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Reflections on race 4/3: current progress

9 May

I realize that part 3 of my series hasn’t been written yet, but I had a few quick thoughts that I wanted to write as a wrap-up of the series.

To be fair to Duke… actually I can’t really finish that sentence.  Via this series I’ve been engaged with a number of Duke alumni (and my spouse is an alum), who care about social justice issues and press Duke to move forward on progressive fronts, and the school has done things like raise its minimum wage (except for contract workers…)  I can’t claim my alma mater is much better. Here’s a quote from that article:

“This is what happens every day in America,” she added. “These things are unfortunate, they’re disappointing, they’re disheartening, but they’re not shocking anymore.”

But something I find heartening is how much we hear about these events- that they’re dubbed newsworthy at all.  I remember when #MeToo came out, an actress said that she was not amazed that so many people had experienced harassment; she was amazed that anyone cared.  I confess I felt the same way- I just thought that most people have been harassed or assaulted, and that patriarchy and misogyny are just facts like the sky is blue.  Suddenly there was an avalanche of sexual assault stories, and people were reading them and listening and caring and a dialogue was happening!  And then real consequences started happening to perpetrator’s careers!  Yowza!  Yes, people want more consequences, but the fact that ANYTHING has happened is astonishing and encouraging to me.

I feel a similar way about racism- this stuff has always happened.  The difference now is that, for some reason, the media cares, and people read and interact with the media in different, interesting ways now.  There have always been readers and letters to the editor, but now there are hot takes and bloggers (oh hey!) and tweeters and virality.  Bob said this at that first panel- in the decades he’s been involved with activism, he’s never seen such a large, engaged and passionate base.  So I hope that these racist incidents and subsequent conversations are part of a slow, steady, sea change and reckoning of America with its deep seated inequities.  And yes, there will be pushback and backlash, but that’s how change happens.

One counterargument to my hopeful idea is that 24-hour cycles of journalism are now just irresponsible and building echo chambers of ideas.  For instance, Twitter user Osita Nwavenu found this story of a school in Ottawa which cancelled a yoga class once. The cancellation was maybe connected to a single student’s complaint about appropriation.

So yes, it’s absolutely true that this kind of predatory media “fake outrage” turning into real outrage amplifies discord in our conversations.  (Another example: “snowflake” students.  How many students really go to these elite colleges that I’m blogging about?)  But at least we’re having conversations, even if some people are yelling nonsense.  And I think that’s progress.

Honestly, linguistics is a big reason why I have hope and faith.  When I was in high school, “gay” was used as a pejorative all the time.  It still is, but not to the same extent.  Similar with “retarded”, which is being eradicated as part of an incredibly organized and dedicated effort (check out this op-ed from 2008 by Maria Shriver!).  In the fall of 2010 I learned about “The Other” in a sex and genders studies course.  Now I hear “othering” as a verb all the time.  The concept of “privilege” is now so widespread that people who don’t believe in it still have to engage with it and defend those beliefs.  “Intersectional”! “Non-binary gender”! Even “transgender”!  This stuff has left academia and is now in the wide world of radio DJs and Facebook mom groups (yes, these are the main ways I interact with people who do not live in my house).

My pregnancy last year was not great, and having a newborn is also difficult.  A year ago today I was struggling to finish my dissertation and TA a course with a six week old, and was hyperfocused on just my small life.  Now that the baby is sleeping and I have more of my brain back, I’m feeling more engaged and hopeful and excited and energized about our society instead of cynical and defeated and apathetically hopeless.

The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.  We will win.

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Reflections on race 2/3: “How Racial Identity Became Entrenched in America” workshop

19 Apr

 

This is a continuation of a series started in this post, based on the Duke Vigil Commemoration events at Alumni weekend.  MUCH of our historical discussion echoes strongly in today’s society.

The second event we attended was a discussion/workshop led by Professor Peter Wood and Ann Chinn, who founded and leads the Middle Passage Project, which puts historic markers at ports of entry for the twelve million Africans who came through the transatlantic slave trade.  Just look at how many sites they’ve identified, which are definitely not all in the South.

Peter reminded us of how long slavery has lasted in America (see the tweet above).  Coincidentally, Bree Newsome just tweeted about how long black resistance has existed:

Remarkably, Peter said that for the average African-American, their first ancestor in America arrived in 1760.  For the average white American, that date is 1900.  This reminded me of the phrase “all-American,” often used to describe a blonde, blue-eyed sport player.  But black Americans are way more American than white Americans if you go by how long their families have been here (and obviously Native Americans are the most American).

Even though Europeans and especially Brits knew about people of other races since the Roman ages, American racism began as a way to justify slavery, which was seen as necessary for economic development and growth.  As long as races stayed to their own countries, there were enough power dynamics in place to keep a mutual “respect” (might be stretching the word).  But once the transatlantic slave trade started looking good economically, scientists and legal and church officials started claiming that black people weren’t people at all, but another species.  One audience member pointed out that even the Catholic bishops said that baptism couldn’t change your “state”-black people were lesser-than and also not even people, even if they were baptized.

I was definitely confused about the entrenched racism, since Marco Polo was a name I had heard of (I have a remarkably poor grasp on European history).  But this economic explanation made a lot of sense- they didn’t need structural, institutionalized racism before, so hadn’t bothered to set it up.  Around 1650, Peter said that persecution due to and identification with religion was much stronger than with race.  But then Britain got hit by the Plague AND a big old Fire, so they had a shortage of labor.  At the same time, the Royal African Company was founded, and the stage was set for slavery of Africans.  Add in the American colonies and the fire was lit for racism, which we still feel the effects of today.

Our conversation was rambling and far-reaching and I can only hit a few of the points that were discussed.

  • Word choice matters.  Peter used “forced labor camps” instead of “slave plantations,” and “enslaved person” instead of “slave”.  I hadn’t heard either of these but I like them!  “Enslaved person” centers the person rather than the act that happened to them (slavery), sort of like person with schizophrenia or undocumented immigrant center the people vs. “schizophrenic” or “illegal.” Maybe “enslaved person” still isn’t satisfying “people-first language” but I like it better than slave.
  • A strong theme I’ve seen over the past few years that goes hand in hand with racism is white denial.  Ann talked about both positive and negative receptions of the Middle Passage Project- people like to say “that didn’t happen here” or “I’m not part of the problem.”  This reaction reminds me of how people got defensive on my behalf when I called myself racist- definitely a hair-trigger topic.  But we can’t move forward until people start talking about race, like this workshop, and like the communities that have embraced Ann’s project.
  • Did you know about John Punch, considered the first American slave?  There were some blurry times with indentured servitude and free blacks, but from Punch’s trial onward, blacks were slaves.  He ran away with two white indentured servants, and the white guys got their sentences extended for a few years, but he got lifetime slavery.  So officially, legally, skin color was now a reason to treat people differently.  I’d never known about this!
  • Reparations!  People react very negatively to the idea of individuals receiving checks because of wrongs done to their ancestors.  If inter-generational wealth and inter-generational trauma matter, then the American idea of “bootstraps” is bunk.  In a facebook group I’m in, people were asked how they made it to middle class.  Of hundreds of responses, almost all were either (a) helped by their parents/family to buy a house/car or get a job or (b) married someone who was in category (a).  It doesn’t discount the work you do to acknowledge that you’ve had help.  But if my wealth is not my doing, then others’ poverty may also not be their fault, and this radical idea is difficult.
  • Reparations part 2!  If we are to have reparations, they need to be future-thinking, not past-fixing.  For example, the Harlem Children’s Zone went literally door to door for blocks and did early intervention for every baby and every child they could find.  People love babies! Or at least, people love babies enough not to gripe that they shouldn’t be cared for/their parents shouldn’t receive education.
  • We had one #NotAllWhitePeople audience member who said two factually accurate points.  First, that most white Southerners at the time didn’t own slaves but were yeomen farmers, and the rich people were the ones who owned slaves.  Second, that African tribal leaders would trade captive Africans into slavery.  His unstated points, I think, were that not all white people should be blamed for slavery, and we should also blame black people for it.  He left before our discussion addressed his points in an interesting way (guess he didn’t really want to be engaged, but it’s ironic that he engaged us!)  First, that racism became more entrenched as a way to lift up those poor white farmers and make them feel differentiated from enslaved black people.  The institutional racism buffeted up the hierarchical society, as white farmers knew they weren’t on the bottom.  The slow erosion of institutional racism threatens white people in this situation–society is seen as a zero-sum game, so if black people rise, then therefore white people must fall.  My counter to this is that society is not a zero-sum game, and the more we raise people up, the more we all rise.
  • Second, part of why the transatlantic slave trade lasted so long was the lack of feedback loop: people left and didn’t come back to Africa.  One could argue that if tribes had known what was happening in America, they might not have shipped off their rivals.  How much do you have to hate someone to send them and their progeny off to live as slaves in America?  Unknown.  An audience member drew the parallel to the Nazi trains off to Jewish “work camps”-with no feedback, there was little resistance.  It’s hard because this is a counterfactual argument.  I find history difficult for this reason-things just happened they way they did and speculating on how people might have acted were circumstances different does not compute in my mind.

Phew!  Lots to unpack.  You can see why I wanted to write about the weekend; so much happened!  Anyways, this is post two, and hopefully I’ll get a post 3/3 up soon too.

Reflections on race 1/3: “Race, Class, and Gender” panel

16 Apr

Last weekend I went to Durham for the first time and visited Duke for my spouse’s 15th college reunion.  We were expecting to go on little tours and read some propagandist hyperbolic literature about how great Duke is and relax and catch up with old friends.  Instead, surprise! We spent much of the weekend thinking about and talking about race in America (one of my favorite topics).

I hadn’t heard of the Silent Vigil at Duke fifty years ago, when students held a vigil after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and combined that with demands for the university to recognize the union of black workers and pay them a fair wage.  Something like 2000 mostly white students sat on the lawn in front of the chapel for a week until the union of black workers was recognized.  [Great photos here.] For the reunion, a bunch of alumni put together a series of programming with conversations on equity, student activism, race, history, immigration, politics, and labor relations.  We got there too late for the kickoff panel on activism and equity, but we did go to two events as part of the Vigil Commemoration: a panel on Race, Class, and Gender, and a workshop/discussion group on how racial identity became entrenched in America.  Spurred by those we ended up in an hour and a half long discussion of race and policing and protesters over breakfast at our B&B with the innkeepers and another guest, who had led her own event on student activism.  These three posts are for me to work through everything that happened.  I wasn’t prepared and didn’t take notes, so this will be a reckoning of memory as well.

I felt hopeless and drained with the answer to the first question, when the moderator asked Bertie Howard, one of the main Vigil organizers, what she was thinking when she motivated the student participants in 1968 with a fierce speech about how they needed to stay quiet and peaceful and not riot.  Bertie responded that she hadn’t set out to inspire the masses with her leadership, as she did, but was just looking to survive.  She knew that if the students were rowdy and police were called, as one of the few black students she would be targeted.  And it was so exhausting and demoralizing when she talked about how she still feels out of place and targeted and questioned even with her fancy degrees.  It felt like we hadn’t made any progress in 50 years, and black women like her (or pregnant black women) (or black men waiting for a friend at Starbucks) are suffering the consequences of that daily insidious racism on which our country is based.  I mean, if felt exhausted just hearing her talk about her experience, that’s nothing compared to how she feels living it.

I had a funny conversation at the class party the next night with an Indian-Canadian about how, when we compare our Asian-American women experiences with black women, we’re totally fine and hunky-dory and have nothing to complain about.  But then we compare to white women and say hey, something’s not fair here and say white women have nothing to complain about.  But of course they do too!  This is the problem of oppression olympics.  It’s important to acknowledge that all marginalized people have different struggles, and solutions for one might not be for all, but we should still work on solutions.  Reparations for slavery may not directly benefit me, a Vietnamese-American women married to a white man, but when they happen they will lift up everyone in society.  Anything we can do to help one group will eventually help us all.  (Related: the concept of intersectionality.)

Speaking of white women, in the 1960s Duke had a separate women’s campus, now called East Campus, about a mile from the main campus/classrooms.  And there, the women had to sign in and out, and were locked in at 9 p.m., and didn’t get the housekeeping that the boys got.  Sara Evans spoke about the shock of finding a telegraph between the dean and her parents giving her, a grown woman, permission to go to Selma (Birmingham?) as an activist.   But she also talked about something that I run into regularly today.  The benefit of being in a women-only space is that all the leaders are women, so there are many leadership roles available for women.  I’ve run into this in my role as a woman in mathematics.  It’s sometimes easier as a woman to be a leader in a group of women than in a mixed gender group, because I don’t have any men to convince that they should listen to me.  And this is also true for any minority group.  I have yet to read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”  but I refer to the title often, because self-segregation leads to a safer, more comfortable space.  But being segregated by out-groups is isolating and disenfranchising.

It’s not surprising that I didn’t know about the vigil or the women’s campus, since I had no ties to Duke before my spouse, but I was surprised by how surprised he was when learning this relevant history of his alma mater.  Peter Wood talked about the critical importance of studying history and disseminating this information.  For instance, some claim that we’re in a post-racial society and lots and lots of time has passed since the end of slavery.  Peter pointed out that Michelle’s great-great-grandfather was a slave, so that’s four generations ago.  But slavery lasted for eight generations before that.  So we spent eight generations digging a giant pit (of institutionalized racism), and then four generations pretending that it’s not there, and now we’re trying to fill it.  But we need to look back in history to even understand what it looks like and what we’re trying to fight.  He’s a historian with a focus on South Carolina, and shared a fun fact: of the thirteen colonies, South Carolina was the richest at the time of the Declaration of Independence.  Because of slaves and slave labor.  He’s now working with white kids in Colorado to get them to understand the history of the American South and the history of blackness in Americans.  Pretty cool.

I sometimes wonder what these white male scholars are thinking about their own identities when they study marginalized groups.  My adviser for my Mellon Mays Undergraduate fellowship is a white anthropology professor specializing in Vietnam and southeast Asian studies.  He was an excellent adviser and met with me in Vietnam for my ethnographic research project in 2008, and no surprise, his Vietnamese is better than mine (I know no academic terms in Vietnamese except “university”).  Peter said no one was studying South Carolina or the history of African-Americans when he was in graduate school, and the established departments discouraged him from studying this.  So when the doors of academia were closed to people of color, he set the groundwork for studying the history of those people.  By the time black scholars could come around, there was already some infrastructure for their research.  It must be weird to be an expert on another group’s lived experience when you’re in the majority group.  I  think that being a good ally means amplifying the voices of those you’re allied with, but if you have a strong voice yourself, you should use that too.  This echoes Viet Thanh Nguyen’s recent op-ed, in which he wrote:

The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless. They’re simply not heard.

The moderator for the panel did an excellent job with focused, thoughtful questions driving the dialogue forward.  I wish I remembered more of the panel, though I did see someone video recording so hopefully that becomes available somewhere.  The final panelist, Bob Creamer, gave a rousing political speech about how he really believes in MLK’s words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  He said in his many years of political organizing, he has never seen the base as energized and engaged as it is today, and that even when we are unsure and unconfident, we must have faith that we will win.  I got a big kick out of his comically partisan rhetoric (which I agree with, to be fair).

So that was the first panel.  Stay tuned for further posts about the workshop (how racial identity became entrenched in America) and the casual discussion (race, police, and protesters today, with non-academics).

I am the 2018 AMS AAAS Mass Media Fellow!

11 Apr

Hi friends!  You may remember that I applied for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship and wrote about it in a post about failure and I even posted my application essay.  Good news: the American Mathematical Society is sponsoring my fellowship and I get to spend the summer in a NEWSROOM writing for the Raleigh News & Observer, covering science topics!

I spent three years bouncing around the staff of our high school paper.  I started as a feature writer because I have a “poet’s soul”, but turns out I can’t talk to people about their own poetic souls.  So then I switched to news, and became an assistant news editor, and then somehow became the entertainment editor.  I loved it!  One of the great accomplishments of my journalism life was mildly getting fired from my post and then immediately reinstated for circulating a petition to keep our editor-in-chief.  Let’s hope I don’t do that this summer.

I’m honored and excited to follow in the footsteps of many people I admire.  My fairy blogmother, friend, and mentor Evelyn Lamb blogs for the AMS and Scientific American, co-hosts a great math podcast, and freelances on top of all of that.  The other half of that excellent AMS blog is Anna Haensch, who is also a math professor at Duquesne.  And Josh Batson started the Yale Undergraduate Math Society, which I was part of, and kindly talked to me on the phone about career guidance even though we have never actually met.  Those are all AMS-sponsored past fellows.  My old boss from college, Jenny Laaser, is now a professor in chemistry at Pittsburgh and read my application materials, and was sponsored by not-the-AMS.

I essentially only applied to the Raleigh site so I could drive home on the weekends to see my kids, take the baby to swim lessons, and make a few dinners for them to eat during the week.  Obviously my spouse is capable of feeding them, but he’ll have a lot on his plate with two kids during the week so I might as well help however I can.  It’ll be a long ten weeks for them.

You can follow along with what I’m writing here or on Twitter.

This is a photo of me right now.

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Probably the N&O will have fewer distractions.  Yay!

 

School Segregation part 2b

26 Mar

I hang out on Twitter a lot, and I saw Courtney Gibbons wrote this great tweet:

Inspired by her, I wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer after reading an article about how Charlotte Mecklenberg schools are segregated.  I don’t think they published it, but I was so wound up that I wrote an entire op-ed piece about matching PTA donations.  Which was also not published!  So I’m putting it here!  And then today I read a longer, better piece about the same thing in the Washington Post.

[I]t released a report about parental contributions to school finances that noted that PTO revenue had reached more than $425 million in 2010 but was concentrated in affluent schools. This resulted in “considerable advantages for a small portion of already advantaged students,” the report said.

So here’s my take on this!

Opt In to Charlotte

Last week, I attended a silent auction fundraiser for our three year old’s preschool.  I bought two paintings and movie tickets and some ice cream gift cards, which cost $300.  But actually it set us back $600, because we pledged that for every dollar we donated to our school, we would donate a dollar to The Learning Collaborative, which provides tuition free preschool with hot food and transportation to low-income, single caregiver toddlers from at-risk neighborhoods.  It’s our small way of investing in Charlotte and fighting inequity.

According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school’s “Breaking the Link” report, which was mentioned in the article reporting Charlotte-Mecklenberg as the most segregated in North Carolina, in 2013 Charlotte ranked 50th in economic mobility out of the 50 most populous cities in the US.  In terms of opportunity and the American dream, we place dead last.  If parents, community members, and government leaders want our rank to rise, we all need to invest in public schools, which are the greatest incubator for social change.

School choice is a personal family decision, and I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t choose private schools.  But they should consider public schools, instead of immediately dismissing them, as I have heard many parents do when the high-income Dilworth and lower-income Sedgefield zones merged.  Joining a higher-income with a lower-income school is one way to more equitably distribute resources.

Of course, merging schools is up to CMS, and it’s difficult–Those zones are right next to each other, while other high income schools are surrounded by other high income zones.  We parents can pair higher income and lower income schools in another way, without government intervention—via the Parent Teacher Associations.

Families in both private and public schools invest further in their children’s educations by donating to their PTAs.  We can opt in to Charlotte by matching our PTA donations—for every dollar we spend on our child’s school, we can donate an equal dollar to a higher need school.  We can do this on an individual basis or civic-minded higher-income PTAs can set an example of community building and investment by pairing up with lower-income schools.

PTAs are direct lines to the needs of a community.  They pay for books, playground or sports equipment, classroom upgrades, or whatever else a particular school needs.  Through the PTA, we can invest in Charlotte by investing in the city’s children.

Since high income families donate to high income schools, our PTA donations exacerbate inequity.  “In some instances, equity means giving those with less more,” the report says.  But PTA money does the exact opposite, giving more to those kids who already have more.  Donating to other PTAs can help give more to those with less.

Matching PTA donations is not a viable long-term strategy to fight structural inequity. One public high school student told me that half of his freshman year teachers had left his school by senior year, and he had had four guidance counselors in as many years—some had fled to South Carolina for better pay.  CMS needs to pay teachers and guidance counselors more.  Donating PTA money won’t solve inequity, but it is a concrete and easy action we can take while waiting for them to find solutions.

There’s one other concrete thing parents can do: advocate for mixed-income and affordable housing.  Charlotte’s lauded goal of building 5000 affordable housing units within three years is great, but those units need to go somewhere in the city.  Many fret about property values if affordable housing units moves into the neighborhood.  We can rise above that and say, if not here, where?  If not now, when?  And if not us, who will help make Charlotte a place where every child has the opportunities they deserve?

 

 

The cost of fairness in location-based ads

13 Mar

Hi!  Below is the article that I submitted as part of my application for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship.  My friend Chris Riederer helpfully sent me a short paper that he’d written with his adviser, and I very lightly dive into it.  I’ll write a quick summary of the paper first.

They apply an algorithm that other people had proved exists (which guarantees individual fairness) to real-world data to figure out what the costs are of maximizing revenue.  Here the costs are to group fairness.  Individual fairness means that similar users see similar ads.  They use probability distributions to represent the likelihood that users will see certain ads – so if two users are similar, their probability distributions will also be similar.  Group fairness means that the expectation of two random users from your two groups will be very close. In both individual and group fairness, we’ve implicitly been using a choice of metric.  The theoretical algorithm guarantees that this choice of metric is equal to the earth mover’s metric.

Jeremy Kun just blogged a nice explanation of earthmover distance.  Once they had that, and a ton of data that they trawled from Instagram, they compared fairness between groups depending on how precisely they’d recorded locations.  For instance, my current latitude and longitude is (35.212294, -80.817132).  If they looked at users at those coordinates, they’d see the 11 other people in this coffeeshop with me.  But if they truncate the coordinates to (35.21, -80.81), they’d see the millions of people around Charlotte, NC.  If they targeted ads for this coffeeshop just to the 11 of us, we’d definitely click on those ads.  It’s a coincidence that the people here right now are reasonably diverse between gender and race.  But if we were all white women, you’d see a difference between the people you didn’t target (everyone outside the shop, which includes non-white people and non-women) and the people you did target.  You generally don’t want to be discriminatory in your ads, but you also want to be effective–this coffeeshop doesn’t want to spend money advertising to users in South Carolina.

OK here’s the article!  The first news-like article I’ve written since high school.  Also, I interviewed Janice Tsai, a privacy expert at Mozilla, and I really appreciated her generosity of time with me as I stumbled through asking her questions.

Sample News Story

When you post on social media, companies can save your location data with different levels of precision, like by venue, by neighborhood, or by zip code. They personalize ads so that people who go the same places will see the same ads, which increases advertisers’ revenue.  But according to researchers from Columbia University, these location-based ads can lead to racial and gender disparities in how often they appear.

Computer scientists Christopher Riederer and Augustin Chaintreau studied the cost of enforcing fairness in location-based ads.  They applied an algorithm to Instagram data that guarantees that two similar users will see similar ads, and found differences in how often ads were targeted to white and minority users, and to women and men.

“When you do this binning of locations, people who look similar to a human eye will look pretty different,” said Riederer.  “It leaves more room for unfairness.”

Using face recognition software to detect race and a Social Security database to predict gender based on first names, the researchers saved hashtags, location data, and URLS of Instagram photos from over 40,000 users, with 1753 labeled by race and around 20,000 labeled by gender.

They sorted whether users visited locations to different levels of precision using the latitude and longitude of the posts.  Then they used the sorted data to identify users who were more likely to include certain hashtags: #fashion, #travel, and #health.

They fed this data to a model advertiser who targeted these users with an ad that resulted in $2 of revenue, versus a generic ad which raised $1 of revenue.  The most precise locations made more money: for instance, $1021 for #fashion users over a baseline of $902.

“This is where marketers say targeting is beneficial because it increases engagement rates,” privacy expert Janice Tsai said. “The question is, what happens next? For the normal person, does that mean lost opportunity, or more ads?”

More precise locations resulted in disparities between racial and gender groups.  Using one decimal place of precision, whites saw an ad 20% more often than minorities, while at four decimal places, that difference jumped to over 80%.  It’s unclear how significant this is- grouping the users into two random groups also resulted in an almost 80% difference.  The race difference was higher than the random difference, which Riederer said shows evidence that a disparity can arise from applying theoretical algorithms to the real world.  Further research is needed to find the size of that disparity.

“Some papers define fairness and show that you can use an algorithm,” Riederer said. “We want to inspire other people to take these solutions and apply them to real data sets.”

As algorithms have become more sophisticated, more instances of inadvertent discrimination have arisen.  In 2017, Facebook accepted “Jew-haters” as an advertising category and Stanford researchers claimed to create an artificially intelligent “gaydar”.  In 2015, Google showed an ad for an executive job position 1816 times to male profiles and only 311 times to female profiles.

“The question comes back to fairness,” Tsai said.  “Maybe the women would’ve clicked if they had a chance to see this ad more.”

While the study weighs the costs and benefits of enforcing fairness for advertisers, the public must also consider the price of location based advertising.

“People want to use the internet and use these things that don’t cost them any dollars, and in return their information is collected,” Riederer said.  “It seems like a reasonable tradeoff, but what is the cost of that going to be? If there’s something out there that scrapes data about me, and now I can’t get a loan, or health care, or bail, that’s a bigger concern.”

Understanding how bias creeps into algorithms, like through levels of precision in location data, is key to preventing it.  There are no regulations that require ads must be shown equally to different groups of people.  Only the threat of bad publicity encourages companies to fight bias.

“The shame or people being mad at things used to last much longer,” Tsai said.  “Our attention span is so short now that companies realize if they wait two days, something else will sweep the nation.”

Tsai suggests that companies proactively fight bias, which will give them positive publicity and perhaps keep them ahead of regulators.

“The best thing to do is to have some allocation for random ads,” Tsai said. “So you might see an ad for being a blacksmith or a CEO even if it’s not optimal for your job search.”

Nanny taxes 2018, for NC specifically

21 Feb

Good thing I told you I would write this blog post!  I knew that the tax code had changed for 2018, but didn’t think that would change how I pay my nanny.  Obviously it did, so I may as well walk you through how to employ and pay a nanny.  I’m also adding exclamation marks to everything because this is really not very exciting stuff.  I’ve spent hours doing all this so I hope it saves you some time, or you can just pay one of those payroll services that specialize in nannies to do it.  I’m stubborn and heck, I’m a mathematician! and hence doing it myself, but I would not recommend it.

Before nanny starts:

  1. Get a federal employment identification number at this website: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/apply-for-an-employer-identification-number-ein-online.  You need your name, address, social security number.  This takes a few minutes.  They’ll email you and mail you a paper copy of your EIN.  You’re a household employer with domestic workers.
  2. Get a state employment identification number at your state’s website.  For North Carolina that’s here: https://www.ncdor.gov/taxes/business-registration/online-business-registration.
  3. Send your nanny an I-9 form along with their contract, to bring on day one- they need to fill out the first page, then you fill out the second page.  They also need to bring a passport (easier) or a driver’s license and birth certificate/SS card/ other stuff listed on this form: https://www.uscis.gov/system/files_force/files/form/i-9-paper-version.pdf.
  4. Assuming you want to withhold taxes instead of them paying a big sum to government in April, have them fill out a W-4 and give it to you too: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf
  5. If they’re not single or have more than zero allowances, they’ll want to fill out a state withholding form too.  Here’s the one for North Carolina: http://www.northeastern.edu/hrm/pdfs/hr-payroll/NC_4.pdf.  My nanny didn’t fill this out because I’m just doing the standard deduction for her.
  6. Tell your state that you hired a new person.  For NC that site is here: http://www.ncchildsupport.com/employers.jsp.

Paying the nanny!

  1. Each pay period you need to generate a pay stub for your nanny and print it out or email it to her.  I googled “nanny pay stub” and picked a template; it looks like this.paystub
  2. So to calculate all this, the hours and rate part is easy, just keep track of that.  You’ll need to make a big old spreadsheet.  The gross pay with hours*rate + gas (in our case we give a flat amount; if you want to keep track of mileage the IRS mileage rate is 54.5 cents per mile) is what medicare and social security are based off of.  Social security is 6.2% of the gross pay, and medicare is 1.45%.  You withhold this from your nanny, and will match it and pay it to the government once a quarter or year.
  3. For federal income tax, the standard deduction in 2018 is now $12,000.  That means your nanny gets $12,000 of untaxed income: if you pay them once a week, you subtract $230.77 from their gross income to calculate federal income tax.  If like us you do every two weeks, you subtract $461.54 to calculate federal income tax.
    1. Here’s the tax brackets page.  Our nanny lies in the 12% bracket, which means that for her taxes, we do $952.5 plus 12% of anything she makes over $9,525.  As we pay her biweekly, her federal income tax is $36.63 + 12% of (her gross pay – $461.54 – $36.63).
  4. For state income tax, your state might have DIFFERENT standard deductions from the federal rate.  For North Carolina, it’s $8,750.  So again, you subtract from the gross income to figure out how to calculate the state income tax.  North Carolina has a handy chart on page 15 of this book to calculate the state income tax.
    1. State income taxes change per state.  For NC it’s 5.75%, so we have 5.75% of (gross pay – $336.54).
  5. Summary: Pay your nanny hours*rate+gas money (or other taxable money you pay them), subtracting social security and medicare (step 2), federal income tax (3), and state income tax (4), and adding health insurance money (untaxed) and parking money or other untaxed stuff (bicycling is untaxed!).  Our nanny spends about $100 a month on health insurance, so each pay period we tack on $50 of untaxed money.
  6. Bonus: we also do overtime (1.5 times the pay) for any work on holidays (as stipulated in our contract), anything over 40 hours a week, and anything over 10 hours a day.  And we also do paid holidays.  You might consider setting aside a little money each month in case of pregnancy or other short term leave- this isn’t required federally or statewide, but is a good thing to do and if you don’t set aside money you won’t be able to offer paid leave.  Check out http://faircarepledge.com/ for more.

Taxes and paperwork for the nanny!

  1. Make sure you send them a pay stub for each pay period.  Also, we tried a lot of ways for payment (paypal, cash app, checks) and ended up using direct transfer between bank accounts since we have the same bank.  Up to you!
  2. To create a W-2 form for them (by January 31), you can pay money to someone online (you can also do that to do all of this), or use the government website at Business Services Online .  After you register you’ll have to fax the EIN form in, from step 1 of before the nanny started.  Then once they receive the fax, they’ll call you (so answer the phone from strange numbers a few days after you send in the fax) and tell you that you can use the services.  Plug in all the numbers you made, and it’ll generate a W-2 to give to your nanny.  The pro of using the government website: it automatically makes and sends a W-3 for you.

Paying the government!

  1. To pay your taxes at April tax time, you need to fill out a Schedule H and file it with your taxes.  Schedule H has all the info in it for you to calculate stuff.  Your nanny’s federal income tax, social security/medicare, and FUTA is paid with your income tax and 1040 in April (but you can/should do estimated quarterly tax payments so you don’t have to pay all of it at once).
    1. To pay quarterly payments, go to the online payment website by the 15th of January, April, June, and September and file the 1040-ES.  That’s where you’ll pay the FUTA, federal income tax, social security, and medicare each quarter.  As usual you need your EIN.
  2. You’ll pay Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA).  Unless you’re in California for the Virgin Islands, FUTA is 0.6% of wages up to $7000 per year.  (It’s more in CA and VI).  So it’s $42 per employee per year that you send in at this website, still using that federal ID number.  It’s due January 31 for the previous year.
  3. You’ll also pay State Unemployment Taxes (SUTA). For NC it’s 1% for the first $23,500 of gross pay.  So that’s just $235 a year to send to the state via this website.
  4. To pay your State Income Taxes that we withheld earlier, go to the state’s Department of Revenue site and send it in there.

 

That’s it!  Easy-peasy!  Not really.  This calendar on Care.com is pretty helpful for staying organized.

Good luck if you have a nanny; this is complicated but ultimately it’s better for everyone if you pay them as a real employee with taxes instead of under the table.

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