In Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun explores how technological developments around data are amplifying and automating discrimination and prejudice. Through conceptual innovation and historical details, this book offers engaging and revealing insights into how data exacerbates discrimination in powerful ways, writes David Beer.
Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (mathematical illustrations by Alex Barnett). MIT Press. 2021.
Going back a couple of decades, there was a fair amount of discussion of ‘the digital divide’. Uneven access to networked computers meant that a line was drawn between those who were able to switch-on and those who were not. At the time there was a pressing concern about the disadvantages of a lack of access. With the massive escalation of connectivity since, the notion of a digital divide still has some relevance, but it has become a fairly blunt tool for understanding today’s extensively mediated social constellations. The divides now are not so much a product of access; they are instead a consequence of what happens to the data produced through that access.
With the escalation of data and the establishment of all sorts of analytic and algorithmic processes, the problem of uneven, unjust and harmful treatment is now the focal point for an animated and urgent debate. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s vibrant new book Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognitionmakes a telling intervention. At its centre is the idea that these technological developments around data ‘are amplifying and automating – rather than acknowledging and repairing – the mistakes of a discriminatory past’ (2). Essentially this is the codification and automation of prejudice. Any ideas about the liberating aspects of technology are deflated. Rooted in a longer history of statistics and biometrics, existing ruptures are being torn open by the differential targeting that big data brings.
This is not just about bits of data. Chun suggests that ‘we need […] to understand how machine learning and other algorithms have been embedded with human prejudice and discrimination, not simply at the level of data, but also at the levels of procedure, prediction, and logic’ (16). It is not, then, just about prejudice being in the data itself; it is also how segregation and discrimination are embedded in the way this data is used. Given the scale of these issues, Chun narrows things down further by focusing on four ‘foundational concepts’, with correlation, homophily, authenticity and recognition providing the focal points for interrogating the discriminations of data.
It is the concept of correlation that does much of the gluing work within the study. The centrality of correlation is a subtext in Chun’s own overview of the book, which suggests that ‘Discriminating Data reveals how correlation and eugenic understandings of nature seek to close off the future by operationalizing probabilities; how homophily naturalizes segregation; and how authenticity and recognition foster deviation in order to create agitated clusters of comforting rage’ (27). As well as developing these lines of argument, the use of the concept of correlation also allows Chun to think in deeply historical terms about the trajectory and politics of association and patterning.
For Chun the role of correlation is both complex and performative. It is argued, for instance, that correlations ‘do not simply predict certain actions; they also form them’. This is an established position in the field of critical data studies, with data prescribing and producing the outcomes they are used to anticipate. However, Chun manages to reanimate this position through an exploration of how correlation fits into a wider set of discriminatory data practices. The other performative issue here is the way that people are made-up and grouped through the use of data. Correlations, Chun writes, ‘that lump people into categories based on their being “like” one another amplify the effects of historical inequalities’ (58). Inequalities are reinforced as categories become more obdurate, with data lending them a sense of apparent stability and a veneer of objectivity. Hence the pointed claim that ‘correlation contains within it the seeds of manipulation, segregation and misrepresentation’ (59).
Given this use of data to categorise, it is easy to see why Discriminating Data makes a conceptual link between correlation and homophily – with homophily, as Chun puts it, being the ‘principle that similarity breeds connection’ and can therefore lead to swarming and clustering. The acts of grouping within these data structures mean, for Chun, that ‘homophily not only eases conflict; it also naturalizes discrimination’ (103). Using data correlations to group informs a type of homophily that not only misrepresents and segregates; it also makes these divides seem natural and therefore fixed.
Chun anticipates that there may be some remaining remnants of faith in the seeming democratic properties of these platforms, arguing that ‘homophily reveals and creates boundaries within theoretically flat and diffuse social networks; it distinguishes and discriminates between supposedly equal nodes; it is a tool for discovering bias and inequality and for perpetuating them in the name of “comfort,” predictability, and common sense’ (85). As individuals are moved into categories or groups assumed to be like them, based upon the correlations within their data, so discrimination can readily occur. One of the key observations made by Chun is that data homophily can feel comfortable, especially when encased in predictions, yet this can distract from the actual damages of the underpinning discriminations they contain. Instead, these data ‘proxies can serve to buttress – and justify – discrimination’ (121). For Chun there is a ‘proxy politics’ unfolding in which data not only exacerbates but can also be used to lend legitimacy to discriminatory acts.
As with correlation and homophily, Chun, in a particularly novel twist, also explores how authenticity is itself becoming automated within these data structures. In stark terms, it is argued that ‘authenticity has become so central to our times because it has become algorithmic’ (144). Chun is able to show how a wider cultural push towards notions of the authentic, embodied in things like reality TV, becomes a part of data systems. A broader cultural trend is translated into something renderable in data. Chun explains that the ‘term “algorithmic authenticity” reveals the ways in which users are validated and authenticated by network algorithms’ (144). A system of validation occurs in these spaces, where actions and practices are algorithmically judged and authenticated. Algorithmic authenticity ‘trains them to be transparent’ (241). It pushes a form of openness upon us in which an ‘operationalized authenticity’ develops, especially within social media.
This emphasis upon the authentic draws people into certain types of interaction with these systems. It shows, Chun compellingly puts it, ‘how users have become characters in a drama called “big data”’ (145). The notion of a drama is, of course, not to diminish what is happening but to try to get at its vibrant and role-based nature. It also adds a strong sense of how performance plays out in relation to the broader ideas of data judgment that the book is exploring.
These roles are not something that Chun wants us to accept, arguing instead that ‘if we think through our roles as performers and characters in the drama called “big data,” we do not have to accept the current terms of our deployment’ (170). Examining the artifice of the drama is a means of transformation and challenge. Exposing the drama is to expose the roles and scripts that are in place, enabling them to be questioned and possibly undone. This is not fatalistic or absent of agency; rather, Chun’s point is that ‘we are characters, rather than marionettes’ (248).
There are some powerful cross-currents working through the discussions of the book’s four foundational concepts. The suggestion that big data brings a reversal of hegemony is a particularly telling argument. Chun explains that: ‘Power can now operate through reverse hegemony: if hegemony once meant the creation of a majority by various minorities accepting a dominant worldview […], now hegemonic majorities can emerge when angry minorities, clustered around a shared stigma, are strung together through their mutual opposition to so-called mainstream culture’ (34). This line of argument is echoed in similar terms in the book’s conclusion, clarifying further that ‘this is hegemony in reverse: if hegemony once entailed creating a majority by various minorities accepting – and identifying with – a dominant worldview, majorities now emerge by consolidating angry minorities – each attached to a particular stigma – through their opposition to “mainstream” culture’ (243). In this formulation it would seem that big data may not only be disciplinary but may also somehow gain power by upending any semblance of a dominant ideology. Data doesn’t lead to shared ideas but to the splitting of the sharing of ideas into group-based networks. It does seem plausible that the practices of targeting and patterning through data are unlikely to facilitate hegemony. Yet, it is not just that data affords power beyond hegemony but that it actually seeks to reverse it.
The reader may be caught slightly off-guard by this position. Chun generally seems to picture power as emerging and solidifying through a genealogy of the technologies that have formed into contemporary data infrastructures. In this account power seems to be associated with established structures and operates through correlations, calls for authenticity and the means of recognition. These positions on power – with infrastructures on one side and reverse hegemony on the other – are not necessarily incompatible, yet the discussion of reverse hegemony perhaps stands a little outside of that other vision of power. I was left wondering if this reverse hegemony is a consequence of these more processional operations of power or, maybe, it is a kind of facilitator of them.
Chun’s book looks to bring out the deep divisions that data-informed discrimination has already created and will continue to create. The conceptual innovation and the historical details, particularly on statistics and eugenics, lend the book a deep sense of context that feeds into a range of genuinely engaging and revealing insights and ideas. Through its careful examination of the way that data exacerbates discrimination in very powerful ways, this is perhaps the most telling book yet on the topic. The digital divide may no longer be a particularly useful term but, as Chun’s book makes clear, the role data performs in animating discrimination means that the technological facilitation of divisions has never been more pertinent.
The Three Million African Genomes (3MAG) project emerged from his work on how genetic mutations among Africans contribute to conditions like sickle-cell disease and hearing impairments.
He points out that African genes hold a wealth of genetic variation, beyond that observed by scientists in Europe and elsewhere.
“We are all African but only a small fraction of Africans moved out of Africa about 20-40,000 years ago and settled in Europe and in Asia,” he says.
Prof Wonkam is also concerned about equity. “Too little of the knowledge and applications from genomics have benefited the global south because of inequalities in health-care systems, a small local research workforce and lack of funding,” he says.
Only about 2% of the genomes mapped globally are African, and a good proportion of these are African American. This comes from a lack of prioritising funding, policies and training infrastructure, he says, but it also means the understanding of genetic medicine as a whole is lopsided.
Studies of African genomes will also help to correct injustices, he says: “Estimates of genetic risk scores for people of African descent that predict, say, the likelihood of cardiomyopathies or schizophrenia can be unreliable or even misleading using tools that work well in Europeans.”
To address these inequities, Prof Wonkam and other scientists are talking to governments, companies and professional bodies across Africa and internationally, in order to build up capacity over the next decade to make the vision a reality.
The number of three million is the minimum he expects to accurately map genetic variations across Africa. As a comparison, the UK Biobank currently aims to sequence half a million genomes in under three years, but the UK’s 68 million population is just a fraction of Africa’s 1.3 billion.
Prof Wonkam says the project will take 10 years, and will cost around $450m (£335m) per year, and says industry is already showing an interest in it.
Biotech firms say they welcome any expansion of the library of African genomes.
The Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) in Cape Town works with biotech firm Artisan Biomed on a variety of diagnostic tests. The firm says it is affected by the gaps in the availability of genomic information relevant to local populations.
For example, it may find a genetic mutation in someone and not know for certain if that variation is associated with a disease, especially as a marker for that particular population.
“The more information you have at that level, the better the diagnosis, treatment and eventually care can be for any individual, regardless of your ethnicity,” says Dr Lindsay Petersen, chief operations officer.
Artisan Biomed says the data it collects feeds back into CPGR’s research – allowing them to design a better diagnostic toolkit that is better suited to African populations, for instance.
“Because of the limited data sets of the African genome, it needs that hand in hand connection with research and innovation, because without that it’s just another test that has been designed for a Caucasian population that may or may not have much of an effect within the African populations,” says Dr Judith Hornby Cuff.
She says the 3MAG project would help streamline processes and improve the development of research, and perhaps one day provide cheaper, more effective and more accessible health care, particularly in the strained South African system.
One of those hoping to take part in the 3MAG project is Dr Aron Abera, genomics scientist at Inqaba Biotech in Pretoria, which offers genetic sequencing and other services to research and industry.
The firm employs over 100 people in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Currently, most of the genetics samples collected in these countries are still processed in South Africa, but Dr Abera hopes to increase the number of laboratories soon.
The gaps are not only in infrastructure, but also in staff. Over the last 20 years, Inqaba has focused on using staff and interns from the African continent – but it now has to expand its training programme as well.
Back in Cape Town, Prof Wonkam says that while the costs are huge, the project will “improve capacity in a whole range of biomedical disciplines that will equip Africa to tackle public-health challenges more equitably”.
He says: “We have to be ambitious when we are in Africa. You have so many challenges you cannot see small, you have to see big – and really big.”
Summary: Researchers are challenging a long-held assumption that there is a trade-off between accuracy and fairness when using machine learning to make public policy decisions.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are challenging a long-held assumption that there is a trade-off between accuracy and fairness when using machine learning to make public policy decisions.
As the use of machine learning has increased in areas such as criminal justice, hiring, health care delivery and social service interventions, concerns have grown over whether such applications introduce new or amplify existing inequities, especially among racial minorities and people with economic disadvantages. To guard against this bias, adjustments are made to the data, labels, model training, scoring systems and other aspects of the machine learning system. The underlying theoretical assumption is that these adjustments make the system less accurate.
A CMU team aims to dispel that assumption in a new study, recently published in Nature Machine Intelligence. Rayid Ghani, a professor in the School of Computer Science’s Machine Learning Department (MLD) and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy; Kit Rodolfa, a research scientist in MLD; and Hemank Lamba, a post-doctoral researcher in SCS, tested that assumption in real-world applications and found the trade-off was negligible in practice across a range of policy domains.
“You actually can get both. You don’t have to sacrifice accuracy to build systems that are fair and equitable,” Ghani said. “But it does require you to deliberately design systems to be fair and equitable. Off-the-shelf systems won’t work.”
Ghani and Rodolfa focused on situations where in-demand resources are limited, and machine learning systems are used to help allocate those resources. The researchers looked at systems in four areas: prioritizing limited mental health care outreach based on a person’s risk of returning to jail to reduce reincarceration; predicting serious safety violations to better deploy a city’s limited housing inspectors; modeling the risk of students not graduating from high school in time to identify those most in need of additional support; and helping teachers reach crowdfunding goals for classroom needs.
In each context, the researchers found that models optimized for accuracy — standard practice for machine learning — could effectively predict the outcomes of interest but exhibited considerable disparities in recommendations for interventions. However, when the researchers applied adjustments to the outputs of the models that targeted improving their fairness, they discovered that disparities based on race, age or income — depending on the situation — could be removed without a loss of accuracy.
Ghani and Rodolfa hope this research will start to change the minds of fellow researchers and policymakers as they consider the use of machine learning in decision making.
“We want the artificial intelligence, computer science and machine learning communities to stop accepting this assumption of a trade-off between accuracy and fairness and to start intentionally designing systems that maximize both,” Rodolfa said. “We hope policymakers will embrace machine learning as a tool in their decision making to help them achieve equitable outcomes.”
Por Fabiane Albuquerque, enviado ao Portal Geledés
Moro na França há alguns anos. Também já morei na Itália e, além dos meus estudos sobre branquitude, convivo com brasileiras no exterior e tenho uma vasta experiência com as frustrações, queixas e crises de mulheres brancas, sobretudo das classes médias e altas. Eu observo pessoas brancas há muito tempo. Acho que comecei a refletir sobre elas ouvindo as histórias das mulheres da minha família que trabalhavam nas suas cozinhas, fazendas, em estreita relação com a branquitude brasileira. Então, não me faltaram relatos sobre como se comportavam, pensavam, diziam e se relacionavam, sobretudo com os seus iguais e o seu Outro (negros e negras).
Essas mulheres, contudo, não nos viam (e ainda não nos veem) porque estão ocupadas demais em projetar em corpos negros as coisas mal resolvidas em si mesmas. Incrível como falam da pobreza no Brasil, dos problemas políticos e sociais, da falta de educação do povo brasileiro, sem ao menos se darem conta dos problemas dentro de seus lares. Lourenço Cardoso escreve sobre isso na sua tese de doutorado intitulada: “O branco ante a rebeldia do desejo: um estudo sobre a branquitude no Brasil” e explica que negros, mesmo sendo desumanizados por brancos, ainda conseguem vê-los enquanto humanos; já o contrário é difícil.
Pois bem, vejo estas mulheres que, acostumadas a projetar o olhar para fora, para o outro, raramente se questionam e se veem como de fato são. Não se enxergam brancas, privilegiadas, construídas e projetadas como seres superiores com base na raça e no pertencimento de classe no Brasil. E, quando chegam na Europa e descobrem que, por serem brancas e possuírem dinheiro, não podem tirar proveito da situação como fazem no país que as endeusou, entram em crise. A crise dessas mulheres é uma das coisas mais interessantes que meu olhar de pesquisadora pôde ver. Essa não é consciente para elas, assim como não é o fato de que a brancura lhes garantiu um lugar confortável na sociedade de origem.
Por três anos meu filho estudou na mesma classe que o filho de uma brasileira branca, loira, de Santa Catarina, advogada e apoiadora de Bolsonaro, antipetista, antilulista e possuidora de uma visão estereotipada sobre a esquerda, os negros e os pobres. Mas, uma coisa aqui mudou na vida dela: embora nós duas tenhamos origem social e raça diferentes, a França nos nivelou. Eu e ela moramos no mesmo bairro e nossos filhos frequentaram a mesma escola, diga-se de passagem, pública. Para ela, mais do que para mim, isso constituiu um grande incômodo, manifesto na sua tentativa constante de mostrar-me o que ela tinha de diferencial em relação à mim.
Como a questão financeira não era o principal mobilizador de superioridade, tampouco ela possuía conhecimentos sobre cultura, ou seja, enquanto eu sou amante de livros, pesquisadora, escritora, conheço de literatura brasileira, francesa, italiana, dentre outras, vou ao teatro e cinema, ela se orgulhava de ser frequentadora assídua de academia, Disneylândia e Mcdonalds. No Brasil, parece que a futilidade dessas pessoas é ofuscada pelo privilégio de raça e de classe.
Certo dia, na porta da escola, ela me abordou da seguinte forma:
-Ai guria, tem dias aqui que é difícil, estou para ficar louca. Outro dia fui ao banco sozinha e me trataram como uma qualquer, você acredita?
Incrédula com a expressão, pois esse “ser qualquer um” deveria ser o sentimento de todo cidadão, de juiz a gari, de professor à médico, de político à banqueiro, balancei a cabeça dando-lhe corda:
E ela continuou:
-Eu tive que ligar para o meu marido ir até lá para ver se com ele seria diferente. Ele vive recebendo propostas para investimento do banco porque ganha bem.
Fiquei pensando nas suas palavras. Aqui na França, ela não pode mobilizar um tratamento diferenciado por ser loira e muito menos pela sua classe social. Aqui o “você sabe com quem está falando?” não cola como no Brasil. Afinal, ela é só mais uma branca dentre brancos. E os brancos daqui, como diz o pesquisador Lourenço Cardoso, são “mais brancos” que os nossos brancos devido a impressão digital deixada pela colonização que hierarquizou povos e nações. Quanto mais nórdico, como os ingleses, mais branco e ideal é um povo.
Como eu jamais a bajulei por ser branca (como geralmente acontece entre brasileiros), outra vez, na porta da escola, ela me abordou novamente. Eu disse que estava indo caminhar e ela logo se oferece para ir junto. No caminho, sem nenhum pudor, me solta essa:
-Quando meu filho nasceu, a preocupação do meu marido era com o cabelo, se ia nascer ruim como o dele. Eu até achei engraçado porque assim que ele nasceu, ele correu para mim e disse “parece que é ruim, é bem enrolado”.
Eu, que tenho cabelo “ruim” na concepção da sua família somente soltei um “é mesmo?” e parece que aquilo liberou nela seu racismo mais latente. Esse só sai quando a pessoa não se sente julgada ou rechaçada, quando acha abertura e acredita que o interlocutor não a está julgando:
-Meu marido (branco no Brasil) ‘rapa’ a cabeça porque ele odeia o próprio cabelo. Mas quando viu que puxou a mim ficou mais tranquilo.
O que essa mulher queria ao me dizer tudo isso? Ela estava buscando que eu reconhecesse a sua superioridade, pelo menos aquela racial, já que eu, por espontânea vontade não o fiz, ela estava ali me lembrando disso. A igualdade é um dos maiores sofrimentos psíquicos para mulheres brancas brasileiras das camadas altas que chegam para morar aqui na Europa. Digo de mulheres porque convivo pouco com os homens brancos brasileiros. E não parou aqui, não. Outra vez ela fez o seguinte comentário:
-Guria, falei com minha prima que mora na Inglaterra e ela me disse que sou louca de colocar meu filho em escola pública, de me misturar com esta gente.
Ela se referia à grande presença de crianças imigrantes na escola, de origem africana e de países árabes. A escola pública foi o espaço que acolheu o seu filho, o ensinou a falar francês, lhe proporcionou uma base e uma convivência respeitosa e igualitária com diferentes nacionalidades, sobretudo aquelas as quais ele nunca teve contato no Brasil por viver segregado no seu pequeno mundinho burguês. Mas, ela insistia em tentar se colocar como um ser especial.
Antes que alguém diga que tive muita paciência, só resisti porque estudo brancos e quando descobri que é melhor lhes dar corda para ter material, meu envolvimento afetivo e emocional me causa menos sofrimento.
O estupor por não ser tratada com distinção não vem somente de gente de extrema direita. Nesse ponto, a branquitude se assemelha muito, tanto de direita quanto de esquerda. Uma moça branca, paulistana e segundo ela mesma, de classe média alta, revelou-me que estava surpresa por sofrer discriminação dentro da universidade francesa. A pergunta que ela me fez foi a seguinte:
– Eu posso me comparar com os negros por sofrer racismo?
Lhe respondi que com negros, jamais. E continuei dizendo que aqui, antes de tudo, ela é brasileira e tinha alguns traços árabes como o nariz e o formado do rosto. Ela estava desorientada por não poder usufruir da “invisibilidade” da raça como acontecia no Brasil e talvez, sem se dar conta, da visibilidade por ser branca e burguesa na hora de receber privilégios. Essas mulheres estão acostumadas, desde pequenas, a serem paparicadas e, quando isso não acontece, o Eu se fragiliza.
Uma outra, branca de olhos verdes, vendo que eu jamais comentei algo sobre a sua aparência física, como está acostumada, depois de um tempo de convivência, tirou os óculos diante de mim, arregalou os olhos e disse:
–Todo mundo fala que eu deveria parar de usar óculos, pois desvalorizam meus olhos. Você já viu os meus olhos?
A cena foi cômica. A mulher com os olhos esbugalhados na minha frente mendigando elogios. Lhe respondi:
– Fulana, eu já vi os seus olhos.
Ela, muito sem graça, recolocou os óculos. O que ela queria de mim? O que todo mundo lhe dava: bajulação da sua corporeidade branca, dos seus olhos verdes e o reconhecimento do seu valor em base a isto.
Muitas dessas mulheres tentam reproduzir a mesma hierarquia social e racial que temos no Brasil, procurando por outras que estejam à disposição do ego delas. Conheci uma promotora de justiça de Brasília que chegou na França, juntamente com o marido para fazer mestrado. Os dois conseguiram uma licença de um ano do trabalho. No primeiro contato que tivemos ela perguntou: “Você conhece uma diarista para me apresentar?” Achei estranho o pedido, pois a mulher e o marido ficariam um ano sem trabalhar, morando em um pequeno apartamento, como ela descreveu, mas tinha que ter alguém para lhe servir. Essa gente fora do Brasil e das relações de dominação/servidão/ que se dão em base à racialização de corpos se perde.
Conheci brasileiras aqui que gostam de conviver com outras brasileiras porque entre nós, entendemos os códigos, as hierarquias e as leis ocultas do nosso país para reproduzir a mesma lógica de quem adora e de quem é adorado. Ou, em outros casos, preferem conviver somente com franceses, pois segundo elas, “não gostam de se misturar” e se agarram aos “brancos mais brancos” como se fosse um troféu para mostrar ao mundo e exibir para a família e amigos no Brasil: “Olha a minha amiga francesa!!!”. É um modo de participar da branquitude mais “pura” (mesmo que indiretamente), que o que temos nas terras Brasilis.
Uma coisa é certa, essa experiência na Europa poderia ser, para elas, uma grande chance de mudar de paradigma, de renascer, de se tornar uma pessoa melhor. Mas, na maioria dos casos, o privilégio é buscado com unhas e dentes. Se soubessem que podem abandoná-lo e viver mais livres, talvez o fariam. Mas alguém como elas, ou seja, branco, precisaria dizer. Pois, no meu caso, se lhes digo, passo por negra raivosa, ressentida, invejosa, que vê racismo em tudo. Eu torço pela mudança e pela emancipação humana, mas enquanto isso não acontece, continuo tendo-as como objeto de análise e estudo.
Fabiane Albuquerque é doutora em sociologia, autora do livro Cartas a um homem negro que amei, publicado pela Editora Malê.
Gjystina Grishaj, known by her male nickname, Duni, declared herself a man nearly 40 years ago in order to avoid a forced marriage at a young age.
A centuries-old tradition in which women declared themselves men so they could enjoy male privilege is dying out as young women have more options available to them to live their own lives.
Photographs by Laura Boushnak
LEPUSHE, Albania — As a teenager locked in a patriarchal and tradition-bound mountain village in the far north of Albania, Gjystina Grishaj made a drastic decision: She would live the rest of her life as a man.
She did not want to be married off at a young age, nor did she like cooking, ironing clothes or “doing any of the things that women do,” so she joined a gender-bending Albanian fraternity of what are known as “burrneshat,” or “female-men.” She adopted a male nickname — Duni.
“I took a personal decision and told them: I am a man and don’t want to get married,” Duni recalled telling her family.
Few women today want to become what anthropologists call Albania’s “sworn virgins,” a tradition that goes back centuries. They take an oath of lifelong celibacy and enjoy male privileges, like the right to make family decisions, smoke, drink and go out alone.
Duni said her choice was widely accepted, though her mother kept trying to get her to change her mind until the day she died in 2019. Like other burrneshat, Duni — who remains Gjystina Grishaj in official documents — is still universally referred to in a traditional way, with female pronouns and forms of address, and does not consider herself transgender.
The fraternity that Duni joined nearly 40 years ago is dying out as change comes to Albania and its paternalistic rural areas, allowing younger women more options. Her village, which is Christian, like much of the northern part of the country, has in recent years started to shed its claustrophobic isolation, thanks to the construction of a winding road through the mountains that attracts visitors, but that also provides a way out for strong-willed local women who want to live their own lives.
Many, like Duni, took the oath so that they could escape forced marriages; some so that they could take on traditional male roles — like running a farm — in families where all of the men had died in blood feuds that plagued the region; and others because they just felt more like men.
“Society is changing, and burrneshat are dying out,” said Gjok Luli, an expert on the traditions of northern Albania. There are no precise figures for how many remain, but of the dozen or so who do, most are elderly. Duni, at 56, is perhaps the youngest, he said.
“It was an escape from the role given to women,” Mr. Luli said, “but there is no desperate need to escape anymore.”
Among those now able to choose different paths in life is Duni’s niece, Valerjana Grishaj, 20, who decided as a teenager to leave the mountains and move to Tirana, Albania’s relatively modern-minded capital. The village, Ms. Grishaj explained over coffee in a Tirana cafe, “is not a place for me.”
“All my friends there have been married since they were 16,” she said.
But Ms. Grishaj said she understood why her aunt made the decision she did. “There were no strong, independent women up there,” she said. “To be one, you had to become a man.”
She praised her parents for letting her make her own choices. “I was very lucky, but parents like mine are rare,” Ms. Grishaj said, noting that most still pressure their daughters to marry as teenagers.
Albania, which was isolated under a communist dictatorship until 1991, has seen its economy and social mores develop rapidly in recent years, and the country has become increasingly connected to the rest of Europe. But Tirana, to which Ms. Grishaj moved at 17 to study theater directing, can still be a difficult place for a young woman trying to make her own way.
“The patriarchy still exists, even here in Tirana,” Duni’s niece said. Young women who live alone, she lamented, stir nasty gossip and “are often seen as whores.”
The difference now though, she said, is that “women today have much more freedom than before, and you don’t need to become a man to live your own life.”
By declaring herself a man, Duni was not striking at conventional gender norms, but submitting to them. She also shares the strongly transphobic and homophobic views that are prevalent in Albania.
Men, everyone in her remote alpine hamlet of Lepushe believed, would always have more power and respect, so the best way for a woman to share their privilege was to join them, rather than trying to beat them.
“As a man, you get a special status in society and in the family,” Duni said, looking back on nearly four decades of dressing, behaving and being treated like a man. “I have never worn a skirt and never had any regrets about my decision,” she said.
Underpinning this tradition was the firm grip in northern Albania of “the Kanun,” a set of rules and social norms that classify women as chattel whose purpose was to serve men.
The low status afforded women did give them one advantage, though: It exempted them from the battles that for centuries decimated northern Albanian families as men from feuding clans died in a never-ending cycle of vengeance killings. Parents whose sons had all been killed often urged a daughter to take on a male identity so there would be a man to represent the family at village meetings and to manage its property.
A woman who became a sworn virgin was viewed as not entirely male, did not count in blood feuds and therefore escaped being targeted for murder by a rival clan.
Mr. Luli, the expert on local traditions, said one of his cousins, who went by the nickname Cuba instead of her original name, Tereza, was an only child and became a sworn virgin so she could avoid being married off and leaving her parents to fend for themselves. She died of old age in 1982.
He compared Cuba with a “woman who decides to become a nun.”
“It is the same kind of devotion,” Mr. Luli said, “only to the family instead of God.”
For Albanians pushing for gender equality, such devotion stirs mixed feelings. “Saying I will not take orders from a man is feminist,” said Rea Nepravishta, a women’s rights activist in Tirana. “Saying I own myself and will not be owned by a man is feminist.”
But, she added, “being forced to be a man instead of a woman is totally anti-feminist — it is horrible.”
Inequalities enshrined by the Kanun, Ms. Nepravishta said, gave women a choice “between either living like a semi-animal or having some freedom by becoming a man.” While still strong, patriarchy, she added, has lost some power and no longer confronts women with such stark choices.
Some burrneshat said they declared themselves men simply because they never felt like women. Diana Rakipi, 66, a burrnesha in the coastal city of Durres, said, “I always felt like a man, even as a boy.”
Aggressively masculine in manner, Ms. Rakipi delights in being bossy. On a stroll near her tiny one-room apartment, she kept stopping passers-by who she thought were acting improperly — like a boy she saw hitting his brother — and berated them.
Ms. Rakipi, who was raised in the north before moving south to Durres, said she took an oath of celibacy as a teenager in front of dozens of relatives and vowed to serve the family as a man. Born after her parents’ only son died from illness, Ms. Rakipi said she had grown up being told she had been sent by God to replace her dead brother.
“I was always considered the male of the family. They were all so upset by the death of my brother,” she said, sitting in a cafe where all of the other customers were men. She wore a black military beret, a red tie, men’s trousers and a safari vest, its pockets stuffed with talismans of her eclectic beliefs, including a Christian cross and a medallion with the face of Albania’s onetime dictator, Enver Hoxha.
Ms. Rakipi snorted with contempt when asked about people who undergo transition surgery. “It is not normal,” she said. “If God made you a woman, you are a woman.”
Duni, from Lepushe village, also has strong views on the subject, saying that altering the body goes “against God’s will,” and that people “should be put in jail” for doing so.
“I have not lived as a burrnesha because I want to be a man in any physical way. I have done this because I want to take on the role played by men and to get the respect of a man,” she said. “I am a man in my spirit, but having male genitals is not what makes you a man.”
Locals in Lepushe, including Manushaqe Shkoza, a server at a cafe in the village, said Duni’s decision to become a man initially came as a surprise, but it was accepted long ago. “Everyone sees it as normal,” Ms. Shkoza said.
Duni said she was sad that the tradition of sworn virgins would soon die out, but noted that her niece in Tirana had shown that there were now less drastic ways for a woman to live a full and respected life.
“Society is changing, but I think I made the right decision for my time,” Duni said. “I can’t resign from the role I have chosen. I took an oath to my family. This is a path you cannot go back on.”
Manaus Na aldeia Maimasi, em Roraima, uma criança yanomami jaz sobre a rede. Com as costelas expostas pela desnutrição, ela foi diagnosticada com malária e verminose. Mas a primeira equipe médica no local em seis meses não dispunha de medicamentos suficientes para tratar toda a aldeia.
A foto dessa criança e a história por trás dela foram obtidas pelo missionário católico Carlo Zacquini, 84, que atua entre os yanomamis desde 1968. Ele é cofundador da Comissão pela Criação do Parque Yanomami (CCPY), que deu visibilidade aos problemas causados pelos brancos, promoveu atendimento em saúde e lutou pela demarcação, concluída em 1992.
O território yanomami sofre com o aumento da malária e com a desnutrição infantil crônica, que atinge 80% das crianças até 5 anos, segundo estudo recente financiado pela Unicef e realizado em parceria com a Fiocruz e o Ministério da Saúde.
Os indígenas também enfrentam uma grande invasão de garimpeiros, incentivados por promessas do presidente Jair Bolsonaro de legalizá-los e pelo alto preço do minério. São cerca de 20 mil não indígenas morando ilegalmente na Terra Indígena Yanomami, contaminando os rios com mercúrio e contribuindo para espalhar Covid-19 e malária, além do álcool e da prostituição.
Procurado, o Distrito Sanitário Especial Indígena (Dsei) Yanomami, do Ministério da Saúde, informou que a criança, do sexo feminino, foi transferida a Boa Vista (RR) dois dias após a visita médica, acompanhada dos pais e dos irmãos.
Ela tem 8 anos e pesa 12,5 kg. Internada desde 23 de abril, está em tratamento para pneumonia, anemia e desnutrição grave —a malária foi curada. Ela está estável e em acompanhamento pelo serviço social. Segundo o órgão, trata-se de um caso isolado.
O Dsei negou a escassez de medicamentos e afirma que a quantidade é definida de acordo com a demanda prevista pela semana epidemiológica. O órgão não informou sobre como está o tratamento de outros yanomamis doentes na mesma região, mas alega que o atendimento de saúde é dificultado pelo fluxo constante dos indígenas e atribuiu a alta de incidência de malária à presença do garimpo ilegal.
A seguir, o depoimento de Zacquini:
É uma criança da aldeia Maimasi, a dois dias a pé da Missão Catrimani. Ela está sem assistência há muito tempo, com malária e verminose.
A fotografia foi feita por volta de 17 de abril. O pessoal das equipes de saúde tem receio de denunciar essa situação, pois podem ser punidos, colocados em lugares mais penosos ou ser demitidos. Vários polos de saúde estão abandonados. Não há estoque de medicamentos para verminose na sede do Dsei (Distrito Sanitário Especial Indígena Yanomami), em Boa Vista. Até para malária a quantidade é limitada.
O posto de saúde tem muita dificuldade para conseguir medicamentos. Faltam profissionais para revezamento e falta gasolina para deslocamento. Há três meses, eles usam a canoa com rabeta [motor] dos próprios yanomamis.
Para chegar a Maimasi, seriam oito minutos de helicóptero, mas, a princípio, isso só ocorre em casos de emergência. Evidentemente, essa criança é um caso de emergência!
Para levar medicamento ao pólo-base, foram deslocados um avião com uma equipe médica, porém eles ficaram aguardando inutilmente a chegada do helicóptero.
Havia seis meses que ninguém visitava a aldeia. Dessa vez, foram medicamentos para malária, mas não deu para repetir a dose. Uma equipe da Sesai (Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena, do Ministério da Saúde), incluindo médico, foi de avião até a Missão Catrimani para levar esses medicamentos.
O pessoal da saúde faz tratamentos com medicamentos, mas o tratamento não tem continuidade quando trocam de equipe. Assim, quando possível, fazem a primeira dose de tratamento, mas depois de um tempo os doentes devem recomeçar a partir da primeira dose.
Estou revoltado e com o sangue fervendo. É uma situação que parece estar se generalizando na Terra Indígena Yanomami.
O vaivém de garimpeiros é contínuo e isso implica voos de avião, barcos, helicópteros e a pé. São milhares os invasores da Terra Indígena Yanomami, e o presidente da República anuncia que irá pessoalmente falar com os militares que estão ali e com os garimpeiros também. Faz questão de dizer que não vai prender estes últimos, mas somente conversar.
Até para malária os medicamentos são contados, incluindo a cloroquina. Tem cloroquina para Covid, mas não para malária. A criança desnutrida está numa aldeia a oito minutos de helicóptero de um posto de saúde, mas leva um dia a pé. E depois dessa aldeia há outras, que na época estavam reunidas para o cerimonial funerário em outra aldeia mais afastada.
A equipe do pólo-base se deslocou a pé para a aldeia e encontrou um grupo grande de yanomamis que fazia um ritual funerário para uma criança que tinha morrido sem assistência. Eles ministraram medicamentos para verminose a todos, mas esse medicamento acabou e não puderam dar uma outra dose, o que é a praxe.
Aliás, havia mais de um ano que aquelas aldeias não recebiam atendimento contra verminose. A criança da foto e outros 16 indígenas presentes estavam com malária, a maioria deles com falciparum, a variedade mais agressiva. Os demais 84 estavam todos com sintomas de gripe e de febre.
Sonia Guajajara, Coordenadora-executiva da Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil e ex-candidata do PSOL à Vice-Presidência da República (2018)
19 de abril de 2021
Nem sempre deixamos de sentir a dor do outro por falta de empatia; às vezes, isso acontece por puro desconhecimento. A história do Brasil sempre foi muito mal contada. Não desejamos o que passamos a ninguém, nem mesmo aos nossos algozes. São 520 anos de perseguição praticamente ininterrupta. Mas, neste Dia do Índio (19.abr), estamos enfrentando a maior ameaça de nossa existência. E agora não me refiro somente a nós, indígenas. O governo federal atual fez do coronavírus um aliado e põe em risco a vida da população em geral. Hoje, todos sentem como é ser acuado por uma doença que vem de fora, contra a qual não há defesa. Todos mesmo; agora, falo do mundo inteiro.
Nós, indígenas, somos perseguidos em nosso próprio país; neste momento, por causa da Covid-19. Todos nós, brasileiros, corremos o sério risco de sermos marginalizados globalmente. Ninguém em sã consciência nega a importância da Amazônia para a saúde do planeta —e hoje a ciência atesta que a destruição da natureza e as mudanças climáticas podem causar novas pandemias. Mas, além de abusar da caneta para atacar o meio ambiente e os nossos direitos, como de costume, o presidente Jair Bolsonaro vem tentado aliciar e constranger lideranças indígenas. Até Funai e Ibama estão jogando no time rival. Não é apenas um vírus.
A Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Apib) foi criada em 2005 no primeiro Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL), evento que reunia milhares de pessoas de todo o país em Brasília —por causa da pandemia, ele foi realizado virtualmente em 2020 e, neste ano, terá encontros online durante todo o o mês de abril. É fruto da união e auto-organização dos povos, que são as raízes que sustentam esse país e que durante a pandemia recebeu o reconhecimento do Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) como entidade que pode entrar com ações diretas na principal corte do país.
Com organizações regionais, nossa rede está presente em todas as regiões do país: a Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Nordeste, Minas Gerais e Espírito Santo (Apoinme), o Conselho do Povo Terena, a Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Sudeste (Arpinsudeste), a Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Sul (Arpinsul), a Grande Assembleia do Povo Guarani (Aty Guasu), a Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (Coiab) e a Comissão Guarani Yvyrupa.
No ano passado, a Apib ganhou o Prêmio Internacional Letelier-Moffitt de Direitos Humanos, concedido pelo Instituto de Estudos Políticos de Washington. A organização tem sido chamada a falar em conferências da ONU. Há décadas tem voz ativa em conferências internacionais, junto a organismos como a ONU e a Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos. Enquanto o governo negligencia criminosamente o atendimento aos povos tradicionais durante a pandemia, com seu projeto integracionista, estamos garantindo segurança alimentar, barreiras sanitárias e equipamentos de proteção por meio do Plano Emergência Indígena, construído de forma participativa com todas as organizações de base que compõem nossa grande articulação.
Estamos nas redes, aldeias, universidades, cidades, prefeituras, Câmaras Legislativas federal, estaduais e municipais e seguiremos lutando contra o racismo e a violência. Em um mundo doente e enfrentando um projeto de morte, nossa luta ainda é pela vida, contra todos os vírus que nos matam! Nosso maior objetivo é garantir a posse de nossas terras para preservá-las e manter nossas identidades culturais.
Terras indígenas são bens da União; ou seja, pertencem ao Brasil, a todos os brasileiros. Temos direito a seu usufruto, mas para manter nossos modos de vida tradicionais. Está tudo na Constituição. Conhecemos as mentiras, que agora são as famosas fake news, desde 1500, quando os portugueses chegaram aqui oferecendo amizade e, assim que dávamos as costas, nos apunhalavam. Não trocamos Pindorama por espelhos, conforme ensinavam erroneamente os livros de história de antigamente. Sabemos o real valor das coisas e das pessoas.
O abismo social se aprofunda; a quem isso interessa? Quem acredita que vai ver a cor do dinheiro que será arrancado das ruínas de nossas terras? “Decidimos não morrer”: esta resolução, tomada por nós há mais de cinco séculos, foi reafirmada no Acampamento Terra Livre. Nem todos sabem, mas zelar pelo meio ambiente é um dever constitucional de todo cidadão —é só consultar o artigo 225.
Convidamos todos os brasileiros a firmar esse acordo conosco.
Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, a director of AI at Facebook, was apologizing to his audience.
It was March 23, 2018, just days after the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy that worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, had surreptitiously siphoned the personal data of tens of millions of Americans from their Facebook accounts in an attempt to influence how they voted. It was the biggest privacy breach in Facebook’s history, and Quiñonero had been previously scheduled to speak at a conference on, among other things, “the intersection of AI, ethics, and privacy” at the company. He considered canceling, but after debating it with his communications director, he’d kept his allotted time.
As he stepped up to face the room, he began with an admission. “I’ve just had the hardest five days in my tenure at Facebook,” he remembers saying. “If there’s criticism, I’ll accept it.”
The Cambridge Analytica scandal would kick off Facebook’s largest publicity crisis ever. It compounded fears that the algorithms that determine what people see on the platform were amplifying fake news and hate speech, and that Russian hackers had weaponized them to try to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Millions began deleting the app; employees left in protest; the company’s market capitalization plunged by more than $100 billion after its July earnings call.
In the ensuing months, Mark Zuckerberg began his own apologizing. He apologized for not taking “a broad enough view” of Facebook’s responsibilities, and for his mistakes as a CEO. Internally, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, kicked off a two-year civil rights audit to recommend ways the company could prevent the use of its platform to undermine democracy.
Finally, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, asked Quiñonero to start a team with a directive that was a little vague: to examine the societal impact of the company’s algorithms. The group named itself the Society and AI Lab (SAIL); last year it combined with another team working on issues of data privacy to form Responsible AI.
Quiñonero was a natural pick for the job. He, as much as anybody, was the one responsible for Facebook’s position as an AI powerhouse. In his six years at Facebook, he’d created some of the first algorithms for targeting users with content precisely tailored to their interests, and then he’d diffused those algorithms across the company. Now his mandate would be to make them less harmful.
Facebook has consistently pointed to the efforts by Quiñonero and others as it seeks to repair its reputation. It regularly trots out various leaders to speak to the media about the ongoing reforms. In May of 2019, it granted a series of interviews with Schroepfer to the New York Times, which rewarded the company with a humanizing profile of a sensitive, well-intentioned executive striving to overcome the technical challenges of filtering out misinformation and hate speech from a stream of content that amounted to billions of pieces a day. These challenges are so hard that it makes Schroepfer emotional, wrote the Times: “Sometimes that brings him to tears.”
In the spring of 2020, it was apparently my turn. Ari Entin, Facebook’s AI communications director, asked in an email if I wanted to take a deeper look at the company’s AI work. After talking to several of its AI leaders, I decided to focus on Quiñonero. Entin happily obliged. As not only the leader of the Responsible AI team but also the man who had made Facebook into an AI-driven company, Quiñonero was a solid choice to use as a poster boy.
He seemed a natural choice of subject to me, too. In the years since he’d formed his team following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, concerns about the spread of lies and hate speech on Facebook had only grown. In late 2018 the company admitted that this activity had helped fuel a genocidal anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar for several years. In 2020 Facebook started belatedly taking action against Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, and the conspiracy movement QAnon. All these dangerous falsehoods were metastasizing thanks to the AI capabilities Quiñonero had helped build. The algorithms that underpin Facebook’s business weren’t created to filter out what was false or inflammatory; they were designed to make people share and engage with as much content as possible by showing them things they were most likely to be outraged or titillated by. Fixing this problem, to me, seemed like core Responsible AI territory.
I began video-calling Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: What was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?
But Entin and Quiñonero had a different agenda. Each time I tried to bring up these topics, my requests to speak about them were dropped or redirected. They only wanted to discuss the Responsible AI team’s plan to tackle one specific kind of problem: AI bias, in which algorithms discriminate against particular user groups. An example would be an ad-targeting algorithm that shows certain job or housing opportunities to white people but not to minorities.
By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.
The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.
In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.
“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.
“They always do just enough to be able to put the press release out. But with a few exceptions, I don’t think it’s actually translated into better policies. They’re never really dealing with the fundamental problems.”
In March of 2012, Quiñonero visited a friend in the Bay Area. At the time, he was a manager in Microsoft Research’s UK office, leading a team using machine learning to get more visitors to click on ads displayed by the company’s search engine, Bing. His expertise was rare, and the team was less than a year old. Machine learning, a subset of AI, had yet to prove itself as a solution to large-scale industry problems. Few tech giants had invested in the technology.
Quiñonero’s friend wanted to show off his new employer, one of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley: Facebook, then eight years old and already with close to a billion monthly active users (i.e., those who have logged in at least once in the past 30 days). As Quiñonero walked around its Menlo Park headquarters, he watched a lone engineer make a major update to the website, something that would have involved significant red tape at Microsoft. It was a memorable introduction to Zuckerberg’s “Move fast and break things” ethos. Quiñonero was awestruck by the possibilities. Within a week, he had been through interviews and signed an offer to join the company.
His arrival couldn’t have been better timed. Facebook’s ads service was in the middle of a rapid expansion as the company was preparing for its May IPO. The goal was to increase revenue and take on Google, which had the lion’s share of the online advertising market. Machine learning, which could predict which ads would resonate best with which users and thus make them more effective, could be the perfect tool. Shortly after starting, Quiñonero was promoted to managing a team similar to the one he’d led at Microsoft.
Unlike traditional algorithms, which are hard-coded by engineers, machine-learning algorithms “train” on input data to learn the correlations within it. The trained algorithm, known as a machine-learning model, can then automate future decisions. An algorithm trained on ad click data, for example, might learn that women click on ads for yoga leggings more often than men. The resultant model will then serve more of those ads to women. Today at an AI-based company like Facebook, engineers generate countless models with slight variations to see which one performs best on a given problem.
Facebook’s massive amounts of user data gave Quiñonero a big advantage. His team could develop models that learned to infer the existence not only of broad categories like “women” and “men,” but of very fine-grained categories like “women between 25 and 34 who liked Facebook pages related to yoga,” and targeted ads to them. The finer-grained the targeting, the better the chance of a click, which would give advertisers more bang for their buck.
Within a year his team had developed these models, as well as the tools for designing and deploying new ones faster. Before, it had taken Quiñonero’s engineers six to eight weeks to build, train, and test a new model. Now it took only one.
News of the success spread quickly. The team that worked on determining which posts individual Facebook users would see on their personal news feeds wanted to apply the same techniques. Just as algorithms could be trained to predict who would click what ad, they could also be trained to predict who would like or share what post, and then give those posts more prominence. If the model determined that a person really liked dogs, for instance, friends’ posts about dogs would appear higher up on that user’s news feed.
Quiñonero’s success with the news feed—coupled with impressive new AI research being conducted outside the company—caught the attention of Zuckerberg and Schroepfer. Facebook now had just over 1 billion users, making it more than eight times larger than any other social network, but they wanted to know how to continue that growth. The executives decided to invest heavily in AI, internet connectivity, and virtual reality.
They created two AI teams. One was FAIR, a fundamental research lab that would advance the technology’s state-of-the-art capabilities. The other, Applied Machine Learning (AML), would integrate those capabilities into Facebook’s products and services. In December 2013, after months of courting and persuasion, the executives recruited Yann LeCun, one of the biggest names in the field, to lead FAIR. Three months later, Quiñonero was promoted again, this time to lead AML. (It was later renamed FAIAR, pronounced “fire.”)
“That’s how you know what’s on his mind. I was always, for a couple of years, a few steps from Mark’s desk.”
Joaquin Quiñonero Candela
In his new role, Quiñonero built a new model-development platform for anyone at Facebook to access. Called FBLearner Flow, it allowed engineers with little AI experience to train and deploy machine-learning models within days. By mid-2016, it was in use by more than a quarter of Facebook’s engineering team and had already been used to train over a million models, including models for image recognition, ad targeting, and content moderation.
Zuckerberg’s obsession with getting the whole world to use Facebook had found a powerful new weapon. Teams had previously used design tactics, like experimenting with the content and frequency of notifications, to try to hook users more effectively. Their goal, among other things, was to increase a metric called L6/7, the fraction of people who logged in to Facebook six of the previous seven days. L6/7 is just one of myriad ways in which Facebook has measured “engagement”—the propensity of people to use its platform in any way, whether it’s by posting things, commenting on them, liking or sharing them, or just looking at them. Now every user interaction once analyzed by engineers was being analyzed by algorithms. Those algorithms were creating much faster, more personalized feedback loops for tweaking and tailoring each user’s news feed to keep nudging up engagement numbers.
Zuckerberg, who sat in the center of Building 20, the main office at the Menlo Park headquarters, placed the new FAIR and AML teams beside him. Many of the original AI hires were so close that his desk and theirs were practically touching. It was “the inner sanctum,” says a former leader in the AI org (the branch of Facebook that contains all its AI teams), who recalls the CEO shuffling people in and out of his vicinity as they gained or lost his favor. “That’s how you know what’s on his mind,” says Quiñonero. “I was always, for a couple of years, a few steps from Mark’s desk.”
With new machine-learning models coming online daily, the company created a new system to track their impact and maximize user engagement. The process is still the same today. Teams train up a new machine-learning model on FBLearner, whether to change the ranking order of posts or to better catch content that violates Facebook’s community standards (its rules on what is and isn’t allowed on the platform). Then they test the new model on a small subset of Facebook’s users to measure how it changes engagement metrics, such as the number of likes, comments, and shares, says Krishna Gade, who served as the engineering manager for news feed from 2016 to 2018.
If a model reduces engagement too much, it’s discarded. Otherwise, it’s deployed and continually monitored. On Twitter, Gade explained that his engineers would get notifications every few days when metrics such as likes or comments were down. Then they’d decipher what had caused the problem and whether any models needed retraining.
But this approach soon caused issues. The models that maximize engagement also favor controversy, misinformation, and extremism: put simply, people just like outrageous stuff. Sometimes this inflames existing political tensions. The most devastating example to date is the case of Myanmar, where viral fake news and hate speech about the Rohingya Muslim minority escalated the country’s religious conflict into a full-blown genocide. Facebook admitted in 2018, after years of downplaying its role, that it had not done enough “to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”
While Facebook may have been oblivious to these consequences in the beginning, it was studying them by 2016. In an internal presentation from that year, reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, a company researcher, Monica Lee, found that Facebook was not only hosting a large number of extremist groups but also promoting them to its users: “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,” the presentation said, predominantly thanks to the models behind the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” features.
“The question for leadership was: Should we be optimizing for engagement if you find that somebody is in a vulnerable state of mind?”
A former AI researcher who joined in 2018
In 2017, Chris Cox, Facebook’s longtime chief product officer, formed a new task force to understand whether maximizing user engagement on Facebook was contributing to political polarization. It found that there was indeed a correlation, and that reducing polarization would mean taking a hit on engagement. In a mid-2018 document reviewed by the Journal, the task force proposed several potential fixes, such as tweaking the recommendation algorithms to suggest a more diverse range of groups for people to join. But it acknowledged that some of the ideas were “antigrowth.” Most of the proposals didn’t move forward, and the task force disbanded.
Since then, other employees have corroborated these findings. A former Facebook AI researcher who joined in 2018 says he and his team conducted “study after study” confirming the same basic idea: models that maximize engagement increase polarization. They could easily track how strongly users agreed or disagreed on different issues, what content they liked to engage with, and how their stances changed as a result. Regardless of the issue, the models learned to feed users increasingly extreme viewpoints. “Over time they measurably become more polarized,” he says.
The researcher’s team also found that users with a tendency to post or engage with melancholy content—a possible sign of depression—could easily spiral into consuming increasingly negative material that risked further worsening their mental health. The team proposed tweaking the content-ranking models for these users to stop maximizing engagement alone, so they would be shown less of the depressing stuff. “The question for leadership was: Should we be optimizing for engagement if you find that somebody is in a vulnerable state of mind?” he remembers. (A Facebook spokesperson said she could not find documentation for this proposal.)
But anything that reduced engagement, even for reasons such as not exacerbating someone’s depression, led to a lot of hemming and hawing among leadership. With their performance reviews and salaries tied to the successful completion of projects, employees quickly learned to drop those that received pushback and continue working on those dictated from the top down.
One such project heavily pushed by company leaders involved predicting whether a user might be at risk for something several people had already done: livestreaming their own suicide on Facebook Live. The task involved building a model to analyze the comments that other users were posting on a video after it had gone live, and bringing at-risk users to the attention of trained Facebook community reviewers who could call local emergency responders to perform a wellness check. It didn’t require any changes to content-ranking models, had negligible impact on engagement, and effectively fended off negative press. It was also nearly impossible, says the researcher: “It’s more of a PR stunt. The efficacy of trying to determine if somebody is going to kill themselves in the next 30 seconds, based on the first 10 seconds of video analysis—you’re not going to be very effective.”
Facebook disputes this characterization, saying the team that worked on this effort has since successfully predicted which users were at risk and increased the number of wellness checks performed. But the company does not release data on the accuracy of its predictions or how many wellness checks turned out to be real emergencies.
That former employee, meanwhile, no longer lets his daughter use Facebook.
Quiñonero should have been perfectly placed to tackle these problems when he created the SAIL (later Responsible AI) team in April 2018. His time as the director of Applied Machine Learning had made him intimately familiar with the company’s algorithms, especially the ones used for recommending posts, ads, and other content to users.
It also seemed that Facebook was ready to take these problems seriously. Whereas previous efforts to work on them had been scattered across the company, Quiñonero was now being granted a centralized team with leeway in his mandate to work on whatever he saw fit at the intersection of AI and society.
At the time, Quiñonero was engaging in his own reeducation about how to be a responsible technologist. The field of AI research was paying growing attention to problems of AI bias and accountability in the wake of high-profile studies showing that, for example, an algorithm was scoring Black defendants as more likely to be rearrested than white defendants who’d been arrested for the same or a more serious offense. Quiñonero began studying the scientific literature on algorithmic fairness, reading books on ethical engineering and the history of technology, and speaking with civil rights experts and moral philosophers.
Over the many hours I spent with him, I could tell he took this seriously. He had joined Facebook amid the Arab Spring, a series of revolutions against oppressive Middle Eastern regimes. Experts had lauded social media for spreading the information that fueled the uprisings and giving people tools to organize. Born in Spain but raised in Morocco, where he’d seen the suppression of free speech firsthand, Quiñonero felt an intense connection to Facebook’s potential as a force for good.
Six years later, Cambridge Analytica had threatened to overturn this promise. The controversy forced him to confront his faith in the company and examine what staying would mean for his integrity. “I think what happens to most people who work at Facebook—and definitely has been my story—is that there’s no boundary between Facebook and me,” he says. “It’s extremely personal.” But he chose to stay, and to head SAIL, because he believed he could do more for the world by helping turn the company around than by leaving it behind.
“I think if you’re at a company like Facebook, especially over the last few years, you really realize the impact that your products have on people’s lives—on what they think, how they communicate, how they interact with each other,” says Quiñonero’s longtime friend Zoubin Ghahramani, who helps lead the Google Brain team. “I know Joaquin cares deeply about all aspects of this. As somebody who strives to achieve better and improve things, he sees the important role that he can have in shaping both the thinking and the policies around responsible AI.”
At first, SAIL had only five people, who came from different parts of the company but were all interested in the societal impact of algorithms. One founding member, Isabel Kloumann, a research scientist who’d come from the company’s core data science team, brought with her an initial version of a tool to measure the bias in AI models.
The team also brainstormed many other ideas for projects. The former leader in the AI org, who was present for some of the early meetings of SAIL, recalls one proposal for combating polarization. It involved using sentiment analysis, a form of machine learning that interprets opinion in bits of text, to better identify comments that expressed extreme points of view. These comments wouldn’t be deleted, but they would be hidden by default with an option to reveal them, thus limiting the number of people who saw them.
And there were discussions about what role SAIL could play within Facebook and how it should evolve over time. The sentiment was that the team would first produce responsible-AI guidelines to tell the product teams what they should or should not do. But the hope was that it would ultimately serve as the company’s central hub for evaluating AI projects and stopping those that didn’t follow the guidelines.
Former employees described, however, how hard it could be to get buy-in or financial support when the work didn’t directly improve Facebook’s growth. By its nature, the team was not thinking about growth, and in some cases it was proposing ideas antithetical to growth. As a result, it received few resources and languished. Many of its ideas stayed largely academic.
On August 29, 2018, that suddenly changed. In the ramp-up to the US midterm elections, President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders ratcheted up accusations that Facebook, Twitter, and Google had anti-conservative bias. They claimed that Facebook’s moderators in particular, in applying the community standards, were suppressing conservative voices more than liberal ones. This charge would later be debunked, but the hashtag #StopTheBias, fueled by a Trump tweet, was rapidly spreading on social media.
For Trump, it was the latest effort to sow distrust in the country’s mainstream information distribution channels. For Zuckerberg, it threatened to alienate Facebook’s conservative US users and make the company more vulnerable to regulation from a Republican-led government. In other words, it threatened the company’s growth.
Facebook did not grant me an interview with Zuckerberg, but previousreporting has shown how he increasingly pandered to Trump and the Republican leadership. After Trump was elected, Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP of global public policy and its highest-ranking Republican, advised Zuckerberg to tread carefully in the new political environment.
On September 20, 2018, three weeks after Trump’s #StopTheBias tweet, Zuckerberg held a meeting with Quiñonero for the first time since SAIL’s creation. He wanted to know everything Quiñonero had learned about AI bias and how to quash it in Facebook’s content-moderation models. By the end of the meeting, one thing was clear: AI bias was now Quiñonero’s top priority. “The leadership has been very, very pushy about making sure we scale this aggressively,” says Rachad Alao, the engineering director of Responsible AI who joined in April 2019.
It was a win for everybody in the room. Zuckerberg got a way to ward off charges of anti-conservative bias. And Quiñonero now had more money and a bigger team to make the overall Facebook experience better for users. They could build upon Kloumann’s existing tool in order to measure and correct the alleged anti-conservative bias in content-moderation models, as well as to correct other types of bias in the vast majority of models across the platform.
This could help prevent the platform from unintentionally discriminating against certain users. By then, Facebook already had thousands of models running concurrently, and almost none had been measured for bias. That would get it into legal trouble a few months later with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which alleged that the company’s algorithms were inferring “protected” attributes like race from users’ data and showing them ads for housing based on those attributes—an illegal form of discrimination. (The lawsuit is still pending.) Schroepfer also predicted that Congress would soon pass laws to regulate algorithmic discrimination, so Facebook needed to make headway on these efforts anyway.
(Facebook disputes the idea that it pursued its work on AI bias to protect growth or in anticipation of regulation. “We built the Responsible AI team because it was the right thing to do,” a spokesperson said.)
But narrowing SAIL’s focus to algorithmic fairness would sideline all Facebook’s other long-standing algorithmic problems. Its content-recommendation models would continue pushing posts, news, and groups to users in an effort to maximize engagement, rewarding extremist content and contributing to increasingly fractured political discourse.
Zuckerberg even admitted this. Two months after the meeting with Quiñonero, in a public note outlining Facebook’s plans for content moderation, he illustrated the harmful effects of the company’s engagement strategy with a simplified chart. It showed that the more likely a post is to violate Facebook’s community standards, the more user engagement it receives, because the algorithms that maximize engagement reward inflammatory content.
But then he showed another chart with the inverse relationship. Rather than rewarding content that came close to violating the community standards, Zuckerberg wrote, Facebook could choose to start “penalizing” it, giving it “less distribution and engagement” rather than more. How would this be done? With more AI. Facebook would develop better content-moderation models to detect this “borderline content” so it could be retroactively pushed lower in the news feed to snuff out its virality, he said.
The problem is that for all Zuckerberg’s promises, this strategy is tenuous at best.
Misinformation and hate speech constantly evolve. New falsehoods spring up; new people and groups become targets. To catch things before they go viral, content-moderation models must be able to identify new unwanted content with high accuracy. But machine-learning models do not work that way. An algorithm that has learned to recognize Holocaust denial can’t immediately spot, say, Rohingya genocide denial. It must be trained on thousands, often even millions, of examples of a new type of content before learning to filter it out. Even then, users can quickly learn to outwit the model by doing things like changing the wording of a post or replacing incendiary phrases with euphemisms, making their message illegible to the AI while still obvious to a human. This is why new conspiracy theories can rapidly spiral out of control, and partly why, even after such content is banned, forms of it canpersist on the platform.
In his New York Times profile, Schroepfer named these limitations of the company’s content-moderation strategy. “Every time Mr. Schroepfer and his more than 150 engineering specialists create A.I. solutions that flag and squelch noxious material, new and dubious posts that the A.I. systems have never seen before pop up—and are thus not caught,” wrote the Times. “It’s never going to go to zero,” Schroepfer told the publication.
Meanwhile, the algorithms that recommend this content still work to maximize engagement. This means every toxic post that escapes the content-moderation filters will continue to be pushed higher up the news feed and promoted to reach a larger audience. Indeed, a study from New York University recently found that among partisan publishers’ Facebook pages, those that regularly posted political misinformation received the most engagement in the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential election and the Capitol riots. “That just kind of got me,” says a former employee who worked on integrity issues from 2018 to 2019. “We fully acknowledged [this], and yet we’re still increasing engagement.”
But Quiñonero’s SAIL team wasn’t working on this problem. Because of Kaplan’s and Zuckerberg’s worries about alienating conservatives, the team stayed focused on bias. And even after it merged into the bigger Responsible AI team, it was never mandated to work on content-recommendation systems that might limit the spread of misinformation. Nor has any other team, as I confirmed after Entin and another spokesperson gave me a full list of all Facebook’s other initiatives on integrity issues—the company’s umbrella term for problems including misinformation, hate speech, and polarization.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “The work isn’t done by one specific team because that’s not how the company operates.” It is instead distributed among the teams that have the specific expertise to tackle how content ranking affects misinformation for their part of the platform, she said. But Schroepfer told me precisely the opposite in an earlier interview. I had asked him why he had created a centralized Responsible AI team instead of directing existing teams to make progress on the issue. He said it was “best practice” at the company.
“[If] it’s an important area, we need to move fast on it, it’s not well-defined, [we create] a dedicated team and get the right leadership,” he said. “As an area grows and matures, you’ll see the product teams take on more work, but the central team is still needed because you need to stay up with state-of-the-art work.”
When I described the Responsible AI team’s work to other experts on AI ethics and human rights, they noted the incongruity between the problems it was tackling and those, like misinformation, for which Facebook is most notorious. “This seems to be so oddly removed from Facebook as a product—the things Facebook builds and the questions about impact on the world that Facebook faces,” said Rumman Chowdhury, whose startup, Parity, advises firms on the responsible use of AI, and was acquired by Twitter after our interview. I had shown Chowdhury the Quiñonero team’s documentation detailing its work. “I find it surprising that we’re going to talk about inclusivity, fairness, equity, and not talk about the very real issues happening today,” she said.
“It seems like the ‘responsible AI’ framing is completely subjective to what a company decides it wants to care about. It’s like, ‘We’ll make up the terms and then we’ll follow them,’” says Ellery Roberts Biddle, the editorial director of Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit that studies the impact of tech companies on human rights. “I don’t even understand what they mean when they talk about fairness. Do they think it’s fair to recommend that people join extremist groups, like the ones that stormed the Capitol? If everyone gets the recommendation, does that mean it was fair?”
“We’re at a place where there’s one genocide [Myanmar] that the UN has, with a lot of evidence, been able to specifically point to Facebook and to the way that the platform promotes content,” Biddle adds. “How much higher can the stakes get?”
Over the last two years, Quiñonero’s team has built out Kloumann’s original tool, called Fairness Flow. It allows engineers to measure the accuracy of machine-learning models for different user groups. They can compare a face-detection model’s accuracy across different ages, genders, and skin tones, or a speech-recognition algorithm’s accuracy across different languages, dialects, and accents.
Fairness Flow also comes with a set of guidelines to help engineers understand what it means to train a “fair” model. One of the thornier problems with making algorithms fair is that there are different definitions of fairness, which can be mutually incompatible. Fairness Flow lists four definitions that engineers can use according to which suits their purpose best, such as whether a speech-recognition model recognizes all accents with equal accuracy or with a minimum threshold of accuracy.
But testing algorithms for fairness is still largely optional at Facebook. None of the teams that work directly on Facebook’s news feed, ad service, or other products are required to do it. Pay incentives are still tied to engagement and growth metrics. And while there are guidelines about which fairness definition to use in any given situation, they aren’t enforced.
This last problem came to the fore when the company had to deal with allegations of anti-conservative bias.
In 2014, Kaplan was promoted from US policy head to global vice president for policy, and he began playing a more heavy-handed role in content moderation and decisions about how to rank posts in users’ news feeds. After Republicans started voicing claims of anti-conservative bias in 2016, his team began manually reviewing the impact of misinformation-detection models on users to ensure—among other things—that they didn’t disproportionately penalize conservatives.
All Facebook users have some 200 “traits” attached to their profile. These include various dimensions submitted by users or estimated by machine-learning models, such as race, political and religious leanings, socioeconomic class, and level of education. Kaplan’s team began using the traits to assemble custom user segments that reflected largely conservative interests: users who engaged with conservative content, groups, and pages, for example. Then they’d run special analyses to see how content-moderation decisions would affect posts from those segments, according to a former researcher whose work was subject to those reviews.
The Fairness Flow documentation, which the Responsible AI team wrote later, includes a case study on how to use the tool in such a situation. When deciding whether a misinformation model is fair with respect to political ideology, the team wrote, “fairness” does not mean the model should affect conservative and liberal users equally. If conservatives are posting a greater fraction of misinformation, as judged by public consensus, then the model should flag a greater fraction of conservative content. If liberals are posting more misinformation, it should flag their content more often too.
But members of Kaplan’s team followed exactly the opposite approach: they took “fairness” to mean that these models should not affect conservatives more than liberals. When a model did so, they would stop its deployment and demand a change. Once, they blocked a medical-misinformation detector that had noticeably reduced the reach of anti-vaccine campaigns, the former researcher told me. They told the researchers that the model could not be deployed until the team fixed this discrepancy. But that effectively made the model meaningless. “There’s no point, then,” the researcher says. A model modified in that way “would have literally no impact on the actual problem” of misinformation.
“I don’t even understand what they mean when they talk about fairness. Do they think it’s fair to recommend that people join extremist groups, like the ones that stormed the Capitol? If everyone gets the recommendation, does that mean it was fair?”
Ellery Roberts Biddle, editorial director of Ranking Digital Rights
This happened countless other times—and not just for content moderation. In 2020, the Washington Post reported that Kaplan’s team had undermined efforts to mitigate election interference and polarization within Facebook, saying they could contribute to anti-conservative bias. In 2018, it used the same argument to shelve a project to edit Facebook’s recommendation models even though researchers believed it would reduce divisiveness on the platform, according to the Wall Street Journal. His claims about political bias also weakened a proposal to edit the ranking models for the news feed that Facebook’s data scientists believed would strengthen the platform against the manipulation tactics Russia had used during the 2016 US election.
And ahead of the 2020 election, Facebook policy executives used this excuse, according to the New York Times, to veto or weaken several proposals that would have reduced the spread of hateful and damaging content.
Facebook disputed the Wall Street Journal’s reporting in a follow-up blog post, and challenged the New York Times’s characterization in an interview with the publication. A spokesperson for Kaplan’s team also denied to me that this was a pattern of behavior, saying the cases reported by the Post, the Journal, and the Times were “all individual instances that we believe are then mischaracterized.” He declined to comment about the retraining of misinformation models on the record.
Many of these incidents happened before Fairness Flow was adopted. But they show how Facebook’s pursuit of fairness in the service of growth had already come at a steep cost to progress on the platform’s other challenges. And if engineers used the definition of fairness that Kaplan’s team had adopted, Fairness Flow could simply systematize behavior that rewarded misinformation instead of helping to combat it.
Often “the whole fairness thing” came into play only as a convenient way to maintain the status quo, the former researcher says: “It seems to fly in the face of the things that Mark was saying publicly in terms of being fair and equitable.”
The last time I spoke with Quiñonero was a month after the US Capitol riots. I wanted to know how the storming of Congress had affected his thinking and the direction of his work.
In the video call, it was as it always was: Quiñonero dialing in from his home office in one window and Entin, his PR handler, in another. I asked Quiñonero what role he felt Facebook had played in the riots and whether it changed the task he saw for Responsible AI. After a long pause, he sidestepped the question, launching into a description of recent work he’d done to promote greater diversity and inclusion among the AI teams.
I asked him the question again. His Facebook Portal camera, which uses computer-vision algorithms to track the speaker, began to slowly zoom in on his face as he grew still. “I don’t know that I have an easy answer to that question, Karen,” he said. “It’s an extremely difficult question to ask me.”
Entin, who’d been rapidly pacing with a stoic poker face, grabbed a red stress ball.
I asked Quiñonero why his team hadn’t previously looked at ways to edit Facebook’s content-ranking models to tamp down misinformation and extremism. He told me it was the job of other teams (though none, as I confirmed, have been mandated to work on that task). “It’s not feasible for the Responsible AI team to study all those things ourselves,” he said. When I asked whether he would consider having his team tackle those issues in the future, he vaguely admitted, “I would agree with you that that is going to be the scope of these types of conversations.”
Near the end of our hour-long interview, he began to emphasize that AI was often unfairly painted as “the culprit.” Regardless of whether Facebook used AI or not, he said, people would still spew lies and hate speech, and that content would still spread across the platform.
I pressed him one more time. Certainly he couldn’t believe that algorithms had done absolutely nothing to change the nature of these issues, I said.
“I don’t know,” he said with a halting stutter. Then he repeated, with more conviction: “That’s my honest answer. Honest to God. I don’t know.”
Corrections:We amended a line that suggested that Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy, had used Fairness Flow. He has not. But members of his team have used the notion of fairness to request the retraining of misinformation models in ways that directly contradict Responsible AI’s guidelines. We also clarified when Rachad Alao, the engineering director of Responsible AI, joined the company.
The visionary Swedish artist Hilma af Klint exemplifies this clearly, argues Halina Dyrschka, the German film-maker, whose beautiful film Beyond the Visible, about the painter’s astonishing work, is released on Friday. When I ask her why af Klint has been largely ignored since her death in 1944, Dyrschka tells me over video link from Berlin: “It’s easier to make a woman into a crazy witch than change art history to accommodate her. We still see a woman who is spiritual as a witch, while we celebrate spiritual male artists as geniuses.”
When Dyrschka first saw Hilma af Klint’s paintings seven years ago, “they spoke to me more profoundly than any art I have ever seen”. She was beguiled by the grids and intersecting circles, schematic flower forms, painted numbers, looping lines, pyramids and sunbursts.“It felt like a personal insult that those paintings had been hidden from me for so long.”
Af Klint had three strikes against her. She was a woman, she had no contacts in the art world, and, worst of all, she was a medium who believed her art flowed through her unmediated by ego. She worked for many years in quiet obscurity on a Swedish island where she cared for her mother as the latter went blind. Today, her work is being appreciated, but not bought up, by collectors because it is held by her descendants. As Ulla af Klint, widow of the nephew who inherited the artist’s work, says in the film: “You can’t make money out of Hilma.”
Af Klint’s mysticism hobbled her reputation long after her death. In the 1970s, her grand nephew Johan af Klint offered paintings to Sweden’s leading modern art museum, the Moderna Museet. The then-director turned them down. “When he heard that she was a medium, there was no discussion. He didn’t even look at the pictures.” Only in 2013 did the museum redeem itself with a retrospective.
“For some it’s very provocative when someone says, ‘I did this physically but it’s not by me. I was in contract with energies greater than me,’” says Iris Müller-Westermann, who curated that show. But, she adds, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich were all influenced by contemporary spiritual movements such as theosophy and anthroposophy too, as they sought to transcend the physical world and the constraints of representational art.
It’s striking that many female artists have been mediums but, unlike, say, the late British pianist and dinner lady Rosemary Brown, who claimed to have transcribed new works from the beyond by Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Liszt, Hilma af Klint was directed not to transcribe new works by dead artists but by forces from a higher realm. In one notebook, she described how she was inspired. “I registered their magnitude within me. Above the easel I saw the Jupiter symbol which [shone] brightly and persisted for several seconds, brightly. I started the work immediately proceeding in such a way that the pictures were painted directly through me with great power.”
When she died, Af Klint left more than 1,300 works, which had only been seen by a handful of people. She also left 125 notebooks, in one of which she stipulated that her work should not be publicly displayed until 20 years after her death. The “Higher Ones” she was in contact with through seances told Af Klint that the world was not ready yet for her work. Maybe they had a point.
In 1944, three great pioneers of abstract art died: Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and af Klint. Kandinsky claimed to have created the first abstract painting in 1911. And when in 2012 New York’s Museum of Modern Art staged their show Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925, Af Klint was not even included as a footnote. And yet, as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zweitung art critic Julia Voss argues in the film, the Swedish artist had the jump on Kandinsky by five years in producing the first abstract painting in 1906.
For her film, Dyrschka contracted MoMA to find out why Af Klint had been erased from art history and was told “they weren’t so sure Hilma af Klint’s art worked as abstract art. After all, she hadn’t exhibited in her lifetime so how could one tell?” In the film, Dyrschka tries to answer that question by juxtaposing paintings by Af Klint with those of famous 20th-century male artists. Her golden square from 1916 is placed alongside a similar image by Josef Albers from 1971; her automatic writing doodles from 1896 are pitted against Cy Twombly’s 1967 squiggles. They make the rhetorical point strongly: whatever the men were doing, af Klint had probably done it first.
Hilma af Klint was born in Stockholm in 1862. Thanks to the family fortune she was able to study at the Royal Academy in Stockholm from which she graduated in 1887. She went on to support herself by painting landscapes and portraits as well as very beautiful botanical works. She joined the Theosophical Society in 1889 and in 1896 established a group of female artists called the Five, who each Friday met to pray, make automatic writing and attempt to communicate with other worlds through seances. Theosophists believe that all forms of life are part of the same cosmic whole. “It was a women’s liberation philosophy,” argues Voss. “It said: ‘Sure you can be priestesses.’”
But Af Klint was not just a conduit for occult spirits. She was also attuned to the scientific developments of the day. As Dyrschka argues in her film, the years in which the artist was creatively active was a time in which science was discovering worlds beyond the visible – including subatomic particles and electromagnetic radiation. Af Klint’s art involved making the invisible visible, be it that which science disclosed or that which the Higher Powers commissioned her to depict.
But on those Friday meetings, she encountered supernatural beings beyond science’s remit. The Five claimed to receive messages from other worlds. Af Klint recorded one message in her notebook: “‘Accept,’ says the angel ‘that a wonderful energy follows from the heavenly to the earthly.’” The Five called these spirit guides High Masters and gave them names: Amaliel, Ananda, Clemens, Esther, Georg and Gregor. In 1904, these High Masters called for a temple to be built, filled with paintings that the Five would make. Only Af Klint accepted this strange commission and in November 1906 set to work on what grew over the next 11 years to become a series of of 193 paintings.
The philosopher and occultist Rudolf Steiner, whose anthroposophical society she would join, saw the early paintings in this series in 1908 but was uncomprehending. Strikingly, in the next four years Af Klint did little painting, but retreated to the obscure island of Munsö in Lake Mälaren, near her family’s estate on neighbouring Adelsö – in part because she was caring for her ailing mother, but also because Steiner’s patriarchal dismissal stung.
“She was treated locally as a crazy witch,” says Dyrschka. “The locals used to wonder what she did with all the eggs that were delivered to her studio.” They were used for her favoured material, tempera, which critics have noted gives her work on paper a luminous quality.
In a sense this retreat from the world was creatively sensible. Surrounded by water and spirits, Af Klint worked at the service of her occult beliefs. She had great hopes that Steiner would help her build a temple to house her art on a Swedish island that would glorify his philosophy. In 1932 she wrote to him: “Should the paintings which I created between 1902 and 1920, some of which you saw for yourself, be destroyed. Or can one do something with them?”
It sounds like a threat; happily, she didn’t destroy the work even though nothing came of her dream temple. Af Klint did sketch out what the temple should look like – it should be made of alabaster and have an astronomical tower with an internal spiral staircase. Poignantly, in her film Dyrschka juxtaposes this description with images of the Guggenheim in New York where Af Klint’s oeuvre was belatedly given pride of place last year. The skylight and the ramps look like the temple that Hilma af Klint died without seeing realised.
True, the 1986 touring exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Paintings 1890–1985 exhibition at LACMA in Los Angeles marked the beginning of Af Klint’s international recognition. But it was the Guggenheim exhibition that, more than a century after Af Klint arguably invented abstract and painted some of the most beguiling if neglected canvases in art history, really got what she deserved.
For science historian Ernst Peter Ficsher quoted in the film, it is us rather than Af Klint who require reviving. We need her vision in our disenchanted age. “We know that the universe is made up of 95% dark matter but the strange thing is nobody gets excited about this. I think our world has become blurred stupid dulled unless somewhere out there there’s a Hilma af Klint painting it all so in a hundred years we will see what we’ve missed. In 1900 we still knew how to marvel. Today we sit in front of our iPhones and media and are bored.” Hilma af Klint’s paintings, just maybe, gives us the opportunity to escape the everyday and marvel anew.
Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint is released on 9 October.
Cambridge University team say their findings could be used to spot people at risk from radicalisation
Our brains hold clues for the ideologies we choose to live by, according to research, which has suggested that people who espouse extremist attitudes tend to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge sought to evaluate whether cognitive disposition – differences in how information is perceived and processed – sculpt ideological world-views such as political, nationalistic and dogmatic beliefs, beyond the impact of traditional demographic factors like age, race and gender.
The study, built on previous research, included more than 330 US-based participants aged 22 to 63 who were exposed to a battery of tests – 37 neuropsychological tasks and 22 personality surveys – over the course of two weeks.
The tasks were engineered to be neutral, not emotional or political – they involved, for instance, memorising visual shapes. The researchers then used computational modelling to extract information from that data about the participant’s perception and learning, and their ability to engage in complex and strategic mental processing.
A key finding was that people with extremist attitudes tended to think about the world in black and white terms, and struggled with complex tasks that required intricate mental steps, said lead author Dr Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology.
“Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said.
She said another feature of people with tendencies towards extremism appeared to be that they were not good at regulating their emotions, meaning they were impulsive and tended to seek out emotionally evocative experiences. “And so that kind of helps us understand what kind of individual might be willing to go in and commit violence against innocent others.”
Participants who are prone to dogmatism – stuck in their ways and relatively resistant to credible evidence – actually have a problem with processing evidence even at a perceptual level, the authors found.
“For example, when they’re asked to determine whether dots [as part of a neuropsychological task] are moving to the left or to the right, they just took longer to process that information and come to a decision,” Zmigrod said.
In some cognitive tasks, participants were asked to respond as quickly and as accurately as possible. People who leant towards the politically conservative tended to go for the slow and steady strategy, while political liberals took a slightly more fast and furious, less precise approach.
“It’s fascinating, because conservatism is almost a synonym for caution,” she said. “We’re seeing that – at the very basic neuropsychological level – individuals who are politically conservative … simply treat every stimuli that they encounter with caution.”
The “psychological signature” for extremism across the board was a blend of conservative and dogmatic psychologies, the researchers said.
The study, which looked at 16 different ideological orientations, could have profound implications for identifying and supporting people most vulnerable to radicalisation across the political and religious spectrum.
“What we found is that demographics don’t explain a whole lot; they only explain roughly 8% of the variance,” said Zmigrod. “Whereas, actually, when we incorporate these cognitive and personality assessments as well, suddenly, our capacity to explain the variance of these ideological world-views jumps to 30% or 40%.”
Machine learning algorithms serve us the news we read, the ads we see, and in some cases even drive our cars. But there’s an insidious layer to these algorithms: They rely on data collected by and about humans, and they spit our worst biases right back out at us. For example, job candidate screening algorithms may automatically reject names that sound like they belong to nonwhite people, while facial recognition software is often much worse at recognizing women or nonwhite faces than it is at recognizing white male faces. An increasing number of scientists and institutions are waking up to these issues, and speaking out about the potential for AI to cause harm.
Brian Nord is one such researcher weighing his own work against the potential to cause harm with AI algorithms. Nord is a cosmologist at Fermilab and the University of Chicago, where he uses artificial intelligence to study the cosmos, and he’s been researching a concept for a “self-driving telescope” that can write and test hypotheses with the help of a machine learning algorithm. At the same time, he’s struggling with the idea that the algorithms he’s writing may one day be biased against him—and even used against him—and is working to build a coalition of physicists and computer scientists to fight for more oversight in AI algorithm development.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Gizmodo: How did you become a physicist interested in AI and its pitfalls?
Brian Nord: My Ph.d is in cosmology, and when I moved to Fermilab in 2012, I moved into the subfield of strong gravitational lensing. [Editor’s note: Gravitational lenses are places in the night sky where light from distant objects has been bent by the gravitational field of heavy objects in the foreground, making the background objects appear warped and larger.] I spent a few years doing strong lensing science in the traditional way, where we would visually search through terabytes of images, through thousands of candidates of these strong gravitational lenses, because they’re so weird, and no one had figured out a more conventional algorithm to identify them. Around 2015, I got kind of sad at the prospect of only finding these things with my eyes, so I started looking around and found deep learning.
Here we are a few years later—myself and a few other people popularized this idea of using deep learning—and now it’s the standard way to find these objects. People are unlikely to go back to using methods that aren’t deep learning to do galaxy recognition. We got to this point where we saw that deep learning is the thing, and really quickly saw the potential impact of it across astronomy and the sciences. It’s hitting every science now. That is a testament to the promise and peril of this technology, with such a relatively simple tool. Once you have the pieces put together right, you can do a lot of different things easily, without necessarily thinking through the implications.
Gizmodo: So what is deep learning? Why is it good and why is it bad?
BN: Traditional mathematical models (like the F=ma of Newton’s laws) are built by humans to describe patterns in data: We use our current understanding of nature, also known as intuition, to choose the pieces, the shape of these models. This means that they are often limited by what we know or can imagine about a dataset. These models are also typically smaller and are less generally applicable for many problems.
On the other hand, artificial intelligence models can be very large, with many, many degrees of freedom, so they can be made very general and able to describe lots of different data sets. Also, very importantly, they are primarily sculpted by the data that they are exposed to—AI models are shaped by the data with which they are trained. Humans decide what goes into the training set, which is then limited again by what we know or can imagine about that data. It’s not a big jump to see that if you don’t have the right training data, you can fall off the cliff really quickly.
The promise and peril are highly related. In the case of AI, the promise is in the ability to describe data that humans don’t yet know how to describe with our ‘intuitive’ models. But, perilously, the data sets used to train them incorporate our own biases. When it comes to AI recognizing galaxies, we’re risking biased measurements of the universe. When it comes to AI recognizing human faces, when our data sets are biased against Black and Brown faces for example, we risk discrimination that prevents people from using services, that intensifies surveillance apparatus, that jeopardizes human freedoms. It’s critical that we weigh and address these consequences before we imperil people’s lives with our research.
Gizmodo: When did the light bulb go off in your head that AI could be harmful?
BN: I gotta say that it was with the Machine Bias article from ProPublica in 2016, where they discuss recidivism and sentencing procedure in courts. At the time of that article, there was a closed-source algorithm used to make recommendations for sentencing, and judges were allowed to use it. There was no public oversight of this algorithm, which ProPublica found was biased against Black people; people could use algorithms like this willy nilly without accountability. I realized that as a Black man, I had spent the last few years getting excited about neural networks, then saw it quite clearly that these applications that could harm me were already out there, already being used, and we’re already starting to become embedded in our social structure through the criminal justice system. Then I started paying attention more and more. I realized countries across the world were using surveillance technology, incorporating machine learning algorithms, for widespread oppressive uses.
Gizmodo: How did you react? What did you do?
BN: I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; I wanted to build a coalition. I started looking into groups like Fairness, Accountability and Transparency in Machine Learning, plus Black in AI, who is focused on building communities of Black researchers in the AI field, but who also has the unique awareness of the problem because we are the people who are affected. I started paying attention to the news and saw that Meredith Whittaker had started a think tank to combat these things, and Joy Buolamwini had helped found the Algorithmic Justice League. I brushed up on what computer scientists were doing and started to look at what physicists were doing, because that’s my principal community.
It became clear to folks like me and Savannah Thais that physicists needed to realize that they have a stake in this game. We get government funding, and we tend to take a fundamental approach to research. If we bring that approach to AI, then we have the potential to affect the foundations of how these algorithms work and impact a broader set of applications. I asked myself and my colleagues what our responsibility in developing these algorithms was and in having some say in how they’re being used down the line.
Gizmodo: How is it going so far?
BN: Currently, we’re going to write a white paper for SNOWMASS, this high-energy physics event. The SNOWMASS process determines the vision that guides the community for about a decade. I started to identify individuals to work with, fellow physicists, and experts who care about the issues, and develop a set of arguments for why physicists from institutions, individuals, and funding agencies should care deeply about these algorithms they’re building and implementing so quickly. It’s a piece that’s asking people to think about how much they are considering the ethical implications of what they’re doing.
We’ve already held a workshop at the University of Chicago where we’ve begun discussing these issues, and at Fermilab we’ve had some initial discussions. But we don’t yet have the critical mass across the field to develop policy. We can’t do it ourselves as physicists; we don’t have backgrounds in social science or technology studies. The right way to do this is to bring physicists together from Fermilab and other institutions with social scientists and ethicists and science and technology studies folks and professionals, and build something from there. The key is going to be through partnership with these other disciplines.
Gizmodo: Why haven’t we reached that critical mass yet?
BN: I think we need to show people, as Angela Davis has said, that our struggle is also their struggle. That’s why I’m talking about coalition building. The thing that affects us also affects them. One way to do this is to clearly lay out the potential harm beyond just race and ethnicity. Recently, there was this discussion of a paper that used neural networks to try and speed up the selection of candidates for Ph.D programs. They trained the algorithm on historical data. So let me be clear, they said here’s a neural network, here’s data on applicants who were denied and accepted to universities. Those applicants were chosen by faculty and people with biases. It should be obvious to anyone developing that algorithm that you’re going to bake in the biases in that context. I hope people will see these things as problems and help build our coalition.
Gizmodo: What is your vision for a future of ethical AI?
BN: What if there were an agency or agencies for algorithmic accountability? I could see these existing at the local level, the national level, and the institutional level. We can’t predict all of the future uses of technology, but we need to be asking questions at the beginning of the processes, not as an afterthought. An agency would help ask these questions and still allow the science to get done, but without endangering people’s lives. Alongside agencies, we need policies at various levels that make a clear decision about how safe the algorithms have to be before they are used on humans or other living things. If I had my druthers, these agencies and policies would be built by an incredibly diverse group of people. We’ve seen instances where a homogeneous group develops an app or technology and didn’t see the things that another group who’s not there would have seen. We need people across the spectrum of experience to participate in designing policies for ethical AI.
Gizmodo: What are your biggest fears about all of this?
BN: My biggest fear is that people who already have access to technology resources will continue to use them to subjugate people who are already oppressed; Pratyusha Kalluri has also advanced this idea of power dynamics. That’s what we’re seeing across the globe. Sure, there are cities that are trying to ban facial recognition, but unless we have a broader coalition, unless we have more cities and institutions willing to take on this thing directly, we’re not going to be able to keep this tool from exacerbating white supremacy, racism, and misogyny that that already exists inside structures today. If we don’t push policy that puts the lives of marginalized people first, then they’re going to continue being oppressed, and it’s going to accelerate.
Gizmodo: How has thinking about AI ethics affected your own research?
BN: I have to question whether I want to do AI work and how I’m going to do it; whether or not it’s the right thing to do to build a certain algorithm. That’s something I have to keep asking myself… Before, it was like, how fast can I discover new things and build technology that can help the world learn something? Now there’s a significant piece of nuance to that. Even the best things for humanity could be used in some of the worst ways. It’s a fundamental rethinking of the order of operations when it comes to my research.
I don’t think it’s weird to think about safety first. We have OSHA and safety groups at institutions who write down lists of things you have to check off before you’re allowed to take out a ladder, for example. Why are we not doing the same thing in AI? A part of the answer is obvious: Not all of us are people who experience the negative effects of these algorithms. But as one of the few Black people at the institutions I work in, I’m aware of it, I’m worried about it, and the scientific community needs to appreciate that my safety matters too, and that my safety concerns don’t end when I walk out of work.
Gizmodo: Anything else?
BN: I’d like to re-emphasize that when you look at some of the research that has come out, like vetting candidates for graduate school, or when you look at the biases of the algorithms used in criminal justice, these are problems being repeated over and over again, with the same biases. It doesn’t take a lot of investigation to see that bias enters these algorithms very quickly. The people developing them should really know better. Maybe there needs to be more educational requirements for algorithm developers to think about these issues before they have the opportunity to unleash them on the world.
This conversation needs to be raised to the level where individuals and institutions consider these issues a priority. Once you’re there, you need people to see that this is an opportunity for leadership. If we can get a grassroots community to help an institution to take the lead on this, it incentivizes a lot of people to start to take action.
And finally, people who have expertise in these areas need to be allowed to speak their minds. We can’t allow our institutions to quiet us so we can’t talk about the issues we’re bringing up. The fact that I have experience as a Black man doing science in America, and the fact that I do AI—that should be appreciated by institutions. It gives them an opportunity to have a unique perspective and take a unique leadership position. I would be worried if individuals felt like they couldn’t speak their mind. If we can’t get these issues out into the sunlight, how will we be able to build out of the darkness?
Ryan F. Mandelbaum – Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds
Terrence McCoy and Heloísa Traiano, November 15, 2020 at 5:23 p.m. GMT-3
RIO DE JANEIRO — For most of his 57 years, to the extent that he thought about his race, José Antônio Gomes used the language he was raised with. He was “pardo” — biracial — which was how his parents identified themselves. Or maybe “moreno,” as people back in his hometown called him. Perhaps “mestiço,” a blend of ethnicities.
It wasn’t until this year, when protests for racial justice erupted across the United States after George Floyd’s killing in police custody, that Gomes’s own uncertainty settled. Watching television, he saw himself in the thousands of people of color protesting amid the racially diverse crowds. He saw himself in Floyd.
Gomes realized he wasn’t mixed. He was Black.
So in September, when he announced his candidacy for city council in the southeastern city of Turmalina, Gomes officially identified himself that way. “In reality, I’ve always been Black,” he said. “But I didn’t think I was Black. But now we have more courage to see ourselves that way.”
Brazil is home to more people of African heritage than any country outside Africa. But it is rarely identified as a Black nation, or as closely identifying with any race, really. It has seen itself as simply Brazilian — a tapestry of European, African and Indigenous backgrounds that has defied the more rigid racial categories used elsewhere. Some were darker, others lighter. But almost everyone was a mix.
Now, however, as affirmative action policies diversify Brazilian institutions and the struggle for racial equality in the United States inspires a similar movement here, a growing number of people are redefining themselves. Brazilians who long considered themselves to be White are reexamining their family histories and concluding that they’re pardo. Others who thought of themselves as pardo now say they’re Black.
In Brazil, which still carries the imprint of colonization and slavery, where class and privilege are strongly associated with race, the racial reconfiguration has been striking. Over the past decade, the percentage of Brazilians who consider themselves White has dropped from 48 percent to 43 percent, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, while the number of people who identify as Black or mixed has risen from 51 percent to 56 percent.
“We are clearly seeing more Black people publicly declare themselves as Black, as they would in other countries,” said Kleber Antonio de Oliveira Amancio, a social historian at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia. “Racial change is much more fluid here than it is in the United States.”
One of the clearest illustrations of that fluidity — and the growing movement to identify as Black — was the registration process for the 5,500 or so municipal elections held here Sunday. Candidates were required to identify as White, Black, mixed, Indigenous or Asian. And that routine bureaucratic step yielded fairly stunning results.
More than a quarter of the 168,000 candidates who also ran in 2016 have changed their race, according to a Washington Post analysis of election registration data. Nearly 17,000 who said they were White in 2016 are now mixed. Around 6,000 who said they were mixed are now Black. And more than 14,000 who said they were mixed now identify as White.
For some candidates, the jump was even further. Nearly 900 went from White to Black, and nearly 600 went from Black to White.
How to explain it?
Some say they’re simply correcting bureaucratic error: A party official charged with registering candidates saw their picture and recorded their race inaccurately. One woman joked that she’d gotten a lot less sun this year while quarantined and decided to declare herself White. Another candidate told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that he was Black but was a “fan” of the Indigenous, and so has now joined them. Some believed candidates were taking advantage of a recent court decision that requires parties to dispense campaign funds evenly among racial categories.
And others said they didn’t see what all of the fuss was about.
“Race couldn’t exist,” reasoned Carlos Lacerda, a city council candidate in the southeastern city of Araçatuba, who described himself as White in 2016 and Black this year. “It’s nationalism, and that’s it. Race is something I’d never speak about.”
“We have way more important things to talk about than my race,” said Ribamar Antônio da Silva, a city council member seeking reelection in the southeastern city of Osasco.
But others looked at the racial registration as a chance to fulfill a long-denied identity.
Cristovam Andrade, 36, a city council candidate in the northeastern city of São Felipe, was raised on a farm in rural Bahia, where the influence of West Africa never felt far away. With limited access to information outside his community — let alone Brazil — he grew up believing he was White. That was how his parents had always described him.
“I didn’t have any idea about race in North America or in Europe,” he said. “But I knew a lot of people who were darker than me, so I saw myself as White.”
As he began to see himself as Black, Brazil did, too. For much of its history, Brazil’s intellectual elite described Latin America’s largest country as a “racial democracy,” saying its history of intermixing had spared it the racism that plagues other countries. Around 5 million enslaved Africans were shipped to Brazil — more than 10 times the number that ended up in North America — and the country was the last in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888. Its history since has been one of profound racial inequality: White people earn nearly twice as much as Black people on average, and more than 75 percent of the 5,800 people killed by police last year were Black.
But Brazil never adopted prohibitions on intermarrying or draconian racial distinctions. Race became malleable.
The Brazilian soccer player Neymar famously said he wasn’t Black. Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso famously said he was, at least in part. The 20th-century Brazilian sociologist Gilberto de Mello Freyre wrote in the 1930s that all Brazilians — “even the light-skinned fair-haired one” — carried Indigenous or African lineage.
“The self-declaration as Black is a very complex question in Brazilian society,” said Wlamyra Albuquerque, a historian at the Federal University of Bahia. “And one of the reasons for this is that the myth of a racial democracy is still in political culture in Brazil. The notion that we’re all mixed, and because of this, racism couldn’t exist in the country, is still dominant.”
Given the choice, many Afro-Brazilians, historians and sociologists argue, have historically chosen not to identify as Black — whether consciously or not — to distance themselves from the enduring legacy of slavery and societal inequality. Wealth and privilege allowed some to separate even further from their skin color.
“In Brazilian schools, we didn’t learn who was an African person, who was an Indigenous person,” said Bartolina Ramalho Catanante, a historian at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul. “We only learned who was a European person and how they came here. To be Black wasn’t valued.”
But over the past two decades, as diversity efforts elevated previously marginalized voices into newscasts, telenovelas and politics, people such as Andrade have begun to think of themselves differently. To Andrade’s mother, he was White. But he wasn’t so sure. His late father had been Black. His grandparents had been Black. Just because his skin color was lighter, did that make his African roots, and his family’s experience of slavery, any less a part of his history?
In 2016, when Andrade ran for office, an official with the leftist Workers’ Party asked him what race he would like to declare. He had a decision to make.
“I am going to mark Black as a way to recognize my ancestry and origin,” he thought. “Outside of Brazil, we would never be considered White. We live in a bubble in this country.”
But this year, when he ran again, no one asked him which race he preferred. Someone saw his picture and made the decision for him. He was put down as White. For Andrade, it felt like an erasure.
“It’s easy for some to say they’re Black or mixed or White, but for me it’s not easy,” he said. “And I’m not going to be someone who isn’t White all over the world but is White only in Brazil. If I’m not White elsewhere in the world, I’m not White.”
He’s Black. And if he seeks public office again in 2024, he said, he’ll make sure that’s how he will be known.
Respondents describe a power imbalance in environmental decision-making
Anglia Ruskin University
New research has found that Indigenous knowledge is regularly underutilised and misunderstood when making important environmental decisions.
Published in a special edition of the journal People and Nature, the study investigates how to improve collaborations between Indigenous knowledge holders and scientists, and recommends that greater equity is necessary to better inform decision-making and advance common environmental goals.
The research, led by Dr Helen Wheeler of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), involved participants from the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Russia, Canada, and the United States.
Indigenous peoples inhabit 25% of the land surface and have strong links to their environment, meaning they can provide unique insights into natural systems. However, the greater resources available to scientists often creates a power imbalance when environmental decisions are made.
The study’s Indigenous participants identified numerous problems, including that Indigenous knowledge is often perceived as less valuable than scientific knowledge and added as anecdotes to scientific studies.
They also felt that Indigenous knowledge was being forced into frameworks that did not match Indigenous people’s understanding of the world and is often misinterpreted through scientific validation. One participant expressed the importance of Indigenous knowledge being reviewed by Indigenous knowledge holders, rather than by scientists.
Another concern was that while funding for Arctic science was increasing, the same was not happening for research rooted in Indigenous knowledge or conducted by Indigenous peoples.
Gunn-Britt Retter, Head of the Arctic and Environmental Unit of the Saami Council, said: “Although funding for Arctic science is increasing, we are not experiencing this same trend for Indigenous knowledge research.
“Sometimes Indigenous organisations feel pressured to agree to requests for collaboration with scientists so that we can have some influence in decision-making, even when these collaborations feel tokenistic and do not meet the needs of our communities. This is because there is a lack of funding for Indigenous-led research.”
Victoria Buschman, Inupiaq Inuit wildlife and conservation biologist at the University of Washington, said: “Much of the research community has not made adequate space for Indigenous knowledge and continues to undermine its potential for information decision-making. We must let go of the narrative that working with Indigenous knowledge is too challenging.”
The study concludes that values, laws, institutions, funding and mechanisms of support that create equitable power-relations between collaborators are necessary for successful relationships between scientists and Indigenous groups.
Lead author Dr Helen Wheeler, Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “The aim of this study was to understand how to work better with Indigenous knowledge. For those who do research on Indigenous people’s land, such as myself, I think this is an important question to ask.
“Our study suggests there are still misconceptions about Indigenous knowledge, particularly around the idea that it is limited in scope or needs verifying by science to be useful. Building capacity for research within Indigenous institutions is also a high priority, which will ensure Indigenous groups have greater power when it comes to informed decision-making.
“Indigenous knowledge is increasingly used in decision-making at many levels from developing international policy on biodiversity to local decisions about how to manage wildlife. However, as scientists and decision-makers use knowledge, they must do so in a way that reflects the needs of Indigenous knowledge holders. This should lead to better decisions and more equitable and productive partnerships.”
New research provides evidence that people from higher social classes are worse at understanding the minds of others compared to those from lower social classes. The study has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“My co-author and I set out to examine a question that we deemed important given the trend of rising economic inequality in American society today: How does access to resources (e.g., money, education) influence the way we process information about other human beings?” said study author Pia Dietze, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine.
“We tried to answer this question by examining two essential components within the human repertoire to understand each other’s minds: the way in which we read emotional states from other people’s faces and how inclined we are to take the visual perspective of another person.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 300 U.S. individuals from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform and another 452 U.S. individuals from the Prolific Academic platform. The participants completed a test of cognitive empathy called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which assesses the ability to recognize or infer someone else’s state of mind from looking only at their eyes and surrounding areas.
The researchers also had 138 undergraduates at New York University complete a test of visual perspective-taking known as the Director Task, in which they were required to move objects on a computer screen based on the perspective of a virtual avatar.
The researchers found that lower-class people tended to perform better on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and Director Task than their higher-class counterparts.
“We find that individuals from lower social class backgrounds are better at identifying emotions from other people’s faces and are more likely to spontaneously take another person’s visual perspective. This is in line with a large body of work documenting a tendency for lower-class people to be more socially attuned to others. In addition, our research shows that this can happen at a very basic level; within seconds or milliseconds of encountering a new face or person,” Dietze told PsyPost.
But like all research, the new study includes some limitations.
“This research is based on correlational data. As such, we need to see this research as part of a larger body work to answer the question of causality. However, the insights gained from our study allows us to speculate about how and why we think these tendencies develop,” Dietze explained.
“We theorize that social class can influence social information processing (i.e., the processing of information about other people) at such a basic level because social classes can be conceptualized as a form of culture. As such, social class cultures (like other forms of culture, for example, national cultures), have a pervasive psychological influence that impact many aspects of life, at times even at spontaneous levels.”
Olimpíada de história do Brasil foi criada em 2009 na Unicamp
Publicado em 15/08/2020 – 18:49 Por Akemi Nitahara – Repórter da Agência Brasil – Rio de Janeiro
Do cacique Tibiriçá, nascido antes de 1500 e batizado pelos jesuítas como Martim Afonso de Sousa, que teve papel importante na fundação da cidade de São Paulo a Jackson Viana de Paula dos Santos, jovem escritor nascido em Rio Branco (AC) no ano 2000, fundador da Academia Juvenil de Letras e representante da região norte na Brazil Conference, em Harvard.
Essas são as duas pontas de uma linha do tempo que busca contar a história de importantes personagens brasileiros que estão fora dos livros oficiais, num total de 2.251 verbetes, publicados agora como dicionário biográfico Excluídos da História.
O trabalho foi feito pelos 6.753 estudantes que participaram da quinta fase da Olimpíada Nacional em História do Brasil (ONHB) do ano passado, entre os dias 3 e 8 de junho de 2019, divididos em equipes de três participantes cada.
A olimpíada foi criada em 2009 pela Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) e reúne atualmente mais de 70 mil estudantes dos ensinos fundamental e médio em uma maratona de busca pelo conhecimento em história do Brasil. A competição tem cinco fases online, com duração de uma semana cada, e uma prova para os finalistas das equipes mais bem pontuadas para definir os medalhistas.
Começou com samba
O dicionário biográfico Excluídos da História foi feito pelos estudantes que participaram da quinta fase da Olimpíada Nacional em História do Brasil (ONHB), iniciativa criada em 2009 pela Unicamp Divulgação/Unicamp/Direitos Reservados
A coordenadora da Olimpíada Nacional em História do Brasil, Cristina Meneguello, explica que a história do dicionário começou a partir do samba enredo da Estação Primeira de Mangueira, escola campeã do carnaval carioca no ano passado, que levou para a Sapucaí o enredo História para Ninar Gente Grande.
Os versos abriram alas para os “heróis de barracões” com “versos que o livro apagou” para contar “a história que a história não conta” e mostrar “um país que não está no retrato” e o “avesso do mesmo lugar”. Versos que caíram no gosto popular antes mesmo do desfile oficial, sendo tocado em blocos de rua e rodas de samba pela cidade.
Segundo Cristina, a discussão sobre os excluídos da história foi intensa entre os historiadores depois do carnaval no ano passado e o tema permeou toda a competição, que começou no dia 6 de maio.
“Logo na primeira fase da prova a gente fez uma pergunta usando o próprio samba enredo da Mangueira. A gente usa documentos variados, letra de música, propaganda, documentos históricos mais clássicos, imagens, etc. A gente já tinha definido que esse seria o tema da tarefa deles para a quinta fase e fomos colocando as perguntas para eles irem entendendo o tema desde a primeira fase”, lembra.
De acordo com a professora, originalmente não havia a intenção de se publicar o material produzido pelos estudantes. Porém, diante da riqueza e diversidade das pesquisas apresentadas, a coordenação decidiu compartilhar o material com professores, estudantes e todos os interessados, disponibilizando o conteúdo online.
“A gente já sabia que ia ficar uma tarefa muito boa, porque esse conhecimento que eles produzem a partir da escola é sempre muito surpreendente. Mas teve uma série de fatores. O primeiro foi que realmente ficou muito bom o trabalho realizado pelos participantes. Depois, o template que foi criado, com essas quatro páginas como se fosse de um livro didático, ficou um design muito bom e ganhou a medalha de prata no Brasil Design Award no ano passado, como design de sistema educativo”.
A escolha do personagem era livre para os estudantes, dentro do critério de ser importante para a história do Brasil e não ser lembrado nos livros didáticos. Cristina diz que o resultado surpreendeu a organização, com verbetes sobre pessoas com importância local e regional, inclusive muitos ainda vivos, mostrando que os participantes entenderam que a história é construída continuamente por personagens diversos, inclusive os que não são apontados pelos historiadores.
“Superou nossa expectativa. Nós observamos que esses personagens desconhecidos são personagens negros, são mulheres importantes para a história do Brasil, são mulheres negras, são líderes locais. Muitos fizeram o verbete de pessoas que estão vivas. São líderes indígenas, pessoas perseguidas na ditadura militar, professores que foram censurados na ditadura militar. Temos de personagens do Brasil colônia até pessoas que estão vivas nesses verbetes”.
Alguns personagens foram lembrados por mais de um grupo, portanto, há verbetes repetidos no dicionário, mas que trazem abordagens diferentes sobre a mesma pessoa.
A sugestão da personagem foi feita por Juliana, que estava no último ano da Escola Estadual de Dança Maria Olenewa e conheceu a história de Mercedes Baptista pelo professor de História da Dança Paulo Melgaço, semanas antes do desafio da olimpíada.
“A Mercedes sempre fez questão de trazer a dança brasileira para os palcos. Foi uma das coisas que mais me chamou atenção. Ela trabalhou com a Katherine Dunham, uma pesquisadora de movimento e coreógrafa dos Estados Unidos. A Mercedes viu o quanto a gente precisava desse tipo de estudo no Brasil também. Ela recorreu a vários movimentos culturais, coisas que já ocorriam no Brasil mas não tinham holofote. E ela sempre quis trazer bastante atenção para isso”.
Falecida em 2014, Mercedes teve sua estátua inaugurada em 2016 no Largo da Prainha, no circuito Pequena África da zona portuária do Rio de Janeiro.
Juliana se diz muito feliz com a publicação do dicionário online. “Eu não sabia que seria publicado. A gente se esforçou tanto, eu li o livro dela inteiro, até porque era muito interessante. Pensei, poxa, não vai acontecer nada. Quando foi publicado eu fiquei muito feliz porque mais pessoas poderiam conhecer essa bailarina”.
Já a equipe do estudante Lucas do Herval Costa Teles de Menezes decidiu escrever sobre um personagem que representasse o Rio de Janeiro e estivesse presente no cotidiano, mas que as pessoas não percebessem. Um personagem que não tivesse sido completamente apagado da história. O escolhido tem um feriado municipal em sua homenagem em Niterói e dá nome à estação das barcas que chegam do Rio de Janeiro e à praça em frente a ela, onde tem uma estátua: o indígena temiminó Araribóia.
“Eu achei interessante a dinâmica que o personagem teve com os povos estrangeiros, no caso, os portugueses e os franceses. Porque, geralmente, quando a gente aprende sobre a relação dos povos indígenas e os povos europeus invasores, a gente não pensa muito em identificar esses povos indígenas, nunca aprende sobre a história individual de uma figura indígena. Eu achei que ele teve uma história individual muito interessante, foi uma figura de liderança, teve muito envolvimento em mais de uma narrativa política daquela época, e isso me chamou atenção.”
O grupo de Lucas foi o único a lembrar de Araribóia, conhecido como fundador de Niterói e figura fundamental na disputa entre portugueses e franceses que levou à expulsão destes.
A 12ª edição da Olimpíada Nacional em História do Brasil está com inscrições abertas até o dia 7 de setembro. Podem se inscrever equipes de três estudantes de 8º e 9º anos do ensino fundamental e todos os anos do ensino médio, com a orientação de um professor ou uma professora, de escolas públicas e particulares.
Diferentemente da maioria das olimpíadas científicas, a ONHB estimula a busca pelo conhecimento em história, e não avaliar o que o estudante já sabe por meio de uma prova.
“É um sistema de aprendizagem participar de olimpíadas. Ela é muito exigente e não quer aferir se os estudantes já sabem, ela dá tempo para eles estudarem, perguntam para o professor, perguntam uns para os outros. Tem uma pergunta de uma coisa que ele nunca ouviu falar, não viu na escola. Mas do lado tem um texto, ele lê, se informa, pesquisa na internet e volta para responder. Nesse processo ele aprendeu história. Eu não estou muito interessada se ele já sabia, mas se ele aprendeu naquele momento, o nosso objetivo pedagógico é esse”, afirma Cristina Meneguello.
A primeira edição da ONHB, em 2009, contou com 15 mil participantes. No ano passado, o número chegou a 73 mil. Por causa da pandemia de covid-19, a competição deste ano será online, não havendo a prova presencial para os finalistas que normalmente é aplicada na Unicamp.
As fases são compostas por questões de múltipla escolha e uma tarefa que será corrigida por outros grupos. Serão escolhidas 400 equipes finalistas, o dobro do usual, com distribuição de 20 medalhas de ouro, 30 de prata e 40 de bronze, que serão enviadas para as escolas.
O médico sanitarista Gonzalo Vecina Neto defendeu a instituição de uma fila única para o atendimento de pacientes de Covid-19 em hospitais públicos e privados. Nas suas palavras: “Dói, mas tem que fazer. Porque se não brasileiros pobres vão morrer e brasileiros ricos vão se salvar. Não tem cabimento isso”.
Ex-diretor da Agência de Vigilância Sanitária e ex-superintendente do hospital Sírio Libanês, Vecina tem autoridade para dizer o que disse. A fila única não é uma ideia só dele. Foi proposta no início de abril por grupos de estudo das universidades de São Paulo e Federal do Rio.
Na quarta-feira (29), o presidente do Conselho Nacional de Saúde, Fernando Zasso Pigatto, enviou ao ministro Nelson Teich e aos secretários estaduais de Saúde sua Recomendação 26, para que assumam a coordenação “da alocação dos recursos assistenciais existentes, incluindo leitos hospitalares de propriedade de particulares, requisitando seu uso quando necessário, e regulando o acesso segundo as prioridades sanitárias de cada caso”.
Por quê? Porque a rede privada tem 15.898 leitos de UTIs, com ociosidade de 50%, e a rede pública tem 14.876 e está a um passo do colapso.
O ex-ministro Luiz Henrique Mandetta (ex-diretor de uma Unimed) jamais tocou no assunto. Seu sucessor, Nelson Teich (cuja indicação para a pasta foi cabalada por agentes do baronato) também não. Depois da recomendação do conselho, quatro guildas da medicina privada saíram do silêncio, condenaram a ideia e apresentaram quatro propostas alternativas. Uma delas, a testagem da população, é risível e duas são dilatórias (a construção de hospitais de campanha e a publicação de editais para a contratação de leitos e serviços). A quarta vem a ser boa ideia: a revitalização de leitos públicos. Poderia ter sido oferecida em março.
Desde o início da epidemia os barões da medicina privada mantiveram-se em virótico silêncio. Eles viviam no mundo encantado da saúde de grife, contratando médicos renomados como se fossem jogadores de futebol, inaugurando hospitais com hotelarias estreladas e atendendo clientes de planos de saúde bilionários. Veio a Covid-19, e descobriram-se num país com 40 milhões de invisíveis e 12 milhões de desempregados.
Se o vírus tivesse sido enfrentado com a energia da Nova Zelândia, o silêncio teria sido eficaz. Como isso era impossível, acordaram no Brasil, com 90 mil infectados e mais de 6.000 mortos.
A Agência Nacional de Saúde ofereceu aos planos de saúde acesso ao recursos de um fundo se elas aceitassem atender (até julho) clientes inadimplentes. Nem pensar. Dos 780 planos só 9 aderiram.
O silêncio virótico provocou-lhes uma tosse com a recomendação do Conselho Nacional de Saúde. A fila única é um remédio com efeitos laterais tóxicos. Se a burocracia ficar encarregada de organizá-la, arrisca só ficar pronta em 2021. Ademais é discutível se uma pessoa que pagou caro pelo acesso a um hospital deve ficar atrás de alguém que não pagou. Na outra ponta dessa discussão, fica a frase de Vecina: “Brasileiros pobres vão morrer e brasileiros ricos vão se salvar”. Os números da epidemia mostram que o baronato precisa sair da toca.
A Covid-19 jogou o sistema de saúde brasileiro na arapuca daquele navio cujo nome não deve ser pronunciado (com Leonardo DiCaprio estrelando o filme). O transatlântico tinha 2.200 passageiros, mas nos seus botes salva-vidas só cabiam 1.200 pessoas. 34% dos homens da primeira classe salvaram-se.
The 1918 pandemic ravaged the remote city of Östersund. But its legacy is a city – and country – well-equipped to deal with 21st century challenges
Wed 29 Aug 2018 07.15 BST Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 12.47 GMT
On 15 September 1918, a 12-year-old boy named Karl Karlsson who lived just outside Östersund, Sweden, wrote a short diary entry: “Two who died of Spanish flu buried today. A few snowflakes in the air.”
For all its brevity and matter-of-fact tone, Karlsson’s journal makes grim reading. It is 100 years since a particularly virulent strain of avian flu, known as the Spanish flu despite probably originating in America, ravaged the globe, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. While its effects were felt everywhere, it struck particularly hard in Östersund, earning the city the nickname “capital of the Spanish flu”.
“Looking back through contemporaneous accounts was quite creepy,” says Jim Hedlund at the city’s state archive. “As many people died in two months as generally died in a whole year. I even found out that three of my forbears were buried on the same day.”
There were three main reasons why the flu hit this remote city so hard: Östersund had speedy railway connections, several army regiments stationed in close quarters and a malnourished population living in cramped accommodation. As neutral Sweden kept its armed forces on high alert between 1914 and 1918, the garrison town’s population swelled from 9,000 to 13,000.
By 1917, when navvies poured in and construction started on an inland railway to the north, widespread food shortages had led to violent workers’ demonstrations and a near mutiny among the army units.
The city became a hotbed of political activism. Its small size put the unequal distribution of wealth in early industrial society under the microscope. While working-class families crowded into insalubrious accommodation, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and further afield came for the fresh mountain air and restorative waters – as well as the excellent fishing and elk hunting (passionate angler Winston Churchill was a regular visitor).
“The catastrophic spread of the flu was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions” – Hans Jacobsson, historian
“Many of the demonstrators’ concerns seem strikingly modern,” says Hedlund, pointing to a copy of a political poster that reads: “Tourists out of our buildings in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for workers!”
It wasn’t just the urban proletariat demanding better accommodation. At Sweden’s first ever national convention of the indigenous Sami peoples held in Östersund in early 1918, delegates demanded an end to discriminatory policies that forced them to live in tents.
Social inequality in the city meant the Spanish flu hit all the harder.
As the epidemic raged in late August, when around 20 people were dying daily, the city’s bank director Carl Lignell withdrew funds from Stockholm without authorisation and requisitioned a school for use as a hospital (the city didn’t have one).
“If it hadn’t been for him, Östersund might quite literally have disappeared,” says Hedlund. For a brief period, Lignell worked like a benevolent dictator, quarantining suspected cases in their homes – and revealing the squalor in which they lived.
As his hastily convened medical team moved through Östersund, they found whole families crowded into wooden shacks, just a few streets away from the proud, stone-built civic structures. In some homes, sick children lay on the floor for want of beds.
The local newspaper Östersunds-Posten asked rhetorically: “Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution?”
People of all political convictions and stations in life started cooperating in a city otherwise riven by the class divisions of early industrial society. Östersunds-Posten itself moved from simply reporting on the epidemic to helping to organise relief, publishing calls for money, food and clothing, and opening its offices for use as storerooms. The state had proven itself inadequate, as historian Hans Jacobsson wrote: “The catastrophic spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions.”
“After the epidemic, the state made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform” – Jim Hedlund, archivist
He cites the fact that Stockholm High Command refused to halt planned military exercises for weeks, despite the fact that regimental sickbays were overflowing. “What is interesting is that, after the epidemic, the state dropped investigations against Lignell and made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were on the political agenda,” says Hedlund. Anyone trying to date the inception of Sweden’s welfare state cannot overlook the events of autumn 1918.
One hundred years on, there are few better places than Östersund to see the effects of Sweden’s much-vaunted social model. The city is once again growing rapidly, but nothing could seem further away than epidemics and political radicalism. The left of centre Social Democrats have been in power in city hall since 1994, and council leader AnnSofie Andersson has made housing a priority – new developments are spacious, well-ordered and equipped with schools and playgrounds.
“There’s nothing that shows confidence like building stuff,” she says. “In fact, our local authority building partnership should, in my view, keep a small excess of flats in hand, because without a reserve people won’t move here.”
Östersund attracts a net inflow of people from southern Sweden. “It’s partly a quality of life issue,” says Andersson. “You can drop your kids off at kindergarten in the morning on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.”
The city has recovered from the relocation of the Swedish armed forces fighter jet squadron in the 1990s by playing to its strengths: sports and tourism. A university now occupies the old barracks with a special focus on sports materials and technology. The airbase has become a thriving airport, handling half a million passengers a year.
Despite the net inflow of working-age people however, Östersund is facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers begin to retire. The shortages are being felt most acutely at the regional health authority, which occupies the Epidemisjukhus – the building hastily converted into wards during the Spanish flu by Carl Lignell. Clinical staff are proving hard to find and retain, and the region’s health service is underfunded. Some residents still suggest solving that lack of funding from central government “the Jämtland way”, like Lignell once did.
History doesn’t repeat itself identically, though. Sweden’s consensus-orientated political model now tends to defuse conflict even in proud cities with a liking for mavericks. One of Andersson’s strategies for dealing with the approaching lack of labour, for instance, is cooperating with local and national institutions to train up the young refugees the city has welcomed since 2015.
“School starts tomorrow – for the last time,” confides Karl Karlsson to his journal on 4 September 1918. “I leave in spring and it feels melancholy. I like farming, but I would still prefer to continue at school and study. But it’s impossible.” Ten days later, he notes that his family’s food stores are running low. “We’re almost out of flour and bread, the barley hasn’t dried yet, and we shan’t get any more rations, everything is being requisitioned.”
One hundred years later, a city – and a society – once unable to educate or even feed its youth is now one of the world’s wealthiest and fairest.
Precisamos falar sobre o novo coronavírus, mas sem pânico.
Nesta quinta-feira (12/03), o Brasil acordou com 52 pessoas infectadas pelo coronavírus e foi dormir com 69 casos confirmados. Em todo o mundo, são 122 mil casos confirmados e mais de 4.500 mortes registradas. A Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) declarou pandemia, isto é, o vírus deixou de ser restrito determinadas regiões e passa a ser uma questão de saúde pública global.
A taxa de mortalidade do novo vírus, ainda sem vacina, é considerada baixa – em torno de 3% dos casos – e atinge principalmente pessoas com maior vulnerabilidade, como idosos ou com doenças pré-existentes (como diabetes, câncer, etc.).
Com mais de 50 casos no País, o Ministério da Saúde do governo de Jair Bolsonaro alerta que a transmissão deve se dar de forma geométrica – isto é, deixa de ser restrita a pessoas que se infectaram em outras regiões do mundo e passa a acontecer no próprio território.
Segundo o Instituto Pensi do Hospital Infantil Sabará, após atingir 50 casos confirmados o total de infectados no Brasil pode aumentar para 4.000 casos em 15 dias e cerca de 30.000 depois de 21 dias.
Com isso, o vírus deve se expandir rapidamente nas próximas semanas e o Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS) precisaria de 3.200 novos leitos em UTI (Unidade de Terapia Intensiva) para dar conta da demanda – 95% dos 16.000 leitos de hoje já estão ocupados.
Dito isso, nós moradoras e moradores de periferias urbanas, povos da floresta e marginalizados em geral, precisamos nos atentar com as medidas de prevenção (confira no gráfico abaixo) mas também com efeitos colaterais dessa pandemia no nosso dia a dia.
Muito se fala no impacto da pandemia sobre a economia global. Mas em um País marcado por desigualdade social, machismo, racismo e LGBTfobia, com cortes em políticas públicas e desemprego recorde, o coronavírus tem potencial de impactar não apenas nossa saúde como também nossa frágil convivência em sociedade. Precisamos de solidariedade e vigilância nesse momento.
Por isso, a Periferia em Movimento faz 16 perguntas ainda sem resposta (a lista continua em atualização) sobre esse novo cenário:
1. As periferias vão receber recursos da saúde de forma proporcional às nossas necessidades?
2. O governo vai adotar medidas de confinamento ou restrição de circulação de pessoas?
3. Como fazer quarentena em área de aglomeração, como periferias e favelas?
4. Os governantes vão acionar a Polícia Militar pra controlar a população nas periferias?
5. Se rolar quarentena, quem vai dirigir os ônibus, fazer o pão de cada dia e entregar a comida do ifood no apartamento da classe média?
6. Com o desemprego recorde e o mercado informal em alta, pessoas que vivem de bico vão conseguir fazer dinheiro como?
7. Se as aulas forem suspensas, com quem ficarão as crianças que frequentam creches em período integral?
8. Sem aulas, sem merenda: estudantes em situação de insegurança alimentar vão passar fome se não forem pra escola?
9. Ainda sobre a suspensão das aulas, qual é o risco da explosão de casos de violência sexual contra crianças e adolescentes – que passarão mais tempo em casa?
10. O maior tempo em casa também aumenta o risco de mulheres sofrerem violência de seus companheiros?
11. E com mais pessoas com circulação restrita, o risco de conflitos em comunidades também aumenta?
12. Como os governantes avaliam as possibilidades de aumento em todos os tipos de violência com essa pandemia?
13. Como idosos em situação de vulnerabilidade serão assistidos pelo governo?
14. De que forma, a pandemia deve impactar a população em situação de rua?
15. Como ficam os presidiários, que já vivem em situações de aglomeração, tortura e com doenças que estão controladas no mundo externo?
16. E como serão atendidos os indígenas, que necessitam de estratégias específicas de saúde devido à menor imunidade a doenças transmitidas desde a invasão europeia ao continente americano?
Em artigo publicado na imprensa internacional, a alta-comissária da ONU para direitos humanos, Michelle Bachelet, e o alto-comissário da ONU para refugiados, Filippo Grandi, afirmam que a doença provocada pelo novo coronavírus, a Covid-19, é um teste não apenas de nossos sistemas e mecanismos de assistência médica para responder a doenças infecciosas, mas também de nossa capacidade de trabalharmos juntos como uma comunidade de nações diante de um desafio comum.
“É um teste da cobertura dos benefícios de décadas de progresso social e econômico em relação aqueles que vivem à margem de nossas sociedades, mais distantes das alavancas do poder.”
Um jovem refugiado lava as mãos em Mafraq, na Jordânia, onde um sistema de aquecimento movido a energia solar, instalado com o apoio da IKEA Foundation e da Practical Action, ajuda a fornecer água quente. Foto: ACNUR/Hannah Maule-ffinch
Por Michelle Bachelet e Filippo Grandi*
Se nós precisávamos lembrar que vivemos em um mundo interconectado, o novo coronavírus tornou isso mais claro do que nunca.
Nenhum país pode resolver esse problema sozinho, e nenhuma parcela de nossa sociedade pode ser desconsiderada se quisermos efetivamente enfrentar este desafio global.
O Covid-19 é um teste não apenas de nossos sistemas e mecanismos de assistência médica para responder a doenças infecciosas, mas também de nossa capacidade de trabalharmos juntos como uma comunidade de nações diante de um desafio comum.
É um teste da cobertura dos benefícios de décadas de progresso social e econômico em relação aqueles que vivem à margem de nossas sociedades, mais distantes das alavancas do poder.
As próximas semanas e meses desafiarão o planejamento nacional de crises e os sistemas de proteção civil — e certamente irão expor deficiências em saneamento, habitação e outros fatores que moldam os resultados de saúde.
Nossa resposta a essa epidemia deve abranger e focar, de fato, naqueles a quem a sociedade negligencia ou rebaixa a um status menor. Caso contrário, ela falhará.
A saúde de todas as pessoas está ligada à saúde dos membros mais marginalizados da comunidade. Prevenir a disseminação desse vírus requer alcance a todos e garantia de acesso equitativo ao tratamento.
Isso significa superar as barreiras existentes para cuidados de saúde acessíveis e combater o tratamento diferenciado há muito tempo baseado em renda, gênero, geografia, raça e etnia, religião ou status social.
Superar paradigmas sistêmicos que ignoram os direitos e as necessidades de mulheres e meninas ou, por exemplo, limitar o acesso e a participação de grupos minoritários será crucial para a prevenção e tratamento eficazes do COVID-19.
As pessoas que vivem em instituições — idosos ou detidos — provavelmente são mais vulneráveis à infecção e devem ser especificamente incluídas no planejamento e resposta à crise.
Migrantes e refugiados — independentemente de seu status formal — devem ser plenamente incluídos nos sistemas e planos nacionais de combate ao vírus. Muitas dessas mulheres, homens e crianças se encontram em locais onde os serviços de saúde estão sobrecarregados ou inacessíveis.
Eles podem estar confinados em abrigos, assentamentos, ou vivendo em favelas urbanas onde a superlotação e o saneamento com poucos recursos aumentam o risco de exposição.
O apoio internacional é urgentemente necessário para ajudar os países anfitriões a intensificar os serviços — tanto para refugiados e migrantes quanto para as comunidades locais — e incluí-los nos acordos nacionais de vigilância, prevenção e resposta. Não fazer isso colocará em risco a saúde de todos — e o risco de aumentar a hostilidade e o estigma.
Também é vital que qualquer restrição nos controles das fronteiras, restrições de viagem ou limitações à liberdade de movimento não impeça as pessoas que possam estar fugindo da guerra ou perseguição de acessar a segurança e proteção.
Além desses desafios muito imediatos, o coronavírus também testará, sem dúvida, nossos princípios, valores e humanidade compartilhada.
Espalhando-se rapidamente pelo mundo, com a incerteza em torno do número de infecções e com uma vacina ainda a muitos meses de distância, o vírus está provocando ansiedade e medos profundos em indivíduos e sociedades.
Sem dúvida, algumas pessoas sem escrúpulos procurarão tirar vantagem disso, manipulando medos genuínos e aumentando as preocupações.
Quando o medo e a incerteza surgem, os bodes expiatórios nunca estão longe. Já vimos raiva e hostilidade dirigidas a algumas pessoas de origem do leste asiático.
Se continuar assim, o desejo de culpar e excluir poderá em breve se estender a outros grupos — minorias, marginalizados ou qualquer pessoa rotulada como “estrangeira”.
As pessoas em deslocamento, incluindo refugiados, podem ser particularmente alvo. No entanto, o próprio coronavírus não discrimina; os infectados até o momento incluem turistas, empresários internacionais e até ministros nacionais, que estão localizados em dezenas de países, abrangendo todos os continentes.
O pânico e a discriminação nunca resolveram uma crise. Os líderes políticos devem assumir a liderança, conquistando confiança através de informações transparentes e oportunas, trabalhando juntos para o bem comum e capacitando as pessoas a participar na proteção da saúde.
Ceder espaço a boatos, medos e histeria não apenas prejudicará a resposta, mas poderá ter implicações mais amplas para os direitos humanos e para o funcionamento de instituições democráticas responsáveis.
Atualmente, nenhum país pode se isolar do impacto do coronavírus, tanto no sentido literal quanto econômico e social, como demonstram as bolsas de valores e as escolas fechadas.
Uma resposta internacional que garanta que os países em desenvolvimento estejam equipados para diagnosticar, tratar e prevenir esta doença será crucial para proteger a saúde de bilhões de pessoas.
A Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) está fornecendo experiência, vigilância, sistemas, investigação de casos, rastreamento de contatos, pesquisa e desenvolvimento de vacinas. É a prova de que a solidariedade internacional e os sistemas multilaterais são mais vitais do que nunca.
A longo prazo, devemos acelerar o trabalho de construção de serviços de saúde pública equitativos e acessíveis. E a maneira como reagimos a essa crise agora, sem dúvida, moldará esses esforços nas próximas décadas.
Se nossa resposta ao coronavírus estiver fundamentada nos princípios de confiança pública, transparência, respeito e empatia pelos mais vulneráveis, não apenas defenderemos os direitos intrínsecos de todo ser humano; usaremos e criaremos as ferramentas mais eficazes para garantir que possamos superar essa crise e aprender lições para o futuro.
*Michelle Bachelet é a alta-comissária da ONU para direitos humanos. Filippo Grandi é o alto-comissário da ONU para refugiados. Este artigo foi originalmente publicado no site The Telegraph.
Protesto “contra o infanticídio” organizado por grupos religiosos em frente ao prédio do governo do RJ. Foto: Gazeta do Povo, 2015.
29 de janeiro de 2017
O Projeto de Lei 119/2015, que trata do chamado “infanticídio indígena”, está agora tramitando no Senado. Não por acaso, no início da semana que se encerrou ontem, 28, voltaram a ser publicadas matérias tendenciosas sobre a questão. Considerando a atual conjuntura, na qual mais que nunca é fundamental estarmos alertas e atuantes, convidamos a antropóloga Marianna Holanda a escrever um artigo que dialogasse conosco e nos oferecesse os necessários argumentos para mais esta luta. O resultado é o excelente texto que socializamos abaixo. (Tania Pacheco).
Por Marianna A. F. Holanda*, especial para Combate Racismo Ambiental
Desde 2005, acompanhamos no Brasil uma campanha que se pauta na afirmação de que os povos indígenas teriam tradições culturais nocivas e arcaicas que precisam ser mudadas por meio de leis e da punição tanto dos indígenas responsáveis como de quaisquer funcionários do Estado, agentes de organizações indigenistas e/ou profissionais autônomos que trabalhem junto a estes povos.
Afirma-se que há dados alarmantes de infanticídio entre os povos indígenas de modo a fazer parte da sociedade pensar que, incapazes de refletir sobre as suas próprias dinâmicas culturais, os povos indígenas – sobretudo as mulheres – matariam sem pudor dezenas de crianças. As notícias de jornal, as pautas sensacionalistas da grande mídia, organizações de fins religiosos e políticos “em favor da vida” fazem crer que não estamos falando de pessoas humanas – no sentido mais tradicional dos termos –, mas de sujeitos que devido à sua ignorância cultural cometem sem ética, afeto e dúvidas crimes contra seus próprios filhos, contra seu próprio povo.
Me pergunto por que um argumento como esse transmite credibilidade entre aqueles que não conhecem as realidades indígenas – pois quem trabalha junto aos povos indígenas e em prol de seus direitos não dissemina este tipo de desinformação. A maior parte da sociedade brasileira não indígena é profundamente ignorante sobre os povos indígenas que aqui habitam e sobre seus modos de vida, mantendo imagens estereotipadas e caricaturadas sobre os índios carregadas de preconceito e discriminação.
Alguns dados importantes sobre infanticídio, abandono de crianças e adoção
Desde os tempos de Brasil império há registros de infanticídios entre os povos indígenas – como também havia inúmeros registros de infanticídio nas cidades da colônia: historiadores apontam a normalidade com que recém-nascidos eram abandonados nas ruas de cidades como Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife e Florianópolis. Realidade que também era comum na Europa e que a igreja católica passou a combater a partir do século VIII d.C por meio de bulas papais e pela criação de Casas de Expostos – lugares aonde podia-se abandonar legalmente crianças neonatas que mais tarde vieram a se tornar o que conhecemos como orfanatos. Não apenas os infanticídios não cessaram como os índices de mortalidade nesses locais foram estarrecedores, beirando a 70% no caso europeu e 95% no caso brasileiro. Recém-nascidos eram retirados da exposição pública para morrer entre quatro paredes, com aval das leis, dos registros estatais e da moralidade cristã da época. (Sobre este tema, ver: Marcílio e Venâncio 1990, Trindade 1999, Valdez 2004 e Faleiros 2004).
Ainda hoje, centenas de crianças no Brasil são abandonadas em instituições públicas e privadas de caráter semelhante, aguardando anos por uma adoção. A maioria – em geral as crianças pardas e negras, mais velhas e/ou com algum tipo de deficiência – esperam por toda a infância e adolescência, até tornarem-se legalmente adultas e serem novamente abandonadas, agora pelo Estado. Os dados do Cadastro Nacional de Adoção (CNA) e do Cadastro Nacional de Crianças e Adolescentes Acolhidos (CNCA), administrados pelo Conselho Nacional de Justiça (CNJ) apontam que das seis mil crianças nesta situação, 67% são pardas e negras.
Apesar da rejeição à adoção de crianças negras e pardas ter caído na última década, o quadro de discriminação permanece. Entre as crianças indígenas, acompanhamos um fenômeno crescente de pedidos de adoção por não indígenas, sobretudo casais heterossexuais, brancos, evangélicos e, em muitos casos, estrangeiros. Contudo, há mais de 100 processos no Ministério Público envolvendo denúncias a violações de direitos nestes casos. O Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente, prevê o direito à permanência da criança com a própria família e ao esforço conjunto e multidisciplinar de profissionais para que isto ocorra. Esgotada esta possibilidade, a criança tem o direito de ser encaminhada para família substituta na própria comunidade indígena de origem ou junto a família substituta de outra aldeia ou comunidade, mas ainda da mesma etnia.
Vale mencionar que estas estratégias de realocação e adoção de crianças ocorre tradicionalmente entre diversos povos indígenas, independente das leis e da intervenção estatal. É muito comum que avós, tias ou primas adotem crianças quando pais e mães passam por qualquer espécie de dificuldade, ou ainda, seguindo articulações próprias das relações de parentesco que vão muito além de pai e mãe biológicos.
Contudo, sob estas recentes acusações de “risco de infanticídio” famílias indígenas são colocadas sob suspeita e dezenas de crianças têm sido retiradas de sua comunidade, terra e povo e adotadas por famílias não indígenas sem ter direitos básicos respeitados. Juízes são levados por esta argumentação falha, que carece de base concreta na realidade, nas estatísticas, nas etnografias. Em alguns casos, pleiteia-se apenas a guarda provisória da criança e não a adoção definitiva, o que significa que a guarda é válida somente até os 18 anos, não garantindo vínculo de parentesco e direito à herança, por exemplo. Quantas violações uma criança indígena retirada de seu povo e de seus vínculos ancestrais enfrenta ao ser lançada ao mundo não indígena como adulta?
Infâncias indígenas no Brasil e crescimento demográfico
Nos últimos 50 anos, as etnografias junto a povos indígenas – importante método de pesquisa e registro de dados antropológicos – vem demonstrando que as crianças indígenas são sujeitos criativos e ativos em suas sociedades tendo diversos graus de autonomia. Aprendemos que as práticas de cuidado e a pedagogia das mulheres indígenas envolvem um forte vínculo com as crianças, que são amamentadas até os 3, 4, 5 anos. Envolvem uma relação de presença e afeto que deixa a desejar para muitas mães modernas. Aprendemos também que a rede de cuidados com as crianças envolve relações de parentesco e afinidade que extrapolam a consanguinidade.
Enquanto a maior parte das populações no mundo está passando pela chamada “transição demográfica”, ou seja, queda e manutenção de baixos níveis de fecundidade, os povos indígenas na América Latina, se encontram num processo elevado de crescimento populacional. De acordo com o último censo do IBGE (2010), a população indígena no Brasil cresceu 205% desde 1991, uma dinâmica demográfica com altos níveis de fecundidade, levando à duplicação da população em um período de 15 anos (Azevedo 2008).
A partir dos anos 2000, começaram a tomar corpo pesquisas etnográficas que apontam o número crescente de nascimentos gemelares entre os povos indígenas, de crianças indígenas albinas e de crianças com deficiência (Verene 2005, Bruno e Suttana 2012, Araújo 2014). Apesar de suas diferenças, estas crianças são estimuladas a participar do cotidiano da aldeia, e muitas delas, ao tornarem-se adultas, casam-se e constituem família.
Há 54 milhões de indígenas com deficiência ao redor do globo (ONU 2013). No Brasil, segundo o censo do IBGE de 2010, 165 mil pessoas – ou seja, 20% da população autodeclarada indígena – possuem ao menos uma forma de deficiência (auditiva, visual, motora, mental ou intelectual). Um número que relaciona-se também às políticas públicas e de transferência de renda para as famílias indígenas nessa situação (Araújo 2014). Tanto o crescimento demográfico acelerado quanto os dados de que 20% da população indígena brasileira tem alguma deficiência nos permitem demonstrar que a afirmação de que há uma prescrição social para que estas crianças sejam mortas por seus pais e familiares não se sustenta.
Como morrem as crianças e adultos indígenas?
A mortalidade infantil entre os povos indígenas é quatro vezes maior do que a média nacional. A quantidade de mortes de crianças indígenas por desassistência subiu 513% nos últimos três anos. Os dados parciais da Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena (Sesai) de 2015 revelaram a morte de 599 crianças menores de 5 anos. As principais causas são: desnutrição, diarreia, viroses e infecções respiratórias, falta de saneamento básico além de um quadro preocupante de desassistência à saúde. Ora, sabemos que pneumonia, diarreia e gastroenterite são doenças facilmente tratáveis desde que estas crianças tenham acesso às políticas de saúde. A região Norte do país concentra o maior número de óbitos.
Quando abordamos os números relativos ao suicídio a situação é igualmente alarmante. De acordo com dados da Sesai, 135 indígenas cometeram suicídio em 2014 – o maior número em 29 anos. Sabemos que os quadros de suicídio se agravam em contextos de luta pelos direitos territoriais quando populações inteiras vivem em condições de vulnerabilidade extrema.
Jovens e adultos do sexo masculino também são as principais vítimas dos conflitos territoriais que resultam do omissão e letargia do Estado brasileiro nos processos de demarcação das terras indígenas. Em 2014, 138 indígenas foram assassinados; em 2015, foram 137. No período de 2003 a 2016, 891 indígenas foram assassinados em solo brasileiro, em uma média anual de 68 casos (Cimi 2016). Esses assassinatos acontecem em contextos de lutas e retomadas de terras, tendo como alvo principal as lideranças indígenas à frente dos movimentos reivindicatórios de direitos.
Diante desse cenário de permanente e impune genocídio contra os povos indígenas no Brasil, é importante refletirmos sobre o histórico de atuação dos senadores responsáveis pela votação do PL 119/2015: quais deles atuam ou já atuaram na proteção e no resguardo dos direitos indígenas? Quais deles são financiados pelo agronegócio, pela mineração, pelos grandes empreendimentos em terras indígenas? Como um Projeto de Lei que criminaliza os próprios povos indígenas pela vulnerabilidade e violências causadas pelo Estado e por terceiros pode ajudar na proteção e promoção de seus direitos?
O falso dilema da noção de “infanticídio indígena”
O PL 119/2015 – outrora PL 1057/2007 – supõe que há um embate entre “tradições culturais” que prescrevem a morte de crianças e o princípio básico e universal do direito à vida. Ao afirmar que o infanticídio é uma tradição cultural indígena – como se ele não ocorresse, infelizmente, em toda a humanidade – o texto e o parlamento brasileiros agem com racismo e discriminação, difamando povos e suas organizações socioculturais. Todos nós temos direito à vida e não há nenhuma comunidade indígena no Brasil e no mundo que não respeite e pleiteie esse direito básico junto às instâncias nacionais e internacionais.
Ao invés de buscarem aprovar o novo texto do Estatuto dos Povos Indígenas que vem sendo discutido no âmbito da Comissão Nacional de Política Indigenista (CNPI) desde 2008, utilizando como base o Estatuto o Substitutivo ao Projeto de Lei 2057, de 1994, que teve ampla participação indígena em sua formulação, o parlamento está optando por remendar a obsoleta Lei 6.001 – conhecida como Estatuto do Índio – datada de 1973, carregada de vícios próprios da ditadura militar, como as noções de tutela e de integração dos povos indígenas à comunidade nacional, pressupondo que com o tempo, eles deixariam de “ser índios”.
O PL também equivoca-se ao afirmar que há uma obrigatoriedade de morte a qualquer criança gêmea, albina e/ou com algum tipo de deficiência física e mental, além de mães solteiras. Trata-se de situações que desafiam qualquer família, indígena ou não, mas que em comunidades com fortes vínculos sociais tendem a ser melhor sanadas pois há níveis de solidariedade maior do que os de individualismo.
O dilema do infanticídio também é falso quando afirma que trata-se de uma demanda por “relativismo cultural” diante do direito à vida e dos Direitos Humanos; mas afirmamos que violência, tortura e opressão não se relativizam. A demanda posta pelos povos indígenas é historicamente a de respeito à diversidade cultural – o que implica no reparo, por parte do Estado, da expropriação territorial garantindo a regularização de todas as terras indígenas no País e o acesso a direitos essenciais como saúde e educação diferenciadas. Também é direito das comunidades indígenas o acesso à informação e ao amparo do Estado para lidar com situações em que a medicina biomédica já encontrou cura ou tratamento adequado. A Declaração Universal sobre Bioética e Direitos Humanos, ratificada em 2005 pela UNESCO, é enfática quando trata a diversidade cultural como patrimônio comum da humanidade, e isso inclui, portanto, o direito das crianças indígenas a permanecerem junto à sua família e de receberem suporte médico dentro de suas comunidades.
Há 10 anos acompanhamos a exposição midiática das mesmas crianças – algumas hoje já adolescentes – bem como os depoimentos de indígenas adultos que afirmam que sobreviveram, em condições diversas, ao infanticídio. São histórias que precisamos ouvir e que nos ensinam que os povos indígenas têm encontrado novas estratégias para lidar com seus dilemas éticos e morais. Sabemos que a transformação é uma característica cultural dos povos indígenas; ao mesmo tempo em que lutamos pelo respeito aos Direitos Humanos, lutamos para que as Dignidades Humanas dos povos indígenas sejam respeitadas a partir de seu tempo de transformação.
Nenhum caso de infanticídio e qualquer outra forma de violência, entre povos indígenas ou não, pode ser afirmado como uma “tradição cultural”; ou podemos dizer que a nossa própria cultura é infanticida generalizando tal grau de acusação e julgamento para todas as pessoas? Se a resposta é um sonoro “não”, porque o PL 119/2015 pretende fazer isso com os povos indígenas?
O mesmo exercício pode ser feito com as outras tipificações de violência e atentados à Dignidade Humana no texto do PL como: homicídio, abuso sexual, estupro individual e coletivo, escravidão, tortura em todas as suas formas, abandono de vulneráveis e violência doméstica. Estaríamos nós transferindo os nossos preconceitos e violências para os povos indígenas, transformando isso em parte da sua cultura? Ao fazer isso, afirmamos que violências tão características da colonialidade do poder são o que fazem dos índios, índios.
Por fim, é importante mencionar que o texto inicial do PL 1057/2007 que foi aprovado na Câmara sofreu alterações ao transformar-se no PL 119/2015 que tramita no Senado. O que antes era “combate a práticas tradicionais nocivas” mudou de retórica para “defesa da vida e da dignidade humana” mas não nos enganemos: seu conteúdo permanece afirmando a existência violências tratadas como práticas tradicionais exclusivas e características dos povos indígenas.
Igualdade, equidade e isonomia de direitos
Por uma questão de isonomia e igualdade de direitos, os povos indígenas estão submetidos à legislação brasileira, podendo ser julgados e punidos como qualquer cidadão deste país. Hoje, aproximadamente 750 indígenas estão cumprindo pena em sistema de regime fechado, dos quais cerca de 65% não falam ou não compreendem a língua portuguesa. Portanto, as leis que punem infanticídio, maus tratos de crianças e qualquer forma de violação de direitos, inclusive os Direitos Humanos, também incidem sobre os indígenas, ainda que suas prisões não sejam por estes motivos.
Qual a justificativa de um PL que verse especificamente sobre estas violações entre os povos indígenas e que promove interpretações equivocadas e sem embasamento científico e técnico, difamando as realidades dos povos indígenas? Ao tornar a pauta redundante, os indígenas seriam, duas vezes, julgados e condenados por um mesmo crime?
Não se trata apenas da defesa do direito individual. Um direito fundamental de toda pessoa é precisamente o de ser parte de um povo, isto é, o direito de pertencimento. E um povo criminalizado tem a sua dignidade ferida.
Durante o último Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL) que aconteceu em Brasília durante os dias 10 e 13 de maio de 2016 e reuniu cerca de 1.000 lideranças dos povos e organizações indígenas de todas as regiões do Brasil, a Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB) publicou o “Manifesto do 13º Acampamento Terra Livre” denunciando “os ataques, ameaças e retrocessos” orquestrados contra seus direitos fundamentais “sob comando de representantes do poder econômico nos distintos âmbitos do Estado e nos meios de comunicação”. A nota manifesta ainda “repúdio às distintas ações marcadamente racistas, preconceituosas e discriminatórias protagonizadas principalmente por membros da bancada ruralista no Congresso Nacional contra os nossos povos, ao mesmo tempo em que apresentam e articulam-se para aprovar inúmeras iniciativas legislativas, propostas de emenda constitucional e projetos de lei para retroceder ou suprimir os nossos direitos”.
O manifesto encerra-se afirmando: “PELO NOSSO DIREITO DE VIVER!”, pois é de vida e não de morte que se trata a defesa dos direitos indígenas. Se os nobres parlamentares estão preocupados com a defesa da vida e da dignidade indígenas, que retrocedam neste PL e em tantos outros que os violentam diretamente e que foram elaborados sem sua participação, consentimento e consulta.
AZEVEDO, Marta Maria. Diagnóstico da População Indígena no Brasil. Em: Ciência e Cultura, vol.60 nº4 São Paulo. Out. 2008
ARAÚJO, Íris Morais. Osikirip: os “especiais” Karitiana e a noção de pessoa ameríndia. Tese de doutorado aprovada pelo Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social do Departamento de Antropologia da Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas da Universidade de São Paulo. 2014.
BRUNO, Marilda Moraes Garcia; SUTTANA, Renato (Org.). Educação, diversidade e fronteiras da in/exclusão. Dourados: Ed. UFGD, 2012. 224 p.
FALEIROS, Vicente de P. 2004. “Infância e adolescência: trabalhar, punir, educar, assistir, proteger”. In: Revista Ágora: Políticas Públicas e Serviço Social, ano 1, nº 1. Disponível em: http://www.assistenciasocial.com.br
MARCÍLIO, Maria L. e VENÂNCIO, Renato P. 1990. “Crianças Abandonadas e primitivas formas de sua proteção” In: Anais do VII Encontro de Estudos Populacionais ou http://www.abep.org.br
QUERMES, Paulo Afonso de Araújo & ALVES DE CARVALHO, Jucelina. Os impactos dos benefícios assistenciais para os povos indígenas: estudo de caso em aldeias Guaranis. Revista Serviço Social & Sociedade, São Paulo (SP), n.116, p. 769-791, 2013.
SEGATO, Rita Laura. Que cada povo teça os fios da sua história: o pluralismo jurídico em diálogo didático com legisladores. Revista Direito. UnB, janeiro–junho de 2014, v. 01, n.01 66.
TRINDADE. 1999. Trindade, Judite M. B. 1999. “O abandono de crianças ou a negação do óbvio” In: Revista Brasileira de História, Vol. 19, nº 37. São Paulo. p. 1-18.
VENERE, Mario Roberto. 2005. Políticas públicas para populações indígenas com necessidades especiais em Rondônia: o duplo desafio da diferença. 2005. 139 f. Dissertação (Mestrado em Desenvolvimento Regional e Meio Ambiente) ‒ NCT, UNIR, RO, .
* Marianna Holanda é antropóloga, doutora em Bioética e pesquisadora associada da Cátedra Unesco de Bioética – UnB.
O brasileiro tem um problema sério com ciência. Ele acha que não precisamos dela. Temos basicamente zero programas sobre ciência na TV aberta, versus centenas de horas semanais de programas religiosos. Todo fim de ano canais abrem espaço para videntes e suas previsões para o ano novo, apenas para misteriosamente esquecer de todas as previsões erradas feitas pelas mesmas pessoas no ano anterior.
O Fantástico dedica 95% do tempo de uma reportagem sobre uma pirâmide idiota flutuando por causa de uns imãs, e 5% com cientistas explicando o truque óbvio. Nos comentários do MeioBit? Vários DEFENDENDO a matéria.
Um tempo atrás o Romário apresentou um Projeto de Lei para desburocratizar a importação de material científico como reagentes, que ficam tanto tempo na aduana que acabam estragando. Teve gente que escreveu cartas pra jornal reclamando, dizendo que não se deve investir em ciência, “e sim em saúde e educação”. No final o projeto foi arquivado.
Estatisticamente as chances de achar um astrólogo em um programa desses de entrevistas tipo Fátima são imensas, tanto quanto são ínfimas as de achar um cientista, sendo que o cientista sempre terá um pastor ou pai de santo como “contraponto”.
No Brasil a profissão de BENZEDEIRA é reconhecida pelo governo e tratada como “patrimônio cultural”. Sendo que a diferença entre benzedeiras e charlatões é que elas rezam antes de cobrar. Agora, como cereja do bolo de bosta, temos isto:
Isso mesmo. Segundo o G1 o excelentíssimo sr deputado Edmir Chedid, do DEM apresentou uma moção propondo o reconhecimento da profissão de ufeiro, que iria garantir direitos aos ufeiros. Ele diz que
“reconhecer a atividade científica que busca entender esses fenômenos, possibilitando financiamentos e linhas de pesquisa destinadas a esse fim junto à Universidades e outras instituições públicas ou privadas”.
Não é surpresa que o Google desconheça projetos do deputado relacionados com ciência de verdade. Ele pelo visto passa boa parte do tempo assistindo History Channel, mas os programas errados. E não, não estou exagerado. Ainda o Deputado:
“os contatos ufológicos acontecem desde os mais remotos tempos da humanidade”. “Há muito tempo atrás, acreditavam que os tais seres ou mesmo suas manifestações eram de origem quase divina, onde estes mesmo seres eram os nossos ‘salvadores’, nossos mediadores entre a ignorância e a sabedoria, para viver uma vida digna e feliz.”
Ele quer gastar dinheiro público com “pesquisadores” dessa bobagem que é basicamente uma seita, e preenche todos os requisitos de pseudociência: é quase 100% baseado em informação anedótica, não é reproduzível, não traz justificativas das hipóteses, etc, etc, etc.
Enquanto isso a FAPESP — Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo teve reduzidos em R$ 17 milhões seus repasses para Mestrados e Doutorados, nos últimos 4 anos. Assim não sobra nem pros ufeiros, deputado. O que o senhor tem feito para ajudar a FAPESP? É, eu imaginava.
Acha que acabou? Temos aquele “fenômeno”, aquele grupo picareta chamado Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, que diz “controlar o tempo” e abusam da credulidade dos retardados, incluindo aí a Prefeitura do Rio que por anos contratou os caras para garantir bom tempo no Réveillon. A taxa de acerto deles? Eu diria que no máximo 50%. A mesma da minha Pedra Controladora do Clima que tenho aqui na minha mesa.
Pior: como todo “místico” no Brasil essa gente é incensada pela mídia, até o Marcelo Tas, que eu julgava inteligente enche a bola dos caras.
Estamos em 2016, imagina-se que gente prometendo controlar o clima através de magia seria no mínimo alvo de risada, certo? Errado. ALGUÉM pagou pra esses espertos irem na Olimpíada de Londres, onde juraram que foram os responsáveis pela pouca chuva na Abertura, e tinham até credencial para um evento com a Dilma. E agora temos… isto:
Isso mesmo. O tempo está uma bosta, mas eles não falharam. Na matéria do Globo o porta-voz da Fundação diz que o foco deles era garantir o tempo bom na abertura da Olimpíada. Então tá.
Que o clima já estivesse previsto por ciência de verdade, é apenas um detalhe.
O mais triste disso tudo é que todo mundo que promove divulga e protege pseudociência e misticismo faz uso dos benefícios da ciência que diz não “acreditar”. Se ciência é tão ruim assim, incluindo a malvada “alopatia” que tal parar de vacinar suas crianças, rasgar o cartão do pediatra, jogar fora a Insulina e o Isordil e se tratar com chazinhos e homeopatia? GPS? Coisa do capeta, use uma varinha de radbomancia para se achar. Tem uma plantação? Contrate a Cacique Cobra Coral, e não acesse mais as previsões do INPE.
Há muito os problemas que atingem os povos indígenas em Mato Grosso do Sul ganharam manchete na imprensa regional, nacional e internacional. Todos os anos índios são mortos e nada é feito de objetivo para mudar a realidade. Autoridades eleitas pelo povo, como vereadores, deputados estaduais, deputados federais, senadores, prefeitos e governador, mandato após mandato e salvo honrosas excessões, simplificam o problema. Ao fazerem isso, rechaçam o enfrentamento da questão fundiária, causa maior dos conflitos entre fazendeiros e comunidades indígenas.
Além disso, não raramente recorrem ao argumento de culpar instituições alhures pelo etnocídio ou genocídio cultural em andamento no estado: Supremo Tribunal Federal, Governo Federal, Ministério da Justiça, ONGs, Presidência da República, Conselho Indigenista Missionário, Ministério Público Federal, forças alienígenas que desejariam se apoderar do Aquífero Guarani etc. Repetidas vezes, de maneira costumeira, utilizam de sofismas dos mais variados para distorcer a realidade e formar opinião pública contrária à regularização das terras indígenas no país.
Ao fazerem isso, essas autoridades se isentam de quaisquer responsabilidades, terceirizam o problema e lavam as mãos. Afirmam que é a União, e basicamente ela, que pode e deve solucionar os conflitos pela posse da terra, desde que assim o faça a favor dos fazendeiros, aqueles que possuem títulos de propriedade privada da terra e por vezes financiam campanhas eleitorais e projetos de poder.
A questão fundiária, por sua vez, é um problema muito antigo e suas origens remontam aos séculos 18, 19 e 20, quando se deu a origem da propriedade privada da terra na região. Com o final da chamada Guerra do Paraguai (1864-1870), o antigo sul de Mato Grosso, atual Mato Grosso do Sul, passou a ser mais rapidamente colonizado por migrantes oriundos de outras partes do Brasil, além de imigrantes vindos de além-mar e paízes vizinhos. Desde então o espaço regional se configurou como palco de muitos conflitos pela posse da terra, especialmente quando comunidades indígenas tiveram seus territórios invadidos por fazendeiros e militares desmobilizados do exército imperial. A documentação oficial da época, como os relatórios da Diretória dos Índios da Província de Mato Grosso, comprova a situação. Contudo, sem os povos originários esta parte da bacia platina não estaria incorporada ao território nacional.
Foi graças às alianças com os indígenas, feitas desde o século 18, que Portugal estabeleceu sua hegemonia na porção central da América do Sul. Posteriormente, quando o Brasil tornou-se Estado-nação, as alianças permaneceram durante o período imperial. Exemplo disso foi o protagonismo que os indígenas tiveram na defesa do território nacional durante a Guerra do Paraguai. Autores renomados como o Visconde de Taunay, apenas para citar um exemplo, extenderam-se sobre o assunto e teceram elogios à participação dos Terena, Kinikinao, Kadiwéu, Guató e outros povos que, sozinhos ou ao lado do exército imperial, combateram as tropas invasoras do Paraguai na década de 1860.
Com o fim do conflito bélico platino houve a expansão da fronteira pastoril e, consequentemente, o aumento da titulação dolosa de territórios indígenas a favor de terceiros. A partir de então os povos originários passaram a ter suas terras usurpadas e via de regra não tinham a quem recorrer. Esta é uma das marcas colonialistas da formação do Estado Brasileiro e da propriedade privada da terra em Mato Grosso do Sul.
Neste contexto foi ainda imposto aos Guarani, Kaiowá, Terena e outros indígenas uma forma perversa de exploração da força de trabalho, análoga à escravidão moderna, baseada no conhecido sistema do barracão. Durante a primeira metade do século 20, muitos fazendeiros tinham transformado milhares de indígenas na principal mão-de-obra a ser explorada nas propriedades rurais que eram organizadas no antigo sul de Mato Grosso. Esta situação é verificada na fronteira com o Paraguai e a Bolívia, na Serra de Maracaju e em praticamente todo o estado.
Milhares de indígenas passaram a trabalhar na condição de vaqueiros e em outras atividades econômicas, tais como: lavoura, colheita e preparo da erva-mate, exploração de ipecacuanha, transporte fluvial etc. Muitas mulheres foram ainda “pegas a laço”, violentadas e forçadas a se casar com não-índios, história esta presente na memória de muitos dos antigos (sul) mato-grossenses. Apesar disso tudo, os índios pouco usufruiram das riquezas que produziram e passaram a viver em situações cada vez mais difíceis, sobremaneira quando suas roças foram invadidas pelo gado e os fazendeiros mandaram derrubar as matas existentes em seus territórios. Depois de formadas as propriedades rurais, especiamente entre os anos de 1950 a 1970, a mão-de-obra indígena foi dispensada de muitas fazendas.
Neste contexto histórico, marcado pela expansão do agronegócio no Centro-Oeste, dezenas de comunidades indígenas, as quais ainda conseguiam viver no fundo das fazendas, foram expulsas das terras de ocupação tradicional. Este processo de esbulho foi concluído na década de 1980.
No começo do século 20, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, posteriormente conhecido como Marechal Rondon, à frente da Comissão de Linhas Telegráficas do Estado de Mato Grosso, deixou registrado os ataques que fazendeiros desfechavam contra os indígenas, como ocorria na bacia do rio Taboco. Em suas palavras: “[…] eivados da falsa noção de que o índio deve ser tratado e exterminado como uma fera contra o qual devem fazer convergir todas as suas armas de guerra, os fazendeiros ao invés de reconciliarem-se com os silvícolas trucidavam homens, mulheres e crianças e aprisionando os que não havia logrado fugir”.
Segundo Rondon, não contentes com os assassinatos, alguns fazendeiros “abriam os ventres de índias que se achavam em adiantado estado de gravidez”. Ações desta natureza são definidas como etnocídio e persistem, com outras roupagens, até o tempo presente. Por isso em Mato Grosso do Sul os indígenas são percebidos por muitos como não-humanos, chamados pejorativamente de “bugres”.
Dessa forma, no âmbito da constituição do Estado Brasileiro e da formação da sociedade nacional, foram registradas sucessivas tentativas de exploração, dominação e até extermínio contra os povos indígenas. À medida que se estabeleceram na região, fazendeiros incorporaram territórios indígenas ao seu patrimônio. Muitos conseguiram isso requerendo junto às autoridades estaduais, sem muitas dificuldades e por meio pouco ortodoxos, títulos de propriedade privada da terra. Muitas áreas atingiam um tamanho tal que era demarcada vagamente em função da particularidade geográfica de cada região: córregos, rios, morros etc. Embora tivessem logrado a titularidade de vastas extensões, frequentemente não tomaram posse imediata das terras, onde comunidades indígenas conseguiram permanecer, de maneira mansa e pacífica, por décadas sem grandes infortúnios.
À frente desses fazendeiros emergiu um grupo de proprietários de terra que se enriqueceu ao longo dos anos e, aproveitando-se da influência que tinham nos governos municipais, estadual e federal, ganhou poderes sobre pessoas e coisas. Mais ainda, promoveu todo tipo de violação dos direitos elementares dos povos indígenas. Constituiu-se, assim, uma elite ruralista com muita influência nos poderes constituídos na República, isto é, no próprio Estado Brasileiro. Seus feitos são enaltecidos por uma historiografia colonialista, geralmente financiada com dinheiro público, ligada à construção de uma história oficial e de uma identidade sul-mato-grossense, geralmente em oposição à de Mato Grosso, particularmente de Cuiabá.
Assim, no tempo presente observamos mais uma situação de conflitos entre ruralistas e comunidades Guarani, Kaiowá e Terena. O resultado disso foi mais um indígena assassinado durante a retomada de uma área oficialmente declarada como terra indígena, chamada Ñande Ru Marangatu, localizada no município de Antônio João, na fronteira com o Paraguai. Sobre o assunto, até o momento nenhuma autoridade esclareceu de onde veio o tiro que no dia 29 de agosto de 2015 ceifou a vida do Kaiowá Simeão Fernandes Vilhalba, 24 anos. A julgar pelo histórico do assassinato de indígenas no estado, como aconteceu com Nelson Franco (1952) e Marçal de Souza (1983), este será mais um caso em que os criminosos permanecerão impunes.
As autoridades máximas estaduais, com destaque para o governador do estado, em tese teriam a obrigação de contribuir positivamente para a elucidação dos fatos e repressão a todo tipo de violência armada contra povos originários. Trata-se de uma responsabilidade inerente ao cargo para o qual foram eleitos e em defesa do Estado Democrático de Direito, cujo conceito não se limita à defesa da propriedade privada da terra e da classe social à qual pertencem. Todavia, uma conduta desse tipo é incompatível com o protagonismo que certas autoridades tiveram no chamado Leilão da Resistência, ação planejada e executada por ruralistas para arrecadar fundos e financiar ações contra a retomada de terras indígenas, com a contratação de milícias armadas, tal qual noticiado pela imprensa desde 2013.
Por isso em Mato Grosso do Sul há uma situação peculiar da qual parte da população do estado não sente orgulho: quem não é fazendeiro, será tratado como boi bagual e, portanto, como não-humano ou animal selvagem, sobretudo os povos originários, comunidades tradicionais e segmentos de classes sociais em situação de vulnerabilidade social.
(*) Jorge Eremites de Oliveira é doutor em História (Arqueologia) pela PUCRS e docente da Universidade Federal de Pelotas e Paulo Marcos Esselin é doutor em História (História Ibero-Americana) pela PUCRS e docente da Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul.
In this excerpt from More Than a Score, Jesse Hagopian explains who the “testocracy” are, what they want – for everybody else’s children and for their own – and why more people than ever before are resisting tests and working collectively to reclaim public education.
Who are these testocrats who would replace teaching with testing? The testocracy, in my view, does not only refer to the testing conglomerates—most notably the multibillion-dollar Pearson testing and textbook corporation—that directly profit from the sale of standardized exams. The testocracy is also the elite stratum of society that finances and promotes competition and privatization in public education rather than collaboration, critical thinking, and the public good. Not dissimilar to a theocracy, under our current testocracy, a deity—in this case the exalted norm-referenced bubble exam—is officially recognized as the civil ruler of education whose policy is governed by officials that regard test results as divine. The testocratic elite are committed to reducing the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single number—a score they subsequently use to sacrifice education on the altar devoted to high-stakes testing by denying students promotion or graduation, firing teachers, converting schools into privatized charters, or closing schools altogether. You’ve heard of this program; the testocracy refers to it as “education reform.”
Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known.
Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known. Its tsars include billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and members of the Walton family (the owners of Walmart), who have used their wealth to circumvent democratic processes and impose test-and-punish policies in public education. They fund a myriad of organizations—such as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America, and Stand for Children—that serve as shock troops to enforce the implantation of high-stakes testing and corporate education reform in states and cities across the nation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan serves to help coordinate and funnel government money to the various initiatives of the testocracy. The plan to profit from public schools was expressed by billionaire media executive Rupert Murdoch, when he said in a November 2010 press release: “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”
Testing companies got the memo and are working diligently to define great teaching as preparing students for norm-referenced exams—available to districts across the country if the price is right. The textbook and testing industry generates between $20 billion and $30 billion dollars per year. Pearson, a multi-national corporation based in Britain, brings in more than $9 billion annually, and is the world’s largest education company and book publisher. But it’s not the only big testing company poised to profit from the testocracy. Former president George W. Bush’s brother Neil and his parents founded a company called Ignite! Learning to sell test products after the passage of No Child Left Behind.
“An Invalid Measure”: The Fundamental Flaws of Standardized Testing
The swelling number of test-defiers is rooted in the increase of profoundly flawed standardized exams. Often, these tests don’t reflect the concepts emphasized in the students’ classes and, just as often, the results are not available until after the student has already left the teacher’s classroom, rendering the test score useless as a tool for informing instruction. Yet the problem of standardized bubble tests’ usefulness for educators extends well beyond the lag time (which can be addressed by computerized tests that immediately calculate results). A standardized bubble test does not help teachers understand how a student arrived at answer choice “C.” The student may have selected the right answer but not known why it was right, or conversely, may have chosen the wrong answer but had sophisticated reasoning that shows a deeper understanding of the concept than someone else who randomly guessed correctly. Beyond the lack of utility of standardized testing in facilitating learning there is a more fundamental flaw. A norm-referenced, standardized test compares each individual student to everyone else taking the test, and the score is then usually reported as a percentile. Alfie Kohn describes the inherent treachery of the norm-referenced test:
No matter how many students take an NRT [norm-referenced test], no matter how well or poorly they were taught, no matter how difficult the questions are, the pattern of results is guaranteed to be the same: Exactly 10 percent of those who take the test will score in the top 10 percent. And half will always fall below the median. That’s not because our schools are failing; that’s because of what the word median means.
And as professor of education Wayne Au explained in 2011, when he was handed a bullhorn at the Occupy Education protest outside the headquarters of Gates Foundation, “If all the students passed the test you advocate, that test would immediately be judged an invalid metric, and any measure of students which mandates the failure of students is an invalid measure.”
Researchers have long known that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources.
Unsurprisingly, the Gates Foundation was not swayed by the logic of Au’s argument. That is because standardized testing serves to reinforce the mythology of a meritocracy in which those on the top have achieved their position rightfully—because of their hard work, their dedication to hitting the books, and their superior intelligence as proven by their scores. But what researchers have long known is that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources. The most damning truth about standardized tests is that they are a better indicator of a student’s zip code than a student’s aptitude. Wealthier, and predominantly whiter, districts score better on tests. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality. As Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” reveals, the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. Arne Duncan’s refusal to address the concerns raised by this study exposes the bankruptcy of testocratic policy.
Hypocrisy of the Testocracy
At first glance it would be easy to conclude that the testocracy’s strategy for public schools is the result of profound ignorance. After all, members of the testocracy have never smelled a free or reduced-price lunch yet throw a tantrum when public school advocates suggest poverty is a substantial factor in educational outcomes. The testocracy has never had to puzzle over the conundrum of having more students than available chairs in the classroom, yet they are the very same people who claim class size doesn’t matter in educational outcomes. The bubble of luxury surrounding the testocracy has convinced many that most testocrats are too far removed from the realities facing the majority of US residents to ever understand the damage caused by the high-stakes bubble tests they peddle. While it is true that the corporate reform moguls are completely out of touch with the vast majority of people, their strategy for remaking our schools on a business model is not the result of ignorance but of arrogance, not of misunderstanding but of the profit motive, not of silliness but rather of a desire for supremacy.
In fact, you could argue that the MAP test boycott did not actually begin at Garfield High School. A keen observer might recognize that the boycott of the MAP test—and so many other standardized tests—began in earnest at schools like Seattle’s elite private Lakeside High School, alma mater of Bill Gates, where he sends his children, because, of course, Lakeside, like one-percenter schools elsewhere, would never inundate its students with standardized tests. These academies, predominantly serving the children of the financially fortunate, shield students from standardized tests because they want their children to be allowed to think outside the bubble test, to develop critical thinking skills and prioritize time to explore art, music, drama, athletics, and debate. Gates values Lakeside because of its lovely campus, where the average class size is sixteen, the library contains some twenty thousand volumes, and the new sports facility offers cryotherapy and hydrotherapy spas. Moreover, while Gates, President Obama, and Secretary of Education Duncan are all parents of school-age children, none of those children attend schools that use the CCSS or take Common Core exams. As Dao X. Tran, then PTA co-chair at Castle Bridge Elementary School, put it (in chapter 20 of More Than a Score): “These officials don’t even send their children to public schools. They are failing our children, yet they push for our children’s teachers to be accountable based on children’s test data. All while they opt for their own children to go to schools that don’t take these tests, that have small class sizes and project-based, hands-on, arts-infused learning—that’s what we want for our children!” The superrich are not failing to understand the basics of how to provide a nurturing education for the whole child. The problem is that they believe this type of education should be reserved only for their own children.
A Brief History of Test-defying
The United States has a long history of using standardized testing for the purposes of ranking and sorting youth into different strata of society. In fact, standardized tests originally entered the public schools with the eugenics movement, a white-supremacist ideology cloaked in the shabby garments of fraudulent science that became fashionable in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Rethinking Schools editorialized,
The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.
When the first “common schools” began in the late 1800s, industrialists quickly recognized an opportunity to shape the schools in the image of their factories. These early “education reformers” recognized the value of using standardized tests—first developed in the form of IQ tests used to sort military recruits for World War I—to evaluate the efficiency of the teacher workforce in producing the “student-product.” Proud eugenicist and Princeton University professor Carl Brigham left his school during World War I to implement IQ testing as an army psychologist. Upon returning to Princeton, Brigham developed the SAT exam as the admissions gatekeeper to Princeton, and the test confirmed in his mind that whites born in the United States were the most intelligent of all peoples. As Alan Stoskopf wrote, “By the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.”
Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing came from leading African American scholars.
Resistance to these exams surely began the first time a student bubbled in every “A” on the page in defiance of the entire testing process. Yet, beyond these individual forms of protest, an active minority of educators, journalists, labor groups, and parents resisted these early notions of using testing to rank intelligence. Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois recalled in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [First] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”
In a statement that is quite apparently lost on today’s testocracy, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:
But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.
This history of test-defiers was largely buried until the mass uprisings of the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s transformed public education. In the course of these broad mass movements, parents, students, teachers, and activists fought to integrate the schools, budget for equitable funding, institute ethnic studies programs, and even to redefine the purpose of school.
In the Jim Crow–segregated South, literacy was inherently political and employed as a barrier to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The great activist and educator Myles Horton was a founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee that would go on to help organize the Citizenship Schools of the mid-1950s and 1960s. The Citizenship Schools’ mission was to create literacy programs to help disenfranchised Southern blacks achieve access to the voting booth. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans attended the Citizenship Schools, which launched one of the most important educational programs of the civil rights movement, redefining the purpose of education and the assessment of educational outcomes. Horton described one of the Citizenship Schools he helped to organize, saying, “It was not a literacy class. It was a community organization. . . . They were talking about using their citizenship to do something, and they named it a Citizenship School, not a literacy school. That helped with the motivation.” By the end of the class more than 80 percent of those students passed the final examination, which was to go down to the courthouse and register to vote!
What the Testocracy Wants
The great civil rights movements of the past have reimagined education as a means to creating a more just society. The testocracy, too, has a vision for reimagining the education system and it is flat-out chilling. The testocracy is relentlessly working on new methods to reduce students to data points that can be used to rank, punish, and manipulate. Like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $1.4 million to develop bio-metric bracelets designed to send a small current across the skin to measure changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. These “Q Sensors” would then be used to monitor a student’s “excitement, stress, fear, engagement, boredom and relaxation through the skin.” Presumably, then, VAM assessments could be extended to evaluate teachers based on this biometric data. As Diane Ravitch explained to Reuters when the story broke in the spring of 2012, “They should devote more time to improving the substance of what is being taught . . . and give up all this measurement mania.”
But the testocracy remains relentless in its quest to give up on teaching and devote itself to data collection. In a 2011 TIME magazine feature on the future of education, readers are asked to “imagine walking into a classroom and seeing no one in the front of the classroom. Instead you’re led to a computer terminal at a desk and told this will be your teacher for the course. The only adults around are a facilitator to make sure that you stay on task and to fix any tech problems that may arise.” TIME goes on to point out, “For some Florida students, computer-led instruction is a reality. Within the Miami-Dade County Public School district alone, 7,000 students are receiving this form of education, including six middle and K–8 schools, according to the New York Times.” This approach to schooling is known as “e-learning labs,” and from the perspective of the testocracy, if education is about getting a high score, then one hardly needs nurturing, mentorship, or human contact to succeed. Computers can be used to add value—the value of rote memorization, discipline, and basic literacy skills—to otherwise relatively worthless students. Here, then, is a primary objective of an education system run by the testocracy: replace the compassionate hand of the educator with the cold, invisible, all-thumbs hand of the free market.