October 28, 2020
Baratunde Thurston deconstructs 'Defund the police,' 2020 protests and more - Video

Baratunde Thurston deconstructs ‘Defund the police,’ 2020 protests and more – Video


2020 has thrown a lot at us a global pandemic, an economic recession, and a social justice awakening.
There’s a ton of information flying at us and it’s tough to know what to listen to, and who can help make sense of it all, especially when it comes to social justice.
So now what?
[MUSIC]
Today we’re gonna talk about what I consider the most important podcast of 2020.
And it’s called, we’re having a moment and we’ve got the creator bear Tim de Thurston with us.
So bear tuned that you’ve worked at this intersection of race and technology for over a decade.
and have been, you know such an important voice in helping the digital world understand these issues of racism in America more deeply.
So tell us about how we’re having a moment came about and what you hope it can contribute to the conversation.>> Jason, thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for the huge, hugely nice things you just said.
About my podcast that is exactly what I wanted people to think everyone who has a podcast wants someone like you to say what you just said about mine.
So, just appreciation on that, in terms of how this show came about and even what it is.
I wanted to create something that captured the moment.
I feel like we’re in a defining moment.
Things feel familiar, yet also potentially different in a beautiful way, in terms of how we can use this compound set of crises to do something different and having a pandemic and like a racial justice uprising at the same time.
That’s a pretty rare thing.
So, my friends over at I heart podcasts.
were checking in with me because I have another show prepping with them.
And they kind of floated the idea like, Hey, would you want to write a series of essays about your thoughts on what’s happening right now?
And I’m like, You mean like Federalist Papers like, you found the whole like Alexander Hamilton sound.
Let’s go And instead of it just being my voice, what I felt was part of the story of what’s been happening is missing in terms of the historical context, in terms of what’s happening on the ground, and in terms of where we might go with it.
So I talked to people on the ground from Germany To Minneapolis and places in between.
And I try to fill in what I consider to be the blanks in both the social media and mainstream media narrative about how the pandemic has hit black people differently, about who has a right to protest, about just what defund the police means.
And about what the role of white people both, in the US and far beyond, could and should be in this moment.
There is this humble desire.
[LAUGH]
[LAUGH]
There’s this moment in the podcast where you’re in whole foods in Burbank, and you’re like, we’re out at cake like March 13th.
Like Whole Foods runs out of cake.
Yeah.
And you’re like, what’s going on?
Why is like anger and yoga pants and all kinds of things and at what point did you start to realize that this is a moment?
How did this unfold for you?
Yeah.
Could you talk a little bit about that in the podcast, but I would love for you to sort of talk about how this has kind of unfolded as it’s gone.
Thank you for asking, and thank you for triggering me with my own recollection of trying to shop at the Whole Foods on pandemic freak-out day, in my home here in Los Angeles.
This moment unfolded for me, starting in mid-March, when it became clear that this thing called COVID-19 was real.
I had been on my final, apparently flight of the year from New York back home to LA it was Wednesday, March 11.
And on that flight, I was listening to an epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, who’s become my go to source For all things COVID.
And my fiance and I split our headphones, and were listening to him on the Joe Rogan podcast and he was just dropping gems of unadulterated knowledge.
And it was nothing we had seen or heard in any other form of media yet.
And it was sobering.
So, that we landed in Los Angeles as different people Then the ones who took off from New York.
And from that point forward, it was like stock up on stuff from the local hardware store.
Get the toilet paper like everybody else.
compete with the squirrels for leaves in the backyard in case we run out of toilet paper, typical stuff and start to make sacrifices and start to brace ourselves.
As everything shut down as my own business shut down as the local businesses around us shut down, and we started to feel the sense of sacrifice and seriousness, and in that set the stage for May 25 [LAUGH].
And you know, as we’re all.
Facing this dreadful global pandemic, it’s also become clear that the US isn’t really on the front foot with it, and that there are racial over and undertones in terms of who’s suffering most in our country from the disease who’s dying, who’s overexposed, and there are poor people, and there are people of color.
And so against that backdrop of unequal sacrifice from the pandemic, enters Amy Cooper in Central Park with her fake call to 911 on Kristin Cooper, the birdwatcher and Derek Chauvin and his slow murder George Floyd, so it doesn’t you know, people describe this summer as like the killing of the George Floyd moment.
And I think that puts a lot of pressure on George Floyd never asked for any of this.
I think things began for me at least, with the pandemic, starting to reveal how deep the cracks in our society really work.
And then we just fell into the chasm with the actions of Derek Chauvin that day.
And you said, you wrote on your whiteboard.
So shout out you still have a whiteboard somewhere back there, that you wrote we’re having different pandemics in episode one, you talked about that.
Tell us a little bit about that since we’re still talking about pandemic.
Yeah, America has had this
Interesting relationship with COVID-19 because for a while there we just decided we were over it.
And it’s just like we we canceled the pandemic we’re moving on.
We’re going to make like that spoon in the matrix and just say like there is no COVID and wish it away.
And COVID no did not forget about us even though we tried to forget about it.
But in the beginning, what I meant by experiencing different pandemics is we experienced a lot of rhetoric at the top and pretty optimistic rhetoric I will add.
That this was gonna be something that could bring us together.
That COVID-19 was the alien invasion
We’ve been longing for to some degree to unite our various tribes here on earth and certainly in the US to face this common enemy.
And that did not happen because the systems that we have in place to protect us from COVID-19 do not treat us equally.
And so you have On the front end of the disease in terms of who’s overexposed based on jobs based on living conditions based on pre existing health, that is not equal on who has access to what quality of treatment.
Are you going to a public hospital?
Are you going to a rural hospital or are you going to a very well outfitted, private hospital with more equipment and that lower patient doctor ratio.
And in some sort of recovery, financially, from this exposure.
All those hit us very differently.
And they hit people who have already been hit by a system established for hundreds of years that we’ve all been born into, that subjugates us to more suffering than others.
And that underlying pandemic that preceded COVID-19 Is the systemic racism that we’ve all grown up in, which makes sure we have less economic opportunity for some, less quality healthcare for some, fewer jobs for some, less responsive government for some.
So COVID is not the same for different communities even though it was sold to us in the beginning.
As this great opportunity to come together and this virus comes for result, it comes for us all but it doesn’t reach us all at the same intensity or at the same rate.
Let’s talk about some of the other episodes today.
There’s a lot of good stuff that is very helpful.
This making sense of a lot of this stuff.
There are a lot of mixed messages flying around social media more than anywhere, right of course, but like I said, I’m you deconstruct a lot of things that happened in this podcast.
I wish we could go through them all but let’s pick a couple of them and you give people a taste of this one is the Amy Cooper.
Incident because you can look at this through a number of different lenses, but you really broke down the fact that, you know the way that she weaponized her words and not only did but she knew how to weaponize them very effectively.
And I think that open this up incident up to make it more understandable for everybody of what the real Issue and problem was I mean most people can see it on the surface but yeah, a little bit sum that up for the audience.
There’s there’s a lot more beneath the surface and a year ago I gave a TED talk called how to deconstruct racism one headline at a time, and it was focused on These seemingly non violent acts of ultimately violence, which is why people are calling the police on black people and that’s often a violent or even deadly outcome, certainly disproportionately so when law enforcement is brought to bear on people of color in the US because of their history.
I mentioned earlier.
So for me, the goal of this series is always like set context, break things down, deconstruct, as you said.
And the Amy Cooper moment for me is so revealing, because this is the context of the pandemic.
This thing which is already ripping our country apart unnecessarily Yeah, my dad And, you know, the way I put it in the show was, someone in America decided that we were not going to fall to COVID that if we were going to fall is going to lead to something more homegrown, something more native, something like good old fashioned American racism.
And who better to carry that message than a white woman in yoga pants with a dog in Central Park and an entitlement complex.
Like turned up to 11 and it was so crystal clear.
She was almost like she was cast, along with her unrelated fellow New Yorker, Christian Cooper being the least threatening version of a black man we could ever possibly conjure up.
Harvard educated birdwatching, Audubon board member.
Come on now.
And he’s just asking her to put her dog on a leash.
And she’s asking him potentially to die, right to call the police on him with a made up threat that we all saw.
It’s just it’s so rarely so crystal clear.
So the object lesson is in stark relief.
I’m going to call the police and tell them an African American man is threatening my life.
That is a death sentence.
For so many black people, that is an attempted lynching.
That takes us back to the Emmet Till days in this country, which we like to think we’ve moved beyond.
But then she reminds us that no.
And even though her 911 call did not result And anyone being physically harmed, a different 911 call on the very same day in Minneapolis did.
And so I think there’s a poetic linkage between the AMA Cooper who is a singular person but representative of a more systemic problem and the actions of a Derek Chavin.
How about Defund the police.
Yeah, you took one episode.
And if there’s one episode that it’s like if you don’t if you only listen to one episode of this, I would say listen to that episode.
Listen to them all.
There’s six.
It’s It’s six episode.
Six episode, yes.
Listen to all six, if you don’t listen to one listen to that one because you were skeptical of this idea at first to you were like did a did a word you know like Davi Diggs like and and you were honest about that and but you sort of deconstruct that idea to which I think was incredibly helpful and understanding.
Why there’s some usefulness to this idea and what it actually means and why it doesn’t mean like your community is going to be thrown into chaos.
It actually means something much more accountable.
And I love that you use the example of the checks and balances in the constitution to tie to this and put some framework around it.
So Give people just a taste.
A little taste this guy’s bread is like a listening party for my own.
[LAUGH] Like a folk singer like this next track just came to me one day when I realized that, 54% of my city’s budget in Los Angeles was going to the LAPD.
And if the majority of your city’s budget goes to the police then you live in a police state.
And that’s not anything any of us has ever taught.
But it’s true that the number one cash outlay by many of our cities is to the police department.
And so I think many of us are mathematically living in police states, though none of us consciously made that choice.
It’s a stark choice when you realize all the other sources, or I should say uses of funds that we could have.
So this episode starts with kind of that fact, which was startling to me and I consider myself someone pretty informed about politics and government.
And there’s so much I don’t know.
So I wanted to humble myself before the listener as well and like, I don’t have this all figured out I’m on this journey with you and then I wanted to, capture this idea that we are actually burdening law enforcement in a similar way to that which we burden teachers.
Right?
We ask this one occupation to cover for all the other lapses in our society and so we say hey, Cops.
I want you to deal with murderers and rapists, and organized crime and terrorism.
Check, check, check.
Also wellness checks for the elderly and you’re also gonna run the Crossing Guard Department as well.
And you should be in school in case kids get a little rowdy in school, which is what kids in school do.
Can you do all that as well as take care of the Homeless situation that we’re having and noise complaints on top of all those things.
And it’s just an unreasonable expectation, because we overburden this particular part of society with responsibility, and we under equip them with tools to resolve them, we give them guns.
And badges and those badges act as shields in really significant ways, because it ends up shielding these people with the ultimate power of life and death from any form of accountability.
And to me that rang hollow because the rhetoric of this great country
Is built on.
In fact, the foundation of the country is all about accountability.
Like we don’t want anybody with too much power.
We have folks marching just a few weeks before these Derrick Shovin Black Lives Matter marches, talking about tyranny and accountability and overreaching government.
And here we have a whole department of the government structure really designed to be able to overreach On a regular basis where excessive force is built into the use of force because practically speaking, none of these police officers really pays a price for the overuse of their power.
So that didn’t strike me as what America is supposed to be about.
We overthrew a king for stuff like that, yet we give our sheriffs and our deputies and our officers The power of an authoritarian to some degree in terms of their ability to be held accountable for their actions.
So we should be better than that we should be who we say we are.
All right, how about one more example
One more [LAUGH].
All right.
Grammar and word choice, of course is an editor right as this is one of my favorites.
You talk a lot about this and in very like original and very powerful ways so suck so let’s go into that little.>>Yeah, and I think I’m gonna quickly add on it’s so hard to like summarize a whole episode but for the defund the police Yeah, here’s the core takeaway messages.
We should be spending our money to resolve problems in a way that doesn’t require us to call the police in the first place.
The best people to do wellness checks are health care workers, the best people to work with kids in schools or counselors Social Workers etc.
So that’s where the money should go.
And the grounding exercise I did in that episode was to take people into the halls of power in LA as an example because that’s where I live, where Black Lives Matter activists and many community groups.
Put together a people’s budget to represent what we thought our value should be as reflected in the budget.
And it also, I wanted people to understand that this call to defund the police isn’t some new thing and it isn’t short sighted.
It’s backed up by evidence by demands from people buy years of work.
And it’s a defund refund combo.
Take money from here in this overburdened department and move it over here to more skilled, better trained, more accountable parts of our government.
So that’s probably the faster way to cover that one for you.
Doesn’t mean no police.
No.
And I have the police do the things that they’re the best at doing.
That’s how I think of it.
Yeah.
And there’s Yeah, there are certainly people who think we should have no police whatsoever.
I am not one of those people and I think by and large, the folks who are calling for defunding police We’ll acknowledge that there is some room for an armed response.
There’s people who need to investigate murders.
There’s a set of skills a particular set of skills to cite and Louise’s character that will be required.
But we are asking them many other things that are not
So, in terms of grammar, this was the this is the surprise episode of the series.
So if there’s one that tries to capture the most in one episode is the defund the police episode?
If there’s one that I didn’t see coming, it’s the grammar episode and I sat with you don Israel who’s a professor Of writing and language at the new school and CUNY in New York City.
And this was about how we talk about George Floyd and how we talk about police violence.
And there’s a passive way to refer to it, where a lot of us have been saying George Floyd was killed, or more generically An officer involved shooting.
And these statements, these phrases and these sentences don’t have an actor.
They have a victim, they have a passive action.
But in those construct of the language we end up Relieving the responsible party of responsibility.
That accountability I talked about earlier that we often don’t apply to police, we don’t apply in the language when we talk about the actions of police.
So, the cleanest way to describe the core, pivotal moment of this summer is Derek Chava and killed George Floyd.
And that appropriately lays responsibility for the responsible parties actions and places George Floyd in context when we don’t do that.
And we say things like, Brianna Taylor was killed.
Briana Taylor died George Florida then it begs this question like what were they doing to get themselves killed?
And we start to interrogate a dead person instead of the living person who ended their lives.
And so the way we talk, I think defines so much about how we understand the world.
Same with the way we write and if we can use our words better Then I think we can also live better.
So let’s also plug I want to plug your ted talk from last year how to deconstruct racism one headline at a time which which focuses on this idea of language as well.>> Big language nerd.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, it’s good.
It’s good work.
And this is one that is another another piece of right now where there is a lot of.
There’s a lot of sense of mainstream media being part of the problem and not enough part of the solution.
And so you dealt with it in your TED talk, but I’d love to talk with you as someone who’s worked in digital media, for the past Couple decades, you know, where do you feel like we’re at in terms of digital media and because obviously what you did this this podcast we’re having a moment really is digital media right?
Where are we at in terms of digital media and Social media playing a part for good or are they you know, I’m causing more problems than they are.
Then they’re helping because it’s a big The question we had on this show we had Ruth Benjamin, our book race after technology.
We talked about the ways that Tech has actually deepen the racial divide, right?
Despite the narrative in Silicon Valley to the contrary many times about being sort of this sort of the great savior, right?
Of of all things in society, There are ways tech has made things in fact much worse.
Where are you at in terms of where what social media and digital media are doing and have done?
There’s there’s a bit of both and I think the harm is important to acknowledge because we have It’s a if you’re in the business of one of these platforms, you have a nearly impossible task, because part of the way you set up your business is to expose people without context to conflict?
And two conflicting ideas with no segues whatsoever, like one second.
We’re talking about Hamilton, the next Nazis run into your house, like, emotionally that’s what’s happening.
And we are plucking and choosing really inflammatory moments and just launching them into our psyche into our brains and into our hearts and And that’s jarring.
And the society has not been asked to move at such speed.
with so few transitions before books take time to read even in the 80s we had to physically get up and walk over to the TV to change the channel.
And now all this stuff collapses in on itself.
And so a baby picture jumps to a police murder video jumps to some kind of troll Jumps through a really cute Tick Tock video of a baby dancing and like what are you supposed to do with that it’s really psychologically exhausting.
So I somewhat empathize with people running these systems because they have a somewhat impossible task.
But they also took it on and they’re making a lot of money in trying to take it on.
So they bear some of that responsibility.
So there’s harm In all of that conflict, in the trolling, in the cultural collisions that are being forced on us in some ways without our consent, and then like you said there is good.
We have the power of ideas and explore and exposure of those in ways that would not have happened if we just depended on a handful of editors and producers.
To tell us what the news was.
And to tell us what’s important.
I was able to paint a picture, of what these protests really look like in my podcast, by talking to people who were leading those protests.
And letting them speak for themselves at length.
Rather than going for the helicopter view from hundreds of meters away with a big telephoto lens, With the headline looting, looting, looting, looting, looting, and I was able to recontextualize that term looting, to say, Well, what about the $1.5 trillion tax cuts?
What about the dispossession of land and light from the indigenous nations that pre existed the nation of the United States?
Is that not also a form of looting?
What about the corruption around ventilators that’s been revealed By pro publica in the past few weeks, is that not government corruption and looting?
But those people don’t get that lower third title on the news when we talk about them.
So the power of digital media to allow someone like me, to allow activists to speak for themselves, is also really a new thing and a powerful thing and a great thing and I have no easy answer.
Good or bad, right or wrong.
It’s different, it’s challenging and it’s pushing us to try to be better in ways that we haven’t had to fight so hard for before.
So all of us are learning as we try to grow into this weird future.
All right so this is a six episode podcast is done you can go and listen to all six episodes you know everywhere you find podcasts.
But you also talked about your moment of like this isn’t just a moment it’s a movement to borrow Hamilton thanks tip how to limb in while Miranda Of you’re gonna take this a step further, you have that, you reveal that in the last episode of the podcast.
So tell us about that and where you’re gonna go next with this.
Yeah, I am tired [LAUGH] In so many ways.
I want to like say that and to acknowledge that.
If you’re watching this and you’re tired like you’re a normal human being this is exhausting.
And part of the exhaustion is a feeling of disempowerment of being on the receiving end of choices and decisions that are made on our behalf, but not- Fully in the names that we bear that we would want.
And so I’m interested in not going to bed angry because I just watched the news and having nightmares about real life, which is a waste of dream space.
I’m interested in reclaiming the idea that in this democracy we the people have the power Reclaiming this word citizen, which has been used so much to divide us and check people who don’t have the right legal status, and instead interpreted as a verb, which I think is more of the spirit in a democracy, inviting us all to participate and claim that power we have.
So I’m creating a Show.
It’s called How to Citizen with Bear Today.
And we are going to reimagine citizen as a verb together and reclaim our power and go about the business of self government and community leadership and outcomes that benefit the many, one step at a time.
And in the show, we’re bringing people on.
That are doing this work that have made some change in their part of the world, in their company, in their community, in their city and their nation.
Not just bankers, but doers and most excitingly, we’re giving you a chance to roll up your sleeves and do something.
Because if you’re at all like me, you’re tired of screaming into your pillows at night.
Or 3PM, whichever the case may be, and you’re ready to be asked to do something.
But what is that?
The news is not telling us many of our elected leaders aren’t telling us either we should be telling them.
We should be telling each other so you should feel better after an episode of How to citizen was better today than a typical episode of news.
And you should feel you have a channel for some of that energy that I know I feel where like, I want to do something.
But what is it and don’t just tell me to vote.
Super important to do that, especially with an election coming up, but we’ve got to be vigilant and creative and connected to each other All the time that is the point>>All the best movements start in a neighborhood ,they start at the grass roots ,they start in a community and that’s where real change happens you know ,for sure how so okay how People that want to tune in, how are they going to be able to learn about it?
when can they they learn about it.
This show launches on August 27.
But the trailer should be up a week ahead of that.
Again, the title is how to citizen with veriton day And you can find it at Berra today.com you can sign up for my emails, if you want to be among the first to know and if you’re really excited to be connected, I’m going to drop, my number like you can actually text me, too 2028948844 put the word citizen in it.
And I’ll let you know, right when that feed is live unless it’s three in the morning I’m gonna, that’s rude.
I’m not going to send a text at three in the morning, but I’m using this service which allows me to have conversations at a larger scale.
And is not as abusive as social media.
So if you’re feeling like letting me into your phone 2028948844.
Barrington de Thurston.
Thanks for being here.
What a pleasure.
We could talk.
We could go into more of these episodes, but I’ll send people off to listen to them for themselves and then hopefully, jump into the new citizen podcast to because that’s some exciting stuff as well.
So could I say one more thing?
Yeah, please.
Okay.
So I was I was reflecting on the episode that you did with Professor Benjamin.
And what’s really because you have such a tech oriented audience, I’d love people to think about this.
A lot of the innovation that’s promised to us by technology and their investors Is built on data.
And it’s the idea of crunching on massive amount of data to make future decisions whether it’s built on facial recognition, predictive analytics, algorithmic interpretation of past behaviors, and choices, hiring, for example.
But our history as we’ve learned increasingly this summer Is corrupted by systemic abuses of power in the form of racism or misogyny there’s a list.
And so that data is itself biased.
And if we’re going to build predictive systems on a history that we acknowledge is unfair a system for example, that prevented someone like me from buying a house in certain neighborhoods.
Therefore, I don’t have homeownership in my family’s history to the degree that you might.
And we’ve got to build real innovation which would break from that history.
If your innovation depends on doubling down in a corrupt history, then you’re just codifying oppression and we have an opportunity again to.
Speak a new sentence to write truly liberating code that would open up the doors for more of us, not fewer.
And so that’s that.
That’s what I want from technology, which is just another form of expression.
It’s not that magical.
It’s ink and paper.
It’s ones and zeros, it’s code and servers.
But if we keep repeating past sentences, we’re gonna be living in the past just with better robots



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