Arquivo da tag: Racismo

Opinião – Hélio Schwartsman: Está tudo dominado (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

21.ago.2022 às 23h15


“Elite Capture”, do filósofo nigeriano-americano Olúfémi O. Táíwò, é um livro interessante. O texto é daqueles bem militantes, contrastando um pouco por minha preferência por obras mais analíticas. Mas Táíwò, que é professor na Universidade Georgetown, levanta problemas relevantes, que frequentemente passam despercebidos.

Para Táíwò, está tudo dominado. Para início de conversa, as estruturas sociais são desenhadas para sempre favorecer as elites. É o que ele chama de capitalismo racial. Mas, como se isso não bastasse, vemos agora essas mesmas elites se apropriando da política de identidade, originalmente um movimento de resistência, para fazer avançar seus interesses, num fenômeno que o autor batizou de política de deferência.

Hoje, a fina flor do capitalismo mundial, isto é, grandes bancos e “big techs”, não só encampa o discurso identitário como também promove a elite dos grupos marginalizados a posições privilegiadas. Os diretamente envolvidos ganham. Os empresários sinalizam sua virtude, os promovidos ficam com a promoção, mas a maior parte dos marginalizados continua marginalizada. No Brasil, as cotas em universidades fazem um pouco isso. A sociedade fica com a sensação de dever cumprido por ter instituído essa política e os bons estudantes negros ganham vagas em boas escolas. Mas os mais discriminados, isto é, o garoto negro que não consegue concluir o ensino fundamental e acaba em subempregos ou no crime, continua quase tão discriminado quanto seus trisavós escravizados.

O que me incomodou no livro é que Táíwò não deixa muito espaço para respostas que difiram da sua. Precisamos necessariamente ver os empresários como cínicos tentando faturar em cima dos movimentos identitários? Não dá para imaginar que um “capitalista” considere o racismo imoral e esteja disposto a agir contra ele, embora sem deflagrar um movimento revolucionário, que é o que o autor cobra?

Lei de Cotas pode ser alterada com exclusão de critérios raciais para seleção de alunos (Carta Capital)

cartacapital.com.br

No texto sancionado por Dilma Rousseff, está prevista uma revisão do sistema após dez anos de implantação, o que ocorrerá em agosto próximo

Por Fabíola Mendonça e Rodrigo Martins | 11.03.2022 05h30


No início de 2021, uma família negra de Caçapava, no interior paulista, teve uma dupla conquista para celebrar. A técnica de enfermagem Sandra Baptista, de 53 anos, obteve uma bolsa de estudos integral para cursar Gestão Pública em uma universidade privada de Santos. Já a filha Lívia ­Gabrielle dos Santos da Silva, de 18 anos, foi aprovada no processo seletivo do curso de Engenharia Química da USP, no campus de Lorena, e tornou-se a primeira integrante do núcleo familiar a ter acesso a uma universidade pública. Até então, apenas outro filho teve a oportunidade de cursar uma faculdade, com financiamento pelo Fies.

Sandra precisou adiar por muitos anos o sonho do ensino superior. Chegou a iniciar alguns cursos no passado, mas precisou abandoná-los em decorrência de problemas financeiros. Agora, com os filhos crescidos, acredita ser possível conciliar o trabalho com a graduação a distância. Lívia, por sua vez, entrou na USP logo após o Ensino Médio. Não foi uma tarefa fácil, ainda mais em tempos de pandemia. “Começava às 7 e meia da manhã e seguia com os estudos até 9 da noite, sem descanso”, relembra. Um sacrifício necessário para dar conta das aulas remotas da escola, a elaboração do trabalho de conclusão de curso e o reforço do Emancipa, um cursinho popular, mantido por voluntários.

ANTES EM MINORIA, OS NEGROS HOJE SOMAM 51,2% DOS ALUNOS DAS UNIVERSIDADES FEDERAIS. AS VAGAS PARA BRANCOS TAMBÉM CRESCERAM

Beneficiária do sistema de cotas, ela recebe uma bolsa de 500 reais para custear a moradia e tem direito a refeições gratuitas no restaurante universitário. “Como divido o apartamento com duas amigas, consigo pagar a maior parte dos gastos. Ainda assim, preciso da ajuda dos meus pais para cobrir algumas despesas”, comenta. “Sem as cotas e sem esse auxílio financeiro do programa de permanência, eu jamais conseguiria fazer esse curso na USP. Os alunos da escola pública estão em muita desvantagem em relação aos de colégios particulares. E acho muito justo que a população negra tenha acesso facilitado às universidades, até para reparar os três séculos e meio de escravidão e toda a exclusão que sofremos desde então. Após a Abolição, por muitos anos nos impediram de estudar e até mesmo de trabalhar em algumas profissões, como cocheiro. Nada mais justo do que termos, ao menos, a possibilidade de modificar o nosso futuro.”

Assim como Lívia, centenas de milhares de brasileiros tiveram acesso à universidade pública facilitado pelas cotas raciais, implantadas oficialmente no Brasil a partir da Lei 12.711, de 2012. No texto sancionado por Dilma Rousseff, está prevista uma revisão do sistema de cotas após dez anos de implantação, o que ocorrerá em agosto próximo. O governo ainda não se pronunciou formalmente sobre o tema, mas o ministro da Educação, o pastor presbiteriano Milton Ribeiro, já se manifestou no passado contra a reserva de vagas por critérios étnico-raciais. Pior: no Congresso, representantes da base bolsonarista e da autointitulada “direita liberal” se articulam para derrubar o mecanismo, mantendo apenas os critérios sociais.

Em artigo publicado no Jornal da Ciência, um veículo da Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência, o advogado José Eduardo Cardoso, ex-ministro da Justiça, esclarece que a lei não tem prazo de validade. “No seu texto não existe nenhuma data estabelecendo o fim da sua vigência. Ao contrário, o que existe, no seu art. 7º, é a previsão de que se realize uma revisão dos seus termos, ‘no prazo de dez anos’, e não a afirmação da ‘perda­ da sua vigência’ após o período de dez anos”. Ou seja, a legislação não vai caducar, caso os parlamentares decidam analisar o tema com calma em outro momento, fora do afogadilho do período eleitoral.

“Sim, podemos ocupar espaços de poder“, diz Joana Guimarães, primeira reitora negra do País – Imagem: UFSB

Cleber Santos, presidente da Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros e professor da Unifesp, reforça essa linha de raciocínio e não descarta judicializar a questão, caso seja retirada da lei a reserva de vagas nas universidades para pretos, pardos e indígenas (PPI). “A lei não tem uma expiração prevista para ocorrer em 2022. Fala de monitoramento e avaliação por parte dos órgãos públicos responsáveis, o que não ocorreu”, observa. “É preciso entender a revisão como um processo de aperfeiçoamento a partir desse monitoramento e avaliação, com dados concretos.”

A possibilidade da exclusão dos critérios raciais preocupa os defensores das cotas, sobretudo quando se considera o perfil do governo Bolsonaro, sempre refratário a políticas públicas inclusivas. “Há o enorme risco de aprovarem uma nova legislação que limite as cotas ou abram a possibilidade de o presidente Jair Bolsonaro vetar um trecho específico, que leve à exclusão de algum grupo beneficiado”, chama atenção Renato Janine Ribeiro, ex-ministro da Educação e atual presidente da SBPC. “É preciso destacar que todas as cotas são sociais, pois os beneficiários precisam ser, necessariamente, egressos de escolas públicas. Você pode ser negro, pode ser indígena, pode ter alguma deficiên­cia… Não terá direito à reserva de vagas a menos que tenha cursado os três anos do Ensino Médio na rede pública. Não vejo por que mudar esse sistema. Ele não prejudica ninguém. As cotas levam em conta a proporção de todos os grupos étnicos e pessoas com deficiência existentes em cada estado, nem mais nem menos.”

Uma das iniciativas para acabar com as cotas raciais foi apresentada pelo deputado Kim Kataguiri, do DEM. Em tramitação na Câmara, o Projeto de Lei 4125/21 estabelece que as vagas deveriam ser destinadas exclusivamente aos alunos de baixa renda. “Além de inconstitucionais, as políticas de discriminação positiva não fazem o menor sentido. Quem é excluído da educação é o pobre, que entra cedo no mercado de trabalho e depende dos serviços educacionais do Estado, que, em geral, são de péssima qualidade”, diz o parlamentar. “A pobreza não tem cor.”

Fontes: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE): Pesquisas Anuais de Domicílios (1996, 2003 e 2014) e Censo 2010. V Pesquisa Nacional de Perfil Socioeconômico e Cultural dos(as) graduandos(as) das Ifes (2018).

O militante do MBL, que recentemente lamentou o fato de a Alemanha ter criminalizado o nazismo em um podcast, parece ignorar os indicadores sociais, sempre mais desfavoráveis à população negra, mesmo quando se comparam grupos com a mesma escolaridade ou faixa de renda. “Perder o componente racial é retroceder mais de 130 anos de história. As cotas ainda não respondem a toda necessidade da população brasileira, sobretudo a que vive discriminação histórica. É visível que avançou a presença dos estudantes negros nas universidades federais, mas é também visível a imensidão do lado de fora”, afirma Matilde Riberio, ex-ministra da Secretaria Especial de Igualdade Racial no governo Lula. “A manutenção do componente racial é uma responsabilidade do Estado e da sociedade, considerando que, em todos os dados estatísticos de todas as áreas das políticas públicas, você identificará que a população negra é preterida.”

A lei determina que todas as universidades e institutos federais de ensino devem reservar ao menos 50% das vagas dos cursos de graduação para alunos que tenham cursado integralmente o Ensino Médio em escolas públicas. Desse montante, metade das vagas será destinada a pessoas com renda de até um salário mínimo e meio per capita. A outra é distribuída entre pretos, pardos e indígenas e pessoas com deficiência, considerando a proporcionalidade das populações em cada estado, segundo o último Censo do ­IBGE. “O sistema de ensino é ruim para todos, brancos e não brancos, mas, quando a gente olha para o Ensino Médio, 71,7% dos jovens fora da escola são negros”, comenta José Nilton, professor de Educação das Relações Étnico-Raciais, disciplina obrigatória em todos os cursos da UFRPE.

A maior virtude da Lei de Cotas é o fato de ser uma política abrangente e multidimensional, com uma combinação de critérios que combate, simultaneamente, as desigualdades socioeconômicas e as raciais, ressalta Adriano Senkevics, doutor em Educação pela USP e pesquisador do Inep. Dessa forma, democratizou-se o acesso às universidades federais, inclusive nas carreiras mais prestigiadas, como medicina e engenharia. “Não se pode dizer que a legislação privilegia grupos que teriam condições financeiras de disputar vagas pelo sistema universal, pois todos os cotistas, sem exceção, precisam ser egressos de escola pública, dos quais metade deles também de renda baixa. E não bastaria manter apenas os critérios sociais, pois a desigualdade possui especificidades de cunho racial”, explica Senkevics.

O ministro-pastor Milton Ribeiro e o deputado Kim Kataguiri acreditam que a pobreza não tem cor. Quem sabe na Suécia, vai saber… – Imagem: Luis Fortes/MEC e Deputados do DEM

Em estudo publicado há três anos na Cadernos de Pesquisa, revista científica da Fundação Carlos Chagas, Senkevics e ­Ursula Mattioli Mello, pesquisadora do Institute for Economic Analysis, de ­Barcelona, revelaram o impacto da Lei de Cotas nas universidades. O porcentual de alunos egressos de escolas públicas e com renda de até um salário mínimo e meio, independentemente do perfil racial, aumentou de 48,12%, em 2012, para 54,8% em 2016. Dentro desse grupo, a maior expansão deu-se entre pretos, pardos e indígenas, cuja participação cresceu de 24,9% para 34% no mesmo período. “Ou seja, se a legislação não contemplasse os critérios raciais, haveria uma menor representatividade étnica no ensino superior.”

O impacto da Lei de Cotas foi ainda mais expressivo nas instituições de ensino que tardaram a adotar políticas afirmativas. A UFC, para citar um exemplo, não possuía qualquer sistema de reserva de vagas até então e dobrou o porcentua­l de ingressantes provenientes da escola pública em quatro anos – a participação desse grupo aumentou de 28,4%, em 2012, para 56,9%, em 2016. No caso da Ufes, que desde 2008 reservava de 40% a 50% das vagas para alunos da rede pública, o aumento foi tímido, de apenas 1,2%.

Autor do projeto pioneiro sobre cotas no Brasil, implantado na UnB em 2003, o antropólogo e professor José Jorge Carvalho acompanha esse debate há mais de 30 anos e diz ser incalculável a evolução da participação de pretos, pardos e indígenas nas universidades públicas. “Uma revolução foi feita. Eu lembro de dar aula há 20 anos em uma turma que eram todos brancos, às vezes tinha um único estudante negro. Agora, se você entrar na sala de aula, ela está integrada racialmente, com estudantes negros, brancos, indígenas, de baixa renda. É uma revolução social, racial e étnica gigantesca”, avalia. “A partir das cotas, os estudantes negros e indígenas começaram a questionar o currículo­ ensinado – eurocêntrico, centrado na cultura branca europeia. Queriam saber quando iriam estudar os escritores e poetas negros, a psicologia e a filosofia negras, a arte e o pensamento indígenas. A universidade cresceu intelectualmente.”

“SE REVISAR A LEI NESTE MOMENTO, HÁ O ENORME RISCO DE APROVAREM UMA NOVA LEGISLAÇÃO QUE LIMITE AS COTAS”, ALERTA JANINE RIBEIRO

Embora não considere o momento mais adequado para a revisão da Lei de Cotas, em razão da pressão de grupos reacionários pela supressão dos critérios raciais, Senkevics acredita que há, sim, aspectos que podem ser aperfeiçoados. Hoje, para definir o porcentual de vagas reservadas aos PPI em cada estado, são utilizados os dados do Censo Demográfico, realizado a cada dez anos. Além disso, a pandemia atrasou a realização do último levantamento, que deveria ter acontecido em 2020. O Censo está defasado e poderia perfeitamente ser substituído pela Pesquisa Nacional por Amostragem Domiciliar, atualizada constantemente pelo IBGE.

Outro ponto sensível é a ausência de regulamentação sobre o trabalho das comissões verificadoras das cotas, criadas para combater as fraudes na autodeclaração racial dos alunos. “Isso tem provocado uma crescente judicialização de casos, além de trazer prejuízos para todos os envolvidos: o estudante que é expulso nos anos finais de conclusão do curso, a universidade que gastou recursos para a formação desse aluno e o próprio cotista que perdeu aquela vaga”, observa ­Senkevics. “Com critérios mais claros, esse problema tende a ser minimizado.”

Fonte: IBGE, Pnad Contínua, 2018.

Autor de um projeto que propõe a prorrogação da Lei de Cotas por 50 anos e inclui na proposta políticas de assistência para a permanência dos estudantes, o ­deputado Valmir Assunção, do PT, defende a criação do Conselho Nacional das Ações Afirmativas do Ensino Superior, cuja finalidade seria monitorar a aplicação das regras, com a participação dos movimentos negro e estudantil das próprias universidades. Com os sucessivos cortes e congelamentos de recursos para o ensino superior desde 2015, as instituições de ensino enfrentam uma dificuldade cada vez maior de oferecer auxílio-moradia e refeições gratuitas aos alunos de baixa renda.

“Essa política material que garante assistência educacional é o que proporciona aos estudantes em vulnerabilidade a possibilidade de permanecerem nesses cursos onde a exigência é bem maior, como medicina. Mas, com os cortes, a gente não consegue atender a todos”, lamenta ­Cássia ­Virgínia Maciel, pró-reitora de Ações Afirmativas da UFBA, ressaltando que, em 2021, o corte na assistência estudantil da instituição foi de 7,2 milhões de reais. “Os valores repassados nunca deram para as universidades trabalharem com folga. Mas não havia essa política de negação do conhecimento como existe no governo atual”, completa Denise Góes, coordenadora da ­Comissão de Políticas Raciais da UFRJ, ressaltando que a universidade fluminense, a partir de 2019, precisou limitar a concessão de bolsas para alunos com renda ­per capita­ de até meio salário mínimo – antes, o benefício estendia-se a quem tinha até um salário mínimo e meio.

Importante observar que os brancos e asiáticos sofreram uma perda apenas relativa, em termos meramente proporcionais. “O número de vagas nas universidades federais passou de cerca de 100 mil, em 2001, para mais de 230 mil em 2011. Ou seja, o número de vagas para alunos não cotistas aumentou 15% nesse período, de 100 mil para 115 mil”, observa ­Janine Ribeiro. “A expansão da rede federal de ensino superior permitiu que ninguém fosse prejudicado com as cotas. Foi um jogo de ganha-ganha.”

“É VISÍVEL A PRESENÇA DOS NEGROS NAS UNIVERSIDADES, MAS É TAMBÉM VISÍVEL A IMENSIDÃO DO LADO DE FORA”, DIZ A EX-MINISTRA MATILDE RIBEIRO

A 5ª Pesquisa Nacional de Perfil Socioeconômico e Cultural dos(as) Graduandos(as) dos Ifes, realizada pela Andifes, corrobora a avaliação de Janine Ribeiro. Em termos porcentuais, a participação da população branca nas universidades federais caiu de 53,9%, em 2010, para 43,3%, em 2018. Não houve, porém, redução do número de alunos brancos. Ao contrário, o quantitativo aumentou de 353,8 mil para 520 mil no mesmo período. As cotas apenas asseguraram maior participação de grupos étnicos sub-representados. A população preta e parda, antes minoritária, passou a representar 51,2% do total de alunos.

O Grupo de Estudos Multidisciplinar da Ação Afirmativa, vinculado à Uerj, também tem dados que mostram a evolução das cotas nas universidades federais. Segundo o estudo, em 2012, havia pouco mais de 30 mil vagas para os cotistas e 110 mil para ampla concorrência. Sete anos depois, quase 138 mil pretos, pardos, indígenas e pessoas com deficiência puderam fazer um curso superior graças ao sistema. E isso não significou redução de vagas para brancos, pois havia mais de 125 mil ofertas para ampla concorrência, 15 mil a mais que em 2012. “A reserva de vagas foi e é a principal política de mobilidade social do País. É preciso não só manter, mas ampliar, e acabar com a visão de que não existe racismo no Brasil”, diz Penildo Silva Filho, pró-reitor de graduação da UFBA.

“A reparação mal começou“, observa Matilde – Imagem: Valter Campanato/ABR

Primeira mulher negra eleita reitora de uma universidade federal, a geóloga Joana Guimarães chama atenção para o caráter simbólico, histórico, cultural e socioeconômico das cotas. “O fato de eu estar como reitora de uma universidade tem um significado, passa a mensagem de que temos o direito de ocupar espaços de poder. Contribui para uma mudança de olhar, para que os alunos negros se sintam capazes”, destaca a docente, da UFSB. “O que faltou a eles foi oportunidade, pois são tão inteligentes quanto qualquer aluno branco. A única diferença são as condições, o ponto de partida.”

A representatividade também é percebida pela população indígena. Formado em jornalismo pela UFPE, Tarisson Nawa, de 25 anos, está concluindo mestrado e já foi aprovado para o doutorado da UFRJ, dentro da reserva para indígenas. Isso porque, mesmo sem a obrigatoriedade de cota na pós-graduação, muitos programas instituíram a ação afirmativa. “A gente não via perspectiva de entrar na universidade”, comenta. “As cotas são uma possibilidade de deixarmos de ser objeto de pesquisa para sermos autores da pesquisa. Não precisamos mais ser pesquisados por não indígenas, vamos construir as nossas próprias narrativas a partir das nossas vidas, numa cosmovisão dos povos indígenas.”

Sobre a adoção das cotas no mestrado e no doutorado, o coordenador dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Direito da PUC Minas, Marciano Seabra Godoi, destaca a necessidade de pessoas negras e indígenas passarem a produzir conhecimento. “Quem pesquisa e cria teorias é o público da pós-graduação. É preciso colocar essa população para disputar narrativas. Se você coloca os cotistas só na graduação, nega a eles a produção do saber.” •

PUBLICADO NA EDIÇÃO Nº 1199 DE CARTACAPITAL, EM 16 DE MARÇO DE 2022.

Este texto aparece na edição impressa de CartaCapital sob o título “O revide da casa-grande”

Leia mais em https://www.cartacapital.com.br/politica/lei-de-cotas-pode-ser-alterada-com-exclusao-de-criterios-raciais-para-selecao-de-alunos/. O conteúdo de CartaCapital está protegido pela legislação brasileira sobre direito autoral. Essa defesa é necessária para manter o jornalismo corajoso e transparente de CartaCapital vivo e acessível a todos.

Preceitos da Pombagira: mulheres de terreiros e lutas (Outras Palavras)

outraspalavras.net

por AzMina

Publicado 17/02/2022 às 15:11 – Atualizado 17/02/2022 às 15:23

Visita a espaços de culto de religiões de matriz africana – que historicamente têm mulheres como líderes. As Iaôs e Ialorixás tornam-se referências nas lutas pelo direito à igualdade religiosa, de raça e de gênero

Por Aymê Brito, no AzMina

“Exu (…) exerce forte domínio sobre as mulheres e as moças”, dizia uma coluna de opinião no jornal O Estado de São Paulo, em 1973. Escrito no período da Ditadura Militar no Brasil, o artigo demonizava as religiões de matriz africana e demonstrava preocupação que as mulheres abandonassem o “lar” em troca da vida nos terreiros. Quase cinco décadas depois, o machismo e o racismo seguem presentes na vida das mulheres que escolhem fazer parte das religiões afro-brasileiras, mas elas resistem e lideram terreiros.

Não é comum vê-las em cargos de liderança em outras religiões, como na Igreja Católica com padres e papas homens. Já nas religiões de matriz africana, as mulheres quase sempre são maioria, ocupando os postos mais altos. Quem frequenta os barracões (como também são chamados os terreiros) percebe isso.

Seja como mulheres de santo, senhoras do ilê, sacerdotisas ou herdeiras do axé, elas conquistaram um protagonismo que não ficou restrito aos terreiros. Axé Muntu! Essa é uma expressão criada pela intelectual Lélia Gonzalez – uma mistura das línguas Iorubá (axé: poder, energia) com o dialeto Kimbundo (muntu: gente). A socióloga e ativista usou muito de sua vivência como mulher do candomblé na produção intelectual que fez sobre a vida e posição das mulheres negras na sociedade brasileira.

Nesta reportagem trazemos as falas de Mãe Du, Nailah, Kenya e Renata, que, assim como Lélia, mostram que a influência dos povos de terreiros pode ser encontrada hoje no espaço acadêmico, na militância, na política, na culinária e em vários outros campos da sociedade.

Num país marcado por profundas desigualdades sociorraciais como o Brasil, os terreiros e as mulheres à frente deles – as macumbeiras, como elas mesmas se chamam – desempenham um papel social muito além da religião. Elas realizam uma verdadeira “feitiçaria” ao conciliar a tradição de diferentes povos, resistir às opressões e ajudar a proporcionar um espaço de acolhimento a quem sempre foi excluído.

Perseguição à cultura e às mulheres

A perseguição aos terreiros e barracões, que já dura mais de 500 anos, e as campanhas de difamação na imprensa geraram uma falta de conhecimento generalizada. “A umbanda, com seus sucedâneos e religiões assemelhadas, é entre nós um subproduto da ignorância associada à politicalha. Seu terreno de eleição já foi o quilombo e o mocambo. Modernamente é a favela e o escritório eleitoral” – dizia mais um trecho da coluna do jornal paulista, publicada logo após uma festa em comemoração ao Dia de Oxóssi.

Noticiários racistas como esse não eram (e não são) raros. Resquícios de uma sociedade que até 1832 obrigava todos a se converterem à religião oficial do Estado – na época, a Cristã. Isso fez com que outras expressões religiosas fossem criminalizadas, sofrendo com opressão policial e apreensão de objetos sagrados – que até hoje nunca foram devolvidos.

A cientista política e também praticante do Candomblé, Nailah Neves, Ìyàwó ty Ọ̀ṣun (seu nome de santo), afirma que essa perseguição também era resultado do fato de as mulheres serem maioria e liderarem as casas de axé. “Terreiros, quilombos e escolas de samba, que eram espaços de resistência e de valorização da cultura negra matriarcal, eram um grande risco para o projeto eugenista e patriarcal do Estado brasileiro.”

Passados 34 anos da Constituição Federal que, em seu artigo 5, passou a garantir a liberdade de crença e proteção aos locais de cultos religiosos diversos, a discriminação não teve fim. Em 2021, um estudo da Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa apontou que 91% dos ataques que ocorreram no estado do Rio de Janeiro eram contra as mesmas religiões – as de Racistradição africana. 

Ensinamentos da pombagira

Kenya Odara (primeira na imagem), de 23 anos, é uma das cofundadoras do coletivo de mulheres negras Siriricas Co e atualmente frequenta o terreiro de Candomblé Àse Efon Omibainà, composto apenas por mulheres. “Quando estamos nos terreiros não nos preocupamos só com a questão religiosa, somos mulheres negras, toda a nossa existência é política.” Foto: Divulgação/ Arquivo Pessoal

Embora as investidas contra os afro-religiosos não tenham sido poucas, os terreiros e as mulheres continuam passando de geração em geração os preceitos e fundamentos do povo de axé. Renata Pallottine, de 36 anos, é bisneta de Dona Maria, Mãe de Santo, de uma casa de umbanda no interior de São Paulo, e cresceu aprendendo os valores civilizatórios desta comunidade.

Advogada pelos direitos das mulheres e atuante no combate ao racismo religioso, Renata atualmente é responsável pela área jurídica do coletivo Terreiro Resiste, movimento de defesa das comunidades tradicionais. Hoje, como uma das filhas de santo mais velhas de um terreiro na capital paulista, ela conta que foi essa vivência que contribuiu para o seu engajamento na luta:

“Quem nasce umbandista já aprende com a Pombagira que a desigualdade de gênero mata, aniquila e silencia, e que mulheres, sobretudo as racializadas, devem ocupar lugar de poder e decisão dentro das nossas comunidades.”

A Pombagira é uma das entidades cultuadas nessas religiões, que representa as encruzilhadas e é conhecida por simbolizar uma figura feminina ligada ao prazer e à liberdade sexual. Renata explica que a figura da pombagira em muitos lugares é temida exatamente por romper com a lógica patriarcal: “mulher que poeticamente nos ensina a autonomia dos corpos femininos”.

Renata também chama atenção para a história dessas religiões, que vêm de uma cultura de valorização de povos ancestrais socialmente excluídos, mas passou por um forte embranquecimento nos últimos anos. “Em 1908, um homem branco, militar, espírita, de São Gonçalo, teria fundado a religião só porque deu nome às práticas que já existiam nos morros cariocas. Como é possível fundar algo que já existe?”, questionou a advogada.

A família de santo

Eu, repórter desta matéria, cresci ouvindo as histórias das macumbeiras, contadas por Elza Mendes, baiana de 72 anos, mulher negra e minha avó. Ela lida com a ignorância da sociedade sobre sua cultura há pelo menos 50 anos. “Ninguém vê com bons olhos, ainda hoje as pessoas têm muito medo, acham que é magia”, desabafa. Mas ressalta sempre o sentimento que há no terreiro de pertencer a uma comunidade. “Quando você abraça um terreiro, você começa a fazer parte de uma comunidade”, diz ela.

Hoje candomblecista, Elza foi a primeira a se tornar uma Iaô num dia de feitura, recebendo o título de dofona.

Glossário:

Iorubá: é um grupo étnico-linguístico da África Ocidental, principalmente na Nigéria e no Congo. Varia conforme o local e é usada nos rituais de matrizes africanas.

– Feitura no santo: é a iniciação de alguém no culto aos orixás. Pode vir com novo nome e assume novas funções. O ritual varia segundo a religião e pode durar até três meses.

Orixás (em iorubá: Òrìṣà): divindades representadas pela natureza, acredita-se que tenham existido anteriormente em Orum (céu em iorubá).

Aborós: orixás de energia masculina. Podem ser incorporados por pessoas de todos os gêneros.

Ayabás: orixás de energia feminina. Podem ser incorporados por pessoas de todos os gêneros.

Dona Elza conta que quando se começa a fazer parte de um terreiro você se torna também integrante de uma família de santo. “Tanto é que a gente diz irmão, tio, filho de santo”, comentou. Em muitos lugares os terreiros são conhecidos por serem receptivos a todo tipo de gente. “Uma mãe de santo nunca deixa de acolher um filho, mesmo se não tiver onde morar, será bem recebido no terreiro.”

Esse acolhimento está intimamente ligado à presença das mulheres na religião e a própria história dos negros no Brasil, conforme explica a pesquisadora Jacyara Silva, professora e coordenadora do núcleo de estudos afro-brasileiros da Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES). “É importante lembrar que as famílias dos negros que chegavam ao Brasil eram separadas por estratégia de dominação.”

Após o sequestro da população negra do continente africano, a formação das “famílias de santo” foi o jeito encontrado para preservar a identidade cultural e reconstruir essa ideia de família que havia sido destruída na escravidão. As grandes responsáveis por refazer esses laços familiares, dentro das religiões afro-brasileiras, foram as mulheres negras, as Yalorixás. Os barracões passaram a se tornar presentes na maior parte das regiões periféricas do país, acolhendo as pessoas que eram estigmatizadas pela sociedade, como mães solo e o público LGBTQIA+. 

“Não quer dizer que não existam nos terreiros os mesmos problemas que existem fora deles”, explicou Jacyara. As religiões de matriz africana estão inseridas dentro de uma sociedade onde racismo, machismo e transfobia são estruturais. Por isso, o cotidiano dos terreiros não está isento dessas questões. Mas, “pode estar na estrutura, mas não é institucionalizado”, ponderou a pesquisadora.

Debatendo fora dos terreiros

Maria do Carmo, Omó de Omolú Iemanjá Oxalá, conhecida como Mãe Du, é uma das mulheres à frente de um terreiro de Umbanda, na cidade de Viçosa, no interior de Minas Gerais. Apesar do grande respeito que conquistou entre os seus, teve que encarar o preconceito das mães e professoras da escola em que a sua filha estudava. “As pessoas ficaram meio cismadas”, conta.

A força de seguir por mais de 20 anos na defesa dos povos de terreiros vem da crença de que o amanhã será melhor que o hoje. A trajetória dela no culto aos orixás já tem, na verdade, 50 anos. “Fui a primeira Yaô daqui, andei pela cidade toda de branquinho.” Atualmente Mãe Du está na Umbanda, mas foi iniciada dentro do Candomblé, onde teve que passar por diversos processos até se tornar de fato umaIaô – filha de santo. Se tornar feita no santo é uma vitória para a maioria das mulheres de axé, por ser um processo de várias etapas, que requer muito tempo de dedicação e prática dentro do terreiro.

Ela também é líder espiritualista e integra o Conselho Municipal de Promoção da Igualdade Racial de Viçosa. Os cargos fora do terreiro são um marco e uma representação importante para quem é de religiões de matriz africana, mas também são espaços arriscados. “Defender aquilo que se é, hoje em dia, é perigoso, principalmente para nós mulheres.”

O preconceito acaba afastando outros praticantes dos encontros e debates religiosos, por preferirem se resguardar. Mas, Mãe Du – que tem viajado nos últimos anos para falar das religiões de matriz africana nas universidades – sente que agora as pessoas começaram a querer entender mais sobre sua cultura.

Hierarquia ancestral

Em boa parte da tradição africana, a hierarquia não se baseia no gênero, mas sim na experiência e conhecimento. “O matriarcalismo é natural de vários povos africanos, até porque a hierarquia não é por gênero como os europeus impuseram, é por ancestralidade”, explicou a candomblecista Nailah Neves.

As religiões de matriz africana não dividem o mundo entre bem e mal, emoção e ciência, corpo e alma, homens e mulheres. Nailah argumenta que essa lógica binária foi imposta aos povos que estavam sendo colonizados, por influência do eurocentrismo cristão. Existe na Umbanda e no Candomblé uma outra forma de ver e se relacionar com o mundo. “Não são apenas religiões, são povos e comunidades tradicionais, assim como são os quilombos.”

As religiões afro-brasileiras que conhecemos hoje são fruto das características de diversos povos africanos que se encontram no país e, exatamente por isso, elas variam conforme a nação ou tradição de origem, como acontece no caso do Candomblé, da Umbanda, do Batuque e do Xangô.

Sem nenhum tipo de livro oficial, como a Bíblia, os fundamentos são passados por gerações via tradição oral, e nem sempre são os mesmos em todos os lugares. Os preceitos e costumes não estão “escritos em pedra”.

AÇÕES E ESPAÇOS OCUPADOS PELAS MULHERES DE AXÉ NOS ÚLTIMOS ANOS:

  • No Brasil, o Dia Nacional de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa, 21 de janeiro, data que assegura a diversidade religiosa, foi criado em homenagem a uma líder religiosa, a Mãe Gilda. Em 1999, ela teve seu terreiro em Salvador invadido e depredado por fundamentalistas religiosos e acabou falecendo no ano seguinte.
  • Em 2021, a Organização das Mulheres de Axé do Brasil (MAB) realizou uma campanha de combate a violência menstrual. Elas distribuíram mais de 23 mil pacotes de absorventes higiênicos para pessoas em situação de vulnerabilidade econômica e social.
  • O Fórum Nacional de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional dos Povos Tradicionais de Matriz Africana (FONSANPOTMA), presidido pela médica e líder religiosa Kato Mulanji, é uma das organizações que lutam para garantir soberania alimentar aos povos tradicionais.
  • Desde 2017, as mulheres de axé conquistaram o reconhecimento da profissão de baiana de acarajé e passaram a ter direitos aos benefícios profissionais. Em 2005 elas já tinham sido reconhecidas como Patrimônio Cultural Imaterial do Brasil.
  • Pelo país todo, terreiros são responsáveis por projetos de atendimento à comunidade, oficinas, distribuição de alimentos e ações de combate a violência. O Ilê Omolu Oxum, liderado pela ialorixá Mãe Meninazinha de Oxum, em atividade na Baixada Fluminense desde 1968, é um dos que oferece orientação às mulheres vítimas de violência. 

Ressignificação da Semana de Arte Moderna incorpora aspectos da cultura negra (Pesquisa Fapesp)

José Tadeu Arantes | 18 de fevereiro de 2022

Agência FAPESP – O esforço de reinterpretação de um passado imaginário, cheio de silêncios e ausências, por um presente que também não está livre de ambiguidades, mas no qual certos ocultamentos começam a ser desvelados: este foi, em certa medida, o fio condutor da mesa “Escritas, arquivos e ressignificações”, que deu sequência à série de encontros on-line “100 Anos da Semana de Arte Moderna: Pesquisa, Arte e Literatura”, promovida pela FAPESP.

Em mesa-redonda que integra a série 100 Anos da Semana de Arte Moderna: Pesquisa, Arte e Literatura, especialistas promovem uma espécie de “desbranqueamento” do evento que inaugurou um novo tempo na cultura brasileira (Mário de Andrade; foto: Wikimedia Commons)

“A Semana de Arte Moderna tornou-se um capital simbólico importante, especialmente agora”, disse o primeiro participante da mesa, Pedro Meira Monteiro, professor na Princeton University, nos Estados Unidos.

Monteiro lembrou que as comemorações da Semana sempre foram marcadas pela controvérsia. E destacou a “guerra de narrativas do cinquentenário”, quando, em plena ditadura, em 1972, houve uma tentativa de normalizar o legado da Semana com uma exposição oficial no Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Masp). Na margem oposta do espectro político, não havia muito tempo que o Rei da Vela, de Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), tinha sido montado por José Celso Martinez Corrêa, no Teatro Oficina, em São Paulo; que Macunaíma, de Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), virara filme, sob a direção de Joaquim Pedro de Andrade; que os poetas concretistas haviam redescoberto Oswald; e que o enorme acervo de Mário fora transferido para o Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo (IEB-USP).

“A Semana era puxada para todos os lados. Aliás, desde o seu início, a Semana serviu às direitas e às esquerdas, como uma espécie de butim de uma guerra imaginária”, resumiu.

Segundo Monteiro, a melhor leitura da Semana atualmente é a do rapper Emicida, nome artístico do compositor, cantor e multiartista Leandro Roque de Oliveira (nascido em 1985), em seu filme AmarElo – É Tudo Pra Ontem (2020). “Emicida promove uma espécie de hermenêutica urbanística, lembrando do passado negro que marca o centro de São Paulo – uma cidade que é vista como centro nervoso da imigração europeia, o que já é signo de um apagamento importante. E somos levados pela imaginação do Teatro Municipal à estação São Bento do Metrô, que funciona como um canal subterrâneo, imaginário e real, que conecta às periferias, onde as luzinhas das quebradas se confundem com as estrelas. Estação São Bento, que é uma espécie de buraco mágico de Alice, onde se entra e sai em direção a um determinado universo que o discurso hegemônico prefere apagar, que é a São Paulo negra, dos pretos e das pretas”, afirmou.

Essa linha crítica, que opera uma espécie de “desbranqueamento” da Semana de Arte Moderna, também foi seguida por Lígia Fonseca Ferreira, professora na Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp).

Especialista na vida e na obra do escritor e abolicionista Luiz Gama (1830-1882), Ferreira falou, entre outros tópicos, de textos que permaneceram por muito tempo inéditos e da enorme correspondência de Mário de Andrade, que foram temas de sua pesquisa de pós-doutorado e continuam a ser estudados por ela e por estudantes sob sua orientação. Nesse conjunto, destacou a figura de “Mário de Andrade, africanista”, título do capítulo que escreveu para o livro Mário de Andrade: aspectos do folclore brasileiro (Global Editora), organizado por Telê Ancona Lopez, com estabelecimento do texto, apresentação e notas de Angela Teodoro Grillo.

Ferreira começou sua apresentação lendo e comentando trechos de um discurso escrito por Mário de Andrade para a cerimônia de encerramento das comemorações do cinquentenário da Abolição da Escravidão, em 1938. O escritor modernista era, então, diretor do Departamento de Cultura do Município de São Paulo e se dedicou com total afinco aos preparativos da celebração. Mas não pôde ler seu discurso porque foi exonerado – ou, como ele mesmo disse, “jogado fora” – do departamento pouco tempo antes, em consequência do cerceamento das liberdades democráticas provocado pela instalação, por Getúlio Vargas, da ditatura do Estado Novo. “O texto permaneceu inédito até poucos anos atrás”, informou Ferreira.

E leu um trecho, no qual Mário de Andrade afirmava que o Departamento de Cultura fizera questão de “trazer os negros para esta sala de brancos”, referindo-se especialmente ao convite feito ao doutor Francisco Lucrécio (1909-2001), um dos fundadores da Frente Negra Brasileira (FNB), para participar da conferência comemorativa que deveria ter ocorrido no Teatro Municipal de São Paulo.

Ferreira enfatizou que o estudo dos inéditos e, principalmente, da correspondência trocada pelos intelectuais, com o rigor metodológico com que começou a ser feito no século 21, vai banindo ficções, fazendo correções biográficas e trazendo informações que permaneceram ocultas. “Essas correspondências acabam constituindo redes entre si”, ressaltou.

Entre vários exemplos, a pesquisadora mencionou a correspondência de Mário de Andrade com Roger Bastide (1898-1974), um dos principais integrantes da famosa “missão francesa”, contratada no final dos anos 1930 para dar estofo à recém-criada Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Bastide ocupou a cátedra de sociologia e tornou-se um nome referencial no estudo das religiões afro-brasileiras, vindo, inclusive, a ser iniciado no candomblé na Bahia. “Mal chegou ao Brasil, em 1938, ele escreveu a Mário de Andrade, agradecendo os livros que este lhe enviara, e dizendo: ‘eles serão para mim o guia mais seguro para penetrar nas profundezas da alma negra, pois quase sempre a intuição do poeta vai mais longe do que a atenção do cientista’”, citou Ferreira.

Para além de sua enorme simpatia por todo tipo de manifestação cultural, a ênfase dada por Mário de Andrade à cultura negra talvez atendesse também a uma motivação mais íntima, pois, no contexto de uma sociedade de hegemonia branca e racista, seu fenótipo exibia traços de ascendência africana. Traços que ele procurou ocultar, sem negar completamente. Assim como procurou ocultar, sem negar completamente, sua polimórfica sexualidade.

Esses elementos biográficos, antes camuflados nos retratos oficiais e empurrados para o campo da insinuação ou da maledicência, só em anos mais recentes passaram a ser tratados com maior franqueza, em um processo ainda penoso e controverso, mas bastante promissor, de ressignificação.

Fervilhante rede de sociabilidade

Nesse processo, que diz respeito não apenas à figura de Mário de Andrade, mas que abarca todo o chamado modernismo e muito mais, a recuperação, a conservação e o estudo crítico da correspondência, das cartas trocadas pelos protagonistas, adquirem especial importância. E esse foi exatamente o tópico tratado com maior profundidade na terceira e última apresentação da mesa, feita por Marcos Antonio de Moraes, pesquisador e docente do IEB-USP.

Em uma exposição intitulada “Modernismo e Epistolografia”, Moraes falou da centralidade das correspondências no movimento modernista brasileiro. E citou a respeito um trecho interessantíssimo de uma crônica de Mário de Andrade: “Eu sempre afirmo que a literatura brasileira só principiou escrevendo realmente cartas com o movimento modernista. Antes, com alguma rara exceção, os escritores brasileiros só faziam estilo epistolar. Mas cartas com assunto, falando mal dos outros, xingando, contando coisas, dizendo palavrões, discutindo problemas estéticos e sociais, cartas de pijama, só mesmo com o modernismo as cartas se tornaram uma forma espiritual de vida em nossa literatura”.

Com essa formulação, segundo Moraes, “Mário aponta para a configuração de uma vigorosa, abrangente, fervilhante rede de sociabilidade”. E acrescentou que o autor de Pauliceia Desvairada parecia não ter dúvidas de que esse material, que circulava em sigilo, viria a ser, algum dia, amplamente conhecido.

Em um levantamento bastante exaustivo, Moraes contabilizou até a data presente um total de 325 livros de cartas. Desse montante, 33 volumes são cartas de Mário de Andrade, sem contar as reedições. “Portanto, mais de 10% do total”, disse. Conforme o próprio Mário de Andrade o definiu, trata-se de um “gigantismo epistolar”.

O próprio Moraes organizou e publicou a correspondência entre Mário de Andrade e Manuel Bandeira, em uma coleção que já recebeu dois prêmios Jabuti. Para este ano, entre outros livros, está prevista a publicação da correspondência entre Mário de Andrade e Oswald de Andrade, sob a edição de Gênese Andrade. Bastante aguardada, essa obra talvez lance alguma luz sobre a tão comentada, mas nunca bem compreendida, briga que afastou os dois principais protagonistas da Semana de Arte Moderna.

Com moderação de Mirhiane Mendes de Abreu, professora da Unifesp, a mesa “Escritas, arquivos e ressignificações” pode ser assistida na íntegra em: www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-j-Cu0s6-k.

Este texto foi originalmente publicado por Agência FAPESP de acordo com a licença Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. Leia o original aqui.

Nathan Hersh: Whoopi Goldberg Apologized. Punishing Her Further Is Un-Jewish (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Nathan Hersh


Feb. 9, 2022

Whoopi Goldberg in 2019.
Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Lincoln Center

Mr. Hersh is a writer and the former managing director of the social justice nonprofit Partners for Progressive Israel.

When Whoopi Goldberg said on her television program, “The View,” that the Nazi genocide of European Jews was not about race, but was actually about man’s cruelty to man, she showed a flawed understanding of race and of the Holocaust, and offended just about every Jewish organization and Jewish individual I know.

But ABC’s decision to suspend her from “The View” for two weeks, after she apologized, is equally troubling. Silencing people for ignorance and a misunderstanding of antisemitism is largely unhelpful and is, at its core, un-Jewish; Jewish tradition emphasizes the acceptance and importance of apology.

One of Judaism’s most famous sages, the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides, made clear the role the forgiver should play in a case like Ms. Goldberg’s: Help the wrongdoer overcome her ignorance and then forgive her. Maimonides said: “One must not show himself cruel by not accepting an apology; he should be easily pacified, and provoked with difficulty. When an offender asks his forgiveness, he should forgive wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit.”

The problem with punishment is it uses shame, rather than teaching and reflection, as the tool to address what is at best a clumsy misstatement and at worst a failure of understanding. Shame doesn’t foster a better relationship with the truth, or history; it simply forces silence, and that can breed resentment. In turn, silence and resentment fuel antisemitism. The better answer in these situations is obvious, but not easy: education, education, education.

“If what you want is to change someone’s mind, I have to think education is more effective than public shaming and punishment. Particularly when that person shows a sincere willingness to learn and apologize,” tweeted Sharon Brous, the senior rabbi of Ikar, a Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, in reaction to the news about Ms. Goldberg’s suspension.

Ms. Goldberg’s initial apology was the ideal response. “I’m sorry for the hurt I have caused,” she tweeted. She acknowledged her wrongdoing and expressed a willingness to listen and rethink her ideas about race: “As Jonathan Greenblatt from the Anti-Defamation League shared, ‘The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race.’ I stand corrected.”

Shutting her out of her show following the incident denied her the opportunity to live in her apology and to continue to be engaged in conversations that could further her — and her audience’s — understanding of Jewish history.

The inclination to discuss mistakes or wrongdoing, rather than silence those who have done wrongs, is a Talmudic virtue — one that is enshrined in traditions such as those practiced on Yom Kippur — and it is immediately relevant to the American Jewish fight against antisemitism. The lies and conspiracy theories that feed antisemitic hatred thrive in darkness. The less we talk about them, the less we even know how to recognize and define antisemitism.

Antisemitism is often called the oldest hatred: It can be found in the scapegoating of Jews for social ills, and in ancient conspiracy theories about Jewish power (in the media, in government, in finance). Antisemites have accused Jews of everything from murder to controlling elected officials. Antisemitism, as Ms. Goldberg so painfully misunderstood, has also historically insisted that the presence of a so-called Jewish race pollutes those of “purer blood.”

Silencing greater understanding of this hate, in an era of fraught polarization and increasing brazen racism, is a dangerous approach.

The public damning Ms. Goldberg received appears to have scared her into silence. At the end of her appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on the same day she made the remark on “The View,” she addressed her critics who had been sending her angry letters. “Don’t write me anymore,” she said. “I know how you feel. I already know, I get it, and I’m going to take your word for it and never bring it up again.”

ABC’s decision to suspend Ms. Goldberg dismayed several American Jewish institutions and writers. Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, questioned how anything productive was advanced by her suspension. The Israeli-born British journalist Rachel Shabi wrote on Twitter that “another teachable moment is being used instead to stoke hostilities between racialised minorities.” The author and editor Emily Tamkin, in a thoughtful interview with CNN, said “her comments were coming from a place of ignorance, not hatred,” a sentiment echoed by others.

Canceling those who maliciously minimize the Holocaust may also squander an opportunity to educate. Last June, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene compared public health restrictions around the coronavirus to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum were outraged, as they have been every time she has invoked Jews to justify her positions. The American Jewish Committee pointed out the obvious: “Equating public health precautions with the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust is disgraceful and unacceptable.” In the end, Ms. Greene took a tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington and publicly apologized. She has nevertheless continued to reference the Holocaust, but her moment of sober acknowledgment of the singular horrors of the Holocaust came after her educational experience at the Holocaust museum. Holocaust survivors have responded to Ms. Greene’s and Ms. Goldberg’s comments by offering to share with them the history as they lived it.

While such outreach should continue to be our first line of defense, a more stern approach is necessary for public figures who refuse to learn despite many opportunities. Allowing those who spread blatant antisemitism to remain in their positions of power at a time when violence against Jews is on the rise is untenable.

But the increased regularity with which antisemitism bubbles up can’t divert us from what we know about fighting it. Removing people from their posts for their antisemitic flubs is often an act of vengeance, intended to feed our own resentment toward the offender rather than to right the wrong; vengeance is not synonymous with justice, and Jewish teachings explicitly forbid vengeance.

The conversation on “The View” that led to Ms. Goldberg’s comments discussed the removal of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a graphic novel about his family’s experience in the Holocaust, from a Tennessee middle school curriculum. Some people are essentially trying to erase the real, harrowing history of the Holocaust by banning books when what is truly needed is further educational material, easily accessible and widely disseminated. The approachability of “Maus,” which depicts Nazi cats persecuting Jewish mice, makes it an especially powerful educational tool.

As much as possible, education must continue to guide our response. Bigots may never be convinced by facts and reason, but treating every misguided person like a bigot changes no one’s mind.

The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson (Scientific American)

scientificamerican.com

Monica R. McLemore

We must reckon with his and other scientists’ racist ideas if we want an equitable future

December 29, 2021


American biologist E. O. Wilson in Lexington, Mass., on October 21, 2021. Credit: Gretchen Ertl/Reuters/Alamy

With the death of biologist E. O. Wilson on Sunday, I find myself again reflecting on the complicated legacies of scientists whose works are built on racist ideas and how these ideas came to define our understanding of the world.

After a long clinical career as a registered nurse, I became a laboratory-trained scientist as researchers mapped the first draft of the human genome. It was during this time that I intimately familiarized myself with Wilson’s work and his dangerous ideas on what factors influence human behavior.

His influential text Sociobiology: The New Synthesis contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. Finding out that Wilson thought this way was a huge disappointment, because I had enjoyed his novel Anthill, which was published much later and written for the public.

Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs. His predecessors—mathematician Karl Pearson, anthropologist Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and others—also published works and spoke of theories fraught with racist ideas about distributions of health and illness in populations without any attention to the context in which these distributions occur.

Even modern geneticists and genome scientists struggle with inherent racism in the way they gather and analyze data. In his memoir A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life, geneticist J. Craig Venter writes, “The complex provenance of ideas means their origin is often open to interpretation.”

To put the legacy of their work in the proper perspective, a more nuanced understanding of problematic scientists is necessary. It is true that work can be both important and problematic—they can coexist. Therefore it is necessary to evaluate and critique these scientists, considering, specifically the value of their work and, at the same time, their contributions to scientific racism.

First, the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against. The fact that we don’t adequately take into account differences between experimental and reference group determinants of risk and resilience, particularly in the health sciences, has been a hallmark of inadequate scientific methods based on theoretical underpinnings of a superior subject and an inferior one. Commenting on COVID and vaccine acceptance in an interview with PBS NewsHour, recently retired director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins pointed out, “You know, maybe we underinvested in research on human behavior.”

Second, the application of the scientific method matters: what works for ants and other nonhuman species is not always relevant for health and/or human outcomes. For example, the associations of Black people with poor health outcomes, economic disadvantage and reduced life expectancy can be explained by structural racism, yet Blackness or Black culture is frequently cited as the driver of those health disparities. Ant culture is hierarchal and matriarchal, based on human understandings of gender. And the descriptions and importance of ant societies existing as colonies is a component of Wilson’s work that should have been critiqued. Context matters.

Lastly, examining nurture versus nature without any attention to externalities, such as opportunities and potential (financial structures, religiosity, community resources and other societal structures), that deeply influence human existence and experiences is both a crude and cruel lens. This dispassionate query will lead to individualistic notions of the value and meaning of human lives while, as a society, our collective fates are inextricably linked.

As we are currently seeing in the COVID-19 pandemic, public health and prevention measures are colliding with health services delivery and individual responsibility. Coexistence of approaches that take both of these  into account are interrelated and necessary.

So how do we engage with the problematic work of scientists whose legacy is complicated? I would suggest three strategies to move toward a more nuanced understanding of their work in context.

First, truth and reconciliation are necessary in the scientific record, including attention to citational practices when using or reporting on problematic work. This approach includes thinking critically about where and when to include historically problematic work and the context necessary for readers to understand the limitations of the ideas embedded in it. This will require commitments from journal editors, peer reviewers and the scientific community to invest in retrofitting existing publications with this expertise. They can do so by employing humanities scholars, journalists and other science communicators with the appropriate expertise to evaluate health and life sciences manuscripts submitted for publication.

Second, diversifying the scientific workforce is crucial not only to asking new types of research questions and unlocking new discoveries but also to conducting better science. Other scholars have pointed out that feminist standpoint theory is helpful in understanding white empiricism and who is eligible to be a worthy observer of the human condition and our world. We can apply the same approach to scientific research. All of society loses when there are limited perspectives that are grounded in faulty notions of one or another group of humans’ potential. As my work and that of others have shown, the people most burdened by poor health conditions are more often the ones trying to address the underlying causes with innovative solutions and strategies that can be scientifically tested.

Finally, we need new methods. One of the many gifts of the Human Genome Project was the creativity it spawned beyond revealing the secrets of the genome, such as new rules about public availability and use of data. Multiple labs and trainees were able to collaborate and share work while establishing independent careers. New rules of engagement emerged around the ethical, legal and social implications of the work. Undoing scientific racism will require commitments from the entire scientific community to determine the portions of historically problematic work that are relevant and to let the scientific method function the way it was designed—to allow for dated ideas to be debunked and replaced.

The early work of Venter and Collins was foundational to my dissertation, which examined tumor markers of ovarian cancer. I spent time during my training at the NIH learning from these iconic clinicians and scholars and had occasion to meet and question both of them. As a person who uses science as one of many tools to understand the world, it is important to remain curious in our work. Creative minds should not be resistant to change when rigorous new data are presented. How we engage with old racist ideas is no exception.

“The Last Refuge of Scoundrels” (SftP Magazine)

magazine.scienceforthepeople.org


February 1, 2022

New Evidence of E. O. Wilson’s Intimacy with Scientific Racism

By Stacy Farina and Matthew Gibbons


By Isabel Holtan

The words “scientific racism” conjure up images of nineteenth century anthropologists measuring skulls with calipers. But it would be just as accurate to picture a Canadian psychologist in the 1980s obsessing over the size of genitals. That was J. Philippe Rushton, Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario. Many have chronicled the story of Rushton’s disturbing attempts to enshrine his pseudoscientific beliefs about the biological basis of racial personality differences (from IQ, to sexual promiscuity, to criminality) into the scientific literature.1 But few know the full story, of which we present new evidence in this article, of the behind-the-scenes support Rushton received from eminent biologist E. O. Wilson.

On December 26, 2021, Edward O. Wilson passed away at the age of 94. He is remembered fondly by most who interacted with him and engaged with his writings.2 He has a well-earned reputation as a fierce advocate for the conservation of biodiversity and a world-class expert on ants and other social animals.3 However, throughout his career, he faced charges of racism due to his attempts to use evolutionary theory to explain individual differences among humans in terms of their behaviors and social status. Wilson dodged these charges skillfully, almost never mentioning race in his work or public comments.

Now that he has passed, the nature of his legacy has become a topic of intense debate. When Dr. Monica McLemore urged the scientific community to grapple with Wilson’s relationship with scientific racism in a Scientific American op-ed,4 she received swift and strong backlash from biologists and other supporters of Wilson. A few weeks later, Razib Khan, a blogger with a BS in genetics, wrote a letter of rebuttal claiming that these “accusations” are “baseless,”5 attracting dozens of academics to sign their names in support.6

Racism in academia and education is a perennially relevant topic. The US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear cases that challenge affirmative action admissions at Harvard University and in the University of North Carolina.7 States throughout the country are banning or considering bans on the teaching of critical race theory.8 Demographics of faculty and graduate students in the US are far from reflecting the racial demographics of the country as a whole.9 Therefore, as Dr. McLemore put it, now is the time for “truth and reconciliation” as we confront how some prominent biologists have worked to lend credibility, both culturally and in the scientific record, to pseudoscientific notions of a biological racial hierarchy.

Evolutionary ideas continue to be used by “race realists,” scientists and commentators alike, to promote ideology regarding the origin and implications of individual differences among humans that fall into socially-constructed racial groups.10 Anti-racism in evolutionary biology requires an honest confrontation of these issues. While many have done this important work through the decades, including Theodosius Dobzhansky, Jerry Hirsch, Stephen J. Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Joseph Graves Jr, there is still much more work to be done.11 When answering the question of why scientific racism persists to this day, we can look at how systems, and the people within those systems, work to maintain credibility of racist and deeply flawed ideas.

Rushton died in 2012, but not before gaining a reputation as a prolific and outspoken racist. He spent the final decade of his life as head of the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that supports pseudoscientific research on race and is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group with white nationalism as their core ideology. He also spent his time writing articles for Mankind Quarterly and giving presentations for conferences of the hate group American Renaissance.12 All the while, Rushton maintained his credentials as a tenured professor of psychology. To this day, many of his most infamous papers remain published, although some have been posthumously retracted in recent years.13

We can’t know whether Rushton would have faded into obscurity without the professional support of his career by Wilson. However, while Rushton was a psychologist, he needed the backing of an evolutionary biologist to lend credibility to his biological claims.

Wilson and Rushton’s relationship is not a story of “guilt by association” or of honest mistakes and unfortunate missteps. It is a story about how racist ideas are woven into the scientific record with the support of powerful allies who operate in secret. While this story is extraordinary, it is not unusual.

“Dear Ed, … The battle continues, and I am now committed to carrying it to a victory, i.e., allowing genetic and evolutionary perspectives on race to be treated as normal science. … Again, my deepest appreciation for it all, With best regards, Phil.”

At the request of the Library of Congress, Wilson donated much of the contents of his office—letters, reprints, conference proceedings, etc.—to the national archive. The Wilson Papers comprises hundreds of boxes of documents and numerous digital recordings. We started exploring these holdings in September 2021, out of our broad interest in the Sociobiology debate. We did not intend to investigate scientific racism. However, the four folders labeled “Rushton, John Philippe” caught our attention. And in light of the controversy initiated by the Scientific American op-ed, we hope to share them and provide additional context for understanding Wilson’s legacy and the broader legacy of scientific racism.14

One of the most striking documents is an impassioned letter from Wilson to Professor Case Vanderwolf, a neuroscientist in Rushton’s department at the University of Western Ontario. Vanderwolf’s department was in the process of defending their decision to sanction Rushton for scholarly misconduct, including denying Rushton salary increase and disallowing him from teaching. This was at the height of Rushton’s infamy, sparking student protests and international media coverage. E. O. Wilson wrote a strong letter of support for Rushton that harshly criticized the Department of Psychology and University of Western Ontario with dramatic flair.

“Dear Professor Vanderwolf: First rule for one who finds himself in a hole: stop digging. The University of Western Ontario is in a deep hole, being on the verge of violating academic freedom in a way that will give it notoriety of historic proportions.” Wilson’s letter begins, dated July 3, 1990 (box 143, folder 9). This was only months after Rushton made appearances on American talk shows by Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue to defend his claims about racial differences, fueling the broad notoriety that became characteristic of his late career.15

Wilson’s letter continues, “To be sure, you and Professor Cain have found fault with Professor Rushton’s writings on race, but some noted specialists in human genetics and cognitive psychology have judged them to be sound and significant.” Wilson asks Vanderwolf to consider a poll that “found that a large minority of specialists of human genetics and testing believe in a partial hereditary basis for black-white average IQ differences.” Further, Wilson states that the National Association of Scholars (a right-wing advocacy group) is soon to publish an analysis “concluding that academic freedom is the issue in this case and that Rushton’s academic freedom is threatened.” The National Association of Scholars remains actively involved today in fighting affirmative action in higher education admissions and against the teaching of critical race theory.

Vanderwolf replied a week later (box 143, folder 9) to clarify that he was not involved with the investigation, as Wilson had assumed, but was instead simply another professor at the University of Western Ontario who was greatly opposed to Rushton’s work. Vanderwolf writes to Wilson, “My disagreement with Rushton is that I believe he misrepresents data in his publications and that he is willing to accept the most dubious kinds of publications on par with well-conducted studies if they happen to agree with his own views. Would you accept an article in Penthouse Forum as evidence that black men have larger penises than white men? Rushton did.” Vanderwolf later detailed these and other criticisms in publications with the aforementioned Professor Cain.16

Rushton thanked Wilson in a hand-written note (box 143, folder 9) dated July 17, 1990. “Dear Ed … Vanderwolf has been one of my harshest critics and the letters from you [Wilson] have given him cause to pause, and think.” Rushton promises to keep Wilson posted and states, “The battle continues, and I am now committed to carrying it to a victory, i.e., allowing genetic and evolutionary perspectives on race to be treated as normal science.” Rushton signs off with “Again, my deepest appreciation for it all, With best regards, Phil.”

This exchange is not what spared Rushton’s career—from what we can tell, it was inconsequential to the investigation. But it is possible that the relationship that had developed in the decade prior between Rushton and Wilson contributed significantly to establishing Rushton’s scientific credibility, which he used successfully to appeal the charges of unethical scholarship by his institution and remain a tenured professor for the rest of his life.

In 1986, Wilson sponsored Rushton’s paper “Gene-culture coevolution of complex social behavior: Human altruism and mate choice” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).17 PNAS is one of the most prestigious journals in the world, and publishing in this journal is a signal of merit and broad interest in an author and their work. However, unlike most journals, submitting to PNAS requires sponsorship from a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Sponsorship is not only an endorsement of the quality of the publication but an agreement to act as handling editor, sending the manuscript out for peer review and giving recommendations for revision and acceptance.

The peer reviews were a mix of positive and negative feedback (box 143, folder 11). The first review was “highly favorable but [the reviewer] has some quibbles” and the second by a “friendly critic” was “very unfavorable.” Wilson asked Rushton to decide whether criticisms from the second reviewer could be “safely bypassed” while Wilson attempted to solicit another “tough but friendly reviewer.” Two months later, Wilson wrote to Rushton to inform him of his decision to accept the article. While there is no record in the collection of what happened in the interim, two months hardly seems enough time to overhaul the work, address the “very unfavorable” reviews, and make satisfactory revisions toward publishing in a prestigious journal such as PNAS.

“Rushton is breaking the taboo and may, after hair-raising persecution, eventually get away with it. Free discussion, permitting fresh ideas and release of tensions, may be possible in the next ten years.”

A year later, Rushton again asked Wilson to sponsor a PNAS article (box 143, folder 11). Wilson declined. This time, the article is explicitly about race, promoting Rushton’s now infamous ideas about applying r-K selection theory to racial differences.18 A few months later, Rushton submitted the paper to Ethology and Sociobiology, for which Wilson provided a strong positive review (box 143 folder 11), although it was eventually rejected.

In Wilson’s September 1987 letter declining to sponsor this paper, he states, “You have my support in many ways, but for me to sponsor an article on racial differences in the PNAS would be counterproductive for both of us.” He recounts an incident of being attacked for his views and continues, “I have a couple of colleagues here, Gould and Lewontin, who would use any excuse to raise the charge again. So I’m the wrong person to sponsor the article, although I’d be glad to referee it for another, less vulnerable member of the National Academy.”19

Despite Wilson’s self-perceived vulnerability, he stuck his neck out for Rushton on many occasions. He behaved in many ways like a mentor. The relationship between the two men is almost heartwarming, until you start reading Rushton’s overtly racist work.

On July 1, 1989, Rushton received an evaluation from the Chair of the Promotion and Tenure (P&T) Committee, Dr. Greg Moran, rating his performance as “Unsatisfactory” (box 143, folder 11). Moran summarizes, “The members of the P&T committee were unanimous in their judgment that your overall performance in 1988–1989 was below the minimum acceptable level for a faculty member in this department.” While Rushton published extensively during this period, members of the committee “were of the unanimous opinion that your work on the genetic basis of race differences is substantially flawed and that your published record indicates serious scholarly deficiencies.” Rushton appealed the decision, and in his defense, he chiefly cited his numerous publications, some of which Wilson had helped to shape with his feedback in years prior through formal and informal communications (box 143 folder 11).

​​April 4, 1990, Wilson wrote to the Appeals Committee at the University of Western Ontario to support Rushton’s appeal of his Unsatisfactory rating (box 143 folder 9). Wilson argued that Rushton’s data and interpretation were “sound, being adapted in a straightforward way from well documented principles of r-K selection in biology.” He goes on to say that many other unnamed biologists agree with Wilson’s assessment, but added, “You may wonder why almost none have published their opinions. The answer is fear of being called racist, which is virtually a death sentence in American adademia [sic] if taken seriously. I admit that I myself have tended to avoid the subject of Rushton’s work, out of fear.”

Wilson’s aforementioned July 1990 letter to Professor Vanderwolf, while ultimately inconsequential, calls attention to a message of support for Rushton from the National Association of Scholars through their publication Academic Questions. What Wilson does not mention is that Wilson himself solicited support for Rushton from the National Association of Scholars in a letter to its founder Stephen Balch on November 6, 1989 (box 143 folder 10). On December 5, 1989, Wilson writes to Rushton, copying Balch, with the following message: “I am very heartened by the response of the National Association of Scholars (Academic Questions) to your case… Much as they like, your [Rushton’s] critics simply will not be able to convict you of racism, and there will come a day when the more honest among them will rue the day they joined this leftward revival of McCarthyism.”

A year later, on October 18, 1991, Rushton wrote Wilson an extensive letter of appreciation for his ongoing support (box 143, folder 9). Rushton had won his appeals, and the proceedings against him by his university had concluded. He boasted of a “solid” victory, “This year, on July 1, 1991, I received a rating of ‘Good’ despite an even greater percentage of my research being devoted to race differences.” He talks about his return to teaching “despite pickets, demonstrators, and the occasional class disruption.” He describes the important role that the National Association of Scholars played, facilitated by Wilson, in Rushton’s public defense.

In this same letter, Rushton tells Wilson that he compiled a book of supportive letters, including from Wilson himself. “A copy sat in the departmental coffee room for several months and bolstered those colleagues who might otherwise have felt I was too isolated to support. It is uplifting to look at that book and realize the strength of character of those, such as yourself [Wilson], who came forward to articulate principles in aid of so unpopular a cause. I remain immensely grateful for your help.”

Rushton never missed an opportunity to express his gratitude for Wilson’s support, and he was convinced that it played a major role in keeping his job. Rushton remained a Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario for the remainder of his career, lending him credibility as he toured the country speaking to groups of neo-Nazis.

It wasn’t enough for Wilson himself to support Rushton’s work. He also encouraged his friend and colleague Bernard Davis to do the same in May of 1990 (box 50, folder 19). At Wilson’s goading, Davis penned a letter in support of Rushton’s work on racial differences in IQ to The Scientist. Wilson wrote to Davis, “Rushton is breaking the taboo and may, after hair-raising persecution, eventually get away with it. Free discussion, permitting fresh ideas and release of tensions, may be possible in the next ten years.”

Why was Wilson so sure that Davis would be willing to speak on Rushton’s work on race? While Wilson was cautious to rarely mention race publicly, Davis clearly had no such reservations. Davis was a professor at Harvard Medical School who was an outspoken opponent of affirmative action, particularly when it came to Black students earning admission to Harvard.20 Wilson’s papers reveal a close relationship with Davis (Box 50, 2 folders, Box 51, 6 folders), finding common ground and supporting each other against criticism leveled by Richard Lewontin.

“[About] our favorite anti-racists of the Left, … my way of putting it would be that anti-racism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

Davis frequently had Wilson’s back, especially throughout Wilson’s most high-profile controversy: the debate with Lewontin and Gould, who were outspoken and relentless critics of Wilson’s Human Sociobiology. By Wilson’s own account in the previously quoted September 1987 letter to Rushton, the two Harvard colleagues and critics had a chilling effect on his ability to support Rushton’s race science. One might wonder whether Wilson would have been far bolder, like Davis, without constant pressure from scientists like Lewontin and Gould.

This feud is well documented and has been the subject of much discussion about the nature of politics and ideology among scientists. But for Davis and Wilson, the “correct side” of the debate was obvious. In a letter to Davis (box 51, folder 5), Wilson provided some commentary about their “favorite anti-racists of the Left.” Wilson pontificated that arguing for equity among groups of people was ideologically similar to racism, adding the evocative phrase “my way of putting it would be that anti-racism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

This is one story of many that can be found among the letters of this famous biologist. The collection also includes correspondences between Wilson and notorious “race scientists” Arthur Jensen and Richard J. Herrnstein, and of course intense sparring with Gould and Lewontin. We encourage those with an interest to explore the collection.

But this is a part of a much bigger story. Close ties between biologists and white supremacists continue to exist. Racists are often thrilled for an opportunity to see their ideology lent credibility by biologists, especially those of great renown. If we are to address the history and present of racism in the field of biology and in our society at large, we need to contextualize these stories. On the one hand, we may recognize how the system can nurture racist ideologies that are legitimized by scientists; on the other, we may draw inspiration from and continue the work of those “scoundrels” who relentlessly “raise the charge” against racist pseudoscience.

Stacy Farina and Matthew Gibbons are a wife and husband team with an interest in the history of science. Dr. Farina is an Assistant Professor at Howard University with a PhD in Evolutionary Biology. Matthew Gibbons has a BA in Humanities and works in public health.


Notes

  1. Andrew S. Winston, “Scientific Racism and North American Psychology,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.516; Joseph L. Graves, “What a Tangled Web He Weaves: Race, Reproductive Strategies and Rushton’s Life History Theory,” Anthropological Theory 2, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 131–54, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1469962002002002627.
  2. Scott Neuman, “E.O. Wilson, Famed Entomologist and Pioneer in the Field of Sociobiology, Dies at 92,” NPR, December 27, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/12/27/1068238333/e-o-wilson-dead-sociobiology-entomology-ant-man; Felicia He, “E.O. Wilson, Renowned Harvard Biologist Known as ‘Darwin’s Natural Heir,’ Dies at 92,” The Harvard Crimson, December 31, 2021, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/12/31/edward-wilson-obit/; Bert Hölldobler, “Edward Osborne Wilson, Naturalist (1929-2021),” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 119, no. 5 (February 1, 2022), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2200201119.
  3. Doug Tallamy, “Remembering E.O. Wilson’s Wish for a More Sustainable Existence,” December 27, 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/remembering-eo-wilsons-wish-for-a-more-sustainable-existence-180979298/.
  4. Monica R. McLemore, “The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson,” Scientific American, December 29, 2021, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-complicated-legacy-of-e-o-wilson/.
  5. Razib Khan, “Setting the Record Straight: Open Letter on E.O. Wilson’s Legacy,” Razib Khan’s Unsupervised Learning (blog), January 19, 2022, https://razib.substack.com/p/setting-the-record-straight-open.
  6. After the revelation that the blogger held white nationalist views, several academics retracted their signatures. But many maintain that they are in agreement with the blog’s contents.
  7. Adam Liptak and Anemona Hartocollis, “Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at Harvard and U.N.C,” The New York Times, January 24, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/us/politics/supreme-court-affirmative-action-harvard-unc.html.
  8. Liz Crampton, “GOP Sees ‘huge Red Wave’ Potential by Targeting Critical Race Theory,” POLITICO, January 5, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/01/05/gop-red-wave-critical-race-theory-526523.
  9. Maya L. Gosztyla et al., “Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism Action in STEMM,” PLoS Computational Biology 17, no. 7 (July 2021): e1009141, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009141.
  10. Nuno M. C. Martins, Michael J. Carson, and the Genetics and Society Working Group, “What Can Current Genetic Testing Technologies Tell You About ‘Race’?” Science for the People, November 19, 2021,  https://magazine.scienceforthepeople.org/lewontin-special-issue/genetics-of-race-gswg/.
  11. Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (W. W. Norton, 1996); Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon J. Kamin, Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature (Haymarket Books, 2017); Joseph L. Graves Jr, The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium (Rutgers University Press, 2003).
  12. Mankind Quarterly is “a pseudoscientific journal founded after the Second World War to argue against desegregation and racial mixing.” See Angela Saini, “The Internet Is a Cesspool of Racist Pseudoscience,” Scientific American Blog Network, accessed January 31, 2022, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-internet-is-a-cesspool-of-racist-pseudoscience/.
  13. J. P. Rushton, “RETRACTED: An Evolutionary Theory of Health, Longevity, and Personality: Sociobiology and r/K Reproductive Strategies,” Psychological Reports 60, no. 2 (April 1987): 539–49; J. P. Rushton, “RETRACTED: Contributions to the History of Psychology: XC. Evolutionary Biology and Heritable Traits (with Reference to Oriental-White-Black Differences): The 1989 AAAS Paper,” Psychological Reports 71, no. 3 Pt 1 (December 1992): 811–21; J. P. Rushton, “RETRACTED: Race and Crime: International Data for 1989-1990,” Psychological Reports 76, no. 1 (February 1995): 307–12; J. Philippe Rushton and Donald I. Templer, “RETRACTED: Do Pigmentation and the Melanocortin System Modulate Aggression and Sexuality in Humans as They Do in Other Animals?,” Personality and Individual Differences 53, no. 1 (July 1, 2012): 4–8.
  14. The materials presented in this article have not, to our knowledge, been made available to the participants on either side of the debate on Wilson’s legacy.
  15. Antony Violanti, “A Researcher, or a Racist? Ontario Professor Draws Fire for Theory That Links Intelligence and Race,” Janurary 16, 1991, The Buffalo News, https://buffalonews.com/news/a-researcher-or-a-racist-ontario-professor-draws-fire-for-theory-that-links-intelligence-and/article_a8e0861e-2725-5c7d-829b-0327202b671a.html.
  16. C. H. Vanderwolf and D. P. Cain, “The Neurobiology of Race and Kipling’s Cat,” Personality and Individual Differences 12, no. 1 (January 1, 1991): 97–98, https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(91)90138-2; Donald P. Cain and C. H. Vanderwolf, “A Critique of Rushton on Race, Brain Size and Intelligence,” Personality and Individual Differences 11, no. 8 (January 1, 1990): 777–84, https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(90)90185-T.
  17. J. P. Rushton, C. H. Littlefield, and C. J. Lumsden, “Gene-Culture Coevolution of Complex Social Behavior: Human Altruism and Mate Choice,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 83, no. 19 (October 1986): 7340–43, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.83.19.7340.
  18. In summary, r-K selection theory was a term coined by Wilson to describe how evolutionary forces may act to produce two types of reproductive strategies: “r” in which organisms produce many offspring with little parental care and “K” in which organisms produce few offspring and care for them greatly. In his pseudoscientific analyses, Rushton proposed that people of African ancestry were “r” strategists and people of European and Asian ancestry were “K” strategists. Rushton was swiftly and widely criticized for using heinously inappropriate and racist lines of evidence and reasoning, from a scholarly and ethical perspective.
  19. Helen Fisher, “‘Wilson,’ They Said, ‘Your All Wet!,’” The New York Times, October 16, 1994, https://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/16/books/wilson-they-said-your-all-wet.html.
  20. R. D. Davis, “Academic Standards in Medical Schools,” The New England Journal of Medicine 294, no. 20 (May 13, 1976): 1118–19, ​​https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm197605132942013.

Michael Balter: When the Hagiography Stops and the Truth-Telling Begins: The Legacy of E.O. Wilson

michaelbalter.substack.com

Michael Balter

Feb. 7, 2022


Jim Harrison/ Wikimedia Commons

When an illustrious person dies, the hagiography usually starts while the body is still warm. The death of biologist E.O. Wilson last December 26 was no exception to this general rule. Of course, it’s considered impolite and in bad taste to speak ill of the dead right after they leave us; it can be the worst form of talking behind someone’s back. Yet there are no firm rules about when it is okay to do so. In some cases, colleagues, journalists, and other commenters never get around to “warts and all” portraits of the departed, especially when there are inconvenient truths involved. But all too often, defenders of the deceased’s reputation take it upon themselves to police the conversation, and attack those who do want to examine the warts, especially if they do it “too soon.”

I don’t doubt that Wilson is being rightly praised for his advocacy of biodiversity conservation and his contributions to our understanding of the natural world, especially that of ants and other insects. But the inconvenient truth is that Wilson, back in 1975, gave a major boost to genetic and evolutionary explanations for human behavior when he published his massive tome, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, to the acclaim of those convinced that biology played a bigger role in human affairs than previously appreciated, and the condemnation of those who thought it played an even lesser role.

In doing so, it has been argued, Wilson also provided considerable cover to racists who have long argued that inequities in human societies—most notably, socioeconomic differences between Blacks and whites in the United States—are due to biological differences rather than structural flaws in our society. And yet, at the time Wilson’s book was published, those who objected to his ideas—or more specifically, their application to human societies—were the ones who got accused of being politically motivated.

The first round of Wilson obituaries reflected this political bias very clearly. The “Sociobiology Wars,” as they came to be known, were treated in some obits as a kind of quaint and colorful ancient history, caricatured by one of their most memorable episodes: Anti-racist activists dumping a pitcher of water on Wilson’s head during a debate at the 1978 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In his obituary of Wilson for the New York Times, evolution writer Carl Zimmer gave short shrift to the critics of sociobiology, describing the Sociobiology Wars as follows:

In a letter to The New York Review of Books, some denounced sociobiology as an attempt to reinvigorate tired old theories of biological determinism — theories, they claimed, that “provided an important basis for the enactment of sterilization laws and restrictive immigration laws by the United States between 1910 and 1930 and also for the eugenics policies which led to the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi Germany.”

In her book “Defenders of the Truth” (2000), Dr. Segerstrale wrote that Dr. Wilson’s critics had shown “an astounding disregard” for what he had written, arguing that they had used “Sociobiology” as an opportunity to promote their own agendas. When Dr. Wilson attended a 1978 debate about sociobiology, protesters rushed the stage shouting, “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” A woman dumped ice water on him, shouting, “Wilson, you are all wet!”

Likewise, in Science’s Retrospective of Wilson, Stuart Pimm of Duke University dismissed sociobiology’s critics in similar terms:

In his 1975 book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Ed reported a monumental survey of the wide range of animal societies, including our own. That natural selection might shape human behaviors was questioned by some. Many critics made ad hominem attacks, which were short on scientific content. Ed responded vigorously, noting that the adaptive value of animal behaviors was not in dispute, however disturbing this might be to political philosophies. During this time, someone famously threw water onto Ed at a meeting—the amount involved grows with every telling of the story. When Ed told it, it was with a twinkle and an appreciation of this unique honor.

For anyone who was not around at the time, these hagiographic accounts (please read their entire texts for support for that statement) might leave the impression that the only opponents of Wilson’s application of sociobiological thinking to human affairs were crazy left-wing activists. But the truth is that noted scientists, including Wilson’s Harvard colleagues Richard Lewontin, Ruth Hubbard, and Stephen Jay Gould, were among those who carefully examined Wilson’s ideas and found them to be in the long and sordid tradition of racial thinking about human biology. At around the same time, Harvard Medical School geneticist Jon Beckwith and others founded a Sociobiology Study Group to discuss and analyze Wilson’s book and develop a critique of his ideas, based both on solid science and the history of scientific racism.

I was around at the time, a graduate student in biology at UCLA and a member of Science for the People, the organization Beckwith and some other Wilson critics belonged to. Since most of the action was on the East Coast, especially in Boston and Cambridge, MA, I was not an active member, other than subscribing to the group’s eponymous magazine. But I did follow things closely, including the infamous water pitcher episode, and the 1976 publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which greatly expanded on the idea that humans were largely at the mercy of our genes (a conclusion that Dawkins, with limited success, has tried to refute.)

But now, barely a month after Wilson’s death and while the hagiography is still more or less in full swing, we are suddenly faced with revelations that leave little doubt Wilson was—behind the scenes, and despite his public protests—a racist, or minimally, a sympathizer of race science (which is the same thing.) The scoop goes to Science for the People magazine in its new incarnation (the publication was moribund for many years), in a February 1 article by Stacy Farina and Matthew Gibbons, a wife and husband team (Farina is an assistant professor at Howard University with a PhD in evolutionary biology, and Gibbons works in public health.)

Digging into Wilson’s letters held at the U.S. national archives, Farina and Gibbons came across a trove of correspondence between Wilson and the late scientific racist J. Philippe Rushton, who died in 2012. I will leave it to readers to look at this painfully clear article, but in my view it leaves no doubt that Wilson wholeheartedly supported, encouraged, and cheered on Rushton’s bogus and long discredited attempts to show that differences between Blacks and whites in IQ, socioeconomic status, and other measures were based on biological racial differences. There is no ambiguity here, which is making it very difficult for Wilson’s apologists to question the evidence (although they will still try.)

And it turns out that while Farina and Gibbons were working in the archives, an independent pair of historians of science, Mark Borrello of the University of Minnesota and David Sepkoski at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, were looking at the same documents and coming to the same conclusions. Their somewhat more comprehensive analysis, published on February 5 in The New York Review of Books, leaves little doubt about Wilson’s real thinking. And should it be that much of surprise? Nearly all the obituaries of Wilson emphasize his roots in Alabama and the segregated University of Alabama, and depict him as a southern gentleman scientist—without any examination of the possibility that the prejudices of growing up in the south might have left their mark on Wilson’s psyche.

This new evidence matters greatly, because over all these years the conceit of Wilson and his defenders has been that they were champions of scientific truth, and their critics were driven by politics and ideology. Indeed, the term “race realism,” used by Rushton and other scientific racists as a bludgeon against anti-racists and an attempt to depict them as cowards who cannot face what science allegedly tells them, can now clearly be seen as evidence of Wilson’s own attitudes and biases (Wilson was no shrinking violet in defending his ideas, as even the hagiographic retrospectives make clear.)

In their next to last paragraph, Borrello and Sepkoski lay out clearly what is at stake in a proper and accurate understanding of Wilson’s real legacy when it comes to his writings on sociobiology, which have been very influential in the years since:

Preserving a naively hagiographic picture of his career obscures the extent to which racist and sexist bias remains a glaring vulnerability of the science that has been built on his theories; indeed, such bias can motivate and blind scientists to deeply flawed interpretations of data. Racism in science, today, rarely announces itself with a white hood. Rather, it persists in tacit and unspoken assumptions, and hides behind claims of the inherent objectivity of scientific research. 

In what follows, I would like to go back over the history of the Sociobiology Wars, and attempt to salvage—as others have tried over the years—the true history of these debates. They did not consist only of activists running around with water pitchers, a very minor part of the story, but serious and conscientious scientists trying to point out fallacies in a theory of human behavior that has left its damaging marks in today’s discourse about race and justice.

My purpose is not to do a deep dive into sociobiology and the arguments pro and con, but simply to remind readers—and alert those new to the debate—that there were serious scientific issues involved, not just left vs. right politics.

“The use and abuse of biology”

The late anthropologist Marshall Sahlins/ Elkziz/ Wikimedia Commons

In 1976, the year after Wilson’s Sociobiology was published and the same year Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene appeared, Marshall Sahlins—a major figure in anthropology who died last year—published his own contribution to this literature: The use and abuse of biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology.

It’s a slim volume, only 120 pages, but certainly not a political diatribe. Sahlins argues, in effect, that anthropology is too important and too laden with its own facts and data to be left to geneticists, evolutionary biologists, and other scientists who often know more about ants and fruit flies than about human beings. Moreover, as Sahlins points out with many examples from societies around the world, human culture is too complicated—too cultural, as it were—to be reduced to simple biology, or even complex biology.

Sahlins spends a lot of the book discussing sociobiological notions of kinship and kin selection, which have been key to the thinking of sociobiologists over the decades (Wilson developed his own spin on how natural selection was acting, which I will get to shortly.) In essence, organisms, including humans, act in such ways as to increase the likelihood that their genes will get passed on to future generations. While not all proponents of this concept endorse Dawkins’ depressing contention that genes evolved to “swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control”—especially because the lumbering robots included us humans—the idea that human behavior can be largely explained by what is best for the replication of our genes has stuck hard in much biological thinking, even today.

(I should point out here that sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists—the latter being sort of latter-day sociobiologists—are always quick to insist that they recognize a role for the environment, and Wilson always did so when criticized. The problem is that it’s a no-brainer that environment is involved, and this disclaimer often serves to justify returning to a focus on genes as if some sort of technicality has been dealt with.)

In his book, Sahlins provided a lot of examples of cultures, studied by anthropologists, in which kinship is not defined by those who are genetically closest, but in all kinds of other ways, including ties that have nothing to do with genealogy. In doing so, he paints a much more realistic portrait of human relationships, in which we often may be more willing to die for someone who is not genetically related to us at all than a close relative (eg, an estranged sibling or parent.)

Sahlins writes:

The reason why human social behavior is not organized by the individual maximization of genetic interest is that human beings are not socially defined by their organic qualities but in terms of symbolic attributes; and a symbol is precisely a meaningful value—such as “close kinship” or “shared blood”—which cannot be determined by the physical properties of that to which it refers.

Before leaving Sahlins, I should qualify what I say above by pointing out that he did not argue that a “political framework” should not be used in analyzing sociobiology and its weaknesses in explaining human behavior. But what he did insist on is that the politics is at its root anthropological, ie, the way we describe human societies. Thus sociobiology is itself profoundly political, he concluded:

What is inscribed in the theory of sociobiology is the entrenched ideology of Western society: the assurance of its naturalness, and the claim of its inevitability.”

There is an interesting wrinkle in Wilson’s view of how natural selection operated, however, which eventually diverged from the strict focus on kin or individual selection. Dawkins and others before him, including the British evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith, waged a fierce war against the concept of group selection, in which natural selection is postulated to act on groups of individuals rather than individuals themselves. Wilson, however, eventually threw in his lot with advocates of “multilevel” selection (what might perhaps be called group selection lite, or kin selection heavy), particularly in collaboration with the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson (no relation)—the proposition that evolution can act on both the group and individual level. The two Wilsons published, in 2007, a paper in The Quarterly Review of Biology, “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology,” which led some diehard kin selection theorists to declare that E.O. Wilson had betrayed his own cause.

Thinking and studying sociobiology

Jonathan Marks /University of North Carolina

Marshall Sahlins’ foray into the sociobiology wars was just one example of anthropologists trying to weigh in with their own insights into human behavior. One of the best critiques, in my opinion, was penned by Jonathan Marks—now an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and author of “What it means to be 98% chimpanzee” and “Why I am not a scientist”—when he was still a graduate student at the University of Arizona.

In a 1980 paper for the Arizona Anthropologist, “Sociobiology, Selfish Genes, and Human Behavior: A Bio-Cultural Critique”, Marks engaged in a witty but cogent skewering of sociobiology’s misconceptions. Among his most important criticisms, in my view, is the use by sociobiologists of what the naturalist Ernst Mayr called “beanbag genetics,” in which genes are imagined as discrete entities which code for complex behaviors such as altruism, aggression, selfishness, conformity, and other attributes. Looking at genes that way made the mathematics of calculating the effects of kin selection on evolution easier, Marks pointed out; but it has resulted in severe oversimplifications that actually obscure what is going on, especially in the evolution of human behavior (if, indeed, human behavior is something that actually genetically evolves.)

Marks wrote:

Given the knowledge that a simple behavior such as aggregation in slime molds involves the interaction of fifty genes (May 1976), one may conclude that ‘conformity’ in humans, if genetically based, would be a very formidable genetic system.

This critique, by Marks and others, was prophetic. Modern genetic research reveals that there are unlikely to be individual genes for “altruism” or other traits that geneticists have tried to mathematically model in the past, but rather a constellation of hundreds or thousands of genes involved, each one adding a tiny statistical weight to the genetic makeup of an individual—and, in the end, rendering the notion of genetic determinism for any human trait essentially meaningless. This is certainly the lesson of today’s Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), which often require cohorts of many thousands of subjects to detect any genetic variation at all. (For more on this, I highly recommend the writings of Eric Turkheimer, a behavior geneticist who has questioned some of the commons assumptions of his field.)

Marks again:

Sociobiology of humans, without theoretical underpinnings in ‘beanbag genetics’… is a statement of social philosophy, not science; for without genes for altruism, one cannot speak of its evolution, except in a metaphorical sense. And to accept a metaphor as literally binding is surely a breach of logic.

I recommend reading Marks’ entire paper, as well as Chapter 9 in Jon Beckwith’s memoir, Making Genes, Making Waves, “It’s the Devil in Your DNA,” a chronicle of the Sociobiology Study Group and the Sociobiology Wars which certainly corresponds to how I myself remember them. Beckwith points out that the publication of Wilson’s Sociobiology was accompanied (as his death is now) with multitudes of uncritical media stories heralding the new biological explanations for sometimes mysterious human behavior—in the New York Times, People, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Time (a cover story), Reader’s Digest, and even House and Garden.

To try to counter these one-sided accounts, Beckwith and other critics of sociobiology argued that genetic determinism (they insisted that was what sociobiology was, even if glossed up in a more sophisticated scientific veneer) was a key principle of eugenics, Nazism, and, in our day, attempts to justify unequal treatment of different groups in employment, housing, education, and other areas of life.

And of course, sociobiology was not the end of it. Some researchers believe that evolutionary psychology is the heir to sociobiology, with its panoply of “just-so” evolutionary stories for complex human behavior; and that every few years or so there is a media frenzy over recycled theories of human racial differences (The Bell Curve, published in 1994 by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, is still the subject of lively debate today; for evidence that racially motivated theories in science are again on the rise, please see Superior: The return of race science by Angela Saini.)

Jon Beckwith/ Harvard Medical School

It’s going to be interesting to see what Wilson’s defenders and apologists make of his newly revealed correspondence with Rushton. Some will no doubt insist that Wilson was simply encouraging Rushton’s right to free academic inquiry, not endorsing his racist conclusions. I think that’s going to be a hard case to make; and the inquiry into Wilson’s true views is not likely to be over. There will be other letters, hidden away in archives or in the files of his friends, which may also see the light of day.

Wilson vociferously insisted, from the 1975 publication of his famous book to pretty much the day he died, that his critics were driven by political bias, but not him. That was never a credible claim. Now, with the revelations of his personal racism, it has no credibility at all.

Suggested reading.

Beckwith, Jon. Making Genes, Making Waves: A social activist in science. (2002)

Sahlins, Marshall. The use and abuse of biology: An anthropological critique of sociobiology. (1976)

Saini, Angela. Superior: The return of race science. (2019)

Segerstrale, Ullica. Defenders of the Truth. (2000)

In addition, Jon Beckwith provided me with a detailed bibliography of papers by members of the Sociobiology Study Group and other critics:

Sociobiology: The Debate Evolves. A Special Double Issue (The Philosophical Forum: A Quarterly, vol XIII, nos 2-3, 1981-82) 

Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature, by Philip Kitcher (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985)

Allen, E. et al. Against Sociobiology. The New York Review of Books. pp. 182, 184-6 (Nov. 13, 1975)  Reprinted in A. Caplan- . in The Sociobiology Debate.  ed. by A. Caplan.  Harper & Row. New York . pp. 259-264 (1978) 

Alper, J.S., Beckwith, J.. Chorover, S., Hunt, J., Inouye, H., Judd, T., Lange, R.V., and Sternberg, P.  The Implications of Sociobiology: Science.192:424-427 (1976). 

Alper, J., Beckwith, J., and Miller, L.  Sociobiology is a Political Issue. in The Sociobiology Debate.  ed. by A. Caplan.  Harper & Row. New York 476‑488 (l978).  

Alper, J., Beckwith, J. and Egelman, E. Misusing Sociobiology. The Harvard Crimson. Nov. 19, 1979.  

Beckwith, J. Triumphalism in science. (A review of The Triumph of Sociobiology, by J. Alcock., Oxford Univ. Press, 2001). American Scientist. 89:461-472 (2001). 

Beckwith, J.  The Political Uses of Sociobiology in the United States and Europe.  The Philosophical Forum. XIII, #2, Winter, l98l, p. 3ll‑32l.  

Beckwith, J.  Biological Backlash: A book review of K. Bock. Human Nature and History: A Response to Sociobiology.  Technology Review. Oct. l98l. p.30.  

O que é racismo religioso. E qual seu efeito nas crianças (Nexo)

Iraci Falavina e Guilherme Gurgel

21 de jan de 2022 (atualizado 21/01/2022 às 20h39)

Pais que praticam religiões de matriz africana no Brasil relatam casos de preconceito, incluindo a perda da guarda de filhos sob a anuência da Justiça
Devotos do candomblé carregam cestas de flores em cerimônia religiosa, na Bahia
 DEVOTOS DO CANDOMBLÉ CARREGAM CESTAS DE FLORES EM CERIMÔNIA RELIGIOSA, NA BAHIA

Este conteúdo foi produzido pelos autores como trabalho final do Lab Nexo de Jornalismo Digital, que teve como tema “Primeira Infância e Desigualdades” e foi realizado no segundo semestre de 2021. O programa é uma iniciativa do Nexo Jornal em parceria com a Fundação Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal e apoio da Porticus América Latina e do Insper.

Dados do Ministério da Mulher, Família e Direitos Humanos apontam 645 registros de violações da liberdade de crença e religião no Brasil entre janeiro e dezembro de 2021, a maior parcela relacionada a religiões de matriz africana — incluindo Candomblé, Umbanda e outras. Levantamentos anteriores também refletem essa realidade.

INTOLERÂNCIA

Registros de violações de liberdade religiosa no Brasil, por gênero da vítima, de acordo com dados da Ouvidoria Nacional de Direitos Humanos

O preconceito que cerca quem pratica o Candomblé, a Umbanda, entre outras designações afro, integra o fenômeno do racismo religioso. Trata-se de um problema que, segundo especialistas, tem um impacto especialmente danoso para crianças.

Neste texto, o Nexo explica o que configura o racismo religioso, mostra o que a legislação prevê sobre o tema e traz relatos, que vão do preconceito no ambiente escolar a decisões judiciais que fazem com que filhos sejam separados dos pais.

O conceito e a legislação

A expressão “racismo religioso” não está no Código Penal, mas é algo que se enquadra na Lei nº 7.716, de 5 de janeiro de 1989, segundo o advogado especialista em crimes raciais Gilberto Silva.

Tal lei versa sobre crimes provocados por “discriminação ou preconceito de raça, cor, etnia, religião ou procedência nacional”, com penas previstas de um a três anos de reclusão.

O termo “racismo religioso”, então, acaba sendo usado para reforçar um ponto central da sociedade brasileira: o racismo estrutural no Brasil.

Silva afirma que a lei ainda é vista por muitos como pouco eficiente e permissiva. Professor de história da África da UFMG (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais), Alexandre Marcussi concorda que a punição ainda é ineficaz para os casos de racismo religioso. “A lei é extremamente leniente. Tem sido principalmente nos últimos anos no Brasil, com a ascensão ao poder e a influência de cultos religiosos pentecostais, que fazem ataques recorrentes a cultos de religiões africanas”, afirma.

“Se pode entender essas intolerâncias menos como intolerância contra as práticas dessas religiões e mais como uma intolerância às camadas da população que estão historicamente associadas a essas religiões” – Alexandre Marcussi, professor de história da África da UFMG

O Brasil viveu 300 anos de escravidão, período em que milhões de pessoas foram trazidas à força de regiões da África para serem usadas e negociadas como mercadoria. A cultura e a religião dessas pessoas sofreram um processo de tentativa de apagamento.

O artigo 5º da Constituição brasileira de 1824, por exemplo, instituiu o catolicismo como a religião oficial do Império. Já o artigo 276 do Código Criminal de 1830 proibia celebrar em casa, publicamente ou em templos “o culto de outra religião que não seja a do Estado”.

A abolição só foi proclamada em 1888 no Brasil e o Estado brasileiro só se tornou laico a partir de 1890, com o decreto nº 119-A, de 7 de janeiro daquele ano. A lei concedeu a todas as confissões religiosas “a faculdade de exercerem o seu culto, regerem-se segundo a sua fé e não serem contrariadas” e proibiu o Estado de definir uma religião oficial.

Mais tarde, na Constituição de 1988, conhecida como a Constituição Cidadã, o inciso 6 do Artigo 5º assegura ser inviolável a liberdade de crença e o livre exercício dos cultos religiosos.

Ainda assim, o preâmbulo da atual Carta Magna define a promulgação do documento “sob a proteção de Deus”, mostrando resquícios da ainda influente religião cristã no país.

“Ninguém se incomoda da mãe levar o filho para batizar no cristianismo quando é bebê. É uma cerimônia bonita, celebrada, lembrada. Agora, todo mundo incomoda com a iniciação das crianças no Candomblé e na Umbanda. Mesmo estando acompanhada de seus pais. Isso é o quê? Se não o racismo religioso?” – Makota Celinha, coordenadora geral do Cenarab (Centro Nacional de Africanidade e Resistência Afro-Brasileira)

O racismo religioso na escola

As crianças de religiões de matriz africana sofrem preconceito na escola começando por suas brincadeiras, segundo Makota Kidoiale, líder da comunidade quilombola Manzo N’Gunzo Kaiango e coordenadora do programa Educa Quilombo, em Belo Horizonte.

“No primeiro ano de escola dos meus netos, eles iam para o parquinho e as brincadeiras deles eram muito diferentes do que a própria estrutura da escola foi programada para poder receber. Eles ficavam reproduzindo tudo aquilo que eles viviam dentro do terreiro”, conta.

Segundo Kidoiale, a administração da escola se incomodou com o comportamento das crianças. “Tinham medo de criar um problema com outras famílias, porque as outras crianças podiam reproduzir isso em casa. Eu questionei, porque da mesma forma que meu neto trazia outra cultura, outra tradição, outros conhecimentos para dentro da nossa casa, por que não transversalizar com tudo que ele vivenciava dentro da comunidade?”, afirma.

Em 2003 entrou em vigor a lei 10.639, que tornou obrigatório o ensino de história e cultura africana e afro-brasileira no ensino fundamental e médio. Mas, para Kidoiale, a legislação não faz com que a temática tenha uma abordagem adequada na grade curricular. Ela acredita que o fato da educação brasileira ser muito baseada em princípios cristãos acaba por gerar uma exclusão da diversidade. “A escola não dá conta de trabalhar nem mesmo a história da população africana, quanto mais a religião.”

Segundo a psicóloga Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, da Abrapso (Associação Brasileira de Psicologia Social) e da ABPN (Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros), o combate ao racismo religioso nas escolas é de responsabilidade dos profissionais de educação, dos pais e responsáveis.

“O desafio é que os adultos são formatados nessa sociedade racista, nessa sociedade que tenta formatar, principalmente em um contexto cristão, fundamentalista, crianças que não se enquadram em certos padrões até de roupa e de práticas, então isso é muito violento”.

O racismo religioso na Justiça

Além das diferentes violações de direitos de expressar ritos de matriz africana na escola, há casos em que os pais perdem a guarda das crianças por iniciá-los na religião.

Uma situação que ganhou grande destaque na mídia em 2021 foi a da manicure Kate Belintani, de Araçatuba (SP) que teve a guarda da filha — na época, com 11 anos — suspensa. Kate foi acusada de lesão corporal após raspar os cabelos da menina em um ritual religioso do Candomblé.

Outro caso, que chegou a ser citado pela Unesco (Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, a Ciência e a Cultura), é o da professora e jornalista Rosiane Rodrigues. Moradora de Rio das Ostras, no Rio de Janeiro, ela conta que perdeu a guarda do filho em 2007 por causa do preconceito religioso, a partir de uma decisão judicial.

Marcus Rodrigues, chamado geralmente de Marquinhos, o mais novo dos três filhos de Rosiane, nasceu em 2004. No ano seguinte, ela se separou do pai da criança, Marcus Henriques, o que deu início a uma disputa sobre quantos dias cada um ficaria com o filho.

Em uma das audiências do processo, Rosiane estava “tomando obrigação de santo”, um costume religioso do Candomblé que determina o uso de roupas brancas, cabeça coberta e colar de contas. Ao ver a professora vestida dessa maneira, a juíza do caso determinou que o laudo psicológico da família fosse feito com urgência. Segundo Rosiane, “depois disso, a juíza concluiu que por eu ser do Candomblé eu tinha menos condições morais de criar o garoto do que o pai dele.”

Rosiane afirma que dois oficiais de Justiça foram retirar Marquinhos de casa acompanhados de um carro da polícia. No momento, o filho estava na escola, e Rosiane se recusou a informar a localização da criança. Ela foi levada para a delegacia.

Marquinhos foi inicialmente entregue ao pai. Mas depois de uma série de vaivéns que duraram quatro anos, Rosana conseguiu a guarda de volta. Ela então buscou auxílio do Nudem (Núcleo de Defesa da Mulher da Defensoria Pública). Três psicólogos e duas assistentes sociais trabalharam em um novo laudo psicossocial de Rosiane e seus filhos.

O garoto fez terapia com um psicólogo infantil durante um ano. “Logo que ele voltou para mim, que a gente consegue essa guarda provisória, ele volta muito assustado, com muito problema, com muito transtorno, uma criança muito agressiva”, conta Rosiane, que chegou a registrar um boletim de ocorrência contra o ex-marido por agressões ao filho.

O caso foi citado no relatório “Direito a uma vida livre de violência”, publicado em 2013 pela Secretaria Nacional de Promoção e Defesa dos Direitos Humanos em parceria com a Unesco como um caso emblemático de intolerância religiosa no Brasil.

Os efeitos do racismo religioso nas crianças

“As crianças não sabem que estão sofrendo intolerância, não têm o discernimento, a capacidade de entender o racismo. Há uma vulnerabilidade de quem não consegue se defender”, ressalta Makota Celinha, do Cenarab.

Para a líder quilombola Makota Kidoiale, um dos passos importantes para lidar com o choque de tradições é ouvir o que as crianças vivenciam. “A gente vai direcionando tudo que elas descobriram lá fora a um determinado lugar da comunidade”, diz.

“Por exemplo, se elas aprendem na escola sobre as folhas, a fase da vegetação, do plantio, aqui a gente acrescenta: ‘essa aula está relacionada a Oxossi, que é deus das folhas, das plantas. E é delas também que a gente tira os remédios’. A gente faz um complemento do que elas aprenderam”, exemplifica.

Nos casos em que o racismo religioso é mais explícito, é difícil conseguir a garantia do bem-estar da criança. “A gente mostra que existem as diferenças das religiões e cada um tem um conceito, e que infelizmente o nosso direito de falar sobre nós é muito recente, então as pessoas poucos sabem sobre nós. Mas às vezes é muito difícil, muito violento. Violento de pegar e pôr pra fora, fazer chacota quando estão vestidas com as contas, ou de branco, as pessoas olham assustadas para eles”, diz Kidoiale.

A psicóloga Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus afirma que crianças que crescem em ambientes de discriminação religiosa se tornam adultos intolerantes, tornando a violência uma marca que molda a personalidade.

“A gente tem que lutar para que os profissionais de educação, de saúde, os que cuidam das crianças, permitam que elas sejam quem elas são, para que não gerem esses traumas que ficam para o resto da vida”, diz.

De acordo com o psicólogo Flávio Prata, pesquisador da área, é importante que a criança tenha um ambiente seguro. “Não há como dimensionar os efeitos do racismo especificamente, mas a influência está nos mecanismos que a criança encontra para lidar com essa discriminação”, afirma.

Machine learning can be fair and accurate (Science Daily)

Date: October 20, 2021

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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.”


Story Source:

Materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University. Original written by Aaron Aupperlee. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kit T. Rodolfa, Hemank Lamba, Rayid Ghani. Empirical observation of negligible fairness–accuracy trade-offs in machine learning for public policy. Nature Machine Intelligence, 2021; 3 (10): 896 DOI: 10.1038/s42256-021-00396-x

Quando brasileiras brancas descobrem na Europa que, com a brancura, não podem mobilizar privilégios (Geledés)

geledes.org.br

Por Fabiane Albuquerque, enviado ao Portal Geledés

24/10/2021


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: 

-Verdade? 

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.

‘Mulheres como você precisam ser fortes’, diz psiquiatra à paciente negra (Yahoo! Notícias)

br.noticias.yahoo.com

Alma Preta – seg., 4 de outubro de 2021 1:17 PM


Unidade da Universidade Federal de São Paulo. (Foto: Divulgação)
Unidade da Universidade Federal de São Paulo. (Foto: Divulgação)
  • Universitária buscou atendimento psiquiátrico na Unifesp, instituição de ensino que oferece o serviço médico gratuitamente aos alunos
  • Thayná Alexandrino conta que há tempos percebe alguns sintomas associados à depressão e ansiedade
  • Segundo a jovem de 24 anos, a médica que a atendeu a julgou pela aparência física; universidade não se pronunciou

Texto: Letícia Fialho Edição: Nadine Nascimento

A estudante de geografia da Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp), Thayná Alexandrino (24), buscou ajuda psiquiátrica na unidade de atendimento gratuito oferecida pela instituição aos alunos, há cerca de um mês. A jovem relata ter sido julgada pela sua aparência física no atendimento, quando ouviu da profissional que a atendeu: “você não tem cara de paciente psiquiátrica. Mulheres como você precisam ser fortes”.

“Ingressei na universidade e tive a oportunidade de cuidar da minha saúde através dos serviços gratuitos oferecidos por eles. Contudo, ao chegar lá, me deparei com algo totalmente diferente do que esperava. Fui mal tratada pela psiquiatra, que me julgou do começo ao fim”, relata Thayná.

A estudante conta que há tempos percebe alguns sintomas associados à depressão e ansiedade e que, por conta dos estigmas relacionados a doenças mentais, demorou a procurar ajuda. Durante a pandemia, ela perdeu pessoas próximas e se sentiu fragilizada para lidar com o luto.

“Mesmo contando para ela sobre o luto pelo qual estou passando, sobre meu histórico familiar e pré-disposições, escutei a pior justificativa ‘você está muito bem vestida para ter algum problema de ordem mental’ e também que ‘não pode se dar ao luxo de ser fraca’”, relata a vítima que desistiu do atendimento quando a profissional disse: “Mulheres como você sabem lidar muito bem com a dor”.

A estudante conta que sentiu-se impotente e negligenciada no atendimento prestado pela unidade de atendimento da universidade. Segundo ela, a profissional que a atendeu era uma mulher branca, na faixa etária dos 40 anos, com bagagem profissional e acadêmica.

“Parece que a única alternativa sugerida por profissionais brancos é que nós, mulheres negras, precisamos ser fortes o tempo todo. Pessoalmente, na visão dela, eu não poderia sofrer. Lembro que na minha infância uma professora disse que a vida seria dura pra quem fosse fraco. E agora ouvi quase a mesma coisa, vindo de uma profissional de saúde mental”, reflete Thayná.

Insegurança da aluna

Em busca de atendimento adequado, a estudante recorreu a um psicólogo, seguindo orientação médica, em outra unidade de atendimento. E novamente teve uma abordagem pouco acolhedora.

“Quando relatei sobre o episódio em que fui vítima de racismo. Fui surpreendida com a colocação de mais um profissional branco. Ele disse que eu não era negra e, sim, ‘mulata’, em vista de outros pacientes negros que ele atende. Até quando um cara branco pode julgar a negritude de outras pessoas?”, conta.

A estudante diz que, até o momento, não recorreu a nenhum outro profissional por conta dos valores altos e por sentir-se insegura. “Eu adoro a área da saúde e ser atendida por profissionais que não tiveram a sensibilidade de olhar para a minha dor, me toca bastante. Outra coisa é a falta de representatividade. O fato de não ter pessoas negras inseridas nesses espaços, perpetua o racismo estrutural”, reitera a Thayná.

A Alma Preta Jornalismo entrou em contato com a Unifesp para solicitar um posicionamento sobre o caso, mas até o momento não teve retorno. Caso a instituição se posicione, o texto será atualizado.

Climate Anxiety Is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon (Scientific American)

scientificamerican.com

Sarah Jaquette Ray, March 21, 2021


Is it really just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or to get “back to normal?”

The climate movement is ascendant, and it has become common to see climate change as a social justice issue. Climate change and its effects—pandemics, pollution, natural disasters—are not universally or uniformly felt: the people and communities suffering most are disproportionately Black, Indigenous and people of color. It is no surprise then that U.S. surveys show that these are the communities most concerned about climate change.

One year ago, I published a book called A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety. Since its publication, I have been struck by the fact that those responding to the concept of climate anxiety are overwhelmingly white. Indeed, these climate anxiety circles are even whiter than the environmental circles I’ve been in for decades. Today, a year into the pandemic, after the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, I am deeply concerned about the racial implications of climate anxiety. If people of color are more concerned about climate change than white people, why is the interest in climate anxiety so white? Is climate anxiety a form of white fragility or even racial anxiety? Put another way, is climate anxiety just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or get “back to normal,” to the comforts of their privilege?

The white response to climate change is literally suffocating to people of color. Climate anxiety can operate like white fragility, sucking up all the oxygen in the room and devoting resources toward appeasing the dominant group. As climate refugees are framed as a climate security threat, will the climate-anxious recognize their role in displacing people from around the globe? Will they be able to see their own fates tied to the fates of the dispossessed? Or will they hoard resources, limit the rights of the most affected and seek to save only their own, deluded that this xenophobic strategy will save them? How can we make sure that climate anxiety is harnessed for climate justice?

My book has connected me to a growing community focused on the emotional dimensions of climate change. As writer Britt Wray puts it, emotions like mourning, anger, dread and anxiety are “merely a sign of our attachment to the world.” Paradoxically, though, anxiety about environmental crisis can create apathy, inaction and burnout. Anxiety may be a rational response to the world that climate models predict, but it is unsustainable.

And climate panic can be as dangerous as it is galvanizing. Dealing with feelings of climate anxiety will require the existential tools I provided in A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, but it will also require careful attention to extremism and climate zealotry. We can’t fight climate change with more racism. Climate anxiety must be directed toward addressing the ways that racism manifests as environmental trauma and vice versa—how environmentalism manifests as racialized violence. We need to channel grief toward collective liberation.

The prospect of an unlivable future has always shaped the emotional terrain for Black and brown people, whether that terrain is racism or climate change. Climate change compounds existing structures of injustice, and those structures exacerbate climate change. Exhaustion, anger, hope—the effects of oppression and resistance are not unique to this climate moment. What is unique is that people who had been insulated from oppression are now waking up to the prospect of their own unlivable future.

It is a surprisingly short step from “chronic fear of environmental doom,” as the American Psychological Association defines ecoanxiety, to xenophobia and fascism. Racism is not an accidental byproduct of environmentalism; it has been a constant reference point. As I wrote about in my first book, The Ecological Other, early environmentalists in the U.S. were anti-immigrant eugenicists whose ideas were later adopted by Nazis to implement their “blood and soil” ideology. In a recent, dramatic example, the gunman of the 2019 El Paso shooting was motivated by despair about the ecological fate of the planet: “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.” Intense emotions mobilize people, but not always for the good of all life on this planet.

Today’s progressives espouse climate change as the “greatest existential threat of our time,” a claim that ignores people who have been experiencing existential threats for much longer. Slavery, colonialism, ongoing police brutality—we can’t neglect history to save the future.

RESILIENCE AND RELATION AS RESISTANCE

I recently gave a college lecture about climate anxiety. One of the students e-mailed me to say she was so distressed that she’d be willing to submit to a green dictator if they would address climate change. Young people know the stakes, but they are not learning how to cope with the intensity of their dread. It would be tragic and dangerous if this generation of climate advocates becomes willing to sacrifice democracy and human rights in the name of climate change.

Oppressed and marginalized people have developed traditions of resilience out of necessity. Black, feminist and Indigenous leaders have painstakingly cultivated resilience over the long arc of the fight for justice. They know that protecting joy and hope is the ultimate resistance to domination. Persistence is nonnegotiable when your mental, physical and reproductive health are on the line.

Instead of asking “What can I do to stop feeling so anxious?”, “What can I do to save the planet?” and “What hope is there?”, people with privilege can be asking “Who am I?” and “How am I connected to all of this?” The answers reveal that we are deeply interconnected with the well-being of others on this planet, and that there are traditions of environmental stewardship that can be guides for where we need to go from here.

Author’s Note: I want to thank Jade Sasser, Britt Wray, Janet Fiskio, and Jennifer Atkinson for rich discussions about this topic, which inform this piece.

This is an opinion and analysis article.

Sarah Jaquette Ray, Ph.D., is professor and chair in the Environmental Studies Department at Humboldt State University.

Sonia Guajajara: Todo brasileiro hoje sente o que é ser tratado como indígena (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

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.

No dia 6 de abril, quando 4.195 compatriotas foram levados pela Covid-19 no país, a revista “Forbes” publicou duas notícias que dizem muito: mais 11 brasileiros entraram para a lista de bilionários do mundo durante a pandemia —dentre eles, ironicamente, nomes ligados à saúde privada— e que todo dia 116,8 milhões de pessoas não sabem se terão o que comer no país.

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.

BBB e os mil tons de brancos (Cult)

Artigo original

Ivana Bentes,

BBB e os mil tons de brancos

O BBB 21 faz parte da tragédia e do aprendizado que atravessamos enquanto país e cultura (Foto: Reprodução/ TV Globo)

Os mil tons de brancos! Precisou um homem branco falar para que o outro brother branco ouvisse. Mas a fala do apresentador Tiago Leifert no programa exibido nesta terça (6), ao invés de explicitar um ato de racismo puro e simples, tratou de amenizar, contextualizar e lembrar que “não vejo maldade no que você fez”, reafirmando a hoje inaceitável expressão “não foi intencional” ou ainda “é só uma brincadeira”, “meu pai tem cabelo black power”, “sou do interior” etc.

São mil tons do racismo ou do machismo, são mil tons de desculpas cotidianas para não encarar a violência que é assujeitar o outro e desqualificá-lo, seja pelo que for. Quando nós, brancos, vamos parar de nos afagar, mesmo no racismo, assim como homens se protegem no machismo e em tantas outras confrarias nas quais se juntam para exercer seu poder?

Mas a fala do apresentador do Big Brother Brasil 21, Tiago Leifert, “de homem branco para homem branco” (sou só eu que tenho horror dessas expressões que apelam para a nossa razão de brancos ou de machos etc?) acaba, até por contraste, mostrando que esse Brasil cordial e conciliador deu errado, e que radicalizar, explicitar, expor, também pode ser pedagógico.

A fala dura e a emoção de João Luiz Pedrosa explicita o racismo que sofreu. A fala e a reação de catarse de Camilla de Lucas demonstra que não aguenta mais explicar o racismo cotidiano cometido “alegremente”, “sem intenção” para brancos que se defendem afirmando sua alienação: “eu não sabia”. A questão faz transbordar o choro contido e represado, a raiva de ter que suportar o racismo no corpo, no cabelo, na pele, na existência.

O que tem acontecido no BBB 21 não é “menor” e nem mimimi, nem pouco importante, mesmo no meio de uma pandemia com 300 mil mortos. Mesmo que seja sim um programa de entretenimento e que lucra com o sofrimento de negros, com tretas, com situações humilhantes, com a audiência que quer “ver sangue”.

O BBB 21 faz parte da tragédia e do aprendizado que atravessamos enquanto país e cultura. Precisamos de formação, educação, ativismo, mudanças nos padrões da cultura do entretenimento para dar um salto como sociedade, pois existem muitas maneiras de matar e elas estão no cotidiano.

Para concluir, temos uma fala do brother Rodolffo, o cantor sertanejo que fez o comentário racista sobre o cabelo de João, justificando-se: “eu sou chucro, eu sou do interior, essas modernidades [o combate ao racismo!] não chegaram em um Brasil profundo, puro e  conservador, sem ‘maldade’”.

A questão é que não existe mais lugar para esse brasileiro “inocente, puro e besta” como  o da letra da música. Se existe, ele foi abduzido por fake news massivas no Whatsapp, adotou valores de extrema-direita, reafirmou seu poder branco quando achou confortável e quando se viu representado por um presidente da República que deu voz ao que tínhamos de pior, que deu poder real e simbólico para um Brasil profundamente conservador que já existia, mas que foi chancelado e pôde exercer seu poder de morte em praça pública.

Muitos se identificam com Rodolffo, infelizmente! Temos um presidente “chucro” que, em nome da sua ignorância e “autenticidade”, em nome do seu racismo, misoginia, lgbtfobia “de raiz”, “de família”, defende tortura e mata de forma real e simbólica ao usar sua pretensa “ignorância” como base de políticas públicas e no comando de um país. Esse é o real tamanho do estrago dos Rodolffos – e não adianta dizer que “não é intencional”, pois é muito pior : é estrutural e destrói a vida de milhões.

Todos os tons de branco estão envolvidos nesse massacre e é pedagógico que a gente entre nesse debate não apenas “de brancos para brancos” em uma conversa condescendente entre pares, mas de brancos antirracistas que combatem o racismo dos brancos. O racismo não é um problema dos negros, mas nosso.

Ivana Bentes é pesquisadora do Programa de Pós Graduação da Escola de Comunicação da UFRJ

Words Have Lost Their Common Meaning (The Atlantic)

theatlantic.com

John McWhorter, contributing writer at The Atlantic and professor at Columbia University

March 31, 2021


The word racism, among others, has become maddeningly confusing in current usage.

An illustration of quotation marks and the United States split in two.
Adam Maida / The Atlantic

Has American society ever been in less basic agreement on what so many important words actually mean? Terms we use daily mean such different things to different people that communication is often blunted considerably, and sometimes even thwarted entirely. The gap between how the initiated express their ideological beliefs and how everyone else does seems larger than ever.

The word racism has become almost maddeningly confusing in current usage. It tempts a linguist such as me to contravene the dictum that trying to influence the course of language change is futile.

Racism began as a reference to personal prejudice, but in the 1960s was extended via metaphor to society, the idea being that a society riven with disparities according to race was itself a racist one. This convention, implying that something as abstract as a society can be racist, has always felt tricky, best communicated in sociology classes or careful discussions.

To be sure, the idea that disparities between white and Black people are due to injustices against Black people—either racist sentiment or large-scale results of racist neglect—seems as plain as day to some, especially in academia. However, after 50 years, this usage of racism has yet to stop occasioning controversy; witness the outcry when Merriam-Webster recently altered its definition of the word to acknowledge the “systemic” aspect. This controversy endures for two reasons.

First, the idea that all racial disparities are due to injustice may imply that mere cultural differences do not exist. The rarity of the Black oboist may be due simply to Black Americans not having much interest in the oboe—hardly a character flaw or evidence of some inadequacy—as opposed to subtly racist attitudes among music teachers or even the thinness of musical education in public schools. Second, the concept of systemic racism elides or downplays that disparities can also persist because of racism in the past, no longer in operation and thus difficult to “address.”

Two real-world examples of strained usage come to mind. Opponents of the modern filibuster have taken to calling it “racist” because it has been used for racist ends. This implies a kind of contamination, a rather unsophisticated perspective given that this “racist” practice has been readily supported by noted non-racists such as Barack Obama (before he changed his mind on the matter). Similar is the idea that standardized tests are “racist” because Black kids often don’t do as well on them as white kids. If the tests’ content is biased toward knowledge that white kids are more likely to have, that complaint may be justified. Otherwise, factors beyond the tests themselves, such as literacy in the home, whether children are tested throughout childhood, how plugged in their parents are to test-prep opportunities, and subtle attitudes toward school and the printed page, likely explain why some groups might be less prepared to excel at them.

Dictionaries are correct to incorporate the societal usage of racism, because it is now common coin. The lexicographer describes rather than prescribes. However, its enshrinement in dictionaries leaves its unwieldiness intact, just as a pretty map can include a road full of potholes that suddenly becomes one-way at a dangerous curve. Nearly every designation of someone or something as “racist” in modern America raises legitimate questions, and leaves so many legions of people confused or irritated that no one can responsibly dismiss all of this confusion and irritation as mere, well, racism.

To speak English is to know the difference between pairs of words that might as well be the same one: entrance and entry. Awesome and awful are similar. However, one might easily feel less confident about the difference between equality and equity, in the way that today’s crusaders use the word in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In this usage, equity is not a mere alternate word for equality, but harbors an assumption: that where the races are not represented roughly according to their presence in the population, the reason must be a manifestation of (societal) racism. A teachers’ conference in Washington State last year included a presentation underlining: “If you conclude that outcomes differences by demographic subgroup are a result of anything other than a broken system, that is, by definition, bigotry.” A DEI facilitator specifies that “equity is not an outcome”—in the way equality is—but “a process that begins by acknowledging [people’s] unequal starting place and makes a commitment to correct and address the imbalance.”

Equality is a state, an outcome—but equity, a word that sounds just like it and has a closely related meaning, is a commitment and effort, designed to create equality. That is a nuance of a kind usually encountered in graduate seminars about the precise definitions of concepts such as freedom. It will throw or even turn off those disinclined to attend that closely: Fondness for exegesis will forever be thinly distributed among humans.

Many will thus feel that the society around them has enough “equalness”—i.e., what equity sounds like—such that what they may see as attempts to force more of it via set-aside policies will seem draconian rather than just. The subtle difference between equality and equity will always require flagging, which will only ever be so effective.

The nature of how words change, compounded by the effects of our social-media bubbles, means that many vocal people on the left now use social justice as a stand-in for justice—in the same way we say advance planning instead of planning or 12 midnight instead of midnight—as if the social part were a mere redundant, rhetorical decoration upon the keystone notion of justice. An advocacy group for wellness and nutrition titled one of its messages “In the name of social justice, food security and human dignity,” but within the text refers simply to “justice” and “injustice,” without the social prefix, as if social justice is simply justice incarnate. The World Social Justice Day project includes more tersely named efforts such as “Task Force on Justice” and “Justice for All.” Baked into this is a tacit conflation of social justice with justice conceived more broadly.

However, this usage of the term social justice is typically based on a very particular set of commitments especially influential in this moment: that all white people must view society as founded upon racist discrimination, such that all white people are complicit in white supremacy, requiring the forcing through of equity in suspension of usual standards of qualification or sometimes even logic (math is racist). A view of justice this peculiar, specific, and even revolutionary is an implausible substitute for millennia of discussion about the nature of the good, much less its apotheosis.

What to do? I suggest—albeit with little hope—that the terms social justice and equity be used, or at least heard, as the proposals that they are. Otherwise, Americans are in for decades of non-conversations based on greatly different visions of what justice and equ(al)ity are.

I suspect that the way the term racism is used is too entrenched to yield to anyone’s preferences. However, if I could wave a magic wand, Americans would go back to using racism to refer to personal sentiment, while we would phase out so hopelessly confusing a term as societal racism.

I would replace it with societal disparities, with a slot open afterward for according to race, or according to immigration status, or what have you. Inevitably, the sole term societal disparities would conventionalize as referring to race-related disparities. However, even this would avoid the endless distractions caused by using the same term—racism—for both prejudice and faceless, albeit pernicious, inequities.

My proposals qualify, indeed, as modest. I suspect that certain people will continue to use social justice as if they have figured out a concept that proved elusive from Plato through Kant through Rawls. Equity will continue to be refracted through that impression. Legions will still either struggle to process racism both harbored by persons and instantiated by a society, or just quietly accept the conflation to avoid making waves.

What all of this will mean is a debate about race in which our problem-solving is hindered by the fact that we too often lack a common language for discussing the topic.

John McWhorter is a contributing writer at The Atlantic. He teaches linguistics at Columbia University, hosts the podcast Lexicon Valley, and is the author of the upcoming Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter Then, Now and Always.

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation (MIT Tech Review)

technologyreview.com

Karen Hao, March 11, 2021


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?

Joaquin Quinonero Candela
Joaquin Quiñonero Candela outside his home in the Bay Area, where he lives with his wife and three kids.

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.

Joaquin Quinonero Candela
Quiñonero started raising chickens in late 2019 as a way to unwind from the intensity of his job.

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.

Joaquin Quinonero Candela

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 previous reporting 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.

A chart titled "natural engagement pattern" that shows allowed content on the X axis, engagement on the Y axis, and an exponential increase in engagement as content nears the policy line for prohibited 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.

A chart titled "adjusted to discourage borderline content" that shows the same chart but the curve inverted to reach no engagement when it reaches the policy line.

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 can persist 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.

White Supremacy Set the Stage for Texas’ Miserable Disaster Response (Thruth Out)

truthout.org

Scott Kurashige, February 21, 2021


In order to make sense of the natural and human-induced disaster that has struck Texas, the nation will first need an accurate picture of who lives here. Yes, Texas has its oil barons, fossil-fuel lobbyists, and opportunistic political “leaders” who have extracted wealth from the state at the expense of the environment and human needs. But the real figure that should stand out is 17 million people.

That’s roughly the Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and Asian population of Texas, which comprises nearly 60 percent of the state. Only 3 states and 69 countries have a larger total population. Denmark, Finland, and Norway combined do not total 17 million residents. Of the 13 cities in the U.S. with populations above 900,000 today, five are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth) and only 25 to 48 percent “non-Hispanic whites.” Thus, any story of Texans freezing, dying or hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning, losing power for vital medical equipment, or suffering without water or pipes bursting is more than likely occurring among the states BIPOC majority.

Outrage has erupted in Texas and throughout the nation, perhaps building on the momentum of the 2020 uprisings against white supremacy and police-perpetrated violence. Coming on the heels of the Trump-fueled mob attack on the Capitol and GOP refusal to hold the former president accountable, the catastrophe in Texas may be similar to the many “100-year” or “500-year” events that have now become commonplace. Floods, wildfires, freezes and heatwaves wreak havoc today but provide a preview of much worse effects to come from the compounded effects of industrial pollution and capitalist consumption.

As a result, three long overshadowed problems are now being widely discussed.

First, after the popular revolts of the 1960s, global powers responded with neoliberal restructuring designed to heighten the free reign of capital while weakening the collective power of workers and unions. This is what the Zapatistas called the Empire of Money, and it’s the mentality behind the deregulation and privatization of energy markets and utilities that leaves people literally in the cold when rapidly changing realities overwhelm systems designed to cut corners for immediate profiteering.

Second, Gov. Greg Abbott’s spurious scapegoating of renewable energy for the power outages—a perfect exposition of what Naomi Klein has called “disaster capitalism”—has escalated demands for a Green New Deal. More broadly, it has exposed the need for an immediate and transformative response to the climate crisis rooted in principles of climate justice that empower and uplift peoples in the global South and the most oppressed sectors of the global North bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Third, Ted Cruz’s “let them eat cake” vacation to Cancun was a visible reminder of the cruelty of our political system — a system that rewards politicians propped up by corporate money, right-wing lies, and racist ideologies for blaming others and evading responsibility. The elites most responsible for the disastrous effects of climate change, racism, ableism, and poverty would have us believe that it is always others who must suffer instead of their own families.

The policies that have caused death and suffering have not “failed”; they have worked exactly as intended. The exponential growth of the billionaire class has been a direct product of five decades of neoliberalism, but the gains for the working and middle classes have been deliberately illusory. Yet, there can be no innocent return to the era of liberalism and the New Deal. We need to appreciate from history how the problems illuminated now in Texas are interconnected with the decline of the white majority and the liberal order.

Herrenvolk Democracy and the New Deal Order

Prior to the policy reforms of the first half of the 20th century, there was little assumption that the government had a responsibility to intervene to redress even the most grotesque economic injustices, such as exploitation of child labor, starvation wages, deadly working conditions, or food contamination. FDR’s New Deal galvanized a new and unprecedented coalition in support of social and economic reform, creating both employment and relief programs in response to the Great Depression and safety net measures like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance that have continued to the present.

The age of FDR represented a dramatic shift from the laissez-faire Hoover administration and a form of dominance that has been largely unparalleled in U.S. politics since. At its core, however, the New Deal coalition embodied the central contradiction in American democracy. Going back to at least Jefferson and Jackson, the push to expand the franchise and economic opportunity was tied to white supremacy. Thus, in the words of the late sociologist Pierre van den Berghe, it promoted herrenvolk (master race) democracy, or the concept that only the dominant group was entitled to such rights and capable of using them responsibly. White small farmers, settlers and workers routinely internalized a belief that they earned their freedom and citizenship rights as Americans through wars of genocide, campaigns of dispossession and reactionary social movements to uphold white supremacy.

The New Deal, though never coming close to achieving full equality, provided a new opening for labor unionization, civil rights, and Native sovereignty, thereby raising the prospects for multiracial democracy. Yet, the New Deal also continued to reinforce the contradictory unity of democracy and white supremacy. For example, it established public housing on a limited and racially segregated basis. However, the greater and longer-term impact of federal intervention was to subsidize white homeowners to buy homes with government-backed mortgages in neighborhoods restricted to whites by racist developers, realtors, and covenants.

Particularly in the South, FDR and national party leaders embraced white supremacist Democrats who prevented most African Americans and Mexican Americans from voting. So long as Black and Brown voters were shut out of the system, whites could perceive their votes as being for liberal economic policies like infrastructure development that served their self-interest, rather than simply voting against what they feared.

In Texas — part of the “Solid South” backing the Democrats almost exclusively for over 100 years — FDR won his first three elections with over 80 percent of the vote. Even when prominent conservative and white supremacist Democrats defected in 1944, he prevailed with 71 percent. During this time, the population of Texas was on average 70 percent or greater “non-Hispanic whites.”

The End of Liberal Hegemony

The Civil Rights Movement was born of a refusal to allow the white supremacist rule of herrenvolk democracy to continue. The right-wing currents that emerged in response were thus distinctly grounded in white supremacy. Though the new right was led by the corporate class — eventually finding a firm home in the GOP of Nixon and Reagan — it came to power with the fracture of the liberal order by winning middle and working-class whites away from the Democrats. This was a national phenomenon not limited to a “southern” strategy. In my 2017 book The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit, I argue that Detroit, once the model of progress for capitalists and socialists, alike, became a model for the new right strategy of Black disenfranchisement and neoliberal dispossession.

During Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy engineered through a state takeover, the autocratic “emergency manager” worked with moneyed interests to take away or gut union jobs, homes, water, pensions, and health care benefits in order to impose austerity on the people and pave the way for billionaire developers and investors. This was an extreme form of a national trend to dismantle social programs and impose a Social Darwinist neglect of human needs by writing oppressed communities out of the social contract. The racist, classist and ableist response to COVID-19 has made this all too tragically clear.

As in Detroit, right-wing revanchism and race-baiting generally arose wherever demographic growth heralded a nonwhite majority. California was a pioneer of the dog-whistle racism that Republicans used to win over suburban whites from the 1960s to 1990s until the new majority came of age. Texas, whose once-commanding “non-Hispanic white” demographic majority disappeared between 1970 and 2010, has perfected much of the voter suppression, gerrymandering, and racist/heteropatriarchal scapegoating at the heart of the neo-Confederate playbook for minority rule by the current GOP.

The wealthy, privileged whites served by the Texas’s dominant political class are a small minority of the population. That’s the ongoing legacy of conquest, colonialism and proletarianization. Seen in this light, the unnecessary human suffering and death during the current catastrophe — whose full effects may not be known for some time — connect Texas to New Orleans and Flint, where short-term economic and political expediency have combined with racist, classist and ableist dehumanization to render mass populations disposable before, during, and after natural and human-induced disasters.

Contesting Minority Rule

This is how the bifurcation of herrenvolk democracy is now playing out: We are simultaneously moving toward a new social order that fulfills real democracy and a worse system driven by “master race” ideology. In Texas, where new and sustainable infrastructure is desperately needed, the New Deal has been supplanted by conspiracy theories and political Ponzi schemes. Like deregulated energy rates, these schemes promise cost savings at the expense of long-term stability and security, ultimately drowning households and local governments in debt while the Dow reaches record highs.

What is conceivable with the empowerment of a new majority in Texas and everywhere? We need structural change in politics to sweep away the politicians controlled by big money and dependent on lies, climate denial and scapegoating to remain in power. We all saw what Trump was able to get away with, and his legacy continues through the likes of Cruz and Abbott. But we also know that these crises are not limited to red states, and that Democratic policies have generally been inadequate, even as bolder and more promising proposals and leaders linked to activist movements have begun to arise and challenge the party’s establishment.

As Grace Lee Boggs recognized the growing illegitimacy of dominant institutions, she taught us that “the only way to survive is by taking care of one another.” That does not mean we should let those in power off the hook. What it implies is that we must do more than protest. We must to look to grassroots organizers, Indigenous peoples, and women of color feminists for models of solidarity in this transitional era of systemic collapse. In recent years, movements at Standing Rock and Mauna Kea have responded to colonial desecration by projecting a future centered on Earth, water and life.

During this catastrophe, Mutual Aid Houston has reported an “overwhelming wave of support” to provide food, blankets and money to people in need. The self-described BIPOC abolitionist collective formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality. It demonstrates scholar-activist Dean Spade’s point that mutual aid is not charity: “It’s a form of coming together to meet survival needs in a political context.” These local acts are putting into practice the values and concepts of community-based care that can establish relations for a more humane social order.

Why Anthropology Matters (Scientific American)

scientificamerican.com

It’s the antidote to nativism, the enemy of hate—a vaccine of understanding, tolerance and compassion that can counter the rhetoric of demagogues

Wade Davis, February 1, 2021

Pioneering anthropologist Franz Boas. Credit: Alamy

In 2012, both Kiplinger and Forbes ranked anthropology as the least valuable undergraduate major, unleashing a small wave of indignation as many outside the field rushed to defend the study of culture as ideal preparation for any life or career in an interconnected and globalized world. The response from professional anthropologists, confronted by both an existential challenge and public humiliation, was earnest but largely ineffective, for the voice of the discipline had been muted by a generation of self-absorption, tempered by a disregard for popular engagement that borders on contempt.

Ruth Benedict, acolyte of the great Franz Boas and in 1947 president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), reputedly said that the very purpose of anthropology was to make the world safe for human differences.

Today, such activism seems as passé as a pith helmet. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the AAA met in Washington, D.C. Four thousand anthropologists were in the nation’s capital in the wake of the biggest story of culture they or the country would ever encounter. The entire gathering earned but a mention in The Washington Post, a few lines in the gossip section essentially noting that the nutcases were back in town. It was hard to know who was more remiss, the government for failing to listen to the one profession that could have answered the question on everyone’s lips—Why do they hate us?—or the profession itself for failing to reach outside itself to bring its considerable insights to the attention of the nation.

Perhaps fittingly it took an outsider to remind anthropologists why anthropology matters. Charles King, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, begins his remarkable book The Reinvention of Humanity by asking us to envision the world as it existed in the minds of our grandparents, perhaps your great-grandparents. Race, he notes, was accepted as a given, a biological fact, with lineages dividing white from Black reaching back through primordial time. Differences in customs and beliefs reflected differences in intelligence and destiny, with every culture finding its rung on an evolutionary ladder rising from the savage to the barbarian to the civilized of the Strand in London, with technological wizardry, the great achievement of the West, being the sole measure of progress and success.

Sexual and behavioral characteristics were presumed fixed. Whites were smart and industrious, Blacks physically strong but lazy, and some people were barely distinguishable from animals; as late as 1902 it was debated in parliament in Australia whether aborigines were human beings. Politics was the domain of men, charity work and the home the realm of women. Women’s suffrage only came in 1919. Immigrants were seen as a threat, even by those who had themselves only just managed to claw their way ashore. The poor were responsible for their own miseries, even as the British army reported that the height of officers recruited in 1914 was on average six inches taller than that of enlisted men, simply because of nutrition. As for the blind, deaf and dumb, the cripples, morons, Mongoloids, and the mad, they were best locked away, lobotomized and even killed to remove them from the gene pool.

The superiority of the white man was accepted with such assurance that the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911 had no entries for racism or colonialism. As recently as 1965, Carleton Coon completed a set of two books, The Origin of Races and The Living Races of Man, in which he advanced the theory that the political and technological dominance of Europeans was a natural consequence of their evolved genetic superiority. He even asserted that “racial intermixture can upset the genetic as well as the social equilibrium of a group.” Coon at the time of his retirement in 1963 was a respected professor and curator at the University of Pennsylvania. Interracial marriage remained illegal across much of the United States until 1967.

Today, not two generations on, it goes without saying that no educated person would share any of these bankrupt certitudes. By the same token, what we take for granted would be unimaginable to those who fiercely defended convictions that appear to the modern eye both transparently wrong and morally reprehensible. All of which raises a question. What was it that allowed our culture to go from zero to 60 in a generation, as women moved from the kitchen to the boardroom, people of color from the woodshed to the White House, gay men and women from the closet to the altar?

Political movements are built upon the possibility of change, possibilities brought into being by new ways of thinking. Before any of these struggles could flourish, something fundamental, some flash of insight, had to challenge and, in time, shatter the intellectual foundations that supported archaic beliefs as irrelevant to our lives today as the notions of 19th-century clergymen, certain that the earth was but 6,000 years old.

The catalyst, as Charles King reminds us, was the wisdom and scientific genius of Franz Boas and a small band of courageous scholars—Margaret Mead, Alfred Kroeber, Elsie Clews Parsons, Melville Herskovits, Edward Sapir, Robert Lowie, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston and many others— contrarians all, who came into his orbit, destined to change the world. We live today in the social landscape of their dreams. If you find it normal, for example, that an Irish boy would have an Asian girlfriend, or that a Jewish friend might find solace in the Buddhist dharma, or that a person born into a male body could self-identify as a woman, then you are a child of anthropology.

If you recognize that marriage need not exclusively imply a man and a woman, that single mothers can be good mothers, and that two men or two women can raise good families as long as there is love in the home, it’s because you’ve embraced values and intuitions inconceivable to your great-grandparents. And if you believe that wisdom may be found in all spiritual traditions, that people in all places are always dancing with new possibilities for life, that one preserves jam but not culture, then you share a vision of compassion and inclusion that represents perhaps the most sublime revelation of our species, the scientific realization that all of humanity is one interconnected and undivided whole.

Widely acknowledged as the father of American cultural anthropology, Franz Boas was the first scholar to explore in a truly open and neutral manner how human social perceptions are formed, and how members of distinct societies become conditioned to see and interpret the world. What, he asked, was the nature of knowing? Who decided what was to be known? How do seemingly random beliefs and convictions converge into this thing called culture, a term that he was the first to promote as an organizing principle, a useful point of intellectual departure.

Far ahead of his time, Boas recognized that every distinct social community, every cluster of people distinguished by language or adaptive inclination, was a unique facet of the human legacy and its promise. Each was a product of its own history. None existed in an absolute sense; every culture was but a model of reality. We create our social realms, Boas would say, determine what we then define as being common sense, universal truths, the appropriate rules and codes of behavior. Beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder. Manners don’t make the man; men and women invent the manners. Race and gender are cultural constructs, derived not from biology but born in the realm of ideas.

Critically, none of this implied an extreme relativism, as if every human behavior must be accepted simply because it exists. Boas never called for the elimination of judgment, only its suspension so that the very judgments we are ethically and morally obliged to make as human beings may be informed ones. Even as he graced the cover of Time magazine in 1936, a German Jew in exile from a homeland already dripping in blood, Boas railed against the cruel conceits and stupidity of scientific racism. Inspired by his time among the Inuit on Baffin Island, and later the Kwakwaka’wakw in the salmon forests of the Pacific Northwest, he informed all who would listen that the other peoples of the world were not failed attempts to be them, failed attempts to be modern. Every culture was a unique expression of the human imagination and heart. Each was a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked that question, humanity responds in 7,000 different languages, voices that collectively comprise our repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species.

Boas would not live to see his insights and intuitions confirmed by hard science, let alone define the zeitgeist of a new global culture. But, 80 years on, studies of the human genome have indeed revealed the genetic endowment of humanity to be a single continuum. Race truly is a fiction. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth, all descendants of common ancestors, including those who walked out of Africa some 65,000 years ago, embarking on a journey that over 40,000 years, a mere 2500 generations, carried the human spirit to every corner of the habitable world.

But here is the important idea. If we are all cut from the same fabric of life, then by definition we all share the same mental acuity, the same raw genius. Whether this intellectual potential is exercised through technological innovation, as has been the great achievement of the West, or through the untangling of complex threads of memory inherent in a myth, a priority of many other peoples in the world, is simply a matter of choice and orientation, adaptive insights and cultural emphasis. There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no evolutionary ladder to success. Boas and his students were right. The brilliance of scientific research, the revelations of modern genetics, has affirmed in an astonishing way both the unity of humanity and the essential wisdom of cultural relativism. Every culture really does have something to say; each deserves to be heard, just as none has a monopoly on the route to the divine.

As a scholar, Boas ranks with Einstein, Darwin and Freud as one of the four intellectual pillars of modernity. His core idea, distilled in the notion of cultural relativism, was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein’s theory of relativity in the discipline of physics. Everything Boas proposed ran against orthodoxy. It was a shattering of the European mind, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom. And though his research took him to esoteric realms of myth and shamanism, symbolism and the spirit, he remained grounded in the politics of racial and economic justice, the promise and potential of social change. A tireless campaigner for human rights, Boas maintained always that anthropology as a science only made sense if it was practiced in the service of a higher tolerance. “It is possible,” wrote Thomas Gossett in his 1963 book Race: The History of an Idea in America, that “Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.”

Though remembered today as the giants of the discipline, Boas and his students in their time were dismissed from jobs because of their activism; denied promotion because of their beliefs; harassed by the FBI as the subversives they truly were; and attacked in the press simply for being different. And yet they stood their ground, and because they did, as Charles King writes, “anthropology came into its own on the front lines of the great moral battle of our time… [as it] anticipated and in good measure built the intellectual foundations for the seismic social changes of the last hundred years from women’s suffrage and civil rights to sexual revolution and marriage equality.”

Were Boas to be with us today, his voice would surely resound in the public square, the media, in all the halls of power. He would never sit back in silence as fully half the languages of the world hover on the brink of extinction, implying the loss within a single generation of half of humanity’s intellectual, ecological and spiritual legacy. To those who suggest that indigenous cultures are destined to fade away, he would reply that change and technology pose no threat to culture, but power does. Cultures under threat are neither fragile nor vestigial; in every instance, they are living dynamic peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces. If human beings are the agents of cultural loss, he would note, we can surely be facilitators of cultural survival.  

Anthropology matters because it allows us to look beneath the surface of things. The very existence of other ways of being, other ways of thinking, other visions of life itself, puts the lie to those in our own culture who say that we cannot change, as we know we must, the fundamental way in which we inhabit this planet. Anthropology is the antidote to nativism, the enemy of hate, a vaccine of understanding, tolerance and compassion that silences the rhetoric of demagogues, inoculating the world from the likes of the Proud Boys and Donald Trump. As the events of the last months have shown, the struggle long ago championed by Franz Boas is ongoing. Never has the voice of anthropology been more important.

But it must be spoken to be heard. With a million Uighurs in Chinese prison camps, the forests of the Penan in Sarawak laid waste, and the very homeland of the Inuit melting from beneath their lives, contemporary anthropologists must surely do better than indulging doctrinal grievance studies, seminars on intersectionality, the use of pronouns and other multiple expressions of woke orthodoxy if the discipline is to avoid the indictment of actually being the most worthless of undergraduate degrees.

Wade Davis is a professor of anthropology and holds the B.C. Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. His latest book is Magdalena: River of Dreams (Knopf 2020).

Developing Algorithms That Might One Day Be Used Against You (Gizmodo)

gizmodo.com

Ryan F. Mandelbaum, Jan 24, 2021


Brian Nord is an astrophysicist and machine learning researcher.
Brian Nord is an astrophysicist and machine learning researcher. Photo: Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory

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

Cavani, jogador de futebol, acusado de racismo na Inglaterra por uso de expressão coloquial uruguaia, em espanhol, nas redes sociais: o racismo sistêmico nos usos da língua no Uruguai

Academia Uruguaia de Letras defende Cavani em caso de suposto racismo e lamenta ‘falta de conhecimento’ de federação inglesa (O Globo)

O Globo, com Reuters – 02 de janeiro de 2021


Jogador foi punido por ter usado termo ‘negrito’ em sua rede social, ao agradecer a um amigo que lhe deu os parabéns depois da vitória contra Southampton

02/01/2021 – 10:33 / Atualizado em 02/01/2021 – 11:12

Cavani, do Manchester United, foi punido com multa e suspensão de três jogos Foto: MARTIN RICKETT / Pool via REUTERS
Cavani, do Manchester United, foi punido com multa e suspensão de três jogos Foto: MARTIN RICKETT / Pool via REUTERS

A Academia de Letras do Uruguai classificou nesta sexta-feira como “ignorante” e uma “grave injustiça”a punição de três jogos recebida pelo atacante Edinson Cavani, do Manchester United, aplicada pela  Football Association (FA), entidade máxima do futebol inglês, por uso do termo “negrito” para se referir a um seguidor em uma postagem numa rede social.

O uruguaio de 33 anos usou a palavra “negrito” em um post no Instagram após a vitória do clube sobre o Southampton em 29 de novembro, antes de retirá-lo do ar e se desculpar. Ele disse que era uma expressão de afeto a um amigo.

Postagem de Cavani que gerou polêmica Foto: Reproduçao
Postagem de Cavani que gerou polêmica Foto: Reproduçao

Na quinta-feira, a FA disse que o comentário era “impróprio e trouxe descrédito ao jogo” e multou Cavani em 100 mil.

A academia, uma associação dedicada a proteger e promover o espanhol usado no Uruguai, disse que “rejeitou energicamente a sanção”.

“A Federação Inglesa de Futebol cometeu uma grave injustiça com o desportista uruguaio … e mostrou a sua ignorância e erro ao regulamentar o uso da língua, em particular o espanhol, sem dar atenção a todas as suas complexidades e contextos”, afirmou a academia, por meio de seu presidente, Wilfredo Penco. “No contexto em que foi escrito, o único valor que se pode dar ao negrito (e principalmente pelo uso diminutivo) é afetuoso”.

Segundo a Academia, palavras que se referem à cor da pele, peso e outras características físicas são freqüentemente usadas entre amigos e parentes na América Latina, especialmente no diminutivo. A entidade acrescenta que até pessoas alvo destas expressões muitas vezes nem tem as características citadas.

“O uso que Cavani fez para se dirigir ao amigo ‘pablofer2222’ (nome da conta) tem este tipo de teor carinhoso — dado o contexto em que foi escrito, a pessoa a quem foi dirigido e a variedade do espanhol usado, o único valor que “negrito” pode ter é o carinhoso. Para insultar em espanhol, inglês ou outra língua, é preciso ter a capacidade para ofender o outro e aí o próprio ‘pablofer2222’ teria expressado o seu incómodo”, encerra a Academia.

Cavani: “Meu coração está em paz”

Cavani usou a rede social para comentar o episódio e assumiu “desconforto” com a situação. Garantiu que nunca foi sua intenção ofender o amigo e que a expressão usada foi de afeto.

“Não quero me alongar muito neste momento desconfortável. Quero dizer que aceito a sanção disciplinar, sabendo que sou estrangeiro para os costumes da língua inglesa, mas que não partilho do mesmo ponto de vista. Peço desculpa se ofendi alguém com uma expressão de afeto para com um amigo, não era essa a minha intenção. Aqueles que me conhecem sabem que os meus esforços são sempre procurar a simples alegria e amizade”, escreveu o jogador.

“Agradeço as inúmeras mensagens de apoio e afeto. O meu coração está em paz porque sei que sempre me expressei com afeto de acordo com a minha cultura e estilo de vida. Um sincero abraço”.


oglobo.globo.com

Cavani: Federação uruguaia e jogadores da seleção defendem atacante e pedem revisão de pena por racismo (O Globo)

Jogador foi suspenso por três partidas e multado pela Football Association por escrever ‘Negrito’ em suas redes sociais

04/01/2021 – 12:46 / Atualizado em 04/01/2021 – 13:45

Cavani foi suspenso por três jogos pela Federação Inglesa acusado de racismo Foto: MARTIN RICKETT/ Pool via REUTERS
Cavani foi suspenso por três jogos pela Federação Inglesa acusado de racismo Foto: MARTIN RICKETT/ Pool via REUTERS

A punição imposta a Edinson Cavani pela Football Association (FA, entidade que gere o futebol na Inglaterra) pela reprodução do termo “Negrito” (diminutivo de negro, em espanhol) em suas redes sociais segue no centro de uma intensa discussão no Uruguai. Depois da Academia Uruguaia de Letras prestar solidariedade e chamar a pena de desconhecimento cultural, os jogadores da seleção e a própria Associação Uruguaia de Futebol (AUF) se manifestaram em favor do atacante.

Nesta segunda, a Associação de Futebolistas do Uruguai publicou uma carta na qual manifestou seu repúdio à decisão da FA. O documento classifica a punição como uma arbitrariedade e diz que a entidade teve uma visão distorcida, dogmática e etnocentrista do tema.

“Longe de realizar uma defesa contra o racismo, o que a FA cometeu foi um ato discriminatório contra a cultura e a forma de vida dos uruguaios”, acusa o órgão que representa a classe de jogadores do país sul-americano.

O documento foi compartilhado nas redes sociais por jogadores da seleção. Entre eles, o atacante Luis Suárez, do Atlético de Madri; e o capitão Diego Godín, zagueiro do Cagliari-ITA.

Logo em seguida, a própria federação uruguaia se juntou à rede de apoio ao atacante e ídolo da Celeste. Em comunicado divulgado em suas redes sociais, a entidade pede que a FA retire a pena imposta a Cavani e reitera a argumentação utilizada pela Academia Uruguaia de Letras ao tentar desassociar o termo “negrito” de qualquer conotação racista.

“No nosso espanhol, que difere muito do castelhano falado em outras regiões do mundo, os apelidos negro/a e negrito/a são utilizados assiduamente como expressão de amizade, afeto, proximidade e confiança e de forma alguma se referem de forma depreciativa ou discriminatória à raça ou cor da pele de quem se faz alusão”, defende o órgão.

Cavani já cumpriu o primeiro dos três jogos que recebeu de suspensão. Ele não foi relacionado para a partida do Manchester United contra o Aston Villa, no último sábado, pelo Campeonato Inglês. Além deste gancho, o jogador foi condenado a pagar uma multa de 100 mil libras (cerca de R$ 700 mil). A punição foi dada após ele escrever “Obrigado, negrito” a um elogio feito por um seguidor do Instagram.

“Um comentário postado na página Instagram do jogador do Manchester United foi insultuoso e/ou abusivo e/ou impróprio e/ou trouxe descrédito ao jogo”, posicionou-se a FA ao aplicar a pena.

Embora o episódio tenha gerado muita indignação no Uruguai, país de maioria branca, o próprio Cavani não levou o caso adiante. Ao se manifestar, o atacante se disse incomodado com a situação, não concordou com a punição, mas enfatizou que a aceitava.

4 efeitos do racismo no cérebro e no corpo de crianças, segundo Harvard (BBC)

Paula Adamo Idoeta

Da BBC News Brasil em São Paulo

9 dezembro 2020, 06:01 -03

Criança com a mãe
Viver o racismo, direta ou indiretamente, tem efeitos de longo prazo sobre desenvolvimento, comportamento, saúde física e mental

Episódios diários de racismo, desde ser alvo de preconceito até assistir a casos de violência sofridos por outras pessoas da mesma raça, têm um efeito às vezes “invisível”, mas duradouro e cruel sobre a saúde, o corpo e o cérebro de crianças.

A conclusão é do Centro de Desenvolvimento Infantil da Universidade de Harvard, que compilou estudos documentando como a vivência cotidiana do racismo estrutural, de suas formas mais escancaradas às mais sutis ou ao acesso pior a serviços públicos, impacta “o aprendizado, o comportamento, a saúde física e mental” infantil.

No longo prazo, isso resulta em custos bilionários adicionais em saúde, na perpetuação das disparidades raciais e em mais dificuldades para grande parcela da população em atingir seu pleno potencial humano e capacidade produtiva.

Embora os estudos sejam dos EUA, dados estatísticos — além do fato de o Brasil também ter histórico de escravidão e desigualdade — permitem traçar paralelos entre os dois cenários.

Aqui, casos recentes de violência contra pessoas negras incluem o de Beto Freitas, espancado até a morte dentro de um supermercado Carrefour em Porto Alegre em 20 de novembro, e o das primas Emilly, 4, e Rebeca, 7, mortas por disparos de balas enquanto brincavam na porta de casa, em Duque de Caxias em 4 de dezembro.

No Brasil, 54% da população é negra, percentual que é de 13% na população dos EUA.

A seguir, quatro impactos do ciclo vicioso do racismo, segundo o documento de Harvard. Para discutir as particularidades disso no Brasil, a reportagem entrevistou a psicóloga Cristiane Ribeiro, autora de um estudo recente sobre como a população negra lida com o sofrimento físico e mental, que foi tema de sua dissertação de mestrado pelo Programa de Pós-graduação em Promoção da Saúde e Prevenção da Violência da UFMG.

1. Corpo em estado de alerta constante

O racismo e a violência dentro da comunidade (e a ausência de apoio para lidar com isso) estão entre o que Harvard chama de “experiências adversas na infância”. Passar constantemente por essas experiências faz com que o cérebro se mantenha em estado constante de alerta, provocando o chamado “estresse tóxico”.

“Anos de estudos científicos mostram que, quando os sistemas de estresse das crianças ficam ativados em alto nível por longo período de tempo, há um desgaste significativo nos seus cérebros em desenvolvimento e outros sistemas biológicos”, diz o Centro de Desenvolvimento Infantil da universidade.

Na prática, áreas do cérebro dedicadas à resposta ao medo, à ansiedade e a reações impulsivas podem produzir um excesso de conexões neurais, ao mesmo tempo em que áreas cerebrais dedicadas à racionalização, ao planejamento e ao controle de comportamento vão produzir menos conexões neurais.

Protesto pela morte de Beto Freitas, em Porto Alegre, 20 de novembro
Protesto pela morte de Beto Freitas, em Porto Alegre, 20 de novembro; assistir cenas de violência contra pessoas da mesma raça tem efeito traumático – é o chamado ‘racismo indireto’

“Isso pode ter efeito de longo prazo no aprendizado, comportamento, saúde física e mental”, prossegue o centro. “Um crescente corpo de evidências das ciências biológicas e sociais conecta esse conceito de desgaste (do cérebro) ao racismo. Essas pesquisas sugerem que ter de lidar constantemente com o racismo sistêmico e a discriminação cotidiana é um ativador potente da resposta de estresse.”

“Embora possam ser invisíveis para quem não passa por isso, não há dúvidas de que o racismo sistêmico e a discriminação interpessoal podem levar à ativação crônica do estresse, impondo adversidades significativas nas famílias que cuidam de crianças pequenas”, conclui o documento de Harvard.

2. Mais chance de doenças crônicas ao longo da vida

Essa exposição ao estresse tóxico é um dos fatores que ajudam a explicar diferenças raciais na incidência de doenças crônicas, prossegue o centro de Harvard:

“As evidências são enormes: pessoas negras, indígenas e de outras raças nos EUA têm, em média, mais problemas crônicos de saúde e vidas mais curtas do que as pessoas brancas, em todos os níveis de renda.”

Alguns dados apontam para situação semelhante no Brasil. Homens e mulheres negros têm, historicamente, incidência maior de diabetes — 9% mais prevalente em negros do que em brancos; 50% mais prevalente em negras do que em brancas, segundo o Ministério da Saúde — e pressão alta, por exemplo.

Os números mais marcantes, porém, são os de violência armada, como a que vitimou as meninas Emilly e Rebeca. O Atlas da Violência aponta que negros foram 75,7% das vítimas de homicídio no Brasil em 2018.

A taxa de homicídios de brasileiros negros é de 37,8 para cada 100 mil habitantes, contra 13,9 de não negros.

Há, ainda, uma incidência possivelmente maior de problemas de saúde mental: de cada dez suicídios em adolescentes em 2016, seis foram de jovens negros e quatro de brancos, segundo pesquisa do Ministério da Saúde publicada no ano passado.

“O adoecimento (pela vivência do racismo) é constante, e vemos nos dados escancarados, como os da violência, mas também na depressão, no adoecimento psíquico e nos altos números de suicídio”, afirma a psicóloga Cristiane Ribeiro.

Protesto pela morte de Beto Freitas
“Embora possam ser invisíveis para quem não passa por isso, não há dúvidas de que o racismo sistêmico e a discriminação interpessoal podem levar à ativação crônica do estresse, impondo adversidades significativas nas famílias que cuidam de crianças pequenas”, diz o documento de Harvard

“E por que essa é violência é tão marcante entre pessoas negras? Porque aprendemos que nosso semelhante é o pior possível e o quanto mais longe estivermos dele, melhor. A criança materializa isso de alguma forma. Temos estatísticas de que crianças negras são menos abraçadas na educação infantil, recebem menos afeto dos professores. (Algumas) ouvem desde cedo ‘esse menino não aprende mesmo, é burro’ ou ‘nasceu pra ser bandido'”, prossegue Ribeiro.

Embora muitos conseguem superar essa narrativa, outros têm sua vida marcada por ela, diz Ribeiro. “Trabalhei durante muito tempo no sistema socioeducativo (com jovens infratores), e essas sentenças são muito recorrentes: o menino que escuta desde pequeno que ‘não vai ser nada na vida’. São trajetórias sentenciadas.”

3. Disparidades na saúde e na educação

Os problemas descritos acima são potencializados pelo menor acesso aos serviços públicos de saúde, aponta Harvard.

“Pessoas de cor recebem tratamento desigual quando interagem em sistemas como o de saúde e educação, além de terem menos acesso a educação e serviços de saúde de alta qualidade, a oportunidades econômicas e a caminhos para o acúmulo de riqueza”, diz o documento do Centro de Desenvolvimento infantil.

“Tudo isso reflete formas como o legado do racismo estrutural nos EUA desproporcionalmente enfraquece a saúde e o desenvolvimento de crianças de cor.”

Mais uma vez, os números brasileiros apontam para um quadro parecido. Segundo levantamento do Ministério da Saúde, 67% do público do SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde) é negro. No entanto, a população negra realiza proporcionalmente menos consultas médicas e atendimentos de pré-natal.

E, entre os 10% de pessoas com menor renda no Brasil, 75% delas são pretas ou pardas.

Na educação, as disparidades persistem. Crianças negras de 0 a 3 anos têm percentual menor de matrículas em creches. Na outra ponta do ensino, 53,9% dos jovens declarados negros concluíram o ensino médio até os 19 anos — 20 pontos percentuais a menos que a taxa de jovens brancos, apontam dados de 2018 do movimento Todos Pela Educação.

Familiares das meninas Emilly e Rebecca, mortas a tiros,em encontro com o governador em exercício do Rio, Claudio Castro
Familiares das meninas Emilly e Rebecca, mortas a tiros,em encontro com o governador em exercício do Rio, Claudio Castro; Atlas da Violência aponta que negros foram 75,7% das vítimas de homicídio no Brasil em 2018

4. Cuidadores mais fragilizados e ‘racismo indireto’

Os efeitos do estresse não se limitam às crianças: se estendem também aos pais e responsáveis por elas — e, como em um efeito bumerangue, voltam a afetar as crianças indiretamente.

“Múltiplos estudos documentaram como os estresses da discriminação no dia a dia em pais e outros cuidadores, como ser associado a estereótipos negativos, têm efeitos nocivos no comportamento desses adultos e em sua saúde mental”, prossegue o Centro de Desenvolvimento Infantil.

Um dos estudos usados para embasar essa conclusão é uma revisão de dezenas de pesquisas clínicas feita em 2018, que aborda o que os pesquisadores chamam de “exposição indireta ao racismo”: mesmo quando as crianças não são alvo direto de ofensas ou violência racista, podem ficar traumatizadas ao testemunhar ou escutar sobre eventos que tenham afetado pessoas próximas a elas.

“Especialmente para crianças de minorias (raciais), a exposição frequente ao racismo indireto pode forçá-las a dar sentido cognitivamente a um mundo que sistematicamente as desvaloriza e marginaliza”, concluem os pesquisadores.

O estudo identificou, como efeito desse “racismo indireto”, impactos tanto em cuidadores (que tinham autoestima mais fragilizada) como nas crianças, que nasciam de mais partos prematuros, com menor peso ao nascer e mais chances de adoecer ao longo da vida ou de desenvolver depressão.

Na infância, diz a psicóloga Cristiane Ribeiro, é quando começamos a construir nossa capacidade de acreditar no próprio potencial para viver no mundo. No caso da população negra, essa construção é afetada negativamente pelos estereótipos racistas, sejam características físicas ou sociais — como o “cabelo pixaim” ou “serviço de preto”.

Homem penteando cabelo de menina negra
Valorização e representatividade impactam positivamente as crianças e, por consequência, suas famílias

“A gente precisa ter referências mais positivas da população negra como aquela que também é responsável pela constituição social do Brasil. A única representação que a gente tem no livro didático de história é de uma pessoa (escravizada) acorrentada, em uma situação de extrema vulnerabilidade e que está ali porque ‘não se esforçou para não estar'”, diz a pesquisadora.

Mesmo atos “sutis” — como pessoas negras sendo seguidas por seguranças em shopping centers ou recebendo atendimento pior em uma loja qualquer —, que muitas vezes passam despercebidos para observadores brancos, podem ter efeitos devastadores sobre a autoestima, prossegue Ribeiro.

“Isso que a gente costuma chamar de sutileza do racismo não tem nada de sutil na minha perspectiva. Quando alguém grita ‘macaco’ no meio da rua, as pessoas compartilham a indignação. É diferente do olhar (preconceituoso), que só o sujeito viu e só ele percebeu. Mesmo para a militante mais empoderada e ciente de seus direitos — porque é uma luta sem descanso —, tem dias que não tem jeito, esse olhar te destroça. A gente fala muito da força da mulher negra, mas e o direito à fragilidade? será que ser frágil também é um privilégio?”

Como romper o ciclo

“Avanços na ciência apresentam um retrato cada vez mais claro de como a adversidade forte na vida de crianças pequenas pode afetar o desenvolvimento do cérebro e outros sistemas biológicos. Essas perturbações iniciais podem enfraquecer as oportunidades dessas crianças em alcançar seu pleno potencial”, diz o documento de Harvard.

Mas é possível romper esse ciclo, embora lembrando que as formas de combatê-lo são complexas e múltiplas.

Cristiane Ribeiro
“A gente fala muito da força da mulher negra, mas e o direito à fragilidade? será que ser frágil também é um privilégio?”, diz Cristiane Ribeiro

“Precisamos criar novas estratégias para lidar com essas desigualdades que sistematicamente ameaçam a saúde e o bem-estar das crianças pequenas de cor e os adultos que cuidam delas. Isso inclui buscar ativamente e reduzir os preconceitos em nós e nas políticas socioeconômicas, por meio de iniciativas como contratações justas, oferta de crédito, programas de habitação, treinamento antipreconceito e iniciativas de policiamento comunitário”, diz o Centro de Desenvolvimento Infantil de Harvard.

Para Cristiane Ribeiro, passos fundamentais nessa direção envolvem mais representatividade negra e mais discussões sobre o tema dentro das escolas.

“Se tenho uma escola repleta de negros ou pessoas de diferentes orientações sexuais, mas isso não é dito, não é tratado, você tem a mesma segregação que nos outros espaços”, opina.

“Precisamos extinguir a ideia do ‘lápis cor de pele’. Tem tanta cor de pele, porque um lápis rosa a representa? Tem também a criança com cabelo crespo em uma escola onde só são penteados os cabelos lisos. Se a professora der conta de tratar aquele cabelo de uma forma tão afetiva quanto ela trata o cabelo lisinho, ela mudará o mundo daquela criança, inclusive incluindo nessa criança defesa para que ela responda quando seu cabelo for chamado de duro, de feio. E daí ela se olha no espelho e vê beleza, que é um direito que está sendo conquistado muito aos poucos. A chance é de que faça diferença pra família inteira. A criança negra que fala ‘não, mãe, meu cabelo não é feio’ desloca aquele ciclo naquela família, de todas as mulheres alisarem o cabelo. (…) Um olhar afetivo nessa história quebra o ciclo.”

O afeto e a construção de redes de apoio também são apontados por Harvard como formas de aliviar o peso do estresse tóxico e construir resiliência em crianças e famílias.

“É claro que a ciência não consegue lidar com esses desafios sozinha, mas o pensamento informado pela ciência combinado com o conhecimento em mudar sistemas entrincheirados e as experiências vividas pelas famílias que criam seus filhos sob diferentes condições podem ser poderosos catalisadores de estratégias eficientes,” defende o Centro para o Desenvolvimento Infantil.

Como a educação brasileira acentua desigualdade racial e apaga os heróis negros da história do Brasil

Crianças reproduzem racismo? O debate que transformou escola em SP

Achille Mbembe : “Ignorance too, is a form of power” (Chilperic )

Original article

Achille Mbembe

He talks and talks, you are on the verge of falling asleep, until suddenly, out of the blue, a word or a concept slaps you in the face. You listen again. He adds another violent metaphor to his argument and there you are, disarmed by a truth he just unveiled. I presume part of Cameroonian historian and philosopher Achille Mbembe’s brilliance stems from his ability to coin ideas that were as yet framed. Not that they didn’t exist before, but they were lacking the proper notes to be heard. For instance, his book De la Postcolonie, published in 2000, contributed to a massive rise of interest in post-colonial studies by revealing how colonial forms of domination continue to operate on and within the African continent. His Critique de la raison nègre, published in 2013, shed light on the function of the “Black” figure in the construction of Western identity. He later developed the concept of necropolitics, widely used today in academia, to illustrate the production of superfluous and unwanted populations. More recently, he introduced the notion of brutalism, which describes capitalism’s constant process of extraction and waste production. A process that generates growth: walls, clean streets, prescribed drugs, cars, banks – and trash. A trash made of human and non-human residues that we bury, send abroad, or incarcerate. Combustion, islands of plastic, or “migrants” who have no value in our economic system are examples of this exponential “trashisation” of the world. This side effect of brutalism is also defined by Mbembe as the tendential universalization of the Black condition: “The way we used to treat exclusively black people, is now extended to people with a different skin color,” he told me recently. ” The black person is by definition the one who can be humiliated, whose dignity is not recognized, whose rights can be violated with impunity, including his right to breath. He or she therefore represents the accomplished figure of the superfluous person. And nowadays, the number of superfluous people is constantly growing.” 
What annoys me with Achille Mbembe is the way he managed to pollute the innocence of my Western privileges. I was so much better off before,  flying for no reason around the world, while popping stimulants and tranquilizers to cope with my jet-lag. I’d see bankers as virtuous men I’d be desperate to marry and was secretly irritated by all these foreigners trying to flood our trash-free countries and schools. I’d worry for the future of my children and how all this precarity and danger might contaminate the clean side-walks of their own adulthood. I knew without “knowing” that racism and destruction of the environment are the two sides of the same coin, that we cannot fight one without fighting the other; that if we hadn’t and weren’t continuously destroying the African soil, it’s inhabitants for sure wouldn’t try to flee, that my privileges are not merely a question of luck, but the result of a continuous exploitation in which I am, whether I like it or not, complicit. All this I knew without being too disturbed by it. I hat found a comfortable way to exclude my responsibility from these tragedies that occur most of the time in remote parts of the world, far away from my home view in Switzerland. I guess no one enjoys to be reminded that under their innocence lies a pile of shit which has been produced not by “the other” but by one’s own self. Long story short: I sometimes wish I hadn’t come across Achille Mbembe’s slaps of truth. For, as he remarks in his last book, Brutalism, “Ignorance too, is a form of power.”                       

We met end of the summer 2020. I was in Bretagne, France;  he waiting for winter to end in his house in Johannesburg.

***

You refuse to be defined as a post-colonial thinker, how come? 

I have nothing against postcolonial or decolonial theory, but I am neither a postcolonial, nor a decolonial theorist. My story has been one of constant motion. I was born in Cameroun, I spent my twenties in Paris, my early and mid-thirties in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. I later moved to Dakar, Senegal and I’m now in Johannesburg, South Africa. Likewise, I was trained as an historian, then I studied political science. At the same time, I read a lot of philosophy and anthropology, immersed myself in literature, in psychoanalysis. As we speak, I am familiarizing myself with life sciences, climate and earth sciences, astrobiology. This perpetual crossing of borders is what characterizes my life and my work. 

So how should one define you? 

I’d rather define myself as a penseur de la traversée. One for whom critique is a form of care, healing and reparation. The idea of a common world, how to bring it into being, how to compose it, how to repair it and how to share it – this has ultimately been my main concern. 

© Stephanie Fuessenich/laif für die FAZ

In your last book, Brutalism (Editions La Decouverte, 2020) you plead for a politics of the en-commun (in-common) as a means to re-enchant the world and re-infuse solidarity among the elements which constitute and belong to this one world we all share together. Does your concept of the en-commun have any affinities with communist ideas? 

No, it has nothing to do with communism as a political ideology. It is related to my preoccupation with life futures, and as I have just said, with theories of care, healing and reparation, the reality of historical harms and debates on planetary habitability. Ultimately Eurocentrism has fostered colonialism, racism and white supremacy. Postcolonialism has been preoccupied with difference, identity and otherness. As a result of my deep interest in ancient African systems of thought, I am intrigued by the motifs of commonality and multiplicity, by the entanglement of all human and non-human forms of life and the community of substance they form. This commonality, I should add, must be constantly composed and recomposed. It must be pieced together, through endless struggles, and very often, defeats and new beginnings. 

Isn’t difference the basis of identity? 

During the 19th and 20th centuries, we have not stopped talking about difference and identity. About self and the Other. About who is like us and who is not. About who belongs and who doesn’t. As the seas keep rising, as the Earth keeps burning and radiation levels keep increasing and we are less and less shielded against the plasma flow from the sun and surrounded by viruses, this is a discourse we can now ill afford. 

Does this imply hierarchies should be more horizontal? 

By definition, all hierarchies should be exposed to contestation. I am in favor of radical equality. Formal equality is meaningless as long as certain bodies, almost always the same, remain trapped in the jaws of premature death. Once equality is secured, we need to work on the best mechanisms of representation. But those who represent us can never be taken to be hierarchically superior to us. Instead they are called upon to perform a service for the care of all. Representation can only be the result of consent and for such consent to be granted, those who represent us must be accountable. Nobody should make decisions on behalf of those who haven’t mandated him or her. The great difficulty these days and for the years to come is that decisions are increasingly made by technological devices. They are determined by algorithmic artefacts which have not been mandated, except possibly by their manufactures. 

Do you have a mission? 

I wouldn’t want to make things uglier than they already are. I’m here on earth like everyone else for a limited timeframe. A tiny particle in a universe governed by ungraspable forces. My goal is therefore to remain as open as possible to what is still to come. To welcome and embrace the manifold resonances of the forces of the universe. On my last day, at the dusk of my life, I want to be able to say that I have smelled the infinite flesh of the world and that I have fully breathed its breath. 

Writing is your medium. How did this practice come to you? 

I used to be shy. It was easier for me to write than to speak in public or even in a group. When I was 12, I was part of a poetry club at my boarding school. In parallel I kept a personal diary in which I would relate my daily experiences. But it was only when I turned 18 or 19 that I started writing, that is, speaking in public. 

What does writing mean to you? 

It enables me to find my own center. One could almost say “I write therefore I am.” It’s a space of inner peace, though it can also at times be one of self-division. Whatever the case, what I write is mine and can never be taken away from me. 

Do you have any writing routines? 

In order to write, I need silence. I need to be left alone for long hours, if not days. Silence for me is a prelude to a state of psychic condensation. When I was younger, I’d mostly write in the pitch dark, after midnight. Writing after midnight, I could reconnect with Africa’s deepest pulsations, its tragedies as well as its metamorphic potential, the promise it represents for the world. That is how I wrote On the Postcolony, in the midst of Congolese sounds and rhythms.

How do you reach this bubble of isolation and silence while living with your spouse, children and dog? 

My wife is a writer of her own account. The dog is a very unobtrusive companion. It also happens that I can be talking to you now without really being present. Being physically present doesn’t prevent my mind from being totally elsewhere. 

Where does your writing start? 

Most of the time in my head. Sometimes from what I see, what I hear, what I read. It can start in the shower, when I am cooking or while I lie on the bed waiting to fall asleep. I can spend long months without writing anything. Things first need to boil. I need to find myself in a position where I can no longer bracket the interpellation addressed to me by reality, an event or an encounter. 

Do you take notes? 

Not really, or not all the time. I may have notebooks, but I keep misplacing them and hardly ever return to them in any structured way. My writing generally begins with a word, a concept, a sound, a landscape or an event which suddenly resonates in me. I do have a very lively mental scape. As a result, writing is like translating an image into words. In fact my books are full of images of the mind, non-visual images. But I never know in advance where these images will lead me to or whether at the end of the process I will be able to adequately translate them into words without losing their allure. It’s a rather intuitive process. That’s also why I write my introductions at the end, as I’ll only be able to tell you what the book is about once it’s written, when all the images have been curated. 

Do you spend lots of time rewriting your sentences? 

I’m extremely attentive to each word, each phrase, the way it’s formulated, its rhythm and musicality, the punctuation. For a text to be powerful, that is to heal, it must viscerally speak to both the reader’s reason and senses. It must therefore be methodically composed, arranged, and curated. Once it’s done with the appropriate amount of care, I no longer go back to it. I actually never reread my books. 

Why ? 
Because I’m always afraid to realize that the translation of images into words could have been done differently, and that now it’s too late. It’s already published and now belongs somewhat to the public. I have a rather strange understanding of writing. Writing is like a trial with too many judges If one doesn’t wish to be condemned, one shouldn’t write. Because once you’ve written and published something, that’s it.. The door is locked and the key is taken away. Writing is like pronouncing a sentence on oneself.

Student in Paris in the 1980

You spend a significant amount of your time playing and watching soccer. What is it that you enjoy so much in this sport? 

It’s all about contingency and creation, creating in the midst of contingency. It’s about a certain relationship between a body in motion and a mind in a state of alert. That’s what fascinates me the most about football, the way in which 22 people attempt to inhabit a space they keep configuring and reconfiguring, erecting and erasing, and the explosions of primal joy when one’s team scores, or the primal screams when one’s team loses. And indeed, if I could go back in time, I would unquestionably pursue a professional soccer career. I’d retire in my early thirties and then do something else. 

If you were a philanthropic billionaire, in which cause would you invest? 

I’ve always considered money as a means to hinder one’s freedom. 

Why? 

I don’t want to be the slave of anything or of anybody. Not even the slave of my own passions. 

Doesn’t money enable a certain freedom too? 

If I had billions, I’d go back to Cameroun and revive my father’s farm. That’s where I spent part of my youth. I’d go back and turn this farm into a cooperative, into a laboratory for new ways of producing and living. The farm would become a living alternative of how to use local resources to live a clean life, starting with air, water, plants, food and so on. The farm would also be a vibrant place for artistic innovation. It would offer writing residencies for authors eager to commune with the vast expanses of our universe. 

If you could reincarnate, choose an era, country, profession, legend, what or whom would you choose? 

I’d come back as Ibn Khaldun, an Arab intellectual who is often presented as one of the very first sociologists. He visited the empire of Mali in the 14th century. I would be curious to discover this era. To be a sort of intellectual who travels the world, discovering Africa before the Triangular trade and sounding out what we could have become.