AI and EDI: reflections on making BlackTalk - a new podcast

Updated: Jun 17



Last week Google announced a new dermatology app the doesn’t work on darker skinned people. A few days earlier, 60 Minutes did a piece on facial recognition technology used in policing and how it has led to wrongful arrests of Black and Brown people. However, the reporting completely erased the contributions of three Black women who pioneered this work – Joy Buolamwini, Deborah Raji and Timnit Gebru.


Here in Canada, an 81 year old Black man, a retired BC Supreme Court Justice, was arrested while walking along the seawall in Vancouver. He was apparently “mistaken” for a suspect who was 40 years younger.


It’s been a year since the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd and the global Black Lives Matter movement. Amid promises to do better and the launch of numerous equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, we’re still seeing oppressive patterns play out. They show up in everyday life as the release of bad technology, discriminatory media practices and racial biases in policing.


I’m proud to be part of a team launching a new podcast about anti-Black racism and Black achievement - BlackTalk. The show is the vision of Professor Andy Knight and co-hosted by honours political science student Zack Penddah. It’s an attempt to shed some light on systemic racism while also celebrating Black achievement. We want people to open their eyes, to challenge their thinking, to reflect on injustices and to demand real change.


The star lineup for the show is a testament to the relationships that Dr. Knight has cultivated over the years. When Andy told me that we would have Sir Hilary Beckles as our first guest, I was a little skeptical, but he made it happen!


Sir Hilary Beckles is Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies and a global expert on Black slavery, the economic and social impacts of colonialism and reparations. His story sets up the season, tracing how racist colonial practices established in the Caribbean migrated north to the US and Canada.


As Canadians, we like to think we are an inclusive, multi-cultural society. Yet, hearing personal stories from our guests, racism in Canada is real and undeniable. One of the goals for this show is to open hearts. Audio is a powerful medium that can deliver an emotional punch.

  • My heart breaks when I hear a U of A student named Rebecca share how a customer hurled a racial slur at her while she was working at Tim Hortons and how her manager did NOTHING to defend her.

  • My heart breaks when Professor Ubaka Ogbogu candidly recounts how workplace discrimination at the University of Alberta impacted him personally.

  • My heart breaks when Dr. Cecil Foster talks about being pushed out of a career in Canadian journalism because of racism, when Celina Caesar-Chavannes says parliament was not made for her and when Dr. Bukola Salami recalls the discrimination her parents faced despite their Canadian education.

We end the season with Dr. Ivelaw Griffith who has achieved outstanding success as an academic and later President of a university, but despite these credentials, still faces discrimination as a Black man. Perhaps my absolute favourite moment is an exchange between Dr. Griffith and Zack about Guyana and Ghana and how people mix up the two places. The subtext in the conversation is that it's not only places that get mixed up.


We are training technology with discriminatory data and encoding it with our racist biases. That is made worse when mainstream media find white experts to claim the story of “discovering” the problem. This podcast is one attempt at reshaping the narrative, centering on Black people sharing their story.


SPECIAL THANKS:

So many people come together to make a great show! It's been a privilege to work with Andy, Zack and our talented technical producer, Tom Merklinger.


We were super fortunate to have Dyson Knight and Wendi contribute their track "Fling it Up" for our show music and to feature the lovely voice of Nicola Barriteau in our show intro and extro. Anna Chakravorty designed our impactful graphics.


A HUGE thanks to our many guests - Sir Hilary Beckles, Dr. Cecil Foster, Dr. Bukola Salami, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Dr. Ivelaw Griffith, Tom Davey, Ubaka Ogbogu, Temitope Oriola, Anne-José Villeneuve, Jean Walrond, Kehinde Adebogun, Hermon Afowork, Marvin Etruw, Emmanuel Kachere, Rebecca Oluwabiyi


Our show was generously supported through KIAS - the Kule Institute for Advanced Study - at the University of Alberta. Thank you to Casey Germain and Geoffrey Rockwell.


Thanks to the University of Alberta team at ARC for their assistance with our website. Thanks to both the University of Alberta communications team and The University of West Indies communications team for their assistance in promoting the show.


The podcast was produced at the University of Alberta. The University of Alberta acknowledges that we are located on Treaty 6 territory, and respects the histories, languages, and cultures of First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and all First Peoples of Canada, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant community.

-- Katrina Ingram


#BlackTalk #BLM #AntiblackRacism #RacialBias #MediaBias