Wednesday June 4th

Black Girl Intuition

I have nothing much to say

  • I don’t have much to say these days. That is because in spaces that I’ve chosen over the past few months, I’ve been able to express all the things I’ve wanted to say. It’s a purging of sorts. It’s been really great for me. I felt like I’ve kept it in for so long, because I didn’t have the privilege or the power or the opportunity to do so. I’m making sense of my emotions over the years feeling underappreciated, underpaid, frustrated, saddened, angry. Feeling that things were unfair, unjust. Taking abuse again and again because it was the way to get to my goal. You do what you have to do to make it in this country. “If you don’t like it, go home” they say. The people who didn’t like it have historically also rioted, lest we forget.
  • Going from being fueled up, keeping those emotions, storing them up as fuel, to letting them go like a balloon.
  • Sucking it up and then lashing out. Even at my lowest, I try to fight back. But sometimes, you run out of energy.
  • I used to imagine every time the boat I sailed on pushed away from the dock, I was pushing away my problems, sailing away from it. My mind was free when I looked ahead of me and all I could see was the ocean.

On intuition

  • These days, I’ve been thinking a bit about how some strange decisions I made have resulted in a really positive space for me. The first was moving to Vermont; no one could predict Covid, but looking back, it was a pretty great choice. Obtaining groceries hasn’t been an issue, no long lines, it’s quiet, and we haven’t had that many cases. Oh, and I live by a lake, on my own. So can’t really argue about that.
  • I decided to sign up for Code2040; it’s always something I dreamed of doing. I thought since this is my first semester, it was the one time I could just tell my advisors “hey, I have an internship, and I’m doing this thing, because it means a lot to me” and get away with it. In the wake of all that is happening, it’s the perfect space to be in, with people just like myself. And I’m learning tools for becoming a leader in my community, and will have mentorship throughout summer. I’ve already met and interacted with so many great people; the opportunity has already been worth it.
  • I picked the perfect company (and they picked me); the company at which I’m interning has a culture of empathy, a commitment to diversity and it’s just been a really great experience. I have a manager and two buddies, and I’m driven to succeed this summer. The project is amazing and impactful. But more importantly, it openly has a culture of holding itself to high ethical standards and accountability. Humility and collaboration are written into the culture. Perfect.
  • I signed up for the graduate writing centre; very strange choice (STEM majors don’t do this apparently). I attended the first meeting and realized that there were people there who looked like me. We had a similar sense of humour. I hadn’t laughed so hard in a meeting with people from school in such a large group before.
  • I decided to pair with someone in Economics and CS on research on ways to apply machine learning to help look at issues of implicit bias in policing in Vermont. That resulted in a poster acceptance and work that is still in progress, as it’s a long-term project. Well….that’s all I have to say. What a topic this has become.
  • I wrote a paper on my own because I decided I wanted to submit to this conference. I wrote it and then asked my advisor if he’d give me advice, and he said he’d be glad to, and he gave me really great advice! A few days later, a researcher said he’d donate money to an organization I’m affiliated with if we were POCs who had received mentorship advice (ie someone had reviewed/read/gave feedback on something you were working on for a conference). I contacted the researcher and told them about what my advisor had done for me, and he decided that it was worth putting on as a +1 tally for a donation to the organization.
  • I signed up for this mentorship on AI Ethics. It’s been a delightful experience thus far. My mentor is amazing, and she’s real. I feel so at ease speaking with her. She’s a hybrid thinker in terms of the tech/ethics space, with very acute observations.
  • I signed up for the Dark Matters class at SFPC; I did this because when I saw the description, I think I must have said out loud “this class is perfect!”. I imagined myself being there. I was strangely surprised to find an email in my inbox that said that I had been accepted as one of 18 students for one of the full cohorts. I’m truly grateful. What a wonderful community!
  • Finally, I joined the Corecursive Slack. Okay, a friend of mine at a company told me about it, and I joined since then, but I wasn’t really active. My attitude to a lot of tech groups on Slack is that there is usually a honeymoon period, and then I’ll be too honest one day and get kicked off, or someone will get pissed off by something I say (I speak the truth a lot…and it pisses people off. Usually it’s unintentional sarcasm). When I got to grad school and started feeling more alienated, I drifted more into that community. It’s been a source of joy for me. They’re a really fun group; I even made a pull request and merged a PR this week alone!
  • I joined a few other groups for women and other underrepresented groups(on Discord, Slack, GroupMe) such as NCWIT and a GroupMe for Black PhDs, and they’ve also been really great.
  • I kept applying for grants, even when some advised me that it wasn’t worth doing. A good friend once told me that sometimes faculty will tell you not to do it because they see you as they see themselves. They may have had privilege that would have allowed them to succeed regardless of whether they applied for grants, etc, but know that the journey will be that much harder for you. So you need to put in more work. So I kept applying, speaking, writing. It led to my eventually attending NeurIPS and meeting some amazing people in my research area, and amazing support in general. It also justified my resolve in pushing myself to keep applying, writing, reviewing, reaching out. I think I got 3 rejections once in a day in a semester from applications, but getting an offer/grant/scholarship the day before meant I was able to brush rejections off pretty quickly.
  • I decided that I wanted to focus on a particular area of research that I’m really passionate about, and so far, so good.

Why this is important

  • In the middle of all that is going on in the world, I have a strangely positive energy, because I am in these spaces where I feel supported, where people are rooting for me. So I don’t have the same amount of baggage and stress that I would have had if I hadn’t made some of these choices. I think that these spaces are important for people like myself, especially now.

I’m writing this

  • I’m writing this because I have friends who text me and ask me if “I’m okay”. They’re worried for me. And that’s understandable, given all that’s going on right now. But I’m okay. I might pass out from eating too many seafood salad sandwiches, but that’s on me mostly.

  • sometimes I grow my hair out. I do not apologize for this. This was probably at some Google event. If you’re wondering if I’m okay, you can look at this photo. See? I’m smiling here. Tell your friends I’m okay.

  • sometimes I cook curry; it’s the one food that reminds me of home. It also reminds me that I’m multi-ethnic (try a mix of Spanish, French, Portuguese, African, Indian, Chinese, Native; my mom alone is African/Indian descent). Interestingly, when I was growing up, someone asked my dad “how he felt about living in an East Indian neighbourhood”. So you could say I’m used to not fitting in, or fuming silently while people decide things about me without asking.

I too have scars

  • I’ve been chatting with friends and allies back and forth and sometimes I remember some of the incidents, and some of the hurt I’ve felt when painful stories come up. I’m not going to lie; I’ve felt them too. I think everyone who looks like I do has. We all get told we’re not good enough, or told that we “unexpectedly speak pretty well”, or whatever nonsense we’re supposed to smile and nod and accept silently while secretly wanting to backhand the person who said it. Little moments pop up that remind you of the pain. They remind you of unfairness and moments of loathing everything because some things were just so hurtful and unfair. They always hit you when you least expect it. The gall of some people. The sheer denial. The hypocrisy.
  • Because of these spaces, and because of these people who have lifted me up, I am able to heal. I have space to heal myself. I think that’s also important because it propels me forward. It’s what drives me to continue to make a difference, to keep going, to mentor others like myself, to see others who are hurting and to help them heal, too. One more day. You haven’t gotten rid of me quite yet. I’m not giving up.

This is the summer of healing

  • I’ve been hanging out in these groups, and it’s a mix of people, and it’s been great and really positive for me this summer. I’m grateful for everything. I’m okay.

And that’s it

Written on June 4, 2020