Othering and Projection: Chinese is confusing vs. Chinese are confused

In English, a person says, “It’s all Greek to me,” when they do not understand the words of someone else. In Greek, when a person does not understand, they say it sounds like Chinese. Many languages have an expression that names another language as epitome of unintelligibility. It turns out that in a directed graph, most languages converge on Chinese as the unintelligible language.

Directed graph shows various languages as nodes with arrows pointing at other languages, eventually pointing to the 'Chinese' node. The 'Chinese' node points to 'Heavenly Script'.

This is understandable. Chinese writing, especially Traditional Chinese, is very visually complex. Chinese characters are logograms, which makes learning how to read Chinese difficult.

However, there is a difference between finding Chinese writing confusing and alleging that Chinese people are confused.

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This is an example of sexism in tech recruitment.

This is an example of unconscious sexism in tech recruitment that assumes that women are bad with math and computers.

A public transit ad shows a brain with two hemispheres. A box pointing to the left hemisphere asks, 'Can you solve one of our puzzles?' A box pointing to the right hemisphere asks, 'Can you explain it to your mom?' Text at the bottom says, 'We're hiring hackers with people skills. itasoftware.com/careers' There is a real yellow sticky note stuck on to the ad that says, 'My mom has a PhD in math.'

The yellow sticky note says, “My mom has a PhD in math”.

Close up of yellow sticky note that says, 'My mom has a PhD in math'

I am not a mother, but if I reproduced, I would be.

The job ad is also based on the same stereotype of female technical ineptitude as “So simple, your mother could do it”.

Original photo by Jessie Bennett (via Sociological Images and Geek Feminism Blog)

Discrimination against job applicants with non-white names continues.

Muslim ‘refused job because of his name’ accuses airline bosses of racism:

A Muslim airport worker has accused airline Cathay Pacific of racism after he was refused a job interview – only to be offered one when he applied two days later using a fake white British-sounding name.

Algerian-born Salim Zakhrouf applied to Cathay Pacific for a job as a passenger services officer at Heathrow Airport.

Mr Zakhrouf, 38, who has lived in Britain since 1991 and is a UK citizen, was told by email he had not been selected for interview.

But applying 48 hours later as ‘Ian Woodhouse’ with an identical CV and home address, he was invited for an interview by the same personnel officer who had first refused him.

via Resist racism, who points out, “For clarity:  My name is not the problem, as others have suggested.  Racism is the problem.”.


Related links:

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The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality

People who consider themselves fully rational individuals are ignorant about basic psychology and their own minds.

It is easy for white men in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to perceive themselves as more rational than other groups, because our society associates rationality with whites, men, and STEM professionals. When white men in STEM fields believe in this stereotype, they might assume that bias is more common in non-white people, women, and people in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. After all, these other groups seem to want to discuss bias more often, and unexamined associative “reasoning” would link bias to those who bring up the topic of bias. Under logical scrutiny, however, it does not follow that the act of thinking about bias makes one more biased.

Green Red Blue
Purple Blue Purple


Blue Purple Red
Green Purple Green


the Stroop effect refers to the fact that naming the color of the first set of words is easier and quicker than the second.

A basic tenet of contemporary psychology is that mental activity can be unconscious. Unconscious simply refers to any mental activity that is “not conscious”, and it is not equivalent to the unscientific New Age concept of the Subconscious. A good example of unconscious mental activity interfering with conscious intentions is the Stroop effect (right). If you try to name the colours of the colour words aloud, the first set of colours will be easier to name than the second set of colours, because you unconsciously read the words. This means that you do not have full control over your thoughts and behaviour, and your willpower or logical reasoning cannot overcome the unconscious cultural bias of being able to read in English. Of course, there are other unconscious cultural biases aside from English literacy bias.

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Scientists are prone to unconscious sexism proved by science.

In How the sex bias prevails (The Age), Shankar Vedantam describes a randomized, controlled psychology experiment that proves the existence of unconscious sexism in the laboratory:

Madeline Heilman at New York University once conducted an experiment in which she told volunteers about a manager. Some were told, “Subordinates have often described Andrea as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. She is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees’ creativity.”

Other volunteers were told, “Subordinates have often described James as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. He is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees’ creativity.”

The only difference between what the groups were told was that some people thought they were hearing about a leader named Andrea while others thought they were hearing about a leader named James. Heilman asked her volunteers to estimate how likeable Andrea and James were as people. Three-quarters thought James was more likeable than Andrea.

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Dear IT industry: “Meritocracy” does not mean what you think it means.

IT culture is so ignorant about how society works that what would be satire in other contexts is actually how most IT people think. IT people in general are not exactly experts on how people and society work, yet too many individuals in IT like to make bold, confident, and unsupported claims about meritocracy.

Vivek Wadhwa of TechCrunch writes:

Is the Valley deliberately keeping these groups out? I don’t think so. Silicon Valley is, without doubt, a meritocracy. In this land, only the fittest survive. That is exactly the way it should be. For the Valley’s innovation system to achieve peak performance, new technologies need to constantly obsolete the old, and the world’s best techies need to keep making the Valley’s top guns compete for their jobs. There is no room for government mandated affirmative action, and our tech companies shouldn’t have to apologize for hiring the people they need. But at the same time, without realizing it, the Valley may be excluding a significant part of the American population that could be making it even more competitive. False stereotypes may be getting in the way of greater innovation and prosperity.

“Meritocracy” means “a society or social system in which people get status or rewards because of what they achieve”. If some people get status and rewards partly because they are white and male, then the system is not a meritocracy. Such a system would have a racial and gender bias, just like every other industry.

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“I only read Playboy for the articles.” – a study on unconscious bias

The conceit of deceit (The Economist):

YOU are deciding between two magazines to read. The one you choose just happens to feature photos of women in very small swimsuits. But you do not, you claim, pick that particular magazine for the bathing beauties; it happens to have more interesting articles, or better coverage of copper mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You will say this even in the midst of a lab experiment that has been set up so that the only possible difference between the two magazines is the presence (or absence) of swimsuits.

Such was the finding of Zoë Chance, a doctoral student, and Michael Norton, a marketing professor, both at Harvard Business School. The pair were investigating how people justify “questionable” behaviour (Mr Norton’s word) to themselves after the fact. They asked 23 male students to choose between two sports magazines, one with broader coverage and one with more feature articles. The magazine which also happened to contain a special swimsuit issue was picked three-quarters of the time, regardless of the other content. But asked why they chose that particular magazine, the subjects pointed to either the sports coverage or the greater number of features—whichever happened to accompany the bikinis.

This may not seem surprising: the joke about reading Playboy for the articles is so old Ms Chance and Mr Norton borrowed it for the title of their working paper. But it is the latest in a series of experiments exploring how people behave in ways they think might be frowned upon, and then explain how their motives are actually squeaky clean. Managers, for example, have been found to favour male applicants at hypothetical job interviews by claiming that they were searching for a candidate with either greater education or greater experience, depending on the attribute with which the man could trump the woman. In another experiment, people chose to watch a movie in a room already occupied by a person in a wheelchair when an adjoining room was showing the same film, but decamped when the movie in the next room was different (thus being able to claim that they were not avoiding the disabled person but just choosing a different film to watch). As Ms Chance puts it: “People will do what they want to do, and then find reasons to support it.”

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