November 14, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News Readers. In today’s daily, we explore articles examining the bias and negative stereotypes of people of color seen in images generated by artificial intelligence. We also feature an intimate glimpse of civilians hoping for a ceasefire in a Jabalia refugee camp that’s written by poet Mosab Abu Toha.

Toha composed the piece at a generator-powered charger station where everyone scatters as missiles explode nearby. Plus, an athlete ponders whether Olympic medals are worth her mental health, an app for so-called Unbreakable Men, and more.

AI images reinforce the worst stereotypes among us

I’ve yet to become a fan of artificial intelligence, largely because the ways in which it’s been introduced to me have all boosted my latent fears. Facial recognition software used by law enforcement suggests all Black people look alike, increasing the risks of wrongful arrests. Publicly available search engines like PimEyes make me wonder how long I’ll feel comfortable walking down the street barefaced. The data these systems use is flawed in their very DNA; they default to harmful stereotypes because of the biased humans who create them. Despite purported improvements to systems like Stable Diffusion XL, an AI-image generating software, discriminatory tropes remain its primary deliverables, the Washington Post reports. In fact, the Post writes, “the racial disparities depicted in these images are more extreme than in the real world.”

Those disparities aren’t limited to race, and all are a big deal. Not only do race, sex, gender, sexuality, and class discrimination make life more challenging in practical ways – i.e., being assumed unfit for a leadership role as a woman – they have a measurable negative impact on our brains. Earlier this year, the Post reported on scholarly research linking racism to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance use and PTSD. That’s all in addition to the physical challenges to which discrimination contributes, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and dementia. Moreover, not ten years have passed since the American Psychological Association issued a report on the relationship between discrimination and stress and its overall impact on mental wellbeing and physical health. 

As to how bias can be removed from AI software, companies and creators remain unsure. Executives like Abeba Birhane, senior advisor for AI accountability at the Mozilla Foundation, say tech wants to do better and their tools can be better—if their developer teams work harder to improve the data they use. Still, she expects little to change; it’s the nature of discrimination. Until something shifts, the software will remain biased and most harmful to those groups that have historically been burdened by negative stereotypes. “People at the margins of society are continually excluded,” Birhane said.

“The agony of waiting for a ceasefire that never comes”

When your mind envisions the “tragedy of war,” what do you imagine? Does it rest on the lives of enlisted soldiers snuffed out by oppositional fire? Or can you see children, babies even, with their mothers and fathers, dying from bombs dropped on residential streets that once doubled as soccer fields? Does your imagination begin on an amorphous battleground, or do you see the remnants of life – farmer’s markets, schools, fruit trees, favorite books – among the rubble? 

When Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha earlier wrote from Gaza after the bombing began, he told the New Yorker that he feared the ceiling of his family’s four-story home would collapse during an air strike. A little more than two weeks later, that nightmare would come true.

Having evacuated their house in Beit Lahia following warnings from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that air strikes were soon to come, Toha’s family sought safety in a Jabalia refugee camp as instructed. But every now and again he and other men in his family would risk death to ride their bikes back home to feed their chickens and rabbits and to fetch a little oil and sugar. That all ended on October 28 when his family learned their house, animals and fruit trees had been destroyed by a missile. Evidence of generations of life lay buried in a pile of cement and dust. 

As civilians like Toha and his family await a ceasefire that never arrives, bombs drop directly into the refugee camp where they were told they would be safe. where waiting for a ceasefire resembles waiting for Godot. Toha’s latest poem is called “Obit”. “I feel like I am in a cage,” he wrote. “I’m being killed every day with my people. The only two things I can do are panic and breathe. There is no hope here.”

Elite athletes wonder whether poor mental health is the tradeoff for pursuit of gold

It’s not unusual to meet a former basketball pro with arthritic knees or a gymnast who has recovered from multiple joint injuries. Overcoming physical pain is an accepted step along the journey to glory. But is the loss of mental wellbeing worth the same sacrifice? Track and field Olympian Holly Bradshaw is not sure, telling Britain’s Athletic Weekly that “winning Olympic bronze has damaged me physically and mentally.” 

The habits Bradshaw had to develop to stay in competition shape are well known to undermine mental health. She severely restricted her food intake for months and withstood great physical pain and stress, including glandular fever, problems with her achilles, repeated hamstring injury, and a broken bone in her back, reported The Guardian in its coverage of the interview. That’s not to mention the identity crisis she feared would come upon retirement from the sport. “I say to my husband: ‘I don’t know who I am,’” she said. “‘When I retire, who am I going to be? You’ve only known me as Holly the athlete. What if I’m a completely different person?’”

The questions are ones she’s uniquely qualified to pose, both as an athlete and person with a master’s degree in psychology. Being transparent about mental health isn’t out of her wheelhouse. It’s also likely that Bradshaw’s mental health experiences reflect those of other elite athletes. Her own research suggests as much, and other studies cited by The Guardian found that more than one-third of professional European soccer players showed signs of stress, anxiety, and depression at some point over a one-year period.

In other news…

Nonprofit to honor memory of former pro football player: This past spring, Sirraya Gant buried her son, Malik, days before his 26th birthday. The death of the former pro football player for the New England Patriots was completely unexpected, and the cause of his passing remains unresolved. While Gant and authorities await the results of an investigation into Malik’s death, she has begun developing a nonprofit meant to honor her son’s memory and help other athletes struggling with mental health. “There are so many things athletes go through,” Gant said. “And it’s not talked about enough.” The final details of the nonprofit are still being worked out, but Gant told DC’s WTOP News to expect a launch in January 2024

Unbreakable Men: Wellbeing coach Sammy Wright recently launched the Unbreakable Men app to provide men in Somerset County, England with the information and tools they need to improve their physical and mental health. In addition to offering resources on the app, gatherings are organized for app users to enjoy both virtually and in-person. One user, Richard Mead, told the BBC he appreciates the informal structure of its support group offerings. “A lot of people don’t like structured one-to-one things because it’s very intrusive, but this is more like a group of mates getting together,” Mead said.

Shaking your way to sound mental health: On one hand, shaking is a medical problem. On the other hand, it’s mental and physical therapy – at least, that’s what video and performance artist Liz Magic Laser explored in her recent exhibition, Convulsive States. “I think it is probably my mom [dancer Wendy Osserman] that has stimulated my interest in emotional expression” and its physical manifestation, Laser told the New York Times. “And I have a really intense push-pull with that.” Osserman’s mother introduced the concept of healing convulsions to Laser; when Laser was a child, she hosted an improv course in which dancers writhed, crawled, and shook according to their body’s instinctive responses to emotions and thoughts in their home. As a teen, Laser thought it unconventional, mortifying even. Today though, she is open to viewing the movement as an alternative way to struggle and help resolve conflict within the self. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...