The question in the title is rhetorical.
The answer is obvious (to me)…
Of course anti-racism must play a role!
The above took place in September 2015. I was asked to speak at Consciousness Hacking series in San Francisco (Ok, after attending 2 and realizing no one was talking about racial privilege/racial caste system, I had myself invited). My talk was called “Mindful Social Impact Tool: Reflections on Black Lives Matters and Challenging Systemic Racism” and it was the first talk ever to bring in systemic racism. I am thankful that Mikey Siegel, the organizer and creator of the series, was open to my suggestion of inviting myself and presenting a topic that is largely ignored by the techie mainstream.
There were only a handful of Black folk there in a very packed and popular event that I spoke at. What really struck me (but not surprised, just disappointed), is that while walking to get to the event (in San Francisco), from where I parked my car, there were about 10 homeless people along the way. All of them were Black. When we arrived to Pivotal Labs, where the event was hosted, I wondered about gentrification, “new white flight“, and to what extent mindfulness and technology works, if it’s in the mostly privileged San Francisco/Silicon Valley bubbles.
I was quite nervous trying to explain racism (in 10 minutes) to a crowd that rarely thinks about it. I found it intimidating and, at the end, during the Q&A session, I have to admit that I found it quite problematic that one of the attendees suggested that I must be ‘careful’ when I use the word ‘racism’ because it doesn’t apply to many places throughout the world (despite me making it clear that I’m focused on anti-racism and Black Lives Matters in the USA); he said I was being ‘narrow-minded’. I found it a derailment of what I was attempting to speak about, as well as a derailment to engage individuals there to take action and dismantle systemic racism in the USA– regardless if it doesn’t apply everywhere because, “We’re all here right now, in the USA. More than 90 percent of us in the room are not Black, are benefiting from the displacement of Black and Brown communities in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, due to gentrification (via Silicon Valley prosperity)…so, what are you going to do about it, as a technology professional who claims to be invested in impact technology can have on mindfulness and altruism?”
I wish I had said the above, but because of the space, I decided that it may come off as not sounding like I appreciate the comment, and therefore, wasn’t being mindful… (I did learn later that the person who asked the question was raised in Germany. I thought, “Interesting, I’ve been to Germany quite a bit and there is anti-Black racism there, along with xenophobia against African/Black folk. It may operate differently, but it is still racism.” So, let me just say that I’m always blown away by people who have never studied critical studies of race in the USA, never took a training or workshop do understand systemic racism in the the USA, but can confidently tell me that I basically don’t know what I am talking about.
Let’s think about this. Is there arrogance embedded in this behavior, perhaps? Could it be unconscious? I know that a PhD oriented in the critical studies of race and whiteness are not regarded as ‘real’ social science by many people in a way that a doctorate in say, a medical profession, is regarded. I wonder if those who don’t have basic literacy and/training in how systemic racism and even how anti-Blackness operate in the USA, often think they can be ‘experts’ over a Black woman with a PhD in the subject as well as 10+ years career experience. Wondering what it means that:
One can tell a Black woman, who says she is talking about systemic racism and Black Lives Matter in the USA + technology apps + anti-racism, that she is being ‘narrow-minded’ for not considering how racism operates in many other countries…even though she made it clear that that is not her expertise or her focus this evening…
The above has happened all to frequently when I speak about systemic racism and even unconscious bias in general, and not just in the sphere of technology. What I do regret about my talk is not being more assertive and not having more self-esteem to respond with what I just wrote in the former 2 paragraphs. I had really sanitized the presentation and my responses to the audience– and perhaps even supporting white fragility with my emphasis on trying to use mindful language as not to hurt the feelings of those white people who have spent most of their time in that protected privileged bubble.
The speaker who came after me (there were two of us speaking that evening) was a venture capitalist. Noteworthy is that whenever I give a talk, I talk about my social locations and explain how they obviously influence my actions/consciousness (i.e., when I said I’m a Black woman in the USA, so experiencing racism oriented me towards the anti-racism I have been doing for 20 years). The VC, who was a white a man, did not mention his social locations at all (I’d argue that most white men are not socialized to think about naming it). I found this lack of locating one’s social identities, to be the very obvious white elephant in the room– and no one commented about it– Yea, I should have, but I thought I was probably already pushing my luck after already having given my talk.
One of the most mindful actions a speaker can take is to name their social locations as well as articulate how unconscious bias (from those social locations) shaped and continue to shape their consciousness around technology and mindfulness– whether it is intentional or not (because it’s all about impact of ignorances arounds unconscious bias as well as as systemic racism). I’m also interested in what would happened if there were conversation about how most VCs in the Silicon Valley area are white men and they usually invest in people who look just like them (often due to unconscious bias as well).
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of activism, technology, and mindfulness/ahimsa. I gave two talks over the last 3 weeks at two universities to really talk about the consequences of creating a ‘future’ of technology and/or food when it’s from the Jetsons mind-frame (i.e., that cartoon showed the future and everyone was white, straight, able-bodied, upper middle class).
Will the future of mindfulness and technology, in the San Francisco Bay Area, be as white, heteronormative, classist, ableist, etc, as the Jetsons were?
Below is the poster I created for the event.
Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.
Like what the Sistah Vegan Project Does? Find out about our 2016 upcoming conference “The Role of Foodie+Tech Culture in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism”. If you missed our Spring 2015, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter” you can download the recordings with slides, here
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