Flat White

What’s woke this week

27 February 2019

7:26 AM

27 February 2019

7:26 AM

In the woke-honoured tradition of ‘If it ain’t woke, then fix it’ the usual suspects were woking up a storm last week with yet more trans rights, blackface controversy and…

Adam’s apple pie in the sky

A report on Vice’s Motherboard last week examined a study by Os Keyes, a PhD student of ‘the intersection of human-computer interaction and social science’ at the University of Washington. The study – The Misgendering Machines: Trans/HCI Implications of Automatic Gender Recognition – focussed on the biases allegedly programmed into facial recognition software. This kind of software is increasingly used at airports and in law enforcement and reasonable concerns have been raised in the past about its accuracy. Reportedly Amazon’s Rekognition tool (sounding ominously like something from Nineteen Eighty Four) somewhat amusingly AND adding meaning to the term ‘mugshot’) misidentified members of congress as police suspects.

But Keyes’ concerns are not related to real issues of privacy and surveillance. He views the problem of automatic gender recognition from the prism of trans rights. But, of course. Motherboard’s article quotes Keyes:

Such a model fundamentally erases transgender people, excluding their concerns, needs and existences from both design and research. The consequence has been a tremendous under representation of transgender people in the literature, recreating discrimination found in the wider world. AGR research fundamentally ignores the existence of transgender people, with dangerous results.

Keyes was particularly concerned that a previous research paper on AGR from the National Institute of Standards and Technology mentioned potentially using facial recognition software to sound an alarm around women’s bathrooms if men came too close:

Precisely why this technology is necessary for bathroom access control is not clear… The only clue comes from the NIST report which states that: ‘the cost of falsely classifying a male as a female… could result in allowing suspicious or threatening activity to be conducted.

Keyes finds this a disturbing argument. Try telling that to the victims of the Kogarah dance studio sexual assault last November, among others.

And Keyes’ very woke solution to the ‘problem’? Making computer science students attend ethics and gender studies classes. Ah, more woke geeks. Just what the world needs. Pity that old Adam’s apple is such a dead giveaway, huh.

More blackface shameface

I really thought that recent outbreaks of blackface controversy had mined the issue for all it was worth but sadly, no. No more blackface at the coalface or fashion faux pas, though. This time it’s your beauty routine that could trigger wokesters who’ve come out of the bathroom and on to Twitter to point the finger at the racist connotations of charcoal facemasks. Personally, I’m a little sceptical at claims that amorphous carbon will unblock your pores and improve your skin, but the blackface criticism goes straight to hyperbole, the favourite ground of Twitter woke warriors. It was reported last week that they have been taking to their keyboards with comments such as:

Aren’t we ever going to address how the Charcoal Mask takes blackface up to 11? You put it on, it looks really racist, then you pull off the black to get flawless skin.

And:

Racism is so insidious that you can promote blackface for years under the guise of ‘pore mask’ and it goes unchecked.

Don’t hold your breath for someone to call out ‘people of colour’ for using white clay masks.

Goop dupe scoop

Netflix, in yet another proof of its wonderfully woke credentials, last week announced a deal with Gwyneth Paltrow’s appropriately-named, multi-tentacled lifestyle and wellness empire, Goop. A suitably dramatic announcement by Goop’s chief content officer Elise Loehnen stated that they will be producing a docuseries (yes, it’s a thing) of 30 minute episodes that will “utilize experts, doctors, and researchers to examine issues relating to physical and spiritual wellness” and “address larger thematic questions the Goop audience has about leading optimal lives.

That uncritical audience has for years been swallowing the load of goop peddled by Paltrow and her cronies despite warnings from health professionals, scientists and researchers about the dangers of following her advice and buying some of her loonier products. Just last year Goop was fined for making unsubstantiated marketing claims and a deal with Condé Nast was pulled when Paltrow wouldn’t agree to the publisher fact-checking articles in the proposed magazine. But at least we can rest assured that Paltrow is leading an optimal life, courtesy of her $250 million empire.

Loehnen also said of Paltrow “She’s always looking for white space. Whether it’s developing physical products or thinking of content. With this show, I think she’s only really interested in opportunities where we can uniquely be ourselves and do things potentially disruptive”. Since Goop’s particular blend of celebrity lifestyle and health misinformation packaged as homespun wellness advice is an evidence-free, science-free and critical thought-free zone I think we all know where all that white space is – between the ears of the peddlers and the duped alike.

Honourable mentions

We just can’t cover it all so honourable mentions are necessary this week. The first goes to calls for Orange County to change the name of John Wayne airport in the wake of recent publicity of a ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ interview he gave to Playboy magazine in 1971. The second is for the organising committee of the Paris Olympic Games, who have nominated breakdancing to be included as a sport for the 2024 games. Such a pity the different inner boroughs of New York City aren’t countries.

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