Dr. Ruha Benjamin Presentation: "Racial Literacy for the 21st Century"
An entertaining storyteller, brilliant scholar, and fierce advocate for all things just, Dr Ruja Benjamin is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University where she studies the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology, with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, knowledge and power, race and citizenship, and health and justice. As the founding director of the Ida B Wells Just Data Lab, she brings together students, educators, activists, and artists to rethink and retool data for justice Dr Benjamin is the author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code; Editor of Captivating Technology, and she is currently working on her fourth book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want, born out of the twin plagues of COVID 19 and police violence. at the center of all Dr Benjamin's work is the invitation to "imagine and craft the worlds we cannot live without just as we dismantle the ones we cannot live within." please join me in welcoming Dr Ruja Benjamin Thank you thank you so much for that warm welcome i am beyond beyond thrilled to be in conversation with all of you at Cuesta tonight i am a California home girl and so any excuse to return even virtually is such a treat i don't know about you all but we're at the very tail end of the semester and so i'm extra appreciative of people who took time to log in today and at the end of what i can imagine is a is a was a busy day and term so let me get started with uh this talk on racial literacy for the 21st century um by making the connection between racial literacy and this broader practice of reading reality so what do i mean by reading reality i'm talking about looking at the world around us the patterns the institutional patterns the interpersonal dynamics even our internal reality like our inner monologues and casting a critical light on what we take for granted about what we're seeing looking beneath the surface questioning the the ideas that we've inherited the ways that we've been socialized to understand the world to relate to one another even again to understand our own place in the world often in a way that presumes a false sense of superiority or inferiority and so i want us to question all of that by putting on um some different conceptual lenses that help us see what's around us with greater precision and accuracy and acknowledging that it becomes even more challenging to do this when more and more of our lives are mediated by these screens that we're looking at right now and so it's one thing to be able to read reality and to cultivate racial literacy when we're together in person in the same space when we're interacting we can see each other's um posture body language eye contact it's quite another when we're in these little boxes to be able to really grapple with a precise and accurate reading of the world and so to begin to broach that challenge i i turned to some of the literature on online learning specifically very recent work that's thinking about what it means to have anti-racist online learning and i really love the title of this article the future started yesterday and we're already late so again thinking about you know what kind of future we want to create and cultivate and how we want to incorporate values of equity and inclusion and anti-racism and everything that we're doing and one of the lines that stands out to me in this article i hope all of you get a chance to look it up is this line that says enacting an anti-racist pedagogy requires students and teachers alike to bring their full selves to the online environment and so i i don't interpret that full selves to mean that we have to know everything about each other and we don't have any privacy and you know we're kind of like open books i i interpret that to mean that we um really put our passion and what we care about front and center we don't pretend like we're just talking heads like pundits on tv but we really understand what is animating our work whether we're learning whether we're teaching what is at the heart of education rather than pretending it's only about what's in our heads what's also in our hearts why do we care about these topics why do we want to learn and teach and so an effort in an effort to do that to bring my full self to this little box that you're looking at me through um i thought i would share with you just a glimpse of why i care about this topic about racial literacy and i'll start with the fact that in addition to being a professor i am a mother and so when i'm thinking about racial literacy and i'm thinking about education i'm necessarily thinking about my children also and so in these pictures you see my sons i'm sure you can guess who they are and my nephews and so these kids have grown up together like brothers me and rozzy their mom are like sisters even though we're not related by blood and so the question for me is what kind of world are we creating for these children not just my children all children and to the extent that they love each other like brothers does the world really reflect that love back at them how are they treated how are they seen differently in terms of you know their value their potential and so in bringing my full self to the table it's also about letting you know why i care about these issues it's about not simply an academic matter but it's also about world building building a world in which the love and care that these children have for each other are mirrored back and in the institutions in the communities that they have to walk through and so as it stands when we think about education when we think about our schools there are two parallel realities at work you know and here i want to think also i'm going to get to this role of technology in producing these realities but we have on the left the way that our schools and institutions many times are engines of inequality that means to say that they produce more they don't just reflect the inequalities that exist out in the world they amplify them they produce them they create hierarchies and distinctions and reinforce all kinds of inequalities that already exist and so that's one model of education the other model that i think is much less much less prevalent is thinking about our schools and our classrooms as incubators of imagination incubators of equity incubators of inclusion incubators of of democratic participation thinking about our schools as places where we see the kind of world that we want to grow more of and so in both of these these parallel realities whether engines of inequity or incubators of imagination we want to think about the role of technology in producing one one uh scenario or the other one reality or the other um and in many ways what we have now the default setting that's being produced by silicon valley in terms of edtech that's the shorthand for educational technologies is they tend to reproduce inequality because of not just who is designing them but also with what values those values are being encoded into these digital systems but they don't have to be we can question them and we can design differently to do that i think we have to take tony cade bambara's insight seriously she's a black feminist writer who said not all speed is movement i think that could be applied to so many areas of our lives i think about it in terms of my own personal life when i'm trying to race and do things very fast and not getting very far but i want to think about it in terms of technological speed not all speed is movement and the fact that too often we conflate tech innovation with social progress we think a shiny new gadget or device or software system or ai program that that is an indicator that we're moving forward but in fact technologies can just as well hide and deepen different forms of harm and inequality and the danger is that we presume that it's neutral and objective simply because it's wrapped in a shiny exterior so part of reading reality and gaining racial literacy is being able to peel back the surface look beyond the shiny exterior and think critically of what is under the hood what's behind the screen what are the values that are being embedded into these digital worlds that we inhabit so we can see examples of not all speed is movement all around us whether we look at the fact that many many states now are using automated grading software when it comes to the sats for example and what's happening in those cases with audits of those cases shows that a lot of times these software systems are assuming that long convoluted sentences big fancy words are indicative of intelligence indicative of a right answer and and one there was one team at mit a team of students who actually created a program you guys can look up called babble and what they did was they looked critically at these great this grading software and they put in again long convoluted paragraphs and they got high grades even though those paragraphs made absolutely no sense and so here's an example of the presumptions that are going into the these grading algorithms um that actually remind us that just because it's automated and seemingly efficient that means we're going fast the grading is happening faster doesn't mean it's accurate or correct or fair and so that's exhibit a exhibit b i don't know how many of you followed the story right at the beginning of covid when in the uk because students couldn't take their a level exams in person the government hired a company to predict what grades students would get so they used all kinds of demographic data and what happened quite not surprisingly is that students who went to more working class and more working class neighborhoods in schools their predicted grades were lower than those that went to private elite schools even though none of these students had taken the test but because of the the assumptions and the training data that was used to feed this algorithm that would spit out these predicted scores it reproduced the these class and racial inequalities that already exist and the whole premise of this was that the government didn't want teachers to inflate students grades and so they thought oh the technology will do it better than the teachers and in fact what it did was piss people off and eventually those scores were revoked so exhibit b of how not all speed is movement then of course we spend so many so much of our time on social media and while the origins of you know the internet and social media are that it connects us it brings everyone together it's a global village no one knows you're a dog on the internet that's what one of the early ads put it in fact our social media too often is reflecting and deepening forms of harm and violence and racism and sexism and the list goes on and so just assuming the fact that we can be connected is a straightforward good in fact we can be connected to things that hate us things that harm us and so we have to be more deliberate about the kind of digital ecosystems that we're cultivating um and so again this is a reminder not all speed is movement and then we have the environmental costs just because things are in the cloud doesn't mean that they're not having a really intense environmental impact this one study that's um discussed in this um in this particular article here is looking at um the you know the carbon footprint of just training one ai model now there are many many hundreds of thousands of ai systems that are you know proliferating but just training one is equivalent to the emissions of five cars in their lifetimes and so we should not assume that automation that the cloud that just because things are not in a physical form that they're not having a really great great environmental impact we have to question that and remind ourselves that not all speed is movement taken together this is what i want us to really reflect on that there are two stories that are told about technologies on the left the story is what we might call the techno dystopian narrative the idea that technology is going to rule over us it's going to take all the jobs it's going to you know remove human agency this is the story that hollywood loves to sell us where we think about the terminator the matrix and the list goes on on the other side is what we might call the techno utopian story the idea that technology is going to save us it's going to make everything more fair more efficient more green if only we would hand over our important decisions to automated systems we'd be in better hands this is the narrative that silicon valley loves to sell us and while these seem like opposing stories right they have different endings one in which were harmed one in which were helped one in which were slayed one in which were saved they actually share an underlying logic the logic is that technology is in the driver's seat that we're impacted by these developments but we don't have any impact on them we don't really have a say in what's created or designed in the first place that is to say that the humans behind the screen are missing from the scripts whether we're talking about the values the desires the ideologies the incentives that are being that are animating these developments those often get written out so all we're left with is the impacts what's created for better or worse and so one of the first things we have to do to slow down in terms of our thinking and our development is to look carefully at who and what is behind the screen and as it stands now only a small sliver of humanity a very narrow demographic is materializing their imaginations in our digital worlds that is to say we are living in someone else's imagination the more that we enter into these into these digital structures and so we need to pull back the screen and think carefully about what it is we're creating and i think we can do that when we shift gears a little bit which is what i want to do now and not focus solely on the new fancy technologies ai machine learning all of that which we'll get to in a bit but look at simpler types of tools and and objects because the same principles apply the same questions that we're asking about these more complex systems can be applied and we can begin to read reality with greater precision all around us see with fresh eyes so a quick exercise a quick story example of this you see this bench here it's located in berkeley california which is where i went to graduate school and then even once i moved to the east coast i again travel back every chance i get and when i took this picture which is located near the corner of like shattuck avenue and ashby across from my favorite flea market i took this picture on a trip and it was february and i was living in boston at the time and i just wanted to lay down in the sun for like 20 minutes before my meetings and realized because of the way this bench is designed i can't lay down comfortably on it and so i thought okay well there's all kinds of practical reasons why someone would design these arm rests at regular intervals and i'm sure you could think of some literally to put our elbows down perhaps if you're elderly it helps you get up and down when i was nine months pregnant it surely could come in handy perhaps it offers a little privacy of someone sitting on one end of the bench you might be more likely to sit on the other because of that that arm rest but i my mind went to where some of you are probably thinking which is this also deters people from sleeping on the bench people who aren't wanted in this area of course there's a few cute antique shops right in front so i can imagine that for businesses that don't want people sleeping um in their vicinity that those arm rests would be interesting a good tool for them without having to yell and push people away the design pushes people away and so i thought rooha you're probably being a little paranoid you know you gotta you gotta turn off that social analysis sometime but eventually i did a little digging and i found that in fact it's a global phenomenon this idea of hostile architecture in the way that we design public space in order to draw some people in and to push some people out i found single occupancy benches in helsinki so only one person can sit there no sleeping i found caged benches in france and in this town what's interesting is the mayor put the benches out on like christmas eve and within 24 hours the people in the town rallied together and force them to be removed which reminds us that we don't have to just put up with what i'm calling discriminatory design when we work together when we organize when we let our voices be heard we can actually insist that our public space our public policies um actually reflect our higher values but my favorite example of how things are designed in a way to reinforce inequality and exclusion is the metered bench where you actually have to put some money in for those spikes to retreat and i think it buys you like 20 minutes 15-20 minutes so don't get lost in your favorite harry potter book because the spikes will start to come back out and probably not feel very good what you'll be interested to know is this particular design was created by a german artist to get us to think critically about how we create things how we design things and he wanted us to think about the bench almost like a parable a metaphor for how we design lots of things how we meter social life how things can be nominally for everyone but because of the way we've designed them they can have certain forms of exclusion and harm built into them so the metering of education the metering of health care the metering of politics the idea that you can only play if you pay and so if we use the the bench oh first i should say before we use the bench to think with this design has actually been adopted by cities in different parts of the world so although it started out as art there have been some mayors and some governors in different parts of the world that thought oh that's a great idea let's put this in our parks in order to push out so-called vagrants and so be careful what you design even when for you artists in this in the room um because people might think it's a good idea and when you are trying to use it as a form of critique so using it as a form of critique thinking with the bench my question for you all is what spikes are we building into our schools into our classrooms into our pedagogy and so when we think about the spikes and you think about let's say you start a new job a lot of times we are not building the bench we just got there we just started a position or we just entered a classroom we've inherited the spiked bench someone hands us a way of doing things teach this way you know do the job this way and we didn't have any say in how that way was created but now we're being asked to carry it forward to continue it so the question becomes what is our responsibility as individuals when we inherit the spiked bench what should we do how should we operate should we just continue perpetuating a harmful practice a harmful design or should we work with others like those people in france in order to change the status quo and so coming back to racial literacy and how we read reality looking beneath the surface finding the spikes because a lot of the spikes aren't obvious they're not on the surface they're not in our faces they're embedded in in the structure of the world that we live in we have to be able to read reality and too often racism distorts our ability to see clearly it distorts not only our understanding of larger patterns like i said earlier distorts our interpersonal dynamics and it it distorts how we even see ourselves a few examples i'll give of this before in different contexts and then i'll apply it again to online learning and technologies how does racism distort how we see so that we can we can't develop racial literacy so here's an example from a few years ago so what you're looking at is the images that the north miami pd public police department was you were using for target practice so they were at the shooting range and these were the faces that they were practicing on this is how they were practicing seeing danger and threat so is it any wonder that if this is how they're practicing that when they hit the streets this is also what they associate who they associate with danger and threat so it really matters how we practice seeing what we're doing behind closed doors that's part of our socialization part of how we naturalize i'm seeing certain groups as a threat or danger or certain groups as inherently innocent and good the only reason we know about this is because the sister of one of these young men went to the shooting range because she was in the national guard and she saw her brother's photo in the trash can with a bullet hole through the forehead and thought what in the world is going on and so she went to the media and she started raising her voice about this and and what was also a development was that clergy in the area in miami were outraged as well along with everyone else and they created a hashtag use me instead and they put their own faces there majority of them were white clergy in the area and they were moved to call attention to the hypocrisy and harm of this everyday practice of anti-blackness by law enforcement and so they remind us that again we don't simply have to put up with it we can actually work together to counter these forms of harm that we think that we think is or don't reflect our values and so we move from policing to preschool a very unlikely place to see racist distortions but many times that's where it starts here's a study from yale in which the researchers put eye tracking technology on preschool teachers and they had them look at little children playing together in these videos and then they said look for the challenging behavior and the vast majority of teachers attention invariably went to the little black kids in the play group even though they were behaving the same way as all the other kids they were hired child actors instructed on how to behave and so what's happening here where we're talking about profiling in a in police in adulthood by police but we all can see a spectrum that goes all the way down to childhood in education in a whole completely different arena but it's connected these distortions are connected this way of seeing is connected but it's not natural and we're going to come to that in just a minute so i don't want you to assume that oh human beings are just like this no we're taught to see the world through these distorted lenses which means we can be taught not to see the world that way the example i want to give you before i get to that point is out of stanford because when we think about how these distortions happen in our cognition there's a good study um that shows that when the researchers presented white americans with data on the racial disparities in our jails and prisons in this country showing the higher rate of incarceration of black people they had an interesting finding that was when their survey respondents were presented with the data they were less likely to want to support reforms that could actually challenge those disparities that could undo them the policy in california the three strikes law in new york the stop and frisk policy so the more people were presented with data on disparities the less likely they were to want to support reforms to the policies which seems somewhat counter-intuitive if we assume that just understanding the facts or the statistics will lead to certain enlightened conclusions so in the researchers words they said using statistics to inform the public about racial disparities can backfire worse yet it can cause some people to be more supportive of the policies that create those inequalities and so what's happening here between this the stats and people's cognition this intervening space we could call it you know interpretive lenses we can talk they'll call it racial narratives we can say cultural lies or distorting a distorted way of seeing because of the racist understandings that they have about the world that if there's more black people in our jails and prisons it must simply be because black people are more prone to crime despite all of the the data that that points to otherwise and so it reminds us that the stories this stuff that's happening right here the stories that are told about the social world are just as important as the statistics if we want to be able to ha to to cultivate a different world one that's based on equity and justice and so we move now from those public attitudes to a quick historical detour again remember i said just because we see this pattern where we see these distortions in almost everywhere place we look doesn't mean it's natural they've been created over time socialized and science and scientists have played a part in creating those distortions and so here you have a photo of a very renowned french naturalist uh george cuvier who was one of these scientists who helped to create this architecture of race we can imagine this architecture that we continue to live inside of and so cuvier wrote the white race with oval face straight hair nose to which the civilized people of europe belong and which appear to us the most beautiful of all is also superior to others by its genius courage and activity to which he of course compared the negro race marked by black complexion crystal woolly hair compressed cranium flat nose the projection of the lower parts of the face and thick lips evidently proximate to the monkey tribe the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism presented here as objective fact as a clear reflect fraction of reality despite its distortions couple things going on we could probably talk about it for an hour but i'm just going to highlight a couple things before bringing us back to the present one take note of this juxtaposition of black and white so if we imagine we're in this racist architecture then these are twin pillars that help to hold up this structure to understand the supposed superiority of whiteness cuvier and his colleagues needed to create a foil that is the purported inferiority of blackness the other thing to note is that he and his colleagues don't talk simply in the abstract in generalities white civilization over here black culture over here they're mapping these racist judgments onto something seemingly concrete fleshy the body why is that because the more that they can associate these racist judgments and hierarchies onto something concrete then the less likely we are to question them because they come to appear as if they are natural immutable fixed god-given and the more we think of race and racism as fixed god-given inherent immutable the less likely we try to do anything about it it seems fixed in place and so the power of creating these natural hierarchies is that they make sure that they're passed on they have this longer shelf life so one of the things we could all do yesterday is to begin to denaturalize these racist associations because they continue to live with us today and how we think about different groups the ones that we think of as inherently intelligent or inherently athletic or inherently uh you know a good inherent leaders um some that are creative um some that are prone to crime some that are good and so all of these judgments continue to be passed down generation to generation and are mapped onto the body in the way that we see each other the last thing i want to point out before moving on is that a lot of times when we hear these examples from the past we kind of feel protective like oh we can't impose our values on these guys you know um it's projecting um our our present day norms and and sensibilities onto the past but that ignores the fact that there were people living in cuvier's own time who were questioning these norms and and ideas including cuvier's own student one frederick tiedman who initially you know sat at the feet of his teacher was soaking it all in thought cuvier was brilliant and ultimately began to realize oh no there's something wrong here not only is this a bigoted way of thinking but the science behind it is really faulty and eventually tiedman began to publish refutations going against cuvier's racial science and so it reminds us that even his contemporaries although cuvier was renowned getting all the major positions and and money etc that there were still people who were rejecting it during his time and so just like those clergy use me instead there are people like tiedman who didn't just go with the flow who didn't just accept the racist status quo but actually questioned and worked against it creating an anti-racist science which brings us back to the present again we're looking at how racial literacy the challenge of racial literacy is being able to read reality with greater precision connect the dots understand that what's happening in policing is related to what's happening in preschool understanding that the history of science that i just summarized relates to something like the vogue cover here and so you might not necessarily think about those as connected but look at how the first time a black man is on the cover of vogue he's he's represented so they deliberately used this world war one propaganda poster in which in that case the mad brute was the german here you have uh you know lebron as the black brute his position his growl his posture all the way down to his sneaker choice and note that he's not on the cover alone remember those twin pillars in this racist architecture in order to accentuate the brutishness of blackness you need a foil you need that other pillar and so you have gisele there accentuating all of the goodness and lightness um of of white femininity and so it's a gendered racism at work and and so you know this is part of the landscape that we're all immersed in that naturalizes and distorts how we see this is a magazine cover but we just go to the cartoons that we grow up on the movies that we watch and the way that darkness is associated with evil and blondness and lightness is associated with goodness that's that's socializing children at a very young age to see the world through these distorting lenses so racial literacy in the 21st century means recognizing these distortions questioning them and trying to create a world and representations and relationships that are not predicated on these racist judgments which again requires a deliberate acknowledgement of them color blindness is not the antidote to these racist distortions we have to actually see them before we can change them which brings us to technology which doesn't exist in a vacuum it's not in a bubble it's not immune or somehow more neutral it reflects and reproduces many of the dynamics i've described quick exercise if you go to google images and you type in the phrase unprofessional hairstyles you'll see images like the ones on your left professional hairstyles on your right and you see a pattern emerge in which black women's natural hair is coated literally coded unprofessional allah uncivilized going back to cuvier with some exceptions of course you have the hunger games lady on your left you have beyonce on the right but the larger rule holds and what's interesting is that this pattern actually reflects widespread social judgments that impact people every day in schools and in workplaces around hair based discrimination it's so widespread in fact that there are laws being passed to address it one i believe just passed in the house called the crown act and so our technology is holding up a mirror to things that we might not otherwise notice or or um take seriously so that example might be easy to write off in terms of technology and its impacts but what about even more consequential ways in which technology might impact us we know from mounds and mounds of social science research that there are numerous biases and forms of discrimination that infect our health care system from the way that medical students treat and see black patients assuming often that they are not feeling the same amount of pain as white patients um when they're looking at a very similar x-ray to the way that all the way up the hierarchy um even medical residents are treated by by their um by their colleagues and and other staff and the way that nurses sort of make judgments about patients the list goes on and so presented with this research some people might assume oh well if humans are so biased why don't we let technology make these decisions about patient care wouldn't we be in better hands remember those two stories that we think about technology well again what if we outsource decisions to ai what would happen if we brought in these automated systems in terms of our health care system and so that is a question that's animated two of the books that i've written recently and one here race after technology is looking more at at the context of policing and where i talk about the new gym code and then this edited volume is looking at this context from many different angles bringing together researchers who work on different um different aspects of the problem to think through the connections that are being drawn around the carceral technoscience the reason why i started working on those books is because i was noticing headlines and hot takes like these about racist and sexist robots there was a first wave of stories a few years ago that seemed to be surprised oh my gosh technology is not neutral and then we've entered a second phase in which the reporters seemed less surprised of course technology inherits its creators biases now i think we've entered a phase of many different attempts to address the default settings of racist and sexist robots and here robots is a kind of shorthand to think about automation and advanced technologies more broadly and so one of the challenges we face is how to meaningfully differentiate these tools that are meant to differentiate us so the the connecting strand between this work is what i've dubbed the new gym code innovation that enables social containment while appearing fairer than discriminatory practices of a previous era so whereas in my grandma's generation during the jim crow era you know she might have walked up to a hospital and seen a big whites only sign there letting her know she didn't belong but now i can walk through the front door but there may very well be a healthcare algorithm making decisions about my care that creates the same pattern of discrimination and resource allocation but without me even knowing it so that's part of the danger of the new gym code is that it can reinforce racial discrimination but it's hidden behind a veneer of technological neutrality and so to help us make sense of these different aspects of the new gym code i've described four different dimensions that follow along a kind of spectrum from the more obvious types that we can usually see coming that are harmful engineered inequity to the more insidious types that seem like they're doing good but if you look a little closer look a little deeper you can see how they might be perpetuating forms of harm and so i'm not going to get into these now for the sake of time i'm just going to highlight that third one because it relates back to our schools our classrooms and to online learning more broadly and so coded exposure is this names this tension between being invisible like this depict this photo shows in which a lot of facial recognition um systems can't pick up people with darker skin accurately and it's that side alongside the over surveillance the hyper visibility when the systems to continue to target communities and populations based on a presumption of guilt and threat and so looking at being invisible and hyper visible at the same time is an important rubric to think through the range of harms that can come when again we're going to talk about it in the context of um technology and education um let me just look at the time i would usually show a quick video yeah i'll show you guys this two-minute video and then i'm going to start moving towards conclusion so this video is going to reflect one side of that that previous slide that you'll know it's what it is hello motion sensors motioning emotioning please sense me oh uh one other thing lem mentioned that there's uh something weird going on with the motion sensors in the lab oh yeah we replaced all the sensors in the building with a new state-of-the-art system that's gonna save money it works by detecting light reflected off the skin well lem says it doesn't work at all lem's wrong it does work although there is a problem it doesn't seem to see black people the system doesn't see black people i know weird huh that's more than weird veronica that's basically well racist the company's position is that it's actually the opposite of racist because it's not targeting black people it's just ignoring them they insist the worst people can call it is indifferent nothing we never should have looked that white girl we're eight blackman in an elevator of course the white guy's gonna get off veronica oh god this looks way too aggressive no it's okay i think i know why you're all here well most of you um have something prepared um veronica you are a terrific boss thank you lim i'll take it from here let me start by apologizing on behalf of verdian for this inexcusable situation i laid in the veronica pretty good i figured it was my only shot so i took the gloves off wow that sounds great lamb sounds like you gave the company a really strong message oh yeah she said they're working 24 7 to make things right can you believe this i know isn't it great we all get to home free white guys you like it yeah hey ty's the best he anticipates everything i need plus he picked up my dry cleaner oh andy got this kink out of my neck really mm-hmm oh i got sucks well maybe you're just not using yours right yeah maybe it's on you dude shut up stew i got the worst black guy it turned out lem had also been thinking about the money issue and he put together some interesting numbers to show us and then we all went to speak to management in a language they could understand within a margin of error of plus or minus one percent and so if the company keeps hiring white people to follow black people to follow white people to follow black people by thursday june 27 2013 every person on earth will be working for us and we don't have the parking for that all right i'm not sure how many of you recognize that scene it's from the show better off ted which is now off the air and that episode is called racial sensitivity in case you want to watch the whole thing on on online and what it really depicts is how a superficial diversity ethos the prioritization of efficiency over equity and the default whiteness of tech development all work together to ensure that innovation literally produces containment the fact that darker skin employees are unable to use the elevators open doors water fountains all treated as a minor inconvenience in service to a greater good but good for whom is what we have to continuously ask and the real genius of the clip i think is bringing back this iconic um image of the water fountain which is from a prior era of racial domination to show how it can become a fix um to deal with what i'm calling the new gym code the discrimination of these of these particular sensors and so if we think about this context this dialectic relationship between being invisible and hypervisible in the context of schools and online classes we can point to a recent study called biases and online classes that measured professors instructors responses to students discussion comments and they the researchers found that from 124 online courses instructors were 94 more likely to respond to comments that were presumed to be from white male students and so what the researchers did was change the names um on the comments and and that the names were racialized and gendered and then they waited to see who professors instructors would respond to as to kind of assess out um you know who was being prioritized prioritized in this online environment and of course this like so many other aspects of um tech mediated discrimination doesn't require anyone to be self-conscious or intentional about the harm in fact it really relies on an indifference to the social context and not thinking rather than necessarily being malicious and so a lot of times people ask well do you think they were trying to be um you know discriminatory and i think that question in some ways is not relevant it's about the impact of the actions more so than um the intent behind them so that's being invisible well what about being hyper visible being seen when you don't want to be seen and i think this can really be applied to the many kinds of proctoring software that have been adopted even more so in our cove at times but already existed before that and so in addition to the fact that a lot of this software relies on facial recognition that is very faulty like the clip showed the fact that students have been documented um they've been trying to use various you know proctoring software and they're prompted to shine a light a brighter light on their faces if they're darker skin um so that the technology can pick pick them up more accurately so that's an example of being forcing to be hyper visible but it even goes in addition to the racial dimensions of it it really distorts in many ways the learning environment as this one student put it it's not just about racial bias there's the unaccountable data collection and the damage the student-teacher relationship um he says and so so many of these companies that are selling edtech to our schools are taking student data and buying and selling it for a variety of reasons and it's that aspect of what's happening behind the screen that we also have to be able to see and understand in order to stop a teacher at the university of delaware jennifer buckley put it like this no thank you i'd rather my students not feel like they're in a police state and so again this idea of invisibility and hypervisibility forces us to think about what authentic assessment looks like in our colleges investing in people not proctoring thinking about what the underlying nature of the values and relationships are that structure our our classes it entails listening to students a few years ago students in brooklyn protested their high school's adoption of an online program that was developed by facebook and one of the problems that they had with it is that they were sitting in front of screens every single day and had 10 to 15 minutes of mentoring time with their teacher every week and so they decided this is not really learning and we're being you know babysat by these devices and we refuse and so they protested and had that learning program um online program removed similarly in a town in kansas and where the school board again adopted one of these um the these programs summit learning again parents students they were all frustrated because it was amplifying not only um you know issues that had to do with um you know a little bit of time with instructors but kids any kids with disabilities the you know they were being aggravated uh aggravated the time staring at a screen was we're producing seizures and all kinds of other physical um and mental health um issues and so again the entire town protested against this and so it's about listening to people's actual concerns and needs when it comes to our adoption of technology developing what some researchers have called pedagogies of educational dignity which involves recognizing and this is a screenshot from my lab here the just ada lab recognizing the power of students to read the world make meaning and act with intention and efficacy so that's one way of understanding what pedagogies of educational dignity is in theory the question becomes what is it in practice what does it look like to read the world make meaning and act with intention in whether in our online classes or in our in-person classes one answer to that can be found in this great volume which actually you can download for free called critical digital pedagogy it's a collection of essays that lays out many of the concerns when it comes to technology and education and solutions ways to address it one of the authors pete rohrbar says digital tools offer the opportunity to refocus how power works in the classroom in its evolution from passive consumption to critical production from the cult of the expert to a culture of collaboration the critical and digital classroom emerges as a site of intellectual and moral agency and similarly another one of my colleagues mahabali writes in the same volume which maybe someone can drop the link for this book in the chat critical pedagogy for her is not about knowing how to do everything right or getting it right the first time or every time it's about putting faith in our learners to take control of their learning and teach us each other and themselves in the process and so it's trial and error it's experimenting it requires humility and it requires questioning the tools that we've been handed finally a wonderful resource similar you can download for free and someone else can drop this link in the chat called the advancing racial literacy in tech handbook and it applies to tech in every area of our lives definitely to tech and education and there's the point of this particular handbook is threefold to develop an intellectual understanding of how structural racism operates in algorithms social media platforms and technologies not yet developed and emotional intelligence concerning how to resolve racially stressful situations and a commitment to take action to reduce harms to communities of color and so as a final proposition i want to suggest this if inequity is woven into the very fabric of our society that means we see it from policing to preschool to public attitudes to pop culture then each twist coil and code is a chance for us to weave new patterns practices and politics the vastness of the problems that we're up against will be their undoing once we accept that we are pattern makers that we don't simply have to inherit and continue the old patterns that we've been handed but we can actually develop new patterns of relating thinking and working together and so what does that look like in practice i think it looks like focusing on every the everyday nuts and bolts of of what we do our workplaces our classes rather than big grand events and statements um that are flashy it's questioning how we've always done things and looking to see changes in the nitty gritty it's expanding what we teach not just who we teach ship shifting from cosmetic to substantive inclusion rather than just looking at things at the surface thinking about what's hiding beneath the surface what our values are animating what we do last but not least it's about prioritizing the process how we do things not just the end point not just trying to race to some desired ideal end point so we can make a big show of that it's about who we're listening to and engaging and in that i return to tony cade's incisive point when we think about process not endpoint not all speed is a movement with that i thank you for your attention and i'm looking forward to your questions thank you thank you Dr Benjamin that's wonderful i like the line what spikes are we building into our education i thought that was really cool we're going to move to Q&A now and it's going to be facilitated by Darius Jones uh Darius is a political science major and first year student at Cuesta College at Cuesta Darius serves as the Vice President of the Associated Students at Cuesta College and the Vice President of the Black Student Union i hear he might be president-elect next year Darius is excited to continue working with students and staff to improve student life on campus and let me see if i can co-pin him here and so he could start the Q&A there we go awesome all right sweet yes um thank you so much Dr Benjamin for um your time and really sharing this informative presentation on racial literacy in the 21st century um similar to Carina Love one of the main things that really resonated with me was that driving question that you prompted of what spikes are we building and so i'm really excited for your thoughts as we transition into this q a aspect and so the first question that we have is can you tell us about what inspired you to pursue your field of research yeah there's a there's so many different origin points i could point to so let me see what would be um most pertinent um i think when i was about 15 years old there was an experience that i had moving with my family from south carolina to the south pacific we moved to the marshall islands and um at that time i wasn't in school i was like finished one one school and i was waiting to start another school um and so i had like a seven month gap to just take it all in and one of the experiences i had was going from our capital island madro to a neighboring island um that was a military base at the time kwajalein and kwajalein was a u.s military base and right next door to college kwajalein was an island called ebi
and ebi was what some people call the ghetto of the pacific it was really run down there were hardly any palm trees people lived in like shanty-like conditions the rate of infectious diseases was really high because of the living conditions and so on a one particular weekend i got to experience both kwajalein and ebay kwajalein was the military base and it was like being in suburbia it was like someone flew me and dropped me in like the stepford wives movie um green lawns everywhere golf courses baskin robbins people walking around with little strollers like you would not know you're in the pacific much less right next door to this really um really deteriorated island and what was another dimension of it that i learned was that marshallese who who had been affected decades prior by the testing of um bombs by the u.s their pup their health had deteriorated their children were born um disabled and so they were given checks every month from the u.s and some of them came to quite a quadrillion to work but had to go back to ebay so it was this juxtaposition when i was 15 years old noticing how this two parallel universes were created right side by side these two islands and they were created through policies of my country and they impacted people who had no say in these policies and yet they were creating premature death for some and health and longevity and a good life for others and so at a really formative age it was seeing this what we might just call engineered inequity that really stuck with me um and it lit a fire in me to understand and look for how this is happening in other areas so if you remember the talk how i started by showing those two side-by-side photos of the kids one with kind of getting downloaded and one whose imagination was being sparked that's another example of like parallel realities of how so often um for some people to be uber wealthy some people have to be immiserated like the relationship between wealth and power and thinking about issues of justice from that early age i think is something that has been really formative in my work whether i'm thinking about it as in terms of health or technology or science oh thank you so much for answering that thank you awesome and so the next question that we have is um how can students and staff work together in order to create an anti-racist school system yeah that's a good one and i feel like in some ways some of the threads that i i wove together and the talk could be applied to that question in terms of starting with listening to people and their concerns and having um an infrastructure where those can be surfaced so that people aren't just encountering these institutions in a top-down way where all the decisions are made without their input so it's about democratizing and and creating participatory mechanisms where our varied experiences can be heard and then the next step is taken seriously because sometimes people will voice their the ways that a policy or practice is harmful or excluding them or you know diminishing them and and we we will give them air but they won't be taken seriously the next step won't be to actually try to redress it um and so i think we have to create mechanisms to make that democratization um make it routine it can't rely on the good will simply the good will of people like we hope people will be who will listen or we hope you know teachers or staff and officials will be good and and you know and thoughtful and inclusive we actually have to create the mechanisms for that to happen regardless of people's intent regardless of people's uh well-being and so taking a look again at the everyday workings of our classes and our schools and thinking asking of each thing like is this reinforcing forms of exclusive exclusion racism discrimination or is this working against it is it creating more equity and more inclusion and taking putting all of those things under the microscope and being willing to change the things that we find are not are not um supporting that vision yeah thank you so much and i love that question that you prompted are we reinforcing or working against it absolutely and thank you for also including listening as like a key aspect as well and i know even within our school it's really important for us to kind of have mutual language and understanding of what these terms are and so i'm curious if you have a good definition as to what listening is um and also when a student also asks if you knew like a definition for equity and if you see if there's like some sort of relationship between those two terms yeah that's a good question i will say that i'm not a really good person for definitions like i don't ask my students to memorize definitions and i usually don't have them handy in part because i'm really keen on looking how at how things are practiced i think sometimes a definition it feels very static to me and then that's used in order to judge is this equity according to this definition or is this listening as opposed to actually what does it feel like what does equity feel like what does listening look like and so it's thinking about what these different terms mean in practice so in practice one of the things that really comes to mind in terms of listening i would really encourage people to look it up is this elementary school in the uk in which the kids are taught and practice how to listen to each other as part of all of their classrooms and there's these doc this documentary video showing how like kids that look like they're like eight or nine you know sitting across from each other in little pods one-on-one and they're learning how to listen they're learning how to ask each other questions to elicit different points of view and the maturity and sophistication in which these little people are listening to each other you probably couldn't find in like the parliament and in most governments around the world in terms of like politicians so one it reminds us that listening can be taught but key it requires practice it's something that they're doing as a matter of like everyday practice and in part what it relies on is asking good questions and so you know it's really it's really quite remarkable how you know i can want to share something with you but if there's not a question that elicits it then i might never find a way to express it like so there's this reciprocity that's required in terms of listening and asking good questions that draw out people's vulnerability people's willingness to share and also to hold space for complexity and contradiction and so um in practice this school in the uk which is like a very diverse um school kids you know from many different backgrounds with their little cute english accents listening and talking to each other is to me like my dream is to one day visit and also for that model of education to be transported um everywhere including to the highest halls of government where most adults don't know how to listen and ask questions absolutely thank you so much absolutely i got another question in the chat and so it says um as you mentioned that data can reinforce inequities as an institution that glorifies data in the development of new practices do you have suggestions on what we should use in addition to data when making decisions yeah so f