The Enormous Backlash I Endured for Going Public About Being a Relapsing Alcoholic Mother of a Newborn

“I’d imagine that people would hiss at you on the street,” the journalist said on the phone. She was calling to talk to me about the memoir I had just published, Drunk Mom, about relapsing on alcohol a month after giving birth to my son—after three years of sobriety. Her statement made me imagine people like snakes on the street, their snarly-snake faces, hissing, hissing. I wanted to laugh, but that would’ve been a mistake: “Bydlowska laughs at the suggestion that people would be upset over her memoir.” Instead, I said, “It sounds as if you have this story written already,” which is what ended up in the first paragraph of the story when it came out three days later.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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