I’m writing to apply for Future Newspaper, based on this call for submissions.
One of the most interesting trends of the last five years as been the popularity surge of home DNA tests. Companies like 23andMe, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage are just few of the science driven companies that have cornered the recent market, releasing identity charged information to hundreds of thousands of consumers all over the world. In January of 2020, 23andMe started the beginning of the domino affect, revealing that it has been in business with “big pharma” since opening their business. Their new model heavily included selling DNA and statistics to the highest bidder.
As a mixed race, optically black woman, I found this very troubling. Trendy DNA companies take advantage of marginalized people, specifically those who, through colonization, cannot trace back their ethnic or family lines. In selling their valuable results they run the risk that this data may be used to create future oppressive medial system and enhance further biases that could go on to influence insurance rates, hospital services in marginalized neighbourhoods, etc.
When I worked at Genspace this summer, I learned about communities, largely of non-white identities who were using homemade systems and local biology labs to learn how to read DNA strands. A group of people had learned that the central key to DNA test results was comparative data. They acquired a DNA data set (cheek samples) of large societal groups and began testing their mixed race identities against these in order to determine what their origins might be. I think this is absolutely fascinating. Not only does it lend itself to the empowerment of self-assessment and discovery but also demonstrates the capacity of a community to band together and learn new skills to combat oppression. With such methodologies, this may create systematically disempowered communities who have greater knowledge of their individual genetic issues, complications and identities. Imagine a medical system where the patient holds more data than the doctor? How would this shift power structures? How might a deeper knowledge of racial or ethnic identity affect the way we operate as a community? How might it affect our relationship to cultural heritage?
I have experience in technology related journalism. I currently work for a platform that aims at teaching creative machine learning practices. In addition to some computational curriculum, I also have the privilege of interviewing individuals who use the platform in their field. A sample of my writing in this context can be found below:
An interview with afrofuturistic artists Ayo Okunseinde and Nikita Huggins
An interview with artificial intelligence toy expert Stefania Druga
I am also a speculative writer, focusing largely on black science fiction. A sample of my fictitious writing style can be found here, password “futurenewspaper”
Ashley Jane Lewis is an interactive artist with a focus on bioart, afrofuturism and speculative design. In the summer of 2016 she was listed in the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. Her new media work has exhibited in both Canada and the US, most notably featured on the White House website during the Obama presidency and most recently at Google Creative Lab. She is now studying to get her Masters at ITP (Interactive Telecommunications) in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She’s been featured as a Tech Activist in Metro News, Reader’s Digest, Huffington Post and has spoken on numerous occasions for audiences at Google, TEDx, FITC, International Women’s Day and Maker Faire.