E8 wants to end anti-Asian bias in MS Word

Who: Elimin8Hate (E8), the advocacy arm of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, with Citizen Relations for strategy and creative.

What: “Reclaim Your Name,” an awareness campaign built around what the organization describes as the first plug-in that honours the true identity of Asian Canadians.

When & Where: The campaign launched this month, anchored by a downloadable dictionary extension for MS Word housed at NameReclaim.ca. A combination of online video and out-of-home advertising is being used to drive people to the website.

Why: According to E8, more than 60% of individuals who change their ethnic name cite racism and hate as the leading reason for the change. But while such racism is often overt, it can also be subtly conveyed via technology platforms.

More than one billion people around the world use an MS Office product or service. But while the products are universally loved, they are not universally inclusive—often treating non-Anglo names as a mistake.

“Seeing red under your name says in the language of software what is left unsaid in society: If you don’t have an anglicized name, you don’t belong,” says Elimin8Hate.

How: Elimin8Hate created a downloadable .dic file in Microsoft Word that features more than 8,000 unique names from more than one dozen Asian countries. Visitors to NameReclaim.ca can also submit their name for inclusion in the dictionary.

The out-of-home creative features messages like “Roxie. Lexie. Bexie. Yunxi. “One of these is made to feel less than the others,” and “How many spelling bees do South Asian kids have to win before spell check gets a name like Suchiththa right?”

It’s not the first campaign to address the bias inherent in products and services offered by the world’s major technology companies. Earlier this year, One Twenty Three West’s Rob Sweetman and Kate Roland developed an online initiative called “AddMyName,” which targeted the broader tech community by inviting people with ethnic names to share their name and the worst autocorrect they’ve ever been subjected to.

On a somewhat related note, Microsoft found itself caught up in a debate about an opt-in feature it quietly introduced to Microsoft 365 about two years ago that lets users check for words and phrases that could be deemed problematic—such as postman, mankind, etc.—and be presented with more inclusive options. A complete guide on how to set up Word to check for inclusivity biases can be found here.

And we quote: “We know the importance of this initiative because names are what you bring forward from your family into the world. They are tied to a person’s identity and sense of self. The red underline does not just stand out as a typo, it shows that your culture, your existence, your identity, is an error that need to be corrected as well. We hope that this dictionary empowers Asian-Canadians to reclaim their identity and have pride in their culture.” — Zoe Si, E8 advocate

Chris Powell