Racist Cyberattacks at the University of Toronto Present a Teachable Moment

In the age of Trump, even Canadians are grappling with increasing hostility to principles of diversity and inclusion.  While Canada has never been the cultural oasis it is often portrayed to be, the country has historically been perceived by black folk and much of the world as much more progressive on diversity issues than its American neighbors to the south.

This week the Toronto Star reports that black students at the U of T are responding to what appears to be a persistent and orchestrated campaign of racial assault on campus and online.  The attacks highlight longstanding racial tensions in a bustling cosmopolitan citadel and illustrate once again that notions of a “post-racial Great North” are delusional.

Equally troubling is a failure to reckon that the default use of technology is only as righteous or evil as the minds that deploy them.  Technological education has never been a panacea to social ills that STEM proponents often present, rather tech is merely a tool to expand the same tired social mythologies, structured inequalities, and cultural antagonisms.  STEM education, even at the most prestigious and liberal institutions, will never rise above the fray until we engage how our best engineers and scientists are a part of our racial and social crises and not so intellectually advanced that they are free of racial animus.

The student response at U of T has been measured, inclusive, and targeted.  Let’s hope that the lessons learned here will empower higher educational officials and students to address racial and technological myths by disrupting the platforms used to propagate hate and harassment. There must be an honest and holistic reckoning with race, gender, and class across borders and across the curriculum.



Technology is taking jobs away from men—and reviving a pre-industrial version of masculinity — Quartz

Many men lost their jobs when technology made them obsolete. The new jobs available were soul-crushing, undignified, and required an arduous commute—and that’s assuming companies would hire them. Most employers wouldn’t, because the men were considered too old and unskilled for the new work. And then a false prophet with messy hair emerged, promising to…

via Technology is taking jobs away from men—and reviving a pre-industrial version of masculinity — Quartz

Why No Black Students Took the AP Computer Science Test in 11 States in 2013 and What I Intend to Do About It

Philip Emeagwali, computer scientist who black students can be inspired by.

There has been a lot of speculation concerning the lack of black students in technology fields.  Consistently, critics of policies promoting greater inclusiveness and differentiation of teaching strategies have argued that the reason for the disparities are rooted in mental capability and interest–not in structural problems.

Statistics released by the AP College Board in January of 2014 reveal some troubling disparities:

  • 11 states had no Black students take the exam: Alaska (21 exam takers -4.3% Black by population), Idaho (47 – 0.9% Black), Kansas (47 – 6.2% Black), Maine (161 – 1.0%), Mississippi (1 – 37.3%), Montana (11 – 0.67%), Nebraska (46 – 4.5%), New Mexico (57 – 3%), North Dakota (9 – 1%), Utah (103 – 1.2%), and Wyoming (0 – 1.2%).

Some people believe that this is a matter of inherent intelligence, arguing that black students are not good at computer science.  I disagree. I believe that this is a problem largely about pedagogy and less about aptitude.  Recent reports have emphasized how particular problem-based approaches to computer science and other fields have benefited minority students.  There is a lack of accessibility to these approaches and tech courses in many struggling schools where minorities are disproportionately represented.

Surely, in states where more than 25% of the population is African American yet less than ten black students attempt the test, common sense and probability would point to serious questions of accessibility not ability.

I think the solution to addressing this problem will probably not be championed by STEM field professionals alone. Integrated, interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approaches poses significant promise in educating the general public and aspiring STEM students about the barriers preventing access and achievement in the STEM fields by black students. It is necessary to tackle this problem from outside of the self-contained silo that often precludes effective minority recruitment to STEM fields.   This is what I intend to do about it.

1. Have students in my history classes identify the historical reasons for the disparity and write open letters to school districts and educators that should be doing better.

2. Request that the AP College Board donate promotional materials and preparatory resources to districts who have low numbers of black students who are participating in the exam.

3. Raise awareness about the popular misconceptions surrounding this issue.

What Technology Wants (From the Oppressed)

What Technology Wants (From the Oppressed)

What_Technology_Wants,_Book_Cover_Art cabral

Norman Kelly’s What Technology Wants (2010) argues that technology is falsely understood as physical outgrowth of human ingenuity.  Instead, says Kelly, technology is a living force that predates human innovation and is somewhat of a cosmic sibling also spawned from life.  For Kelly, the technium (the term he uses to describe technology’s autonomous attributes) is capable of not only fulfilling human desires but also to desiderate on its own terms.

I took liberty here to push Kelly’s line of reasoning into a realm of thought regarding exploitation that some would find absurd.  Nonetheless, if the technium sent an email to oppressed people, what would it say?

Dear Species So Enthralled with Selfies That You Are Willing to Destroy Thousands of Lives to Procure Precious Metals and Millions More Through Narcissism and Snark:

  1. The technium wants oppressed people to understand that I prey on resources; I will aid in ‘progress’ as you call it but by my nature I must exploit the weaker. This is not personal though you may believe so.  The technium needs resources to expand and simply follows “the path of least resistance” as you would put it.  The rationale is a bit more complex but this simple heuristic will do.  It’s not about you.  It’s about me and my cronies.
  2. The technium wants oppressed people to understand that although it is used by the powerful, it also uses the powerful. The powerful claim that their particular genius and their scientific superiority is why they command wealth.  This falsity is accepted as truth by both the strong and the weak.  You should understand that the sole basis of power is consent.  Is this not evidenced in how your cultures so willingly accept prevailing doctrines of wealth?  In how you so willingly adopt every new innovation I deliver while accepting the loss of your own autonomy, resources, and sense of humanity in the process?  The technium does not think of money as wealth but rather the ability to survive, to evolve, and to expand.  While most humans, particularly the powerful, have signified money alone as a measure of these traits, technology wants more of the following: efficiency, opportunity, emergence, complexity, diversity, specialization, ubiquity, freedom, mutualism, beauty, sentience, structure, and evolvability. (270)  Both the oppressed and the powerful base their faith in monetary instruments to achieve freedom.  However, all living things that use me–including human beings–are my currency because they consent to allow my influence to reign.  In this way, you can think of your powerful as larger denominations ($100) that I use to purchase my will as they help me to constitute the masses of lesser units ($1s, $5s, $10s) and the billions of pennies.  Neither powerful nor weak have any inherent value to me beyond the ability for coordinate my will–to be my tools even as they use me.
  3. The technium wants oppressed people to listen to the insight of Max More’s  philosophy but without abandoning the psycho-social inquiries of W.E.B. Du Bois.  As Amilcar Cabral wrote: “…however fine and attractive the reality of others may be — can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices.”

P.S. Stop wasting so much time on twitter.