XXVIII.5 September - October 2021
Page: 28
Digital Citation

Keepin’ it real about race in HCI

Race in HCI Collective, Angela Smith, Adriana Garcia, Ian Arawjo, Audrey Bennett, Khalia Braswell, Bryan Dosono, Ron Eglash, Denae Ford, Daniel Gardner, Shamika Goddard, Jaye Nias, Cale Passmore, Yolanda Rankin, Naba Rizvi, Carol Scott, Jakita Thomas, Alexandra To, Ihudiya Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, Marisol Wong-Villacres

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In 2020, several of us aimed to disrupt the status quo and begin conversations around race in research and what that meant for the HCI community. We sought to construct a haven for ourselves, our participants, and our research as people of color by adapting critical race theory to HCI [1]. We knew, however, we were not alone in our thoughts nor our experiences, so we set out to create a space for and build a community of individuals interested in not only discussing race but also grappling with better processes to implement radical change from individual to institutional levels.

back to top  Insights

We need to engage at both the institutional and individual level in order to transform HCI and impede the reproduction of racism and inequity.
Scholars should avoid forcing racial identities on people in the name of diversity and inclusion.
It is not the race of people that causes harm, but rather the racism of those around them.

To extend our work, we held a workshop at CHI 2020 called "What's Race Got to Do With It? Engaging Race in HCI" [2]. This workshop was by no means the solution to the racial problems that plague our research designs, methodologies, and academic and industry professions—or more broadly, the HCI community. Instead, it was an opportunity for like-minded people to discuss how the lack of conversations about race had detrimental implications for both minoritized researchers and participants, as well as our research outcomes. More importantly, this workshop allowed us to begin to assemble practical recommendations for those in this space.

As a collective, we collaboratively designed a series of zines to understand the following topics: race and design research, race and identity, reporting on race in research, racially inclusive research and design, and researchers' positionality outside the community of focus. Culturally and historically, zines have served as a powerful outlet for content outside of the mainstream. Zines are significant because they offer the opportunity for connection, community, and networking among those interested in these topics. The participatory nature of the zine democratizes and progresses the consumption and production of cultural content. Much like critical race theory [1], the creation of zines allowed us to use counternarratives that are missing from the mainstream and that challenge the dominant assumptions.

ins02.gif Race and Design (Side 1). On the left, we outline what digital colonialism is and how it can be countered. On the right-hand side, we present design challenges that arise.
ins03.gif Race and Design (Side 2). In this spread we discuss emancipatory design, which requires values to remain in unalienated forms and to be circulated as opposed to extracted. We also explore integrative design, value-sensitive computational ethnography, generative justice, and cultural preservation.

In this article, we, the Race in HCI Collective, present and analyze our zines and provide further insight to illustrate the best practices for engaging with minoritized populations. Through these efforts, we hope to facilitate the broader HCI community's engagement with race.

back to top  Race and Design

* Zinesters: Jaye Nias, Ron Eglash, and Audrey Bennett

We selected the topic race and design to focus on the positive, generative work of antiracist designers, computer scientists, activists, and others who are inspired by the beauty and sophistication of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) cultural resources. These researchers address key issues—wealth inequality, health disparities, and other forms of injustice—through the radical joy of decolonial digital technologies. This is often through a synthesis of cultural tradition and futuristic or speculative design, frequently referred to as Afrofuturism (Black), Indigenous futurity (Native), and Altermundos (Latinx). Jaye's team at Brave IDEAS Lab, for example, has explored embodying the griot figure in digital agents through vocal nuances, linguistic patterns, and gestures. The ethnocomputing team at the University of Michigan has developed simulation tools for the complex, sophisticated algorithms in Indigenous and vernacular designs: African fractals, biocomplexity in Native agroecology, Eulerian paths in urban graffiti, and so on. Whether it is robotic griots, fractal architectures, or cultural biocomputation, we caution against reducing these ethnocomputing systems to merely tricks for bringing kids into computing. Rather, we encourage all researchers to approach ethnocomputing generatively, as a means to transform the benefits of computer science into outcomes that benefit the communities of origin.

This requires thoughtful application in education. Controlled studies show statistically significant increases in STEM interest and achievement when ethnocomputing is used appropriately (https://csdt.org/publications/). But why? Systemic racism enforces the colonial myth of "primitive" Black and Native origins. Ethnocomputing shows that sophisticated computational ideas emerge in all societies. Indigenous societies, however, embed their algorithms in egalitarian relationships and ecological sustainability. Western computing tears algorithms out of context. By repairing that epistemological damage—by developing CS as a tool for cultural respect, social equality, and environmental sustainability—we also increase the interest of underrepresented groups.

Ethnocomputing is of critical importance in AI, HCI, IoT, and other advanced applications. For example, Timnit Gebru is famed for her critiques of AI. But she has also promoted AI when applied to cassava plant disease (https://www.kaggle.com/c/ammi-2020-convnets). Anyone who spends time in Africa understands the enormous importance of cassava to poor farmers, family recipes, and local food markets. University of Michigan School of Information alum Kwame Robinson [4] has applied AI to spotting kente cloth that has been created in factories but sold as handwoven. Culturally aware AI can improve low-income economies.

Attention to eliminating bias is necessary but incomplete. The average net income of white families is on average 10 times that of Black families. That will not be changed by eliminating bias in who sees which stock investment ads. CS designers can aid underserved communities by opposing primitivist assumptions, making their cultural capital more fungible, and redesigning IoT, AI, HCI, and other CS fields to circulate unalienated value for all.

back to top  Conducting Racially Inclusive Research in HCI

* Zinesters: Shamika Goddard, Cale Passmore, Naba Rizvi, and Alexandra To

With increased acknowledgment of the role played by race and racism in HCI, there is an increased need for caution in how science is conducted in regard to race. Establishing more-effective methods, shared vocabularies, and normalizing ethical practices around the incorporation of identities in science is essential. In 2016, Hankerson et al. [3] drew attention to how technology is racialized and often excludes people of color. In 2020, Ogbonnaya-Ogburu et al. [1] introduced a standard for using critical race theory in HCI—highlighting that leadership and representation in our field are predominantly white. In the past year, several institutions have extended hiring calls for scholars studying the intersection of race and technology. There are few resources available, however, to scholars to do this work. This zine responds to these calls to action by discussing specific, concrete practices for HCI researchers to conduct racially inclusive research. We introduce several core principles for conducting racially inclusive research, provide a vocabulary for centering the effects of power dynamics in our studies, provide a list of do's and don'ts, and compile a list of resources for further study.

By defining the terms racism, racially inclusive, positionality, and intersectionality, we orient ourselves and our readers to the concepts with which our zine is acutely interested in engaging. The environments for research, both the labs that foster collaboration and innovation and the sites of research themselves, pose opportunities to engage with race and address or mitigate racism. Taken together, the terms, advice for labs, and guidance for research can help spark conversations and provoke changes that will equip HCI researchers who want to contribute scholarship informed by antiracist practices.

In the process of crafting this zine, we discussed several areas of research that require racially inclusive considerations, including: participant recruitment, forming community relationships, data analysis, incorporating race in the writing process, and forming research questions. In the first article, we focus on facilitating racially inclusive lab environments, as these environments are the starting point for antiracist science. Additionally, we provide examples of more individually racially inclusive practices. We hope this sparks further discussion in the aforementioned research areas and beyond. We also hope this zine can model practices for adapting theory toward making HCI a more welcome, equitable, and empowering space for BIPOC researchers and dispel fears and hesitation around speaking about race.

ins04.gif Conducting Racially Inclusive Research in HCI (Side 1). In this three-column page, an introduction to the zine is provided in the left column. The middle column is a list of references. The right column includes the zine title and a list of authors.
ins05.gif Conducting Racially Inclusive Research in HCI (Side 2). In this three-column page, terms are defined in the left column. In the middle column, we offer suggestions for creating racially inclusive research labs. In the right column are suggestions on how to conduct racially inclusive research.
ins06.gif Computing Education Pedagogy. In this zine teaser, we spotlight Digital Youth Divas, INTech, and America on Tech, organizations that are doing important STEM-related work with racially marginalized students of all ages and levels. We also highlight three main takeaways in regard to fostering greater inclusivity through computing education curricula.

back to top  Computing Education Pedagogy

* Zinesters: Bryan Dosono, Yolanda Rankin, and Khalia Braswell

The zine on computing education pedagogy examines the STEM pipeline and the ways in which race manifests in the classroom for students (e.g., affirmation of identity, cultural relevance of material, etc.). We share common faux pas as well as student success stories in educational environments. We also spotlight organizations that are already doing important work with racially marginalized students of all ages and levels. We offer provocations for race and ethnicity in HCI in establishing a computing identity.

Our zine provides instances where the modern computing curriculum falls short from a lack of cultural relevance, such as using the dominant group's cultural practices and artifacts to ground learning activities (e.g., "The Tortoise and the Hare" story in Google's CS First curriculum). An example of culturally relevant pedagogy may look like a student in an entry-level CS course leveraging her African heritage to share family recipes as an example of an algorithm (e.g., a student creates a website of family recipes indicative of African dishes).

Inclusive pedagogy serves an important role in broadening participation in computing. Students find a sense of belonging in how they learn and who they aim to become. Race and gender identity may play a role if students are "one of few" who look like them in a classroom. Instructors should advocate for using inclusive language:

  • Replace master and slave with main/primary and replica/secondary.
  • Replace blacklist and whitelist with blocklist and allowlist.
  • Replace black hat and white hat with unethical and ethical.

The zine concludes with provocations for race and ethnicity in HCI. As algorithmic configurations in computing systems can reinforce bias that result in real consequences:

  • How might we introduce topics like social computing and HCI earlier in CS education?
  • How should we broaden participation in computing through existing programs?
  • How do we build a pipeline of underrepresented students to join the professoriate?

back to top  Understanding Race and Identity

* Zinesters: Adriana Alvarado Garcia, Marisol Wong-Villacres, and Ian Arawjo

Our group aimed to understand race and racism across borders. As we come from different parts of the world, our conversations surfaced some of the differences in the historical logics of race, the social apparatus, and the infrastructures that support, construct, and police race and racial identity in our countries. By sharing our experiences, we unpacked how such differences can contribute to HCI's growing commitment to maintain issues of racism at the forefront of its discussions.

For example, one member of our group discussed Brazil's long-held ideology of mestizaje, which champions "whitening" via mixing, and its effect on equity and inclusion initiatives in technology education. Programs such as affirmative action, which are critical for the U.S., are not as feasible in Brazil, where mestizaje pushes many people to adopt racial identities closer to whiteness. Mexico also has a long history of dismissing racial inequalities. It was not until 2020 that the Mexico census captured information on race for the first time and, more importantly, began recognizing the rights of Afro-Mexicans. Other contributors showed how immigrant HCI scholars in an ethnically and culturally homogeneous context such as Poland experience racial discrimination, framed and realized along ideas of nationalism and foreignness.

ins07.gif Understanding Race and Identity. Race isn't the same everywhere, and neither is antiracism. Here, we discuss how to avoid assuming your racial identification of someone is their identity, a key way that racism functions.

Our zine calls for scholars and practitioners to be mindful of how racial difference and politics are differently constructed as they continue their studies in race, racism, and HCI. The emerging explorations of race in HCI have promoted frameworks such as critical race theory (CRT) as rich analytical tools for advancing inclusive research and reducing the HCI community's racial disparities. While CRT is important for advancing HCI's tackling of race issues, we discussed how the theory arose from the U.S. historical experience with racism, particularly legal scholarship in the U.S., and how its language of identity often advances an implicit conflation between ascribed racial identification and personal identity [5]. Thus, the use of such perspectives may need to be reevaluated when understood in contexts outside the U.S. (e.g., [6]). Scholars within the U.S. should take note of this intercultural perspective by attending to racialization—that is, how a description becomes a classification—and avoid forcing racial identities on people in the name of diversity and inclusion. The same can apply when we act as reviewers, asking authors for positionality statements where we might expect a particular form of self-identification that is familiar to us. Devoting efforts to such careful reflection can contribute to racial justice efforts that counteract the anti-Blackness of computing worldwide.

back to top  Reporting on Race in Research

* Zinesters: Carol F. Scott, Daniel Gardner, Ihudiya Finda Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, and Jakita Thomas

Our final zine offers guidance to HCI researchers, practitioners, and designers in considering race and the implications of race throughout their research process. We provide an infographic as a starting point for reflecting on race at every stage of research.

Issues of race can influence every facet of any HCI project. We propose questions to encourage the HCI community to consider how diverse perspectives are, could be, or should be considered in the development and implementation of their work. We suggest that everyone can and should reflect on the role that diverse communities, who may be most affected, could have in the collection and articulation of data. We ask everyone to consider how accessible the knowledge being produced will be to those same communities.

ins08.gif Reporting on Race in Research. This spread highlights a process flow with regard to reporting race. We begin by asking if we have established our positionality (see top center square, outlined in red). We then ask a series of questions to consider in order to ensure our research is accessible to and conscious of the communities it affects.

Rather than prescribing solutions, we provide questions that researchers can use to generate their own answers. Our team is made up of scholars based in North America, positioned within specific racial histories and tensions of that region, and our own individual (subject) positions. Our individual answers to these questions vary.

The infographic shown here attempts to distill themes already present in critical HCI and adjacent communities to support more reflexive, inclusive, equitable, and community-driven practices. Scholars have interrogated how HCI can integrate critical feminist and gendered analysis [7], and have highlighted how those least included should be treated as "experts." Still, others are interrogating how concepts of race influence technological research and design [1].

Rigorous, sensitive, and inclusive research requires investigators to consider the broader histories, expertise, and lived experiences of those most affected by their work. Our infographic encourages researchers to identify racial implications within their work and to consider insights from critical race studies and/or consult with critical race scholars. Racial trauma—informed research [8], for example, is an important stride toward inclusive, equitable HCI. During data collection, HCI researchers are encouraged to collaborate with and consult stakeholder communities on coding and/or statistical groupings to define identities or groupings in emic terms. During their analysis, researchers are asked to consider nondominant ways of knowing that center the voices, lived experiences, and expertise of studied populations. We encourage community-driven approaches that permit researching and designing with rather than for, permit learning together, and validate and potentially transform the experiences of all involved. Lastly, our infographic suggests the HCI community must intentionally address these questions and continually reevaluate our work and our own privileges and positionality [9].

back to top  Conclusion

Our zines demonstrate that engaging with race in HCI can be a generative and empowering process. We aimed to create an atmosphere that uplifted voices of color, challenged our assumptions about HCI, and encouraged conversations that might produce concrete tools to share with our community. How can we incorporate disparate global understandings of race/isms into our practice? What opportunities can we discover when we treat race as a source of cultural richness and strength, as in the case of ethnocomputing? What are the limitations of reifying race? How might we start to address historical racial inequality within our institutions? How can people with power and/or in the majority be accomplices in the push for racial justice?

Within each of these conversations, we can see the messiness of race. As we continue this work, we will encounter both points of tension and disagreement and more of the opportunities uncovered here. An intersectional framing might encourage us to embrace this messiness so that we can uplift one another's dignity as complex peoples as well as hold one another accountable. Or, maybe the deployment of intersectionality might itself be a point of contention [9]. Despite our differences, we share an understanding that racism and anti-Blackness remain everyday destructive forces across the world, and that it is not the race of people that causes harm such as attrition from computing, but rather the racism of those around them.

To transform HCI and halt its reproduction of racism and inequity, we have to engage at both the institutional and individual level. We must reenvision what computing produces and ensure that underserved communities—not just tech corporations—benefit from its productions and systemic effects. We call on scholars as well as Interactions readers who may or may not be outside the academy or outside of research, particularly those who identify as white, to reflect on their complicity in structures of oppression and engage honestly in the vast literature on race/ism and to translate their learning into antiracist practice in their institutions and daily lives. Once they have taken these important steps, we invite them to join us in discussing race/ism as we go forward, together, to forge a more inclusive HCI.

back to top  Acknowledgments

We acknowledge and thank the participants of the Engaging Race in HCI workshop. We are appreciative of your willingness to be vulnerable and honest in navigating these often exhausting conversations. Additionally, we thank SIGCHI for its sponsorship of the workshop through the Development Fund grant. This article was originally curated by Yolanda Rankin for the Designing at the Intersections forum.

back to top  References

1. Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, I.F., Smith, A.D.R., To, A., and Toyama, K. Critical race theory for HCI. Proc. of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2020, 1–16.

2. Smith, A.D.R. et al. What's race got to do with it? Engaging in race in HCI. Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2020.

3. Hankerson, D., Marshall, A.R., Booker, J., El Mimouni, H., Walker, I., and Rode, J.A. Does technology have race? Proc. of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 473–486.

4. Robinson, K.P., Eglash, R., Bennett, A., Nandakumar, S., and Robert, L. Authente-Kente: Enabling authentication for artisanal economies with deep learning. AI & SOCIETY 36, 1 (2021), 369–379.

5. Brubaker, R. and Cooper, F. Beyond 'identity.' Theory and Society 29, 1 (2000), 1–47.

6. Gilroy, P. Postcolonial Melancholia. Columbia Univ. Press, 2005.

7. Scheuerman, M.K., Spiel, K., Haimson, O.L, Hamidi, F., and Branham, S.M. HCI guidelines for gender equity and inclusivity. UMBC Faculty Collection, 2020.

8. Williams, M.T., Metzger, I.W., Leins, C., and DeLapp, C. Assessing racial trauma within a DSM–5 framework: The UConn Racial/Ethnic Stress & Trauma Survey. Practice Innovations 3, 4 (2018), 242–260.

9. Nash, J.C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Duke Univ. Press, 2018.

back to top  Authors

The Race in HCI Collective authors of this article are: Angela D. R. Smith (angdanro@gmail.com), Adriana Alvarado Garcia, Ian Arawjo, Audrey Bennett, Khalia Braswell, Bryan Dosono, Ron Eglash, Denae Ford, Daniel Gardner, Shamika Goddard, Jaye Nias, Cale Passmore, Yolanda Rankin, Naba Rizvi, Carol F. Scott, Jakita Thomas, Alexandra To, Ihudiya Finda Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, and Marisol Wong-Villacres.

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