Back to contents

Casting Off

Oct/07/2023 / by Team Seema

New California bill would outlaw caste discrimination

South Asians have mixed opinions on the proposed law, which would be the first of its kind in the US

Following in the footsteps of cities like Seattle, the California state legislature recently passed a bill that would outlaw caste discrimination. If signed into law, it would become the first state in the U.S. to explicitly prevent caste discrimination. But the bill has faced pushback from many South Asians living in the state, feeling it unfairly targets South Asians specifically. 

While caste discrimination is illegal in India and Nepal, the U.S. doesn’t currently have similar laws, which has led to some lawsuits alleging the practice of poor treatment based on caste, especially in the tech industry. Despite their controversial status, the new bills have brought new awareness in the U.S. to the concept of caste, as many staff in the legislature reported needing to research the concept to better understand both sides. 

[Pull quote Boxes]:

Voices For: 

“This bill is very simple. It is to protect all people against caste discrimination, regardless of caste: upper caste, lower caste, it does not matter.” — Sen. Aisha Wahab, who introduced the bill

“I really thought I had left untouchability or caste-based discrimination back in Nepal. I never thought that one day I would be discriminated against just on the basis of caste in a country like the U.S.” —Bhim Narayan Bishwakarma, who recalled a landlord refusing a rental based on his surname, common among Nepalese Dalit families

Voices Against: 

“Everyone has a race. Everyone has an ancestry. Everyone has a gender. Everyone has an age. Not everyone has a caste.” — Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation

“We are all in America now and our kids are second- and third-generation. As immigrants, we want to create a better society and lifestyle and leave all these issues behind.” — Samir Kalra, managing director for policy and programs at the Hindu American Foundation

Solving A Major Micro Problem

Colorado University professor Sanghamitra Neogi has earned national accolades for her research on overheating microchips

If you’ve ever used an iPhone or a credit card, you’ve interacted with microchips. The tiny chips power so much of the modern economy, and will become even more essential to the next phase of technological development from AI to quantum computing. 

But these chips also have a tendency to overheat, causing a chain reaction of events that can cause them and their devices to fail. To help solve this persistent problem, University of Colorado professor  Sanghamitra Neogi has assembled a team of researchers across the country to find a way to prevent overheating. In fact, her research has been so important, the U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded her a $1 million contract. 

“A new car might have more than a thousand chips, each one managing a different facet of the vehicle’s operation. Semiconductors are also the driving force behind the innovations poised to revolutionize life over the next century, like quantum computing and artificial intelligence.”

Her research will focus on the tiny transistors that control how a microchip operates and heats. “A modern-day transistor has semiconductor, metal and dielectric confined within an incredibly small, nanoscopic space,” Neogi said to the Daily Camera. “For example, the main chip of an iPhone has anywhere from 10 to 20 billion transistors. So if you increase the temperature, a chemical reaction can take place and can generate defects that can damage the material.”

While computers can use external tools like fans to keep it cool, microchips are so small and powerful, the old solutions no longer work. Plus, the technology has gotten so small, the chips aren’t even visible with microscopes. That puts Dr. Neogi’s work at the very frontiers of science and physics say colleagues who work in the industry. But if she can help engineer a solution, it could have impacts on technology that resonate throughout our lives for decades to come. 

Battling Unconscious Bias 

AI founder Smita Tharoor explains how stereotypes influence every aspect of our lives

Unconscious bias is pervasive and often overlooked, but affects our thoughts, decisions, and behaviors across education, employment, social interactions and beyond. It is a form of bias that occurs without conscious awareness, leading individuals to make judgments and decisions based on stereotypes and prejudices that they may not even realize they hold.

Smita Tharoor understands this all too well. As a motivational keynote speaker and co-founder of Culturelytics, a company that uses artificial intelligence to understand culture in an organization, she studies the effect of conditional bias on decision making. 

“Bias is a preference. People think of it negatively, but it isn’t. It could be for or against. It’s a preference for or against something,” she explains. “It can be an individual, a country, food or whatever. It’s unconscious when you don’t know that you have that preference.” 

Also known as implicit bias, unconscious bias refers to the subtle and automatic prejudices and stereotypes that influence our perceptions, attitudes, and actions. These are formed over time through exposure to societal norms, cultural influences, media representations, and personal experiences.  

“How we get unconscious biases is our personal narrative, our personal life experiences, how we were parented. The good, the bad, and the ugly,” says Tharoor. Unconscious bias operates beneath the surface of conscious thought, making it challenging for individuals to recognize or control. 

“It could be that you are an 8-year-old of Indian origin and growing up in New York. In school you are bullied very badly by somebody from Poland,” she explains. “Fast forward to today. It is possible, because of that traumatic experience of being bullied by a Polish kid, that you have very little to do with Polish people. It’s an instinct because you want to protect yourself.”

Unconscious bias can have far-reaching consequences in various domains and predominantly experienced at the workplace. It can affect hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and opportunities for advancement. It can perpetuate inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and underrepresentation of minority groups in leadership positions. 

Tharoor has also witnessed that women tend to question their place in the world. “When asking women around the world stories of their unconscious biases, there is a common theme. It is one about lack of self-belief. It is one about asking, ‘Am I good enough?’ It is one about patriarchy,” she says about the unconscious bias women often inflict upon themselves.

Addressing unconscious bias requires conscious effort and commitment. Tharoor offers advice on how to respond, “Rather than pointing a finger and saying, ‘You did that to me because I’m a woman, because I’m brown or because I’m gay,’ it can be more helpful to ask, ‘What can I do to grow and develop and challenge my own unconscious biases?’ Self-reflect and be brave.”

SIDEBAR

Research continues to show the biases at play across categories. Here are a few ways in which it can show up: 

Gender. A study published in the journal “Science” found that both male and female scientists were more likely to hire a male candidate over an equally qualified female candidate for a laboratory manager position. This indicates the presence of gender bias in hiring decisions.

Leadership. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, women are underrepresented in leadership roles across various industries. This underrepresentation is often attributed to biases in promotion and selection processes.

Age. Ageism, or bias based on age, can also be unconscious. Research by AARP has found that older workers often face bias in hiring and promotion decisions, despite their qualifications and experience.

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Seema will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.