threatened with removal or invisibility by our identity but included by our humanness, then governance can enter a civil space.

The way the book dealt with the fine details as well as the broad historical context is amazing. I appreciated his understanding of Grant as an introvert who was able to provide critical leadership to a country divided.

Finally it seems to me that it is another testament to Dr King’s quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” When I first heard that quote, I’d no idea that it would take so long. I am learning patience.