Equality: a reading list

category: notes

The world isn’t as equal as it may seem to people who are white, heterosexual and able-bodied. This is a reading list about the inequality that they experience a lot less of. It has books about the everyday experiences of people who are underprivileged, what identity means, how racism and sexism manifest themselves and what we can do about that.

A quick disclaimer: I’m not an expert in any of these subjects, just an interested reader. This selection is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is helpful to others.

Goldfish in bowls don’t know what water looks like, because they’re in water. That they cannot leave their bowl is a fact of their lives. The thing is… people sometimes have the same problem. When they look at society, they don’t always see all structures that exist within it. Structures like racism and sexism, for instance.

The problem that is a common theme throughout all books in this list: people who aren’t affected by bad structures, often have a wildly unrealistic idea of what they mean and how common they are. Unlike goldfish though, those people have it relatively easy to peek outside of their bubble. Listening to or reading about what people with different perspectives experience is a good habit, and what I would encourage anyone with privilege to do.

(If, reading this, you find yourself thinking “but I’m not privileged”, but you are white, male and/or heterosexual, you most likely are. Sorry.)

When you’re better aware of inequality, you’re better equipped to speak up against it. Why do I post this on my mostly tech blog? Well, if a majority of tech workers is unaware of inequality and creates technology, we risk ending up with tech that reinforces inequality. That’s bad.

Book covers how to be right, why i'm no longer talking to white peopel about race, white fragiility and misogynation

Sexism is everywhere and always

Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism project, which collects experiences from women around the world. Misogynation is a collection of her essays about sexism, many of which draw from the experiences she collected as well as solid statistics. She answers a wide range of questions people may have about sexism, and provides excellent analysis of the phenomenon in the workplace, on our streets, at home, in healthcare, in politics and in education. I admire how she combines serious and humorous. Many feminists, Bates explains, get attacked for being ‘oversensitive’ and ‘too negative’, but this kind of response ’normalises and engrains the treatment of women as second class citizens, opening the door for everything else’. Yes. Providing an enormous range of examples, Bates shows that gender inequality is very real, often pretty ridiculous and that we should and can fight it successfully.

Misogynation by Laura Bates (for some of the essays, see also: Laura Bates on sexism in The Guardian)

Racism is a system

Teaching workshops about racism in workplaces around the world, Robin DiAngelo noticed certain patterns in the attitudes of white people when confronted with racism and their part in it (everone has a part in it). They get defensive, angry and upset. She calls this white fragility: the phenomenon of white people unable to deal their racial stress. It’s painful to read about this, especially when compared to the actual problem: the experiences of people who are affected by racism itself.

Racism is not a badly intended person being racist to another per se, it is the system, DiAngelo explains. It is our society in which wealth is not equally distributed between people from different races, and in which prejudice is concealed in euphemisms like “bad neighbourhood”. That system is shaped best for white people, therefore it you are white you benefit, whether you like (or want) it or not. DiAngelo explains it much better than I can, so I would really urge you to pick it up, and/or read Alice Bartlett’s notes about White Fragility, which inspired me to read it.

White fragility: why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin DiAngelo

Blame the liars, not the lied to

James O’Brien is a radio presenter who talks to people phoning in from all across the UK. He found that a lot of his callers have been lead to believe falsehoods by cheap journalists that prioritise clicks and paper sales above truthseeking. His book How to be right in a world gone wrong is fundamentally about challenging their bogus arguments. This takes patience and confidence, neither of which O’Brien lacks in. If we don’t share them, we owe it to ourselves to challenge beliefs, myths and lies about subjects like LGBT rights, islam and Brexit.

Blame the liars, not the lied to, is the lesson in this book: O’Brien blames the media more than individuals who rely on them. If you can stand it that O’Brien is sometimes a bit full of himself —I think he does sufficient self-reflection, but that may be me being a non-native speaker of English— this is a very entertaining read. It may help in convincing less enlightened family, friends or acquaintances.

How to be right in a world gone wrong, by James O’Brien

A British perspective on race

In Why I’m no longer talk to white people about race, Reni Eddo-Lodge confronts us with a comprehensive account of the history of (British) racism and slavery, and describes heartbreaking accounts of racism in cities like Bristol. The reason that this is important, she explains, is that too many (white) people think there is no racism problem, which is largely because history of racism isn’t taught in most British schools and people don’t do enough self-study. If the title puts you off, definitely read it. The problem of talking to white people about race, Eddo-Lodge explains, is that they tend to not accept racism exist and make it about themselves instead. That wastes the time of people who want to fight racism, because they now need to spend it on arguments irrelevant to the actual issue. Eddo-Lodge kindly takes the time to articulate why there’s no such thing as reverse racism (true racism requires power) and what’s wrong with being colour blind (‘I don’t care which colour people are’ can easily be an attitude of denying racism, which only works if it doesn’t affect you, i.e. you have the privilege to be white).

Like DiAngelo, Eddo-Lodge explains the fight against racism isn’t one against specific persons, i.e. nobody should feel personally threatened. It is about racism as a structure that has devastating consequences for people of colour, including lower grades, less benefit of the doubt, lower pay and less representation in the media.

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (see also: Eddo-Lodge’s original blog post)

Racist search engines and algorithms

When a friend told Safiya Umoja Noble to do an online search for ‘black girls’, she was shocked to see what other suggested terms came up, and how that compared to searching for, say, ‘white girls’. It is excruciating. In her book Algorithns of oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble shows numerous shocking examples of how search engines contribute to more racism. She seems to put the blame on companies like Google for capitalising on racism, but with Ockham’s razor in mind I feel that could be unrelated, wouldn’t anyone who tries to index the web, also index the racism on it? But that’s not the point: when the first few pages of many search results in the largest search engine reinforce racial bias, a lot of people’s online information gets racially biased. Search engines could do something about this problem and have both the technical possibilities and moral obligation. Especially because the problem is likely to be much bigger when applied to other algorithms. Racial bias in systems that make decisions for the police for example, for instance, see also Inspecting algorithms for bias in MIT Technology Review and When algorithms discriminate in The New York Times. The author’s point is solid, but I wasn’t a big fan of the argumentation or writing style.

Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism, by Safiya Umoja Noble (see also: Safiya Umoja Noble’s TED talk)

Book covers making of a man, algorithms of oppression, the lies that bind

Making of a man

Trans people get asked odd questions, philosopher/writer Maxim Februari explains in De maakbare man (in Dutch, translations available), so he decided to write this short book to answer some of them. While he’s at it, he also critiques various legal and administrative burdens trans people face, and how our world is shaped by specific norms when it comes to sex and gender. Februari’s first person account is a great introduction to transsexuality. Interesting notes on the absolute inappropriateness of certain questions, the difference between sex and gender and what some of his environment’s responses were to Februari’s transition.

De maakbare man: notities over transseksualiteit by Maxim Februari (Dutch, available in English as Making of a man)

Are identities a lie?

People feel part of their identity, behave according to it and are treated in specific ways because of it. Yet, as the Ghanese-British philosopher Kwame Appiah shows in The lies that bind, reality is more complex than identities based on gender, class, creed (religion), colour, country and culture suggest. They bind people together, but they are also made up. In his very eloquent book, Appiah shows that none of these concepts refer really to one thing: there’s no such thing as having an English, gay or Muslim identity, because all three can vary wildly depending on time and place. He can know it, as someone who has many different identities. While many of the books in this list talk in terms of identity, this one provides excellent and thought-provoking analysis of what that means.

The lies that bind by Kwame Anthony Appiah (see also: Appiah’s Reed lectures about the same subject, also available as a podcast)

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Frozen Rockets replied: ”Books about the everyday experiences of people who are underprivileged, what identity means, how racism and sexism manifest themselves and what we can do about that” Great list by @hdvhiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2019-0…
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???????? “Equality: a reading list” ???? hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2019-0…
Hidde de Vries (@hdv) is a freelance front-end and accessibility specialist in Rotterdam (NL), conference speaker and workshop teacher. Currently, he works for the W3C in the WAI team (views are his own). Previously he was at Mozilla, the Dutch government replied:

Wow, the year only has 8 days left! Time for a review.

Like last year, I’ve divided this into highlights and things I learned.

Highlights

Projects

In the first half year of 2019, I continued my project at Mozilla’s Open Innovation team, building their People directory, and worked in the City of The Hague on accessibility and the internal design system.

In July I started a new project: at the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), I am now working as part of the European Commission-funded WAI-Guide project. My work there is focused on improving the accessibility of/in tools that create web content, like CMSes. In short: we want more accessibility both for content editors (a good editing experience) and for end users (good output).

Apart from my work at the W3C, I’ve been doing the occasional WCAG audit and accessibility/CSS workshop in my own capacity too.

Speaking

Last year I spoke at my first conference. This year I got the opportunity to do new (and some older) talks in various places.

In March, I did a talk called It’s the markup that matters at De Voorhoede. It was part of their Future Proof Components event, and covered building accessible components, accessibility trees and the AOM.

At WordCamp Rotterdam and Inclusive Design Ghent, I shared 6 ways to make your site more accessible, based on my experience looking at common accessibility problems that front-end developers can do something about.

In October, I presented a very short lightning talk at the Web We Want session at View Source Conference, about how some accessibility problems could cease to exist if browsers would automatically fix them. The problems: zoomability, readability, color contrast and focus indication (the first three are each solved in at least one browser, the fourth has not). This talk, shockingly, won both the jury and audience award.

Also in October was a talk called Breaking barriers with your CMS at the Fronteers Jam Session (on behalf of W3C/WAI). This presented some of my recent work at WAI: it explained ATAG and the role of the CMS in accessibility efforts.

At the Design in Government Conference in November, I talked about the case for web accessibility from philosophical ethics, attending on behalf of W3C, and I did an updated version of my graphic design on the web talk in Dutch for Freshheads in Tilburg.

Then in December, I joined dotCSS to talk about the history of CSS: On the origin of cascades put some of that in a Darwin-themed talk. The venue was enormous and intimidating, and there was transport strikes, but the event itself was excellent, with a great atmosphere and very well organised.

I also did a number of in-house talks and workshops, about CSS Layout, ARIA and accessibility guidelines.

Reading

I read much more than last year (72 books so far), and have written more about books on this blog (see reading list about equality and reading list about tech and society). Reading more books helped me read less social media, watch less video and generally relax more.

Some notes:

  • Audiobooks are great as you can read them in situations where holding a book doesn’t work (e.g. walking a dog, housework)
  • To read more, finding the right books is half of the work (I mean, not literally… but it is important). I found more people to follow on Goodreads, keep a close eye on the literary supplements in the papers and love posts like 2018: books in review by Karolina Szczur.
  • Dutch libraries have ebooks and audiobooks that can be ‘borrowed’ via apps.

Writing

This year marked over 100 posts on this blog, I wrote 24 posts (including this one).

Some posts that people found interesting:

I also contributed to the Mozilla Hacks blog, writing Indicating focus to improve accessibility and How accessibility trees inform assistive tech. Thanks to Havi Hoffman for the opportunity!

Cities

This year I traveled to Antwerp, Berlin, Bristol, Essen, Ghent, Nice, Paris, Taipei and Vienna, using trains where possible, but I need to do better at that.

Things I learned

Here’s some random things that I learned about in the past year:

  • Recently I started working on an app with Svelte, the front-end framework that doesn’t ship in its entirety to the user’s runtime, but tries to compile as much as possible to vanilla JavaScript. Small bundles, yay!
  • As I started my project at the W3C, I learned a lot the standards process, the dynamics in Working Groups and the bots that help run teleconferences.
  • A large part of my work centered around authoring tools, or tools that create web content, and how they can help bring more accessibility in the world.
  • I became increasingly aware of the role of surveillance capitalism in the world.
  • I learned to love AirTable as a way to organise and plan the non-coding parts of my work, which are becoming a larger part of the whole

In any case, I’d like to thank the readers of this blog for reading and sharing the posts I’ve published, it means a lot. I wish you all a great 2020!

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