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Combating Racial Discrimination in Data and Research

March 21, 2024by Lorleen Farrugia0

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination occurring on March 21st, serves as an annual reminder of the persistent battle against racial prejudice and discrimination. In particular, this year’s theme, ‘People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice, and Development’, acknowledges the unique hardships faced by individuals of African Descent, and commemorates the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre that claimed the lives of 69 individuals at the cost of racism. It also calls for a comprehensive way forward, in which this group’s rights may be promoted and protected. 

Ultimately, although there has been significant progress since the apartheid-era massacre, individuals of African descent continue to be denied equal opportunities across sector areas, preventing billions of people from enjoying their full human rights. This day acts as a springboard to address the many facets of racial discrimination and as a call to action for individuals, organisations, and governments to collectively work towards a more just and equitable future. This blog post delves into the emerging racial issues caused by technological advancements and the importance of social research, and AI optimisation to address them. It also considers the presence of racial discrimination in research and the techniques that can be applied to mitigate this bias throughout the research process. 

Emerging Issues in Racial Discrimination 

The pervasive issue of racism manifests in various ways, infiltrating seemingly objective systems and everyday interactions. For instance, students of African descent continue to experience unequal access to resources, implicit bias in teachers, and whitewashed curriculums that manifest in educational disparities and significantly impact students’ sense of belonging and academic achievement. Similarly, racial profiling and police brutality are deeply rooted and pertinent issues that may even escalate to violence. 

AI and Algorithmic Bias  

Additionally, as new technologies and systems develop, new opportunities for racial discrimination emerge. From the increased spread of hate speech and online harassment on social media platforms to the amplification of societal bias by artificial intelligence, it is evident that although technological advancements have revolutionalised various aspects of our lives, they have also created a breeding ground for new varieties of racial discrimination, and hence, constant vigilance must be exercised. 

Algorithmic bias, occurring either due to human bias or underrepresented data collection, has led to adverse effects and inaccurate, discriminatory outcomes in areas such as loan approvals, facial recognition software, and even criminal justice decisions. For instance, facial recognition software has significantly higher error rates for people of colour than for white individuals, risking grave errors in matching suspects and magnifying systemic inequalities. A healthcare algorithm has also been responsible for limiting black patients’ access to additional care, despite having the same diagnosis as white patients to whom further attention was recommended. 

The Importance of AI Optimisation

These errors do not detract from AI’s efficiency and immense potential, but they do highlight that ensuring fairness and mitigating bias is key to the equitable and ethical deployment of AI technologies. To address this challenge, AI optimisation requires a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, we must strive for greater racial diversity among AI developers and researchers to allow for a wider range of perspectives during the design phase, helping to mitigate potential bias. Furthermore, robust AI compliance frameworks are essential to ensure the responsible use of AI. Ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment that promote non-discrimination and beneficence must be employed. Features that allow individuals to contest automated decisions may also be added to further aid the prevention of bias. Finally, AI optimisation should be an ongoing process, with continuous monitoring and impact assessments to identify and address any discriminatory biases that may emerge over time. By implementing these steps, we can leverage the potential of AI for all to benefit, paving the way for a more inclusive future.

The Role of Research in Addressing Racial Discrimination 

AI optimisation is an ongoing process, and research plays a vital role in informing and refining it. Research and evidence-based practices offer a crucial toolkit for dismantling racial discrimination and systemic bias. Social research is crucial to this endeavour, by employing meticulous data collection and analysis methods to expose racial bias in various systems, from AI algorithms that exacerbate discrimination in healthcare to educational curriculums that fail to represent the experiences of individuals of African descent. Once these biases are identified, evidence-basedPuzzle practices and interventions can be developed to dismantle them and promote long-term change. Research can analyse the spread and impact of online hate speech, and develop effective content moderation policies accordingly. It can delve into law enforcement data, revealing patterns of racial profiling and thereby informing policy changes, such as more in-depth police training. It is only by acknowledging and understanding these ongoing issues that we can begin to dismantle the structures that perpetuate them.

Racial Bias in Research Itself

Although social research is effective in dismantling racial bias, a paradox exists in that this notion can also permeate the research process itself. Racial minorities are often underrepresented in research studies, creating a lack of diversity in datasets and rendering generalisability impossible. Furthermore, studies often fail to adequately report on the racial makeup of participants, opting to instead categorise individuals as ‘non-white’, ‘ethnic-minorities’, or ‘other’. Further concerns surround biased data collection methods that either unintentionally excluded certain racial groups from participating in research studies or viewed ethnic minorities as participants with lower prospects. Biased research does not only perpetuate stereotypes and fuels discriminatory practices but it also produces ineffective solutions that do not accurately address the needs of diverse populations.

Mitigating Racial Bias in Research 

However, applying a multi-faceted approach with the necessary methodological rigour, cultural sensitivity, and community engagement results in a more equitable research landscape. Including researchers from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds fosters a wider range of perspectives during the study design, data analysis and interpretation. Researchers must also be sensitive to the cultural contexts in which their studies are conducted and adopt an intersectional approach. This may require translating research materials, developing culturally appropriate recruitment strategies, and being aware of any power imbalance between researchers and participants. Protocols ensuring unbiased research questions, non-discriminatory inclusion/exclusion criteria, and measures which are validated for diverse populations should also be implemented. Finally, building trust with the communities under study and allowing their active participation is essential to ensure that the research addresses their lived experiences and needs and that the findings are presented in an accessible manner. Action research and critical methodologies, which emphasise collaboration and power-sharing between researchers and participants, are particularly well-suited for achieving these goals. By working alongside communities, researchers can develop research questions and approaches that are truly relevant and empower participants to become active agents of change.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a powerful reminder that striving against racial prejudice is an ongoing journey. Racial discrimination manifests in various forms, from deeply entrenched systems like police brutality to emerging issues such as algorithmic bias in AI. By acknowledging the pervasiveness of racial bias, including within research itself, we can take concrete steps towards dismantling it. Through collective action, we can build a more just and equitable future for all.

Lorleen Farrugia

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A1 Research is a company headquartered in Malta with reach in the UK and EU through a nework of Associated Consultants
OUR LOCATIONSWhere to find us?
A1 Location Malta
GET IN TOUCHA1 Research on Linkedin
Follow us on LinkedIn for a stream of online updates on our most recent projects
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