“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
in alliance with The Free Black Women’s Library–LA
Free // Next meeting Aug 23: Register 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, catch up to where we are in the book. Read the book and check out the chapter preview videos (posted below) that will help you make sense of the complex and exciting ideas in the book. These videos will be created and posted prior to each chapter meeting.

Third, tune in with us via Crowdcast for our next meeting. All of the book club meetings are available to view afterwards via Crowdcast, so if you missed the meeting or are catching up, you can access them here. Be sure to “save your spot,” for our next scheduled meeting, which basically means you can sign-up and it will save the event info in your calendar and send you an email reminder. Register for our next meeting on July 26th.

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
Watch the replay of our first book club meeting! This gathering took place online via Crowdcast and we discussed the book’s introduction.

Tuesday, May 26: First Chapter Preview Video
Watch Chapter 1 Preview (in 3 parts) here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

♦ Saturday, June 20: Book Club Meeting: Chapter 1
10am-12pm PST // Watch the replay here
The group discusses chapter 1, led by Feminist A.I. 

July 19: Chapter 2 Preview Video
Check out the Feminist A.I. IG page for the Chapter 3 preview video.

Sunday, July 26 // 2pm PSTBook Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Chapter 2
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. In this meeting, we’ll discuss Chapter 2 “Searching for Black Girls.” We’ll be joined by Ariel Stevenson and Mashinka Firunts Hakopian. The discussion in the first half of the session will focus primarily on the text, and in the second hour, we’ll focus more broadly on search and bias.

Sunday, Aug 16: Chapter 3 and 4 Preview Video
Check out the Feminist A.I. IG page for the Chapter 3 preview video.

Sunday, Aug 23: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Chapter 3 and 4 
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. Sign-up here.

date TBD: Break // Making*
Stay tuned for details on creative/making event featuring artists from the WCCW.

Sunday, Sept 6: Chapter 5 and 6 Preview Video*
Check back for the Chapter 5 and 6 preview.

Sunday, Sept 13: 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.

Sunday, Sept 20: Hands-on Weaving Workshop with artist Ahree Lee
Sign up by August 19 to receive your materials in the mail for this engage-from-home weaving workshop! Register here.

Sunday, Sept 20: Conclusion Preview Video*
Check back for the Epilogue preview.

Sunday, Sept 27: Book Club Meeting via Crowdcast: Conclusion*
This gathering will take place online via Crowdcast. The link will be posted here, along with more details, closer to the date.

date TBD: Brown Up Your Feed w/ Mandy Harris Williams*

date TBD: 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.