“Algorithms of Oppression” Book Club and Study Group

An online study group & noncommittal book club
Summertime, May–July, 2020
Presented by the WCCW & Feminist AI
Free // Save your spot for the first meeting here

Our collaboration with long-standing community members, Feminist A.I., engages the internet as theme and platform, and we look forward to launching our unit of study, based on the book, Algorithms of Oppression by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble near the end of the month. In keeping with the spirit of this book’s point of departure , we’re also excited to be in alliance with The Free Black Women’s Library – LA, as the two co-hosts offer a book club/study group that will make sense of this text and what it means for online livelihood, for artists, creatives, and casual users, alike!

You may be able to access this text via e-book through your local library website! If you’d like to participate in this group, but are unable to access the text, we will be sending a limited amount of physical copies by mail (request form available here). Click here to read the introduction!

It’s best to have the book by May, but the book club will go through the summer, with modules to help you access the information in your own time.

Our first meeting will take place on May 19th via Crowdcast and we’ll discuss only the introduction. A week prior, on May 11th, we’ll premiere the first of our chapter previews, which will help make sense of the complex and exciting ideas in the book, before the discussion begins.

Learn more about Professor Safiya Umoja Noble and Algorithms of Oppression:
Professor Noble at re:Publica 2018
UCI Informatics Seminar

How is this virtual book club going to work?

You’ll have 1-2 weeks to read each chapter. After one week we will post a chapter summary video to help you make sense of the chapter before we all meet. A week later, we will have a virtual book club meeting where we will get creative in ways to engage with each other about the text: we’ll do a modeling/exemplar portion, perhaps a lecture, quid pro quo, or small panel, maybe even a film screening, artist talk or creative presentation,  followed by small groups,  Q+A, and actionables. Our book club will meet from May through July, with creative makings throughout and in culmination. Not every detail is complete, because there are many creative extensions that are possible and more that can be generated as this project unfolds.

So what do I need to do to participate?

First, get access to the book. You can find a free digital copy through your public library, purchase the book through the publishers or from another source, or purchase the audiobook. If neither of these options work for you, we have a limited quantity of free physical copies that we will send out, you can request one here. You can access a free pdf version of the introductory chapter only, right here.

Second, read the introduction chapter by Tuesday, May 19th. You should read this first introductory chapter on your own, but on May 11th we will post a chapter preview video that will help you make sense of the complex and exciting ideas in the introductory chapter, before the discussion begins.

Third, tune in with us via Crowdcast on Tuesday, May 19th from 5–7pm PST for our first book club meeting. Even though the first meeting isn’t until Tuesday, you can click on the link now to “save your spot,” which basically means you can sign-up and it will save the event info in your calendar and send you an email reminder! If you don’t want all that, just head back over to this page on Tuesday May 19th and click the same link to join right in.

Cool, so… what’s the book about?

A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms

Run a Google search for “black girls”—what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls,” the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society.

In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.

Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance—operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond—understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance.

An original, surprising and, at times, disturbing account of bias on the internet, Algorithms of Oppression contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century.

Book Club Meetings & Timeline

♦ April 27–Ongoing: get access to the book & read the introduction
You can find a free digital copy through your public library, purchase the book through the publishers or from another source, or purchase the audiobook. If neither of these options work for you, we have a limited quantity of free physical copies that we will send out, you can request one here. You can access a free pdf version of the introductory chapter only, right here.

♦ May 11: Introduction Preview Video
Check out the Introductory Chapter Preview video here. The Chapter Preview Videos are intended to help you make sense of the complex and exciting ideas in the book, before the discussion begins.

Tuesday, May 19: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Introduction Chapter
5–7pm PST
Tune in for our first book club meeting! This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast and we’ll discuss only the introduction. 

May 26: First Chapter Preview Video
Check back on May 26th for the Chapter 1 preview.

June 2: Book Club Meeting: Chapter 1*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

June 9: Chapter 2 Preview Video*
Check back on June 9th for the Chapter 2 preview.

June 16:  Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Chapter 2*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

June 23: Chapter 3 and 4 Preview Video*
Check back on June 23rd for the Chapter 3 and 4 preview.

June 30: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Chapter 3 and 4*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

June 30–July 14: Break // Making*
Stay tuned for details on creative/making event featuring artists from the WCCW.

July 14: Chapter 5 and 6 Preview Video*
Check back on July 14th for the Chapter 5 and 6 preview.

July 21: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Chapter 5 and 6*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

July 28: Epilogue Preview Video*
Check back on July 28th for the Epilogue preview.

August 4: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Epilogue*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

August 9: Brown Up Your Feed w/ Mandy Harris Williams*

August 5–August 31: Culminating Events and Projects*

*Dates after May subject to change with respect to participant feedback. Stay tuned to the  Women’s Center for Creative Work website and IG for updates!

About Feminist AI: Founded in 2016, Feminist.AI is a community AI research and design group focused on critical making as a response to hegemonic AI. Rather than simply criticize the lack of diversity in AI design and development, we propose an alternative by co-designing intelligent products, experiences and futures from a feminist posthumanist (inclusive) approach. We do this by using AI Art and Design projects to create AI products, experiences and systems.

About The Free Black Women’s Library – Los Angeles: The original The Free Black Women’s Library was created by OlaRonke Akinmowo in Brooklyn, New York during the summer of 2015, providing a unique and creative space for communities to gather in the name of Black women’s stories.The traveling Library operates as a pop-up book swap event where visitors can engage and trade books written by Black women.The Free Black Women’s Library – Los Angeles is a new sister-site founded in January of 2019 by Asha Grant. Our vision is to unite and build safe anti-racist, anti-sexist communities across Los Angeles who are committed to love, liberation, and literacy for all.