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March 23, 2023 52 mins

According to Ruha Benjamin, we’re living inside someone else’s imagination. An imagination that  limits our ability to build a more just, liberated world. So, how do we take back our agency and begin to seed something different? Baratunde talks with Princeton professor and founding director of the Just Data Lab, Ruha Benjamin to find out.

 

SHOW ACTIONS

Internally Reflect - Bear witness and create a ripple

This one is inspired from Ruha’s book Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want which says: “…bear witness to the weight of individual and communal protective acts and consider how all of us can be involved in sheltering one another from the rain and sun by cultivating relationships, skills, accountability, and healing.”

Think about when you witnessed someone near you perform an act of justice or kindness or protection for another. Was it a big or small act? Did it require courage? How did witnessing that make you feel about the world? Is it something you could repeat and further the impact?

Become More Informed - Learn about racial justice 

Ruha recommends Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander both of which you can find on our Bookshop page.  

Publicly Participate - Invest in your community using your time & skills

Check out ways to invest and get to know your community using your existing skills and experience.  If you’re 60+ check out Thirdact.org and Cogenerate.org. If you’re 25-59 check out Volunteermatch.org and Catchafire.org. If you're 16-24 check out Civicsunplugged.org and Youthclimatelobby.org.

 

SHOW NOTES

Walk through Breonna’s Garden and check out Lady Phoenix’s IG for more. 

Find How To Citizen on Instagram or visit howtocitizen.com to join our mailing list and find ways to citizen besides listening to this podcast! 

Please show your support for the show by reviewing and rating. It makes a huge difference with the algorithmic overlords and helps others like you find the show!

How To Citizen is hosted by Baratunde Thurston. He’s also host and executive producer of the PBS series, America Outdoors as well as a founding partner and writer at Puck. You can find him all over the internet

 

CREDITS

How To Citizen with Baratunde is a production of iHeartRadio Podcasts and Rowhome Productions. Our Executive Producers are Baratunde Thurston and Elizabeth Stewart. Allie Graham is our Lead Producer and Danya AbdelHameid is our Associate Producer. Alex Lewis is our Managing Producer. John Myers is our Executive Editor and Mix Engineer. Original Music by Andrew Eapen and Blue Dot Sessions. Our Audience Engagement Fellows are Jasmine Lewis and Gabby Rodriguez. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeartRadio.

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
We can talk about the hardware and software all day,
but social technologies like trust, like mutuality, we have to
invest as much intellectual and emotional energy into honing those,
building those practicing those. It doesn't come natural, and so
part of what we're doing is trying to prototype new
relationships amongst ourselves. Like well, our tagline within the lab

(00:24):
is be careful with each other so we can be
dangerous together. Welcome to How to Citizen with Baritune Day,
a podcast that reimagine citizen as a verb, not a
legal status. This season is all about how we practice democracy,
what can we get rid of, what can we invent,

(00:45):
and how do we change the culture of democracy itself.
We're leaving the theoretical clouds and hitting the ground with
inspiring examples of people and institutions that are showing us
new ways to govern ourselves. I first came across the
name Ruha Benjamin, such a great sounding name, during the

(01:08):
peak of my rebellion against technology and my realization that
it was causing a lot of harm. It was the
fall of twenty eighteen. I was living in New York
City and working out of a place called the Data
in Society Research Institute. Which is about what it sounds like.
They're focused on the impact of data centric technologies on

(01:30):
society and how they affect people, especially those in marginalized communities.
Ruha was coming through to talk about her new book,
Race After Technology, a book that was saying out loud
and imprint a lot of the things that I'd also
been feeling and thinking and saying. In particular, she coined
this phrase the new gym code. I mean, come on now,

(01:53):
I'm a sucker for wordplay. That's amazing, And this is
basically her definition of the new gym code. Using technology
to reflect or even reproduce existing inequalities, while concealing that
by promoting the tech with the language of progress and
objectivity that masks the fact that it's built on the

(02:13):
discrimination from a previous era. I cheered when I saw
that because it echoed my own statements around the time
that we might find the civil rights battles of the
future harder to win because they'd be encoded in this
technocentric language of progress and fairness and equality. But the
systems will actually make us more oppressed by literally codifying

(02:35):
discrimination in the data in tech that's based on our
unjust past. We'd write history into our futures, and not
in a good way. So Ruha was saying all that
and so much more. When I saw her three years
later at south By Southwest in twenty twenty two, she

(02:57):
was moderating a panel on a virtual and augmented reality
experience that beautifully honored the life of Brianna Taylor. Sadly,
we know about Brianna because the Louisville Metro Police shot
and killed her in the summer of twenty twenty. In
this case, technology was being used to help a family
and a community remember Brianna's life, not just her death,

(03:20):
and ultimately help them heal. Ruha was helping show a
different and more positive experience of technology and its impact.
Along with bringing community connection and facilitation to the front
of her fight for justice. Ruha is echoing that same
joy and warmth that Adrian Marie Brown brought us at
the start of this season, and her work connects to

(03:41):
the way we think about citizen as a verb. Here
at the show, our four pillars show up and participate,
invest in relationships, understand power, and value the collective are
things she practices, not just preaches, Especially on relationships and power.
She does much of that practice as founding director of
the Data Lab at Princeton, where she also teaches. The

(04:03):
lab is focused on rethinking and retooling the relationship between
stories and statistics, power and technology, data and justice. They
invite community based organizations to partner with them on building
technologies that meet their needs, from mapping the work of
companies engaged in immigrants surveillance and developing tools for formerly
incarcerated small business owners, to creating playbooks about black maternal

(04:27):
mental health and resources for tenants facing eviction. And that's
just naming a few. I consider Uja to be a
kindred spirit and it's so cool to finally have her
on the show. Now. We got together in front of
a live i RL audience in New York in September
twenty twenty two. It was part of a conference and

(04:48):
festival called Unfinished. I've been hosting that event for three
years straight because it's so well aligned with what we
do here at How to Citizen. This gathering is predicated
on interpreting the project of a mer the possibilities of technology,
even democracy itself, as well as Unfinished, especially in this
moment where both democracy and technology feel like they're on

(05:11):
the precipice of something, something great or something terrible. While
it unfinished, Ruhat and I sat down for a special
live taping of Hot to Citizen, which you'll hear right after.
We pay for this podcast with an ad break. Yes, Yes,

(05:34):
smatterings of applause are encouraged, encouraged, Thank you. We're here
first context on the podcast, which I assume you all
listened to religiously. But there may be one person who's
never heard of podcasting and hasn't gotten around to the
billion that exists in the world. The premise of our
show is that we interpret the word citizen as a verb,

(05:57):
and we see it as an opportunity to include people
in the process, as opposed to this noun that divides
us from one another, separating people across imagine every line.
And so I'm sitting here with you, Ruha, because of
your book, and I was I here yelling in these
Internet streets about you know, the bias baked into the
system and they're making us new digital slaves and black box.

(06:20):
First of why I got to be a black box?
Why can't just be another obfuscated box? Why I gotta
be black? So I feel like you gotta reruha. You
gotta reruha. So I came across Raced after technology the
New You Gym Code, after having already read the New
Gym Chrome many years prior. And I would love to
know to start us off, how you're weaving of medicine

(06:41):
and technology and technological systems with ideas of power and
ultimately liberation, which we'll get to. Where does that come
from for you? Yes, so many origin stories. First of all,
Hi everyone, good to see you. I'm so thrilled to
be in conversation with Bartunde, whose work I read I
first started teaching as a young assistant professor BU and

(07:03):
it was the first and only book that had me
cackling on the airplane, like to the to everyone around.
It was mad because I was reading this and just
loved how incisive, how brilliant, how you use humor to
get us to open our hearts in our minds. So
thank you. So she's referring to how to Be Black, Yes,
which if you haven't bought your Races, that's just the

(07:26):
marketing sciences, not it's not accusing you back. So I
just I have been a huge fan of bartun Day's
work for a long time. Um, so so many origin stories,
you know, when someone asked you, how did you start?
And also I'll try to just distill perhaps two quick
personal experiences or times in my life that have led

(07:49):
me to this work. One is as a young in
growing up in Los Angeles. Imagine little seven or eight
year old Ruha in the back of her grandma's gold
Chrysler cruising down Crenshaw Boulevar exactly and how many times
have I heard that? So, you know, and just being

(08:11):
you know, just a wide eyed young kid, you know,
and passing by this one moment, passing by a group
of boys from my school lined up against the fence
very close to my house being patted down very aggressively
and shamefully, and just kind of catching their eye as

(08:32):
I'm in the back seat and seeing that very overt
form of policing that wasn't just meant to shame them
and control them, but it felt like a message to
all of us about where we belonged and what we were,
what we could expect, and that was reinforced and amplified
in many, many different ways, most notably just the everyday

(08:55):
audible experience of police helicopters rumbling overhead in Los Angeles,
you know, as a resident, and just the literal wall
shaking in my grandma's house a periodic intervals. So I
think of us as being in police occupied neighborhoods, and so,
you know, as a young mother, then I remember times
putting my boys to sleep in that same house and

(09:16):
the lights of the helicopters shining in and waking them up,
and so this very physical presence of policing. Then realizing that, oh,
there are other less visible, less audible ways in which
surveillance technologies are being deployed that perhaps are even more
dangerous because I can't point to them, because I can't
see them. And so it sort of led me to

(09:37):
look behind the screen, look at things that are out
of sight but are nevertheless classifying people controlling our lives
and in very harmful ways. And so there's this experience
of just being someone who understands what it is like
to be watched and not seen that has led to
this work. The other origin story comes from being a

(10:00):
young mother. I had my sons in my twenties and
living in Atlanta, Georgia at the time, and with my
first son, realizing what the experience was probably going to
be like with childbirth and the overly medicalized approach to
childbirth in this country, and understanding that there are different
schools of childbirth. There's the conventional obstetrics medicalized approach to

(10:24):
childbirth that we're familiar with and that I Binge watched
when I was pregnant with the birth story, and just
understanding what I could expect if I had my child
in a hospital, which is that the schedules of other
people would proceed mine that I could expect various technologies
that I may not necessarily need, that can be life
saving in some situations but have become normalized. And for

(10:48):
those who don't know, the experience of black women in
particular in our healthcare settings and childbirth in particular is
astronomically worse than everyone else. But I learned about midwiff free,
a different approach where you can either have your child
in a hospital, a birth center at home with the
accompaniment of dulas and midwives birthworkers, and the experience is

(11:13):
much much different. Centers the woman or birth in person,
centers our autonomy, our dignity is based on respect and
mutuality and trust, and that's what I chose to do.
And that's when I became critical of both authoritative forms
of knowledge, whether whatever sciences or medicine that is, but

(11:33):
also that other forms of expertise that exist and that
are often sort of marginalized and discounted in the form
in this case of childbirthing knowledge, and also became critical
of the overabundance of technology in our lives that we
may not necessarily need. But that just gives you a

(11:54):
sense of my critical take on when things are being
sold to us as a straightforward good without thinking carefully
about how they're actually being experienced. Would you describe this
as your critical race theory? Yes, yes, I would, Yes,

(12:15):
I would leap that out. I want the people a Georgia.
But they hear this exactly. Midwifery is actually a good
and unexpected segue. I'd like to spend the bulk of
the remainder of our time in this word seeds and
in midwifing new ideas of design, justice, of freedom, of thriving,

(12:39):
of liberation. One effort that you've undertaken is to create
the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab at Princeton. What
is that? Yeah, I'm happy to talk about that. Because
that means we get to talk about my students, yes,
which is where a lot of my optimism, hope, and
energy comes from is getting to hang out with eighteen

(13:00):
to twenty two year olds all day who are both
critical and creative in their approaches. And so Ida B.
Wells I named it after Ida B Wells because, and
now an explainer to today if you're not familiar. Ida B.
Wells was a civil rights leader, suffragette, and investigative journalist

(13:22):
who lived from eighteen sixty two to nineteen thirty one.
She's best known for her work documenting racial terror lynchings
in the United States, and her most famous work is
The Red Record, an historic effort to quantify lynchings in
the US after slavery. I named it after Ida B

(13:43):
Wells because for many reasons, but one very personal reason
is that her grandson was my dissertation advisor, doctor Troy Duster,
and so I've felt a kinship with her, her family
and that legacy because he's the one who brought me
into this field of theology of science, knowledge and medicine,
and so as a tribute to that legacy, and also

(14:06):
because she used both statistics and stories to shine a
light on what is ailing us and the forms of
violence and injustice. And it's that combination those different tools
that we need the data, but the data itself is
not going to save us, because people can tell all
kinds of stories about data to justify all kinds of things.

(14:29):
And so it's that marrying of the narrative with the
statistics that she modeled so brilliantly in the Red Record,
and that I wanted to use as a beacon for
my own students. So these are students who aren't necessarily
in my classes, some of them are. They come from
many different disciplines from the STEM side, humanity, social sciences,

(14:50):
but they share an underlying desire to engage in what
we call tech justice, and so thinking about technol oology
not just as hardware software, but taking the stories as
seriously as we do the software. So we have artists
up in there. We have people who didn't necessarily take

(15:11):
a single computer science class, but who are bringing a
different skill set and approach. And one of the ways
that we've structured the lab is that we collaborate with
community based organizations insanity, humane and consensual. That is not
the technology that so many of us have been subjected

(15:33):
to in an autocratic kind of way, literally as subjects
to someone else's will, And say, you're describing really all
those words, this consensual, respectful relationship where it is a
feature not a bug, that someone who isn't a computer
programmer is involved in the programming because non programmers are

(15:54):
going to be living with these technologies. So what sorts
of critical and creative work have been prototyped and researched
in this last so as I was saying, we take
our marching orders from the organizations that we collaborate with.
Rather than study them or bring ideas to them, we
ask what would help you as an organizer? What would

(16:15):
help you as an organization do your work better? Silicon Valley,
are you listening? You have to prebake the solution, talk
to those who are most impacted. Whether we have a
team working on housing justice, we have a team working
on workers rights, we have a team working on maternal mortality.
And they collaborate with organizations all over the country, some

(16:37):
in Canada and elsewhere. But again, so getting the questions
from the source right, And so when we think about
design justice, we think about collaboration. Most corners of our world,
like if you go to NSF National Science Foundation and
get a grant, they'll tell you better have a community
organization involved. But oftentimes we're involving them much later in

(16:59):
the process, right, And sometimes it's window dressing. Sometimes it's
theatrical in terms of showing that you have this community support,
rather than starting at the very very beginning and find
out what questions should we be asking as researchers, as
a lab and get the questions and get the insights

(17:20):
from the start that let that be directed by our partners.
And so if you go to the Just Data Lab
dot org and go to the projects tab, you'll see
a wide range of projects that have come out of it,
whether it's dealing with police surveillance. Oftentimes we're casting the
light back on power, going back to how to citizen.

(17:42):
Rather than studying the most vulnerable who are trying to
navigate hostile systems, we say, who's creating this vulnerability, who's
creating this risk? Let's actually point our digital lens and
collect data and shine a light on upstream what's creating
these problems. So I'm going back to the pictures you
initially painted of these brothers with their hands up on

(18:05):
the wall being subject to an ill system, and I'm
imagining a world where your lab is talking to them, yes,
and working backwards up the stream. What have been some
of the results and at least feedback, especially from the
community members, from being much more involved in creating their
own solutions. Yes, and so you know, one example of

(18:28):
one of the organizations that we have learned from is
called Stop LAPD Spine Coalition. You may have heard of them,
very subtle name. Well, I don't know if I know
what they're about. Yeah, exactly, the Stop LAPD Spine Coalition.
And so they have modeled for us in their advocacy,
in their research is they base their own advocacy and

(18:51):
organizing on talking to community members first. So they created
a survey and with a whole range of questions about
what it feels like to be watched and all of
the different ways that people might not know what surveillance means,
They might not know what predictive policing means. But when
you break it down and say, has X, Y and
Z have you experienced this? Have people in your family

(19:12):
experiences has this happened to you? Then that is an
abundance of knowledge that might not necessarily have the latest
jargon and lingo attached to it, but it's a form
of deep experiential knowledge upon which then they're organizing and
their advocacy work has been built, and they have been
so successful in actually beginning to change some of the
policies putting moratory on certain predictive policing practices in LA.

(19:36):
But that has been based on actually listening to people, right,
so basic, Yeah, but it's also what I resonate with
about that is how does it make you feel? Yes?
What is it like to live like this? And I
think we can be very abstracted away from other people's
experiences when they're statistics and a word surveillance is not
a deeply emotional word, factly but not trusting. Yes, we

(20:00):
know that feeling and we don't like that feeling. And
I'm just imagining some of the other words from my
own experience that if we could build deeper sympathies and
empathies around the shared emotion, we don't want to project
that onto other people. It's something that we will want
to experience ourselves. Yes, yes, anything else you want to
brag on from from your just data student, now, I

(20:21):
would just really encourage you know. Part of it is
just as much about the process as the endpoints, the projects,
or the outputs we call them outputs, yeah, that you
can find. And so a lot of this has to
do with creating new forms of relationships because we can
talk about the hardware and software all day, but social

(20:42):
technologies like trust, like mutuality, we have to invest as
much intellectual and emotional energy into honing those, building those
practicing those. It doesn't come natural. We have to actually
price on it, no can't. You can't know, and so
there's not as much invest in it, right, And so
part of what we're doing is trying to prototype new

(21:05):
relationships amongst ourselves. Like well, our tagline within the lab
is be careful with each other so we can be
dangerous together. So this is a way of you know,
treating one another that yeah, okay, all right now, because
you know, for me it's important because I have seen
from the outside so many really noble undertakings where the

(21:30):
end just you know, justifies the mean. Where when you
actually are spending time with people, we're not treating each
other in the ways that we want the world to
mirror back to us. Psych is that what's a practical Yes,
example or implementation of how internally, yes, you are careful
with each other. Where's another institution focused on output may
not be Yeah, so there's there's two. One is sort

(21:52):
of you know, might seem less less grand, but it's
you know, really respecting each other's time and commitments. So
if we see we're going to do something at a
certain time, don't just be respectful to me as the director,
but I want you to have the same regard and
respect for each other's time. So that's just everyday type
of thing. But even sort of bigger picture beyond the

(22:14):
lab for all of us to consider is to think
about we're in this moment of this really flourishing of
abolitionist thought and imagination. So it's this twin process we're
trying to bring down or trying to grow. We're trying
to plant these seeds. And so part of that is
being critical of the way that punishment and policing has

(22:35):
infected not just the obvious police, but so many of
our institutions are punitive. Healthcare is punitive, Like I've heard
nurses say that, you know, if a patient is a
non compliant, they're supposed to call in the police or
do x Y and Z school, we know is super punitive,
and so if we're critical of that, but in our

(22:56):
own relationships with each other, we are punitive. We punish
each other for all kinds of things in ways. It
can be passive aggressive or disaggressive aggressive, you know. And
so I remember some years back being on this kind
of traveling caravan with some wonderful colleagues going through South Africa,
and one of the people on our traveling bus was

(23:19):
the Angela Davis and she was standingble I know, she
was standing in front of an auditorium full of students
in Cape Town, and there was a question what do
we do? Question? You know, like we're so excited, like
what do we do? She was like, well, you know,
we can't be critical of policing out there if we're
punitive in our relationships in here. We have to start modeling.

(23:42):
We have to start prefiguring the world we want right
in how we treat one another. And so that's part
of the ethos to think about, like how do we
show up and when people are not looking, when there's
no lights, no camera, you know, behind closed doors, because
if it's all just for the for the show, and
we're not really practicing those new values that ethos. Then

(24:08):
I don't think we have a strong foundation on which
to erect these structures that we imagine we want. So
in the lab itself, what does that look like? Then?
Do you do you not punish people at all? Do
you punish people for punishing people? There's accountability versus punishment.
I think that's two very different things, right, And that's
part of we think about, you know, the abolitionist approach.

(24:30):
It's like it's not a free for all. We don't
just do things and there's no consequence. But it's really
about thinking about when someone does something that violates a
norm or it's not respectful, if we really want that
action to change, then we have to approach it in
a way that fosters that invites that change, rather that

(24:52):
punishment doesn't change people's behavior. And so really thinking about
you know, when we had situations, I mean, we created
the lab at the of COVID, which means people's lives
are upside down and we want them to focus on
work and research. I don't care how important it is.
You have a whole life. You have parents dying, you
have siblings who are sick, and so part of bringing

(25:14):
this ethos inside the lab is to say we are
whole people. We are students, sometimes we're professors, We're not
our jobs. And so it's trying to build in that
approach to put work in its place, you know. And
so I think we can appreciate that in our own
beyond what I'm talking about and thinking about the role
of work and you know, getting things done, but also

(25:36):
realizing that we are living in an extraordinary moment in
which we're all hurting, we're all grieving, and so we
shouldn't simply just put our emotions at the door. We
should find a way to metabolize it in the way
that we work and organize ourselves. Metabolizing and whole person

(25:58):
reminds me of the dat First all you in person
south By Southwest twenty twenty two, you were leading a
discussion about an immersive art experience called Brihanna's Garden, which
was erected to I think honor the whole person. Yes,
it was Brianna Taylor, who many of us only know
as a victim of gun violence, of police violence, of

(26:21):
the state of no knock, warrants of black lives not mattering. Yes,
and so to briefly summarize, this is an AR experience,
a VR experience now that the family was a part
of building. Yes, that has volumetric capture of Brianna's sister,
the voice of her boyfriend. It's a you can drop

(26:43):
this garden in the room right now. You can install
it from the app store, and you encounter flowers that
have voiced memos embedded in them. So as you touch
a flower, you hear a message from someone who was
moved by Brianna, whether they knew her or not exactly.
There's voices from all over the world, most beautifully and
non hideously. There's no Nazi graffiti in this space. There's

(27:07):
no hate spewing. This is a curated experience, a moderated space.
And so I saw you moderating this conversation, and I
wonder how did you get connected to that project and
what did that mean to you as far as a
seed and an imagination of how we might be using technologies, Yes,

(27:29):
in a way that cares for allows us to care
for each other and create the systems we want to
live in. Yes. So, first of all, you described it
so beautifully. It's no movie to think about it. I
think if Brianna's family was not did not co create
this was not part of it from the beginning, was

(27:51):
not asked permission for this to be created. I wouldn't
have come near it with a ten foot poll, even
though I respected them Bleed designer, the team. To me,
it was absolutely crucial that this was their wish, that
they had input at every stage, and that in its
circulation in the world, that a family member is present

(28:15):
at all of you know, all of the yes. Yeah.
So I will say I knew the lead designer on
this and how careful she was in Lady Phoenix and
approaching the family, and her motivation was that she noticed
that in the aftermath of Brianna's murder that they there

(28:37):
was no place online, which is how especially young people,
there's no separation like your life is online that they
could grieve or express themselves. They were being harassed and
sent death threats and getting all of these messages, and
so like, the seed for her was what if we
could create a space for the family to express themselves

(29:00):
their love, their care, their grief around this, And that
was where Brianna's Garden was first born. But she went
and said, is this something that you would want again
asking permission, and if they had said no, she wouldn't
have done it no matter how. Now it's won all
these awards, it's getting all this attention, but that was

(29:21):
not the purpose. The purpose was for the family to
have a space. And what happened, as you describe, is
that it has become a space for so many people
not only to express their emotions around Brianna, but their
own unprocessed grief at all of the loss that people
have experienced over the last two years. So it's really

(29:42):
become this model for how we can curate and shape
and design different values and create spaces intentionally for healing
and for solidarity. And so yes, that is the story
of how I was pulled in, and I think why
I was because I'm so critical of technology. So they

(30:03):
were like, if we can get hurt of like that, man,
we must be doing something good. So it's kind of like, okay,
ruins on the panel. So so I went to that
panel and I installed the app from the audience and
I popped it up in my hotel room. Later that night,
I wept a lot just hearing other people and I
was left my own message about you know, losing my

(30:25):
mother to colon cancer at a pretty young age of
sixty five years old. I ended up going months later.
It's mayish and we had these twin foolish tragedies self
inflicted in the US in Buffalo with the Masks, shooting
at the Tops food market in Uvaldi at the school,

(30:48):
and I was at I was at my end with
like the whole thing. Just America. Yes, I'm like, I'm
out here, pretty hottest citizen, done whatever, do your thing. Yeah,
I was just I felt a bit broken, Yes, And
I found myself in DC, where I'm from, and I
went to the FM Museum and a friend works there,
and I said to her, like, I need to be uplifted.

(31:10):
I get it. The problems are problematic, problem is going
to problem. Yes, my heart is broken in pieces. So
I'm going to skip the basement of the museum, which
is all about the origin of the slave trade in
Belgium and the ships. And she's India Company. I'm like,
can you take me to a higher level? Literally literally
climbed the mountain together. And she showed me a few

(31:33):
of the dark things, just to like reconnect. But one
of the most beautiful things she showed me is that
Brihanna's in the museum. Yes, there's this beautiful portrait. And
I popped open my phone and I put Brihanna next
to Brianna in the museum, and she had never heard
this curator and so she saw this, She's like, oh
my God. And it just felt like, all right, My

(31:55):
heart was healed a little bit just having her in
her own garden represent it in analog art and digital art.
Of that augmenting our reality was something more beautiful than
what the reality I was experiencing at a time. So yeah,
powerful stuff powerful So and would I would be permiss
if I didn't say, again, echoing Lady Phoenix, that the

(32:16):
purpose for the whole team there is not to remember
Brianna for her pain, but for her purpose. Yeah, as
we know, she was training to be a nurse, she
was working at the front lines of COVID, and so
for the team and the family, she's carrying on her
work of healing in doing this for all of us. Yeah,

(32:40):
which I experienced directly, Yes, after the break, how reimagining
our social technologies can help us grow the world we want.

(33:00):
You have this book coming out, Viral Justice, which is
filled with tales of more seeds that we might cultivate
in water and grow into a garden that we would
be happy to inhabit in terms of the way we
structure our society. Can you share a bit more of
the seeds that you're excited about, especially as they relate

(33:20):
to our ability to self govern and maybe with that
intersection of technology and science as well. Absolutely, so I'll
try to just give you two or three seeds, literal seeds.
I mean, like the beginning is like literally getting our
hands dirty in terms of working with the earth. You know,
there's a man named Ron Finley in my neighborhood in

(33:43):
Los Angeles who the guerrilla gardener, the gangster garden gardener. Yeah,
and so part of it is like him just realizing
the food and security, the food deserts, and the toll
that takes on our health. And so he looked at
these parkways that are all over La, the little patch
of grass between people's homes and the streets, and said,

(34:05):
what if we just created urban gardens. And when he
first started, the city sided him right again, policing there
they go, there they go again. And so people get
you know, organized with him, and not only push that back,
but this has flourished this whole, you know, over I
think twenty urban gardens now using not just the parkways

(34:27):
but all different kinds of spaces. And so it's one
of those literal examples of not working in your backyard,
but working in your front yard and just starting to
create what we need more of, right and so thinking
about that as a kind of you know, inspiration for
all of the different ways we can get our hands
dirty and just work right where we are. Definitely advocating

(34:47):
for big structural policy change, is not taking away from that,
but not waiting for that either. And so the book
ends so if it starts with finlay, it ends with
a group in Seattle called the Seattle Solidarity Budget, which
over the last couple of years has managed by bringing
together over two hundred different organizations throughout the city working
on all kinds of things, from indigenous rights to environmental justice,

(35:11):
to healthcare to housing to education. All of them have
come together and have managed to slowly start reducing the
policing budget and investing in all of these different things
that actually make us safe. And so part of it
is this coalition, and it's thinking about what do we
have in common. We might have these different lanes that
we're in, things we really really care about. But there's

(35:33):
this bigger umbrella that's about thinking about budgets, as they say,
are moral documents. Getting back to the data and understanding
that the numbers, you know, that is values in those numbers,
not just economic values, but our social values are reflected
in those numbers. And so they say, if you look

(35:53):
at the city budget, those are our values where we're
putting the money. And so they've managed over time, working
town hall meetings and zoom meetings you can attend and
see how they have brought this coalition together and are
having success in shifting the values literally of this entire city.
And they provide a great model for me, a viral justice.

(36:15):
Do you have any insight into how they are handling
some of the backlash to these moments. There was a
peak of people's budgets and participatory budgeting and shifting reallocating
resources away from policing into more community healing, which got
shortened somewhat unfortunately at times to defund the police, because
there was another side to that argument. Now that graffiti's

(36:36):
up and crimes up, and encampments are up, and some
people who might have been along for the ride are
no longer? Yes, How is the Solidarity Budget group there?
How are they dealing with that? Yeah? I can't speak
exactly to how they might be dealing with the backlash
in Seattle specifically, but what I've seen as effective is
people taking seriously this copaganda, these narratives about rising crime,

(37:00):
and taking issue with policing as a solution for crime,
which it's not because with inflated police budgets, the so
called crime rates, you know, like those things don't aren't correlating,
but also asking you know, what do we want to
invest in and taking issue with all of these scare

(37:21):
narratives around that. And so there's a number of people
both in terms of social media pushback but on the ground,
taking seriously the stories that are being told about our
cities and about why people are houseless or why people
are are precarious, and getting to the root of the
problem without thinking that policing are ever going to be
a solution to any of these. Do you have moments

(37:44):
of surrender or total exhaustion? And if so, how have
you pushed through them or moved beyond them or have
you Yes? So, I'm travert, as my friends know, and
so I am very careful to refuel, like as a

(38:08):
matter of survival. And so that has to do with
me person but it also has to do with thinking
about when I'm working in groups and collectives in terms
of you know, whether it's student groups or community groups,
like balancing the play and the policy, like you know,
we have to have that joy as much as we
do the anger. And so I think just in integrating

(38:28):
that has helped me sort of trug along like the
little engine that could. And I think, as I said,
working with young people and feeling like I can't give
them this gloom and doom diagnosis of what's ailing us
without offering with the other hand, like this is what
we can do about it, you know, this is how
people are already doing things about it. So for me

(38:50):
as an educator, especially at a place like Princeton, where
they're groomed to think of themselves as the solution to
all of the problems, like create an app for that,
creative new business for that, my mantra is find out
who's already working on that, Listen to them, collaborate with them,
learn from them, don't think of yourself as and so

(39:12):
that it actually is an antidote for burnout and depression.
Because you are working with people, you don't have to
do this, but you don't have to do it, and
you should not do this by yourself. And because that
is another kind of hubrist it, burnout and hubrist like,
you're not supposed to be doing all of that. Why
are you trying to fix a whole society? Please? You
can't create one by yourself. Sit down? Yes, If two

(39:37):
of you want to throw in a question or comment,
this is the time to shoot your hand up with no,
I see one? Anybody else want to get in the queue? Two? Okay,
then let's hear from you. Let's hear a name, a
geospatial reference as far as where you reside, as specific
or general as you like, and then your remark. Please.

(39:57):
My name is Bruce Traus. I live in New Jersey,
about forty minutes away from Princeton. I have a website
called One Common Purpose dot com. It's a holistic look
at life. Now talking about let's say racism, which I
call ending mistreatment, discrimination and hatred towards those who are

(40:19):
different nationality, different religion, different race, different ethnicity, and different
sexual irritation. There's aspects to that that I have never
heard disgust see the person each of us talks to
more than anyone else's oneself. There are things in life
that affect the person. Affected in person means you have

(40:42):
certain thoughts about certain things that have an impact on
your life. So a racist basically has anti thoughts that's
reinforced by a few other things. I don't want to
keep it going too long, but to me, getting to
people and there's a process to get to people when
they're younger so that they can understand aspects like that,

(41:03):
so that if somebody reads or sees or hears something,
they can withstand it because they understand what could happen
within their own mind. I accept your submission of a comment.
There was not a question mark at the end of it.
I don't think, but I want to thank you. Where
at such a limited time, Well, the question is what
do you think of that? Each of you? I don't

(41:26):
know man to be Yeah, you shared a lot, but
it was having a little hard time. Tracking and getting
to people younger and relationship with self feel like two
very important pieces of the puzzle. As I mentioned in
our principles. To start with having a connection with yourself
is very important, and I think on that score, so

(41:48):
it's important before you go out into the world. I
think a lot of young people actually feel a ton
of pressure right now to have positions and stances and
press conference ready statements about all kinds of complicated things
that they might be new to. And so there's I'd
like to apply some counter pressure or relief that says

(42:09):
it's okay not to know. I heard something on this
stage earlier today that the highest form of wisdom is
total uncertainty, and I was like, Oh, that's a that's
an ego check right there in terms of the value
of hubrists that rue I was just talking about. So
it's related, you know, to your operation and to your premise.
We can talk more later about it, but thank you
so much for the offering. I appreciate you. There was

(42:31):
one more, Yes, you do because we're behind you. Yeah,
they're surrounding You're being surveilled. Super quick question, doctor Benjamin.
Have been following your work so so impressive. What would
you like to be doing that you're not doing right now?
And you can't say sleeping introverting um. Well, in addition

(42:54):
to Viral Justice, I just finished another short book that'll
be out in a year or two on imagination, and
so it's called Imagination a Manifesto, And I would love
to build out this space of creativity not just with students,
but with artists and to really do some world building

(43:15):
with colleagues and with people who I respect. And so
it would be taking this in a more creative way
and putting into practice some of the ideas that I'm
working on on that Imagination book. I want to follow
up on that one. Yeah, So imagining new worlds and
practicing imagination something that we do naturally as children and

(43:36):
get kind of trained out of us as we grow.
Do you have any brief hacks, approaches, tools to just
get us to flex our imagination muscles more. Yeah, that's
chapter five. It's called the Imagination Incubator. So there are
lots of prompts and activities and things because it is

(43:59):
a muscle. It's something that we have to practice, especially
in collectives, because then our imagination gets challenged. So the
key sort of thread in the book is that imagination
isn't a straightforward good. We are in many ways living
in a eugenics imagination, a techno utopian imagination. We're living
in imagination not of our own design, and so imaginations

(44:22):
can be corrupting and limiting. And so part of it
is when we work in groups. Then we can see
the edges of our own imagination. We can try to
broaden the imagination in which all of us can flourish.
But we can also see the ways that our imagination
is infected with these really old, deep seated ideas about
human hierarchy and superiority and inferiority. And so the goal

(44:46):
is to take imagination seriously as a terrain of struggle.
So when I say creativity, I don't just mean the
literal arts. I mean all of the ways in which
we are creators. We shouldn't simply submit to the designs
that we're inhabiting, and we don't have to wait to
be billionaires to be able to create something new. Like

(45:07):
I'm a student of Octavia Butler. You know, when you
go and you look at her papers at the Huntington Library,
one of the things you see in her own notes
before you even think about her work that's public, her
stories and so on, you see her notes to herself
in the margins of her notebooks, where she's building her
own life, like she's saying I will be a New

(45:28):
York Times bestseller. I will have millions of people. This
is before when she was riding the bus to work
at a potato chip factory, you know. And so part
of it is her on the one hand, really thinking
about her own agency in her own life. But it's
also that you see her studying scholarship, You see her
making notes about the headlines medical sociology, and so she

(45:49):
ends up writing these stories. But it's based on a
deep research and understanding, so understanding the porousness across these
different fields that were gathered here in and to take
agency back away from these, you know, these overdetermined ideas
about power and inequality that we inhabit and infect our institutions,
and beginning to seed something different now yesterday, seed something

(46:13):
like justice, justice and joy and joy. Oh. I want
to keep talking, but we can't take justice and joy
with you. Spread it. Thank you so much, Rouha Benjamin.
It should be pretty obvious that Ruha and I share

(46:34):
a point of view, and I just find her to
be healing and grounded and even humble, and how she
practices what she preaches, even as a Princeton University professor
who moderates panels of south By Southwest. I find her
work to be so relevant because technology is increasingly relevant
to our experience of democracy, and I want a democracy

(46:54):
that we also build with people and not for them,
because the one we're inside right now was built for
and buy a very small group of people. When Ruha
says that we've been living inside someone else's imagination, She's right.
We've been living inside this eugenics imagination, and we have
to reimagine ourselves out of it, democratically and technologically so

(47:18):
we can live inside something better. I'm not just talking
about widgets and databases and code. I'm talking about social
technologies that define how we interact with each other and
even how we envision and understand what democracy is, who
it serves, and how we experience it. Ruha, She's all
about prototyping new relationships with technology, with the community, with

(47:42):
our colleagues, and that investment in relationships, that understanding of
how those relationships relate to power. They're two of the
core principles of how the citizen and when it comes
to the progress we're trying to make in our workplaces,
our neighborhoods, our families. Ruha stresses that it's as much
about the process as it is about the outcomes, because

(48:02):
if the ways we're working to improve things don't feel
good or loving, how can we be sure we're headed
in the right direction. Maybe by taking our lead from
Ruha and working to be careful with each other, we
can be dangerous together against these systems too. I really

(48:23):
hope you check out Race After Technology Abolitionist Tools for
the New Gym Code, along with Ruha's latest book, Viral Justice,
How We Grow the World We Won. It's full of
great examples of how we can bring democracy and collective
decision making to our use of technology and to our
imaginations of the world we can live in. And if
you'd like to take a stroll through Brihanna's Garden, I

(48:46):
highly recommend it. Download the AAR Experience for free in
the app Store or head over to Brihanna's Garden dot
com and check out the creator, Lady Phoenix's work on Instagram.
She's at Yes Lady Phoenix In the show notes, we
always have actions you can take after listening to each episode.

(49:07):
We give you options to go inwards and feel into
the material to become more knowledgeable, or to get involved
with others to make an impact. For this episode, we've
provided a suggestion for internal reflection that reminds us how
witnessing others protective acts like standing up for each other
can have large ripple effects. We've also shared two book
recommendations from Ruha, The New Jim Crow and rest Is Resistance.

(49:32):
You can find links to both these books and many
more from past episodes at bookshop dot org, slash shop,
slash how to Citizen, and if you're in the US,
We've found several ways you can plug into your community
with your existing skills and volunteer. These groups take the
guesswork out of how to get involved on issues you
care about. Don't wait, sign up for something, and meet

(49:53):
your neighbors. If you take any of these actions, please
brag about it online and use the hashtag how to Citizen.
Also tag our Instagram how to Citizen. I am always
online and I really do see your messages, so sender.

(50:16):
You can also visit our website, howard to citizen dot com,
which has all of our shows, full transcripts, actions, and more. Finally,
see this episode show notes for resources, actions and more
ways to connect how to Citizen with barrettun Day is
a production of iHeartRadio Podcasts and Row Home Productions. Our
executive producers are Me barrettun Day, Thurston and Elizabeth Stewart.

(50:40):
Our lead producer is Ali Graham, Our associate producer is
Donya abdel Hamid. Alex Lewis is our managing producer, and
John Myers is our executive editor and mix engineer. Original
music by Andrew Eapen with additional music by Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks to Joel Smith from iHeartRadio and La Labina.

(51:08):
Next time on how to citizen Building relationships with the
people we're looking to help is vital. But what if
you feel so at odds with the people in your
community that you can barely talk, let alone work together.
And what if you also think they are out to
destroy you? Deepening identity based polarization is happening in this country.

(51:29):
The good news is a lot of that is built
on a lot of false perceptions of the other side.
And so, for example, on several big issues, Democrats and
Republicans misperceive the position of the other by fifty percent.
And then you ask how much you think the other
side dehumanizes you, It's off by fifty percent. And so

(51:49):
what's happening is these metamsperceptions are adding fuel to how
we think about the other side in this country. Conflict
resolution expert Tim Phillips tells us how to be in
community with people we really disagree with, and the risks
of letting our growing nationwide division persist row home productions
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