The Equally innovation team of Sualeha Irshad, Moniola Odunsi and Sora Shirai.

Future of the Business World: Moniola Odunsi Fights for Racial Justice

Moniola Odunsi, 16, is a junior at The Madeira School just outside of Washington, D.C. She and her teammates, Sora Shirai, a 15-year-old innovator from New Hampshire, and Sualeha Irshad, a 16-year-old innovator from Texas, recently won first place in the Moody’s Foundation Peace and Justice Challenge, a part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship World Series of Innovation, which challenges students to solve the world’s problems. Their project, Equally, is a software platform that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to identify implicit bias.

On this episode of Future of the Business World, Moniola discusses the software platform she and her teammates are developing, as well as her passion for racial justice issues and her belief that “passive activism is not going to produce change.”

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello Everyone and Welcome to Future of the Business World, the podcast featuring teen entrepreneurs and innovators from across the globe.

I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. At Wharton Global Youth, we introduce business and finance education to high school students in ways that provoke curiosity and thoughtfulness—and help empower the next generation of business leaders.

Our guests on FBW [and in our online course of the same name] are aspiring leaders and innovators. They’ve thought deeply about the problems facing our planet and are working toward finding solutions.

Today’s focus is racial injustice, an issue that has quite literally spilled out onto the streets in the U.S. this past year following the death of George Floyd and repeated violence against people of color. The fight for justice and equality is also strong in the business world with the spotlight on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

Moniola Odunsi, a high school student in Virginia, is part of a team that recently took first place in the Moody’s Foundation Peace and Justice Challenge, a part of the NFTE World Series of Innovation. The team’s winning idea, Equally, identifies implicit bias in text and promotes progress toward equal justice.

Moniola, welcome to Future of the Business World!

Moniola Odunsi: Hi everyone. Thank you so much, Diana, for having me on the podcast. I’m so honored to be here to talk about myself; Equally, which I developed with my teammates Sora Shirai, a 15-year-old innovator from New Hampshire, and Sualeha Irshad, a 16-year-old innovator from Texas; and talk more about peace and justice as a whole. Thanks so much for having me.

Wharton Global Youth: We’re off to a great start. First, tell me a little more about yourself.

Moniola: As you all now know my name is Moniola Odunsi and I’m a 16-year-old innovator from Maryland. I go to school in Virginia. And I’m passionate about changing the world. From a young age, I’ve always been drawn to the business and innovation field. While my friends were watching Disney Channel, I was a kid watching Shark Tank with my dad. I actually love the autonomy of the business field and that you are your own boss and you get to make your own decisions. Even more than that, you can create long-lasting change in the business field. It can be immediate change or it can be change that happens in five or 10 years, but you can have such a big impact on other people’s lives with your own creativity and your own mind. I’ve always loved that aspect of the business field and I still love that aspect, which is why I desire to be in it today.

Wharton Global Youth: What drew you to innovate around peace and justice? Were you already tuned into this idea of building societies that provide equal justice for all?

Moniola: This is a really great question without a simple answer. I don’t think there is one specific moment or one specific thing that led me to innovate around peace and justice. As a young Black woman in the United States, I’ve always had to think about peace and justice issues that concern me and those who look like me. It really just comes with being Black in the United States. Never really feeling safe in a society where you’re supposed to have your rights and feel secure. It’s the feeling of fear every time you see blinking red and blue lights behind you while you drive. A lot of people think that this affects you when you’re grown, when you’re an adult. I remember being in kindergarten and we had gotten donuts to bring to my school for my birthday. We were driving and my dad gets pulled over. I remember feeling such panic. I thought the immediate worst. I was so scared, and I was only in kindergarten! But I had saw this so many times on the news and it just scared me. It’s the same reality for so many Black Americans every single day, millions in our country. We quite literally fear the people who are supposed to keep us safe.

After seeing the racial violence against the Black community, Asian community and just minorities as a whole become so indisputably apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, my desire to affect change in this area exponentially increased. Seeing stories about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more alike who died simply because they were racially profiled as a threat before they even posed one really spoke to me as a reality that I don’t want to see in the future and I don’t want future generations to have to live with.

Moniola Odunsi

Wharton Global Youth: I can definitely feel and hear your passion for this issue. I think before we talk about your venture, I want to understand a bit of context. What is implicit bias and what is its influence on issues of equality and social justice?

Moniola: Implicit bias is a tendency to associate a specific race or people of that race with stereotypes, but you do it subconsciously. It’s important to note that I have implicit bias, you have implicit bias, we are all affected by implicit bias in some form or another because of the society we have been bred in. It’s not something we can run away from. Ideally, it wouldn’t be in our society, but it’s such a systemic issue that has been rooted in centuries of racism in our country that still has massive effects today.

As an example, a study that influenced the building of Equally was the Implicit Association Test done in 1998. It showed that 68% of people were able to associate White faces with good words faster than they did Black faces. And that’s just one of many examples. Another example that is seen so frequently is when people see a Black person walking on the sidewalk toward them and then they go across the street because they think they are going to pose some sort of threat to them before they even engage. Those are just two examples that show what implicit bias is.

Implicit bias has such a fundamental effect on equality and justice because society can say we want to have an equal society or we vie for equality, but actions speak so much louder than words in this case and other cases. If we just take the recent killing of Dante Wright by Kim Potter. This is an officer who had decades of experience in her role. She had served for so many years. But just seeing this 20-year-old Black man who is just out of teenagehood, who is a forming adult. She saw him and immediately believed that he was a threat because of his skin color, I believe before she even engaged with him. Her implicit bias and racial profiling of him and people who look like him ended up in his death. For many, implicit bias is the difference between life and death and has such a massive effect.

“That step from passive activism to actively advocating and standing with these minority populations is something that my generation still needs to understand.” — Moniola Odunsi, Co-founder, Equally

Wharton Global Youth: Your team’s software platform, Equally, identifies implicit bias in text. Can you tell us the mechanics of how it works?

Moniola: Equally is a software designed to check improper bias language in people’s writing. It would begin by asking the user to identify the race of their audience. Just using the options common on U.S. forms, it would ask for White, Black or African American; American-Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; Multi-racial or Unknown if you don’t know the race. Then, using the Google Cloud natural language API, Equally would perform sentiment analysis to identify the text’s overall attitude on a numerical scale from 1, which would be very negative, to 10, which would be very positive. This just references the fact that, as the Implicit Association Test showed, that people are faster and more likely to associate White faces with good words and Black faces and other minorities with negative words. As more data is collected, Equally will analyze the central tendency of this numerical value for each racial group. So this is really just to avoid any flukes. You can be writing an angry email to someone regardless of their race, but if it becomes a trend and across multiple people who are of that race, it’s more likely that it is a bigger issue, which my team has identified as implicit bias. So, if Equally notices that this central tendency is lower for a particular race, the next time the user writes to someone of that race and uses a negative word, Equally will recommend a more positive word for you to use. This addresses the accountability aspect. A lot of people fail to recognize that they do have implicit bias and they fail to recognize who they are most implicitly biased towards, and there are ways to help combat this.

Wharton Global Youth: Have you tested this with actual person-to-person messaging? What have you learned about the prevalence of implicit bias? I think you’re right that most of us have implicit bias. I’m curious what your results were when you pulled out the data?

Moniola: Unfortunately, we have not been able to test this right now. Equally is still in the development phase, so we are still doing a lot of research and we’re hoping to test this on a large group of people shortly. There are so many studies that show the prevalence of implicit bias; however, we definitely want to do our own study. That is definitely in the planning phase. All I can tell you is that we are all affected by implicit bias in some way.

Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned that you still have work to be done in terms of developing this out and testing it. What about the machine learning involved? Do you hope to make progress with the actual technology?

Moniola: Sora, Sualeha and I are definitely excited to continue this project. We really believe in the mission. Right now we’re doing a lot of research into the sentiment analysis and Google Cloud and the technical aspect of it all. We have reached out to so many different professors and people of experience and we have started to look at the code. There are various YouTube videos and resources on the sentiment analysis aspect of it to become more well-versed in it. We have also reached out to someone at Grammarly, [an app that helps people improve the use of words, grammar, spelling and more in their writing]. That platform was a big inspiration for Equally – you get the name [similarity]. We’re definitely doing a lot more research into the machine learning aspect of it because that will be a big part. In the next few months we hope to acquire datasets and learn more about those and the overall technical side as a whole.

Wharton Global Youth: Do you believe you can have a lasting impact on racial injustice?

Moniola: This was a question that our whole team talked about when developing the idea. How big of an impact can Equally have? Implicit bias is such a systemic issue that it’s hard to say. Obviously, racism is not going to be solved by Equally. But I think one thing that Equally does address is, again, the accountability aspect and the identification aspect that is part of the longer journey of combating racism. It may not solve implicit bias right away, because it is a systemic issue, but it allows people to recognize and understand their implicit bias, which is the first step in the longer journey of achieving equality.

Wharton Global Youth: You are passionate about the business world, even beyond entrepreneurship. Where do you see the intersection of your business interests and social justice? How will you make meaningful change in this area as a business leader and do you hope you will?

Moniola: Much of my business interests go hand-in-hand with social justice, just because the lack of social justice is an issue that weighs heavily on my mind daily. And business, the innovation aspect, is quite literally about solving issues. But I think along with business positively affecting social justice, I think there’s as much work to be done and for equality to become more apparent in the business field. If you take a look at the top executive business leaders or business titans, as you may call them, you’ll quickly notice that most are White men. I, obviously, am not a White man. So past just the work I aspire to achieve in the business field, I believe that by simply being in the field and setting my goals and hopes so high, and these are goals that I believe I am going to achieve, I’m helping to continue a precedent that Black women can be just as and even more successful than their White male counterparts in the field.

Wharton Global Youth: You’ve said that Generation Z is committed to this idea of inclusion—not a world that does not see color, but rather one that appreciates color. Are you seeing progress, and what more would you hope that your peers do to influence change?

Moniola: First of all, I’m so glad you said inclusion is not a world that does not see color but one that appreciates it because I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. So, thank you for saying that. To answer your question, I definitely have hope in my generation. I know I’ve talked a lot about the work that needs to be done, but seeing the amount of movements and ideas that have been started by Gen Z that have arisen to advance the goal of equality, even just in the past year, and how much impact they have been able to have. I think a common misperception is that change happens when you’re a certain age, typically an adult age. I completely disagree with this. I sincerely believe that my generation has debunked this theory. I think my generation wants to see and live in a future in which equality is not just an ideal, but an actual reality. A lot of people say we are the future changemakers and the future leaders. I would say that we can [be] and are those people right now.

At the same time, I’m not saying Gen Z is perfect. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done. A lot of that comes with the day and age of social media and how much our generation has been influenced by such. Trends are cool and trends are fun, but people’s lives still continue past just Instagram trends. A good example of this is when George Floyd was murdered back in May [2020] and we saw a flood of Instagram stories saying, ‘I stand with the Black community.’ They posted black screens on Instagram to say that they stand with the Black community. This is amazing, right. But I think what my generation needs to become aware of is that passive activism is not going to produce change. Instagram trends are good, but you have to put in active steps to see that change become a reality. That step from passive activism to actively advocating and standing with these minority populations is something that my generation still needs to understand.

Wharton Global Youth: In what ways would you recommend that they actively stand with them?

Moniola: Activism can be big or it can be small. It can be simply in your household if someone says something that is racist or that you know is fundamentally wrong, correcting them. You don’t have to post it online. A million people don’t have to see it. But maybe that simple action starts a chain reaction where they go to another person and say, ‘Well, this is not right for this or that reason.’ Or, it can be larger where you start your own movement and you continue to post resources online, but you donate to these causes. You’re not just posting links online and saying, Go, donate! And not doing anything behind the camera. You’re actually doing these things. It’s also just continuing the conversation past the trend. People don’t stop being Black after the news coverage stops covering the movement. They continue. It’s that consistency and wanting to actually do more is more than enough.

Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all of the entrepreneurs we interview on Future of the Business World is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Moniola: This is such a hard question. I remember getting asked this as a child and I didn’t know what to say. If I could change one thing in the world, it would probably be people’s open-mindedness and ability to have empathy for others. I think this is something that is missing from our world right now. If everyone had this, I sincerely believe that so many of the issues that populate the world would be solved. Ignorance is a choice in a lot of situations, and I think a lot of people have chosen that. Being able to say that everyone is open-minded and has this empathy for others would eradicate so many of the issues we see right now.

Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Please answer these questions as quickly as you can.

What is a technology that blows your mind?

Moniola: CO2-absorbing fabrics. It basically means you are a walking plant.

Wharton Global Youth: In only a few words, what does business leadership mean to you?

Moniola: Inspiring others to be their best self.

Wharton Global Youth: One goal, big or small, that you have set for yourself in the next year?

Moniola: Definitely being intentional about spending time with my friends and family before I head off to college.

Wharton Global Youth: If you could work for any company in the world, which would you choose?

Moniola: This is so hard, there’s so many. If I had to choose, I’m going to say two: Google or Facebook.

Wharton Global Youth: What show would we catch you binge-watching at midnight?

Moniola: Ginny and Georgia. Amazing show.

Wharton Global Youth: Which business person would you most like to take to lunch?

Moniola: Sheryl Sandberg [Chief Operating Officer of Facebook]. I think she speaks for herself. She’s such a boss lady and such an inspiration for me in how she has been able to break so many glass ceilings and barriers that society has put in front of her. She’s such an inspiration for me.

Wharton Global Youth: Moniola, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.

Moniola: Thank you so much, Diana, I really appreciate it. And, bye everyone!

Conversation Starters

Moniola Odunsi is a self-described activist who very much sees business as a platform for change. How so?

Moniola says that Generation Z "needs to become aware that passive activism is not going to produce change." What does she mean by this? Do you agree? Why or why not?

How potentially might Moniola's software platform Equally help build a society of equal justice for all?

11 thoughts on “Future of the Business World: Moniola Odunsi Fights for Racial Justice

  1. The fight for racial justice has been a prolonged and tireless journey over the course of numerous years. Our world is seemingly still very far from racial justice, as brought to light by the pandemic. This pandemic has unveiled ugly truths about racial injustices that happen in our world even today and showed us how these problems are very real and have affected countless people around the world. Geroge Floyd. Dante Wright. Vilma Kari. Unfortunately, the list goes on.

    As a Korean student living in Southeast Asia, I have been embraced by the international community around me and mostly sheltered from forms of racial injustices. Consequently, I never truly realized the extent of its severity until very recently when the pandemic hit the world and drove many into a panic. That was when I started to research and learn more about these issues.

    One specific topic that interested me was implicit bias. As Moniola mentions above, it is “such a systemic issue that has been rooted in centuries of racism in our country that still has massive effects today”. Again, I had never really given it a thought until I participated in a seminar taking place at my school, where a guest speaker introduced me to this term and allowed me to recognize this in my community. That’s when I truly realized how deep-rooted this problem is.

    During my sophomore year, the final math exams had been relatively difficult, and students were asking everyone else what they got, complaining about their low scores. I had gotten a satisfactory mark, and when my friends asked me, I answered truthfully “an A+”. As my friends congratulated me, a voice called out from behind me, “well, she’s Korean”, as if that explained everything. From then, I heard this remark frequently in many of my classes. Classmates would recognize my achievements in school as something that I inherited as an Asian, and never seemed to give a thought about the effort that was put in to achieve what I did. This was only one example of implicit biases present in my life. These biases existed in me as well. I didn’t want to ‘look Asian’ when I was in middle school because I didn’t think it looked cool. I didn’t want my friends to know I listened to K-pop because they thought it was lame. I didn’t like to talk about my strict parents with my friends because they would also tell me they were “such typical Asian parents”. I didn’t want to show my peers that I worked hard to perform well at school because I didn’t want to be told “you’re so Asian” like it was a bad thing.

    Even from my personal experience in an international, racially diverse community of people, I could easily recognize implicit bias in most people around me. This served as an awakening to me, as now I realize how deep-rooted this problem really was. As Moniola also recognizes, such systematic forms of racism are impossible to change overnight; it would require years and years of relentless work and activism. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

    I believe that Moniola’s software platform Equally could serve as an important step to building equal justice for all. Recognizing such improper biases in our everyday language would allow people to realize the implicit biases they hold, and hopefully, help them to readjust their language positively. Although these are baby steps, the only way to fix implicit bias is to become more aware and be willing to fix mistakes, and Equally will definitely allow for this to happen. By slowly getting rid of implicit biases in our lives, racial prejudice and profiling will soon follow suit, hopefully making our world a more welcoming, safe place for people of all races.

    1. Hi Victoria! I’m so happy that you resonated with my thoughts in the podcast. It was interesting to learn about your journey from being sheltered from the racial injustices of our world to, unfortunately, experiencing them firsthand. The examples of racial biases that you experienced are critical to highlight as though they may seem “subtle” to some, they can truly have detrimental effects. My team and I hope that Equally will allow people to recognize this fact and aid towards the fight for equality.

  2. Snaps, snaps, snaps. So many important messages in this episode of the podcast–thank you for your empowering insight, Moniola!

    Moniola touched on multiple critical ideas, ranging from performative activism to her personal encounters with racism, but the one I want to narrow in on is the intersection between the corporate business world and social change. In my opinion, in order to create sustainable impacts, there needs to be a combination of both grassroots efforts and effective policymaking. While the youth have been spearheading community-based involvement, business “titans” have the ability to affect policymakers and the bills that get passed in Congress. After all, economics and politics have become inextricably linked to each other, and especially for large companies like Google and Facebook, if they take a specific stance on a certain issue, policymakers are more inclined to place more emphasis on said issue and compromise on better solutions. However, young entrepreneurs like Moniola are especially inspiring because they are the intersection of both of these approaches. Initiatives like Equally are a step in the right direction because they are rooted in social entrepreneurship in that they prioritize both the quality and possible benefits/implications of their products.

    Speaking of Equally, I think the mission behind this software platform is straightforward yet ingenious. Implicit bias is not only present in our police and military forces; it is also present in educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and businesses across the board. The language that we use and see can very much impact the environment within these places. As a speech and debate coach, Equally’s vision is a good reminder that I should always take the extra time to consider the effect of my words and the content of the resources I use in order to ensure that my classroom is safe and inclusive for all. Even as students, though, I believe we still have the obligation to hold our peers and teachers accountable.

    This reminds me of a specific incident that happened at my school in December 2019. I am extremely privileged to be attending a private school that is known for its DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs, but ironically, our failure to uphold our DEI goals was publicized all over local news. After receiving this negative publicity, many of the school’s affinity groups broke apart and several of our teachers of color left the school. Students and parents came out anonymously over Instagram to talk about their experiences and trauma, and it was clear that reform had to happen.

    A major problem that had to be addressed was the lack of diverse texts in our English and History classes. Teachers spent the 2020 summer revising their curricula, and retrospectively, tools like Equally would have been applicable AND necessary. Personally, as a queer Asian American, I too felt that our humanities courses were not doing a satisfactory job. I remember sitting in my ninth-grade history class where students would point at me and say “You eat dog” and my teacher would project caricatures of Asian men onto the whiteboard to represent traditional Chinese art. These microaggressions are common and not unique to my school. In the future, Moniola, Sora, and Sualeha’s work on Equally can deter students and teachers alike from sharing inaccurate information and using racist materials for their courses.

    Equally is an instance where we see entrepreneurship as a tool for social change. One thing that I have learned from working at a nonprofit and conversing with other young entrepreneurs is that innovation and business are limitless–they are flexible and have infinite applications. While racism and discrimination are not things that will disappear once we acknowledge them, it is also important to realize that we have the resources to combat and alleviate these problems. To paraphrase Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, we need to diagnose and repair our broken history, and one way to do that is through entrepreneurship and provide students the education they need to become anti-racist and well-versed global citizens.

    Thank you for this wonderful podcast series, Knowledge @ Wharton!

    1. Hey Caroline! Your comment is insightful, intricate, and thoughtful, which inspired me to reflect on instances where politics and economics are intertwined, either helping to tackle or aggravating the already existing ubiquity of implicit bias, or even worse, explicit forms of social injustice.

      Caroline brought up a critical point by referring to dominant corporations’ influence on policymakers, which could, unquestionably, bring awareness to ongoing social issues. However, I believe there is a more profound interpretation, a negative one, regarding a business’s influence – an indirect and somewhat devious approach to utilize social events as a “trend” for monetary gain and social acceptance.

      In my opinion, I believe certain companies have already demonstrated business-oriented actions that, through surface values, did supposedly support a community, though hidden evidence indicates that those supportive efforts were merely just for show.

      For example, AT&T, like many other large corporations, publicly shown its support for the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of Pride month through social media. However, data compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics and Corporate Accountability Action suggested otherwise, showcasing evidence of the telecommunications company making donations, with the sum of over $2.5 million, to numerous anti-LGTBQ+ legislators from 2017-2018. Additionally, as accusations accumulated and drew more attention, AT&T chose to remain silent, leading people to question if the company’s supportive posts for the community are merely a performative act for marketing benefits. While these actions, resembling duplicity, may seem shocking, AT&T isn’t alone: other companies like FedEx, UPS, and Verizon had all received widespread criticisms as records of their hidden financial support aiding anti-LGBTQ+ leaders were exposed, though on slightly smaller scales in comparison. Even more, the concept also applies to social media influencers where their public, positive, and inclusive statements did not align with past, private actions. Without a doubt, contradiction is a recurring theme.

      Caroline also alluded to systemic cultural insensitivity and institutionally embedded stereotypes in the U.S education environment. As a fellow Asian American myself, I also experienced some minor implicit racial biases in academics and extracurriculars. For instance, I recall opponents looking down on me as an Asian athlete, given my lanky figure and the stereotypical assumption that Asians do not often excel in athletics. In other cases, I remember hearing casual comments associating my academic accomplishments with my race and ethnicity. In addition, even if we look at colleges, prestigious institutions like Harvard received accusations regarding unfair admissions by setting Asian Americans higher standards for acceptance.

      Contrary to popular belief, though, I believe that sometimes people like myself mistook others’ comments as partially offensive when they intended otherwise. In this case, speakers need to develop social awareness and acknowledge that their word usage, tonality, and other factors could be easily misinterpreted by the people they are referring to. Hence, education on topics like microaggression and implicit bias is ever-so necessary.

      Discrimination is everywhere. Explicit cultural insensitivity and racial bias occur at my boarding high school, which, similar to Caroline’s, has an EBI (Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion) program. With the awakening of the global Black Lives Matter movement, a group of students created an Instagram account encouraging African American students from our community to share their thoughts and personal encounters with racism (most of which were on campus). The posts were shocking. Many students came forth and recounted incidents of overhearing racist jokes and experiencing name-calling, stereotypes, racially affiliated misogyny, etc. The abundance of these posts is alarming – a clear sign that many acts of implicit bias and racism are hidden from public view due to social pressure. Without a doubt, Equally would be the perfect product to establish a more inclusive and conscious community.

      Lastly, I fully agree with Caroline’s recognition that discriminatory behaviors will not disappear upon acknowledgment and how crucial it is to utilize resources to combat these inherent social injustices. Thus, the push for change relies on the hands of the Gen Z’ers. In this case, Moniola is a superb example of a young empowering entrepreneur and activist who utilized her skillsets to create a meaningful social impact.

      Sources:
      https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/companies-tout-gay-rights-during-pride-give-to-anti-lgbt-politicians-1181006/
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/dawnstaceyennis/2019/06/24/dont-let-that-rainbow-logo-fool-you-these-corporations-donated-millions-to-anti-gay-politicians/?sh=6da786ec14a6

  3. The comment made by Moniola Odunsi about younger people being more active in bringing social justice to the United States (US) is both well-understood by the younger generation and something they use to understand each other. In recent years, we have witnessed 16-year-olds initiate more global change than 71-year-old white men have. 18-year-old Greta Thunberg, for instance, spends her time traveling the world, demanding that world leaders focus on climate change. There’s also 21-year-old (then 19) Emma Gonzalez, an example of a young activist continuously urging American politicians to strengthen gun control to prevent school shootings. Both movements have garnered support from millions of people— people who are not afraid to walk the streets and protest.

    However, as Odunsi states, there are many forms of activism, ones that so many people do not take into account. I remember one time I heard a classmate call one of the adults in the class racist simply because she was not actively posting on her social media accounts about the issue of racism in the US and the Black Lives Matter Movement. I found the logic strange, and frankly, bothersome. People were so immersed in the life of activism against hate that they began spreading hate on those who didn’t vocally speak out for a certain matter. I wondered how many people have spoken about me behind my back— calling me a racist— as I fought with my parents about the issue daily.

    I believe that Odunsi’s work is fascinating and— when completed— will help our society advance in so many ways. Although her software may not directly resolve the issue of racism, it checks that whatever stereotypes the writer holds would be removed from the published writing; we can agree that this is definitely a step towards an improved society. What I think is even more admirable, however, are her words and thoughts about activism by the younger generation. Younger people have definitely done so much in countering social injustice, but they also have much to learn if they want to achieve the level of “anti-hate” they seek.

    1. I strongly agree with your comment that younger generations are evidently more active in contributing to activism than older generations, and that underestimating the youth’s leadership and naturality to fight for justice is a blatant mistake. There are several reasons why this might be the case. Erikson’s theory states that all of us as human beings face a series of crises throughout their lifetimes. Adolescence is the period of which young people are forced to decide what their identity is- what parts of them they can keep and parts they must throw away.

      I believe this is where “cancel culture” stems. Cancel culture is when a group of Twitter users harass big personales for “not supporting” their activism because they don’t talk about it enough, or they dig up old pieces of evidence from years ago that barely proves their claims. I think this relates to what Moniola talked about, how there are several types of activism. Sometimes it’s passive and sometimes it’s aggressive. Most of the “cancelers” are young, and are aggressive activists, as they personally harass anyone who doesn’t seem to directly support their beliefs. Even though fighting for what they believe in is supported, harassing and doxxing certainly is not.

      However, relating back to what Odunsi talked about in the interview, I think a lot of people don’t realize how much of it happens. I learned that subtle discriminatory comments hurt a lot more than blatant ones. For example, in school I try my best to do good academically, I study and put in the effort to communicate with teachers and peers. Whenever the teacher compliments me for anything, I can hear classmates whisper to others, “Of course, he’s asian,” as if I don’t hear or feel anything and that’s a good enough reason why I do well. If younger people start with problems around them rather than nitpicking people for not directly supporting their beliefs, the message will be thoroughly widespread rather than being lost in the wind.

  4. Moniola isn’t “drawn” to fighting for equal justice and peace in society: She is forced to live in one that doesn’t. People of color are thrown into a system that inherently discriminates against us for the color of our skin the moment we leave our mother’s wombs, crying and punching, no different from any other child.

    Like Moniola, I share the insecurities of being a minority in this country. Growing up Asian, I remember the 12-year-old me bracing for every knock that came by the door, praying that it wasn’t an officer from ICE like we had seen on TV. Like Moniola, I sensed, somehow, even as a child, that this country wasn’t going to protect me. Even now, every time someone asks me for my ID, I would pull out a folder of identifications: three passports, two F-1 visas, and a pile of letters and report cards from my school to prove that I should be here.

    I’m supposed to be here.

    Like Moniola had pointed out, implicit bias prevails in every corner of American society: “it’s not something we can run away from.” Developed to expose implicit bias in day-to-day writing, Equally not only sheds light on the systemic problem but also pushes for a communal introspection of our own prejudices. After it is available for the general public, Equally will serve as a tool for social justice fighters like Moniola and me to continue our work in finding the long-term solution to racial inequality, xenophobia, and anti-Asian hate. As another victim of the heartfelt impact of implicit bias, I am eager to see Moniola, Shualeha, and Sora’s Equally in its works.

    1. Hexuan’s comment on how “Moniola is not ‘drawn’ to fighting social justice, but born in a society that doesn’t” is not only a beautifully articulated mic drop statement, but one that is readily true in the lives of every disenfranchised individual.

      I feel the same sentiment that Hexuan describes in her comment about having to prove she is supposed to be here. I was born in the U.S. I’ve lived in the U.S. my entire life. I have an U.S. passport. Yet, I’m constantly reminded of how much I do not belong here. Whether it’s the automatic categorization of me as a foreigner, the questions of whether Jason is my fake name, or even the refusal to shake my hand after a debate round because I could have been carrying COVID. I unapologetically identify as Chinese-American, yet I constantly feel as if I’m stripped of my American identity. Even if implicit bias doesn’t seemingly always have an explicit impact on our lives, its implications still affect every aspect of daily life.

  5. What is most revealing about Equally and Moniola’s words to me is the role implicit bias plays in each of our lives. Equally is programmed to point out and flag the biases that we hold against others—whether we are aware of it or not. Implicit bias is undoubtedly interwoven in each of our thoughts, conversations, and life experiences regardless if we acknowledge it. It’s naturally something that we grow up with, slowly developing as we grow older.

    While analyzing the results found from Equally’s Implicit Association Test, Moniola and her team undercovered sadly unsurprising implications: “people are faster and more likely to associate White faces with good words and Black faces and other minorities with negative words.” However, what I find interesting about this conclusion is the origins of such preferences. In 1970, Durrett and Davy conducted a study on the racial awareness of young White and Black children. White and Black dolls were used, and children were asked to choose the doll that looked most like them and the doll they would prefer to play with. Results indicated that 76% of the Black children chose the white dolls when asked which looked most like them, as compared to 96% for the white children. When asked which doll they preferred to play with, 83% of the White children chose their own race, but 48% of the Black children chose the white doll. By surrounding children of color with primary white figures, we send a message that their culture is racially inferior. This contributes to what is coined as race dissonance, or the white-based or Eurocentric preferences by minority children. We fill our kids’ toy boxes with items reflecting the idealization of being white without realizing the damaging side-effects it entails for our future generations.

    Thus while Equally makes a massive step in the right direction, it does not, by any means, signify an end to the fight against implicit bias and systematic racism. If we don’t make an effort to effectively diversify the world that these kids grow up in, their understanding of personal identity is significantly deterred. In a world where Equally, designed and created by a team of passionate young students of color, is able to acknowledge implicit biases and fight against prevalent injustices, it exemplifies how each of our voices, each of our experiences, and each of our communities can be brought back to fight against prejudice.

    1. Hi Jason,

      You provided an insightful look into the causes and direct consequences that implicit bias can have on our lives. The study that you brought up is a haunting yet insightful look into the devastating impacts that implicit bias can have on our lives—even destroying our sense of self-worth.

      It is also essential to consider how implicit bias can mar lives indirectly. The primary method that it can do so is through a relatively novel development: artificial intelligence. AI is being used in various applications, from the fairly innocuous job of tagging photos to the precarious task in criminal justice. However, its predominance and overreliance can have adverse consequences. For example, MIT Ph.D. candidate Joy Buolamwini stumbled across a concerning development. When working with Amazon’s facial recognition software for a project, she noticed that the program couldn’t recognize her face but had no problems with detecting the faces of her Caucasian friends. In her thesis, she performed rigorous analyses of three popular facial recognition systems regarding faces in four categories: dark-skinned male, dark-skinned female, light-skinned male, and light-skinned female. All of the programs had differences of at least 20% when comparing the largest and smallest accuracies. The program most adversely discriminated against females and darker-skinned humans. When diagnosed, software developers revealed that the program had insufficient data from females and darker-skinned males. Such mistakes can have dire consequences, primarily when used in sensitive scenarios, like criminal justice.

      Natural implicit bias is a problem, but we are getting better, slowly but surely. However, in our haste to fix it, we must not overlook the dangers of AI reflecting the bias within humans. Similar to Jason’s solution, the most effective weapon against programs harboring such biases is diversity in the teams that create them. Introducing new perspectives and new concerns will only strengthen AI.

  6. Racial discrimination is a social construct. Its rooted in our education system and societal conditioning, from a young age our brain is wired to absorb a multitude of emotions, theories, thoughts and ideas. What we see and hear from a young age shapes our point of a view. As we grow older we are able to recognize this and navigate through own feelings and biases and avoid falling into racist behavior. However, we continue to be vulnerable to implicit bias which inadvertently influences our actions.

    ‘Equally’ is on the right path by addressing this issue of implicit bias, as it manifests in how we write and speak. It has the potential to make a material difference to racism in schools and workplaces by creating a mechanism to recognize and address deep-rooted and subconscious biases. This company will develop into something that can help us to uncover an extended solution to racial discrimination.

Join the Conversation