Black Lives Matter: resources for machine learning practitioners, researchers, and allies

Black Lives Matter! As the diversity and inclusion lead at Aggregate Intellect, I felt that it’s important to make our stance clear. At Aggregate Intellect, we recognize that this is not an issue for the Black community to solve alone. This is an issue for all of us to solve together. As a community of machine learning practitioners, we are all equipped with a unique skill set that allows us to make a difference. This post outlines ways you can contribute as a technologist, and how you can contribute as a general member of society as well. Special thanks to Suhas Pai, our NLP Stream Owner and the director of our weekly newsletter for putting together a large portion of these resources!

It’s important to understand that even at the upper echelons of academia and industry, the Black experience is not a savoury one. Check out the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory on Twitter where researchers are sharing their (often harrowing) experiences. And that’s if they can even get there – according to a study published in Education Researcher, 40% of Black students in STEM undergraduate programs switch out to pursue another degree, compared to 29% of White students. 26% of Black STEM majors leave school without a degree, compared to 13% of White STEM majors.

Black representation in AI must reflect that of the overall population.

At Aggregate Intellect diversity is our strength. It’s important to have multiple perspectives in developing and understanding machine learning research and applications. We’re committed to highlighting the work of Black researchers, and we have a mentorship program designed for under-represented individuals. Our goal is to amplify this message in any way we can. One approach is to highlight ways our community members can contribute, as machine learning practitioners and researchers.

Ways you can contribute:

Black Girls Code is a grassroots organization that aims to increase the number of women of colour in the digital space. They do this by empowering girls of colour from ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM. Black Girls Code is looking for volunteers (photographers, coders, organizers, and general support) as well as donations.

Black Boys Code aims to inspire a generation of young Black men to take control of their future, and become tomorrow’s digital creators and technological innovators. They do this by helping young Black men develop digital literacy and computer competence. Black Boys Code is looking for volunteers and donations.

Black in AI is a multi-institutional, transcontinental initiative that aims to create a space for sharing ideas, fostering collaborations, and discussing initiatives to increase the presence of Black individuals in AI. You may recognize the name as they have been running workshops at NeurIPS since 2017, as well as at other academic conferences. Black in AI is looking for donations, and welcomes members and allies to fill out their application form to join the group.

Data 4 Black Lives is a movement of activists, organizations, and mathematicians that aim to use data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people. Data 4 Black Lives is working on several data science projects that benefit Black communities, including essential work on how the Black community is being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They are looking for donations and volunteers.

We currently don’t have access to race-based statistics on police-involved deaths in Canada. Let’s change that – sign the petition here. As the petition organizer says, in Canada we don’t even know how bad things are here. That needs to change. We need the documentation of police involved deaths by race, to give us transparency and the much needed data that can support future change.

Watch “stream to donate” videos on YouTube.

Black Lives Matter Toronto is looking for donations, as is Black Lives Matter Vancouver.

There are many ways to contribute, it would be difficult to list them all here. Time has a good article on ways you can support. We encourage you to do your own research as well.

Resources on how to be an ally:

It’s okay to feel guilty about being part of an oppressive system. But the guilt of non-Black people is not the burden for Black people to bear. This article from the New York Times shares a great perspective on how to be an effective ally.

If you like to read, consider checking out one of these books:

And if movies/TV shows are more your style, Netflix has many resources:

  • 13th: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores racial inequality in the US, with a focus on prisons.
  • When They See Us: Ava Duvernay’s gut-wrenching miniseries is based on the true story of the falsely accused young teens known as the Central Park Five.
  • Dear White People: Based on a film of the same name, this series shows the biases and injustices that a group of students of color face at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college.

Want to receive a newsletter every week to stay up to date with continued self-education? The folks over at Anti-Racism Club have a weekly digest designed specifically for white communities and non-black allies – it’s delivered to your inbox every Sunday morning. Anti-Racism Club is also looking for supporters on Patreon.

Let’s all do our part

The resources listed above are not exhaustive by any means. We encourage you to do your own research, and if you find other resources or initiatives, please leave them as a comment and we will add them to this article. Finally, please consider signing our petition (again, thank you Suhas for leading this) to ensure no Black researcher is denied a visa to attend AI conferences in Canada (whenever we can safely gather again) – many Black researchers were denied visas for NeurIPS 2019. We’d like to send a message to the Government of Canada that opportunities in AI research should be accessible to all.

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