Preface: I am taking a class in Race and Racism this semester with Sally Haslanger at MIT, fulfilling my deepest desires of having classes in philosophy count towards my degree. I figured I would cross-post my weekly responses and thoughts here, so that you may read them and form a few thoughts of your own.

In this past week of class, we continued to mull on foundational questions of race itself core to the discussion of racism. Once again, we asked– what is race, and does it exist, at all?

These are not questions that I had really considered before our class readings, and goes to show how ingrained racial thinking is on our minds. Even though I am quite aware of the notion of gender as a social construct, not once did the idea of race as a social construct occur to me, even after four years of schooling in a progressive college, whilst living in one of the most liberal and metropolitan cities in the world.

Sally drew this chart on the board classifying the views of some of the authors we read that I found very helpful.

 

Beliefs

Real 

 

Not

Biological

Race Realist

Race Eliminativist

Social

Social Constructionist

???

Thus, someone who believes that race is not biological is a race eliminativist; someone who believes that race is real, but only socially is a social constructionist, someone who believes that race is a real biological phenomenon is a race realist, and as far as we are aware there isn’t much of a name for people who believe that race is not socially real, since there are probably very few who think of it as such. Then there are also various combinations of the boxes above, and partial beliefs, such as race naturalists who believe that there are races biologically, but they could be very, very different from what we assume of races (and that is socially constructed).

Appiah, one of the thinkers we discussed, argues against the existence of race from two fronts– both ideationally (there exist no human beings that satisfy our assumptions of race) and refrentially (our usage of the term “race” have no human groupings to back them up). He might be someone we call a “race eliminativist”, although he approaches the concept from the usage of the term itself.

Yet, again, I argue, does this make the term any less valid? The ideational theorest would say that the concept/ideas associated with a term can be wrong and not apply to the referent– for example, when I say “I have arthiritis in my thigh”, when in fact, no one does. But clearly, there is some sort of pain in my thigh, and whether or not I refer to it as arthritis, it still exists.

What strikes me the most of all the authors we have read and discussed so far, along with our own discussions of race, is what appears the desire to seek biological or logical proof, of the existence or non-existence of race. There is such a great emphasis to dispute, with sequential logical proofs, whether or not race exists, when the ramifications of race existing and all the issues that come with it are overwhelmingly related to the fields of politics, economics, and social class that have very little to do with biology (aside from testing and treatment of certain diseases and genetics, which is not to be dismissed). We seek a logical, scientific proof of the existence of race, yet issues of racial thinking and racism clearly cannot be approached in such matters.

In the 21st century we laugh easily at the Social Darwanist who so ignorantly argues about the skull size and brain size of different races, as this is clearly “scientifically incorrect” and racist thinking. Yet, we neglect that the science was in fact “correct” in that era, for science is never an absolute truth, but a function of time and place. That is something we often forget– that science, is not objective but subjective, and grounded in its own system of human beliefs and ideologies. Behind every hypothesis is an inquiry about what we consider even worthwhile researching at all, and in every algorithm, human-chosen features to evaluate.

Tags: , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Preface: I am taking a class in Race and Racism this semester with Sally Haslanger at MIT, fulfilling my deepest desires of having classes in philosophy count towards my degree. I figured I would cross-post my weekly responses and thoughts here, so that you may read them and form a few thoughts of your own.

This week’s readings in Race & Racism class have already brought a few new points to my mind concerning this topic, especially on the classification of “race” itself. Now, being a non-white person living in America (although the same likely applies for people of all colors, non-colors, whatever you may choose to designate yourself as) I have already spent a good deal of time (say, about 22 years) rolling this idea of “race” around my brainspace. The events of this summer certainly brought it to the forefront.

Still, in all this time, about 8,000 day’s worth minus a few years of color-blind babyhood, I never really challenged the idea of race itself as a classifier. That, I took for granted. It was handed to me on the first day of grade school: Look, you are the Asian kid in class (there was one other, a boy, I think, so if you want to be specific, I was the Asian Girl); those are the Black kids, these are the Hispanic kids, and I guess, everyone else is White. Racism is bad; everybody knows that, but yea, you’re definitely the Asian kid. Don’t call someone fat, but there’s nothing wrong with saying that someone’s White or Black, it just is.

This is what philosopher Blum (I’m not a Racist, But…, 2002) calls the “popular account”, and it is, he is very clear to state, wrong. Wrong as in false, but also wrong in the sense that it is morally detrimental. What’s wrong with racial thinking? There are a few key points:

1.Racial thinking divides us. It creates “moral distance” among those of different races. i.e. it becomes easier to antagonize the man who is not of my “type”. (102)
2. At the same time, it falsely groups us into categories all too easily stereotyped (103).
3. It suggests that we can’t escape our “racial fate” (i.e. “All Asians are good at math and like engineering”… oops) (104)
4. and finally, racial categories “evoke associations of superiority and inferiority of value”.

I think point 3 is especially important as it leads to the idea of racial immobility, i.e. you are born Asian and you die Asian because your parents are Asian, and this becomes especially harmful when considering statements 1, 2, and 4, unlike all the bad things that class categorization brings, because whereas in some places there is an idea of class mobility, really, I can’t think of many people who might believe in race mobility for a single person (at least not in America), unless they resemble closely enough another. It doesn’t matter how “whitewashed” I am, even if my entire adoptive family is white, if I wake up one morning and declare “I am white!” the person next to me might say in reply: “go the f–k to sleep”.

However, I am not sure that I am completely onboard with Blum’s rejection of racial thinking on a moral stance. It is true that there are many oddities to racial classification that suggest it to be unsound without an implicit cognitive model of race, i.e. why choose skin color and not some other physical attribute (such as hair color), why narrow the world down to essentially 5 races established a long time ago in the 18th century when there are many other groups that are quite distinct, (in fact, I admit I always considered race to be a genetic aspect, and was thoroughly surprised to learn that in fact there is very little genetic distinction between them (Does Race Exist, Bamshad & Olson, 2003)).

But I do not think it is the categorization and classification of people into races itself that is at fault, but how we do this and the assumptions we make while doing so. It is in fact precisely points 1-4 that are what’s wrong with our thinking of race itself, and not the acceptance that race exists. I am not sure there is such thing as a post-racial world. Colorblindness could be in fact, harmful.

Blum points out our reluctance to classify people by race as a hint to the incorrectness of the action, but if we did not associate certain races with negative traits then we might not hesitate so much, just as we might not feel it as taboo to point out, simply, that someone has brown or black hair, which is a way of categorization. Maybe at this point, the use of race is far too entrenched with negativity and harm that there is no more way to use the concept without hurt, but again, this is not in the categorization itself but the attributes we have prescribed to our method of doing so and the categories.

Whether or not race exists biologically, the worst possible thing would be for us to fear acknowledging that it is a very real thing in society. Even in my own conversations, I see this fear of speaking about race, fear of acknowledgment, fear of saying the word itself. This is what creates boundaries between us, not race, the concept.

Maybe the idea of race is all in our head… but that does not make it any less of a reality.

Tags: , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

The slides from Democratizing Data Science, the vision paper that William, Ramesh, and I presented for KDD @Bloomberg on Sunday are now available online.

What a great first conference experience! Really interesting speakers and projects all around.

Take part in the conversation by tweeting at us (@mpetitchou, @tweetsbyramesh, @williampli) or putting your own opinions and experiences out there.

Tags: , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Guys! Guys! Guess what. Even though I’m practicing my April Ludgate glare in real life, today I’m going to be more like this. Why?

I co-wrote my first paper with two cool cats at MIT CSAIL, William Li and Ramesh Sridharan, and it got accepted to the KDD Conference as a highlight talk!

That means next Sunday, August 24th you can hear me taco ‘bout it in real life at 11am in the Bloomberg Building, 731 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Data Mining for Social Good”, and our paper is a short vision statement on effecting positive social change with data science. We briefly define “Data Science”, ask what it means to democratize the field, and to what end that may be achieved. In other words, the current applications of Data Science, a new but growing field, in both research and industry, has the potential for great social impact, but in reality, resources are rarely distributed in a way to optimize the social good.

The conference on Sunday at Bloomberg is free, and the line-up looks promising. There are three “tracks” going on that morning, “Data Science & Policy”, “Urban Computing”, and “Data Frameworks”. Ours is in the 3rd track. Sign up here!

For the full text of the paper, click here.

Tags: , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

We recently moved to a new office and in the process ordered some hardware: two google chromebooks, the Samsung 13-inch chromebook 2.

Although they are meant for web browsing and administrative tasks, I was curious and got my hands on one of the laptops to tinker around with for the afternoon. They’re quite pretty machines, really nice display and feel.

The Chrome OS isn’t bad for what’s it meant (using Chrome), but craving some Linux development power, I checked out this tutorial on Lifehacker to run Ubuntu with the help of Crouton, a tool that enables Ubuntu to run on top of Chrome OS, using the chroot command.

Confused? Don’t be– I found that, for once, the tutorial was crystal-clear, easy, and in a few steps and less than half an hour, I was up and running. Sweet!

Here’s my abbreviated version for running Unity.

How to run Ubuntu Unity on Chromebook 2 with Crouton

adapted from LifeHacker

1. Obtain Chromebook. The one I had was a Samsung Chromebook 2, 13”.

2. Turn it on, and set up the Chrome logins.

3. Press and hold the Esc + Refresh keys together, and press the Power button while still holding the other two down. This will reboot into Recovery Mode.

4. Now, act quick! As soon as you see Recovery Mode pop up (screen with yellow exclamation point), press Ctr + D.

5. Press Enter to continue in Developer Mode when prompted.
6. Wait– this will take a while to clear your data. A new screen will pop up for a few, then it will reboot and restart in Developer Mode. It’ll probably take 10 min or so.

7. Return to screen with red exclamation point (it will automatically go there), and don’t press anything! You’ll reboot into the Chrome OS.

8. Now for the fun part: time to install Crouton! Download it from the top of the page here: https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton

9. Now pull up the terminal: press Ctrl + Alt + T, and type “shell”

10. To install Crouton: “sudo sh -e ~/path/to/crouton -t unity” (on a Chromebook Pixel, that’s “sudo sh -e ~/path/to/crouton -t touch,unity”, for touchscreen support.)

11. Wait for the install. When it’s done, it’ll ask you for a username and password.

12. Now, you’re ready to run the new desktop! “sudo startunity”.

13. Bam!

To switch back and forth between Chrome OS and Ubuntu, simply press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + Back and Ctrl + Alt + Shift + Forward (if you’re on an ARM-based Chromebook) or Ctrl + Alt + Back and Ctr + Alt + Forward (if on Intel-based Chromebook). If so, you’ll also need to press Ctr + Alt + Refresh after.

The cool thing is that there’s zero speed penalty running Linux this way, instead of dual-booting; and you can shift between OS’s with a simple keyboard-combo. The downside? Security, security, security.

From the Crouton README: “Note that developer mode, in its default configuration, is completely insecure, so don’t expect a password in your chroot to keep anyone from your data. crouton does support encrypting chroots, but the encryption is only as strong as the quality of your passphrase. Consider this your warning.”

Tags: , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

I’ve compiled a short list of resources on Sentiment Analysis, especially as applied to (political) debates. Check it out on the Govlab blog.

Tags: ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

artist/designer Ishac Bertran has this really cool project called code {poems}: a compilation (ha!) of compilable poems in code.

Inspired by this, this afternoon I began to dabble in a bit of my own code poetry.

theHollowMen.py
“”"
T.S. Eliot, 1925
cat, 2014.06.27
Draft1
"""

class World:
     def __str__(self):
          return "this is the way the world ends"

def ends(self):
     return ["whimper"]

def main():
     world = World()

for i in range(4):
     print world

if "bang" not in world.ends():
     print "not with a bang"

if "whimper" in world.ends():
     print "but with a whimper"

if __name__ == "__main__":
     main()

to run, download source and run python theHollowMen.py.
repo here.
more to come.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

happy day

13 Mar 2014

Three years ago, I learned how to print Hello World in Java for the first time.
That semester, I stayed up many late nights crying because I was so frustrated with how hard it was for me to fix even the tiniest of bugs. Everyone in class seemed light-years above me.

Today, I have been accepted to MIT Media Lab’s MAS program, and I’ll be joining Deb Roy’s Cognitive Machines lab this fall. It’s truly a nerd dream come true.

I think if my mother taught me one thing,
it is that
it is not how successful you are
or how wealthy you are
or even how hard you work that matters.
what matters is how interesting you are
because that is your human value.

And mom, if you’re reading this, don’t read too hard into it.

Tags: ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

I’m featured on Hackers of New York this week! Hackers of New York is a project started by Tech@NYU to foster community in NYC’s Silicon Alley by highlighting individuals.

I had the most wonderful time talking to HONY about the Declassification Engine– I couldn’t stop smiling!

Check it out here.

Tags: , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Today, for the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the newspaper in the morning.

I didn’t buy it from the drugstore, like my dad would on Sundays when I was little. And I didn’t pick it up from the driveway, like I would have in high school, shaking off condensation from its plastic wrapper. Instead, I had literally picked up off the desk of another, when I saw it lying there. It wasn’t even fresh news; it was from last Wednesday, and he in turn had gotten it for free at the student center.

Still. It was attractive all the same, that copy of more-than-Yesterday’s news. I slipped it under my arm, and went out the door. I took it with me, on the subway, and felt more Manhattanite than I had ever felt in my life. Here I was, boots and all, on my way downtown for a coffee meeting, and here, by my side, was the New York Times. When i got to the cafe, I realized that I had gotten ink all over my fingers. I had forgotten that newspapers smudged, and it gave me a secret joy.

In 2014, it is widespread knowledge that newspapers are Dinosaurs. Printed news is rapidly going extinct and the new forms of Media that replace it suffer from existential and identity crises. Is longform a thing of the past? Is there even a need for Journalism School? Will it all just be listicles from here on out? (If so, I’m moving to Walden Pond.)

I maintain that there is, and always will be, a need for well-executed, professional Journalism. Whether or not there exists a profitable market, however, is another question. How do we ensure the financial means to support the field?

It’s a good question, one that neither I nor anyone else that I know of has the answer to. The transition from paper to digital isn’t a simple transcribing from one medium to the other. Profit models do not translate. Most significant are the psychological shifts that occur. Newspapers, and their institutions, are built on history, legacy, and tradition. By decentralizing news distribution with the internet, the castle collapses.

When you remove the physicality of the paper, you remove its nostalgic power. That is a great power, and it should never be underestimated in the human psyche. Turning the pages, familiar faces smile back– Dowd, Bruni, Bittman, Wells, bringing me back to familial scenes of kitchen tables and coffee. Jumping over paywalls, those same names feel antagonistic and elitist on the web. Whereas I would easily pay a dollar or two for a fat stack of paper, the Internet, with its culture of free information, incites the hacker in me to do everything in my power to take what I can.

Opening the paper on the subway is a symbol, one that denotes a certain level of education, class, and age. It is a desirable thing to own. On an iPad, a phone, or laptop, all of that is lost. It could be the Post, it could be Ulysses, it could be Fifty Shades of Gray– who knows?

The newspaper from WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2014 sits beside me still, keeping company with the coffee that has long grown cold. When I finish writing, both of them will go into the trash.

“All the News That’s Fit to Print”, it says, somewhat forebodingly.

Tags: , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·