This week’s reading covers TikTok, surveillance capitalism, California farmworks, California prisoners as firefighters, and facial recognition in the schools. Settle in a pick these pieces up in the coming week.
“Minstrelsy thrives on TikTok, but the phenomenon goes back a long way. The earliest American iterations emerged in the 1840s as a form of entertainment and endured for more than a century. White people would darken their skin with burnt cork, greasepaint, or shoe polish and perform in variety shows. The musical acts, comedy sketches, and dances relied on stock characters, like Sambo and Zip Coon, to parade Blackness as laughably uneducated or as a target of humiliation.”
Totally worth the 109-minutes of reading! A great writer and skilled writer about technology, copyright, and civil liberties. A sample, “Facebook is heralded as the origin of all of our modern plagues, and it’s not hard to see why. Some tech companies want to lock their users in but make their money by monopolizing access to the market for apps for their devices and gouging them on prices rather than by spying on them (like Apple). Some companies don’t care about locking in users because they’ve figured out how to spy on them no matter where they are and what they’re doing and can turn that surveillance into money (Google). Facebook alone among the Western tech giants has built a business based on locking in its users and spying on them all the time.”
“On the first day of the smoke, Villegas got a headache after a day working without an N95—with just her cloth mask and a cotton face covering she’d sewed from an old embroidered pillowcase, its bright flowers encircling her brow. On the second, her boss showed up with a box of N95s for the crew but said a single mask would have to last for four days. “Take it home and wash it,” Villegas recalls being advised. Everyone had laughed, knowing the masks wouldn’t hold up to water.”
This is a very long report (115-pages), so if you only have a little time then Executive Summary is only 6-pages. They write, “On the basis of this analysis, we strongly recommend that use of FR be banned in schools. However, we have offered some recommendations for its development, deployment, and regulation if schools proceed to use the technology.”
Can California’s Prison Firefighter Program Be Reformed from Rattling the Bars. California’s Conservation Camps put prisoners to work fighting climate change-fueled fires for pennies on the dollar.
This week I offer five long reads and two podcast episodes. Topics include climate refugees, surveillance in education, food inequity, wokeness and cancel culture, racial capitalism, climate justice, white supremacy, religion and oppression.
Surveillance in schools reflects the values that schools have (unfortunately) prioritized: control, compulsion, distrust, efficiency. Surveillance is necessary, or so we’ve been told, because students cheat, because students lie, because students fight, because students disobey, because students struggle.
Communities of color are at the center of balance for bringing our species back into harmony with the planet. we must listen to the voices of Black and indigenous vegans and activists, and other people of color. There are countless Black thinkers and activists in this space. Sisters and authors Aph and Syl Ko have been incredibly important voices in discussing issues around veganism and communities of color.
Today we are having a new national debate about whether the United States is redeemable, about the nature of its founding figures and documents – even the date of its founding — and what to do with those who dissent. But one side is winning. Since George Floyd’s horrifying murder, an anti-racist discourse that insists on the primacy of race is swiftly becoming the norm in newsrooms and corporate boardrooms across America. But as in Douglass’s day, the sides are not clearly divided along racial lines. A small group of Black intellectuals are leading a counter-culture against the newly hegemonic wokeness.
This article expands our understanding of climate justice by demonstrating how racial subordination, environmental degradation, and the fossil fuel-based capitalist world economy are interrelated. It uses these insights to critique the emerging legal and policy responses to climate change-induced displacement and to examine alternative approaches emerging from climate-vulnerable states and peoples. The article argues that racialized communities all over the world have borne the brunt of carbon capitalism from cradle (extraction of fossil fuels) to grave (climate change) and that a race-conscious analysis of climate change and climate displacement can reveal the commonalities among seemingly distinct forms of oppression in order to forge the alliances necessary to achieve just and emancipatory outcomes.
Maria and Julio take on the national conversation about racist Confederate monuments and the push to take them down. They talk with Dr. Keisha Blain, an author and associate professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, and Rebecca Keel, the Virginia Statewide Organizer with Southerners on New Ground (or SONG), about what it means to be honest about our country’s racist past and to reimagine how it is taught and remembered.
Lord and Pinn discuss the power and persistence of magical thinking as we face the current pandemic, the role of the church at a time when science is so important, Black Lives Matter and Pinn’s opinion on struggle and progress, how women of color deal with oppression based on race, gender, and class, and the issue with respectability politics. Pinn also proposes the question, “What does our nontheistic perspective offer folks at this moment? What do we offer them beyond the critique of religion?” as we face the pandemic and the ever growing need for honest discussions and action on the issues of race.
Climate: “The state is a ready-made apparatus for responding to the climate crisis. It can operate at the scales necessary to develop and implement plans for reorganizing agriculture, transportation, housing, and production. It has the capacity to transform the energy sector. It is backed by a standing army. What if all that power were channeled by the many against the few on behalf of a just response to the climate crisis?”
Climate: This is a very long report, but well worth the read. “Nationalization is one of the more straightforward ways to overcome many of the systemic hurdles that prevent meaningful action, allowing us to move towards decarbonization in a way that is planned, provides for workers, and supports communities. Leaving decisions about the life and death of current and future generations up to private enterprises beholden to shareholders has never been a viable option.”
Surveillance Capitalism: “Calls by Black Lives Matter and others to defund the police must include dismantling and outlawing the technologies of governments and law enforcement that exacerbate the conditions of racial and economic injustice. Investments in anti-democratic technologies come at an incredible cost to the public at a time when deeper investments should be made in public health, education, public media and abolitionist approaches in the tech sector.”
Surveillance: “But to some surveillance scholars, legal experts, and activists, there’s little doubt about what Dataminr is up to, and what Twitter is enabling, no matter what careful terminology they use. According to Brandi Collins-Dexter, a campaign director with the civil rights group Color of Change, Dataminr’s practices are an example of “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck,” with regards to surveillance.”
Racism: “Data showing racism might be useful in clarifying the things we already know to be true, but it is far more limited in terms of shifting them. To those who have not experienced the ever more creative forms that structural racism can take, even when presented with evidence of racism, the world may still appear to be full of regular playing cards.”
It’s a few years old, but remains extremely relevant to our conversation today. “So what did Robinson mean by “racial capitalism”? Building on the work of another forgotten black radical intellectual, sociologist Oliver Cox, Robinson challenged the Marxist idea that capitalism was a revolutionary negation of feudalism. Instead capitalism emerged within the feudal order and flowered in the cultural soil of a Western civilization already thoroughly infused with racialism.”
“The courts and laws, which we have been told exist to forestall and prevent society from descending into the hell of revenge, have in so many ways revealed themselves to be institutions to defend, perpetuate and mystify the systemic, structural and institutional forms of racial capitalist vengeance that make so many racialized people, especially Black people, disposable and, indeed, make a gruesome spectacle of that disposability.”
Reyes sees the push to pause regulations as “a form of environmental discrimination,” she said. Diesel exhaust disproportionately affects minority communities with fewer resources. “We are the people who can’t leave this place. We can’t move away,” she said. Now California’s freight and oil industries are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to try to delay two proposed regulations that would limit diesel exhaust throughout the state, sparking outrage from clean air advocates.
“For thirty years we’ve swallowed the delusion offered by the blue pill, nonsense models of utopian tech and cheery tales of green growth. But in 2020, even the blue pill dealers are having their doubts. Perhaps now is the time to embrace the unpalatable reality revealed by the red pill?”
“‘Smart cities’ technologies have grown in popularity during the coronavirus crisis, and are now being touted as tools of economic recovery – but they will also deepen the power of surveillance over our lives.”
“Defund the Police” is a response to decades of divestment from public health infrastructure, education systems, and good housing. This deliberate gutting of social institutions is directly related to the ballooning of police budgets and proliferation of prisons. Punishment and control have become the State’s automatic response to its failure in meeting basic needs.”
This report analyzes the inclusion and operationalization of “equity” in 170 California cities’ and counties’ Climate Action Plans (CAPs). California’s municipal climate action planning landscape is unique for both its size and diversity, as aggressive statewide environmental legislation has put unique pressure on all cities—even (or especially) small and less well-resourced ones—to adopt climate/emissions plans.
The Insurrection Act. Its invocation is enmeshed with this country’s long history of racial injustice: “insurrection” has been defined, in practice, as either rebellion against slave power or ongoing racial injustice, or as resistance to federal laws mandating civil rights and integration.
Piketty’s follow-up, Capital and Ideology, is a massive, globe and history-spanning attempt to figure out what’s inside the ‘black box’ that Capital in the 21st Century left unexamined. What makes it possible for inequality to persist, let alone get worse? Why don’t governments do anything about it? And since they so often don’t, why doesn’t runaway inequality provoke the mass resistance that might force them to?
What can we expect in the fall? As pandemic lockdown orders extend further and further through the spring, there has been a great deal of speculation about how or whether college education would proceed. Rumors floated at different schools of cancelled or remote semesters, even of months-long adjustments to the academic calendar. But for all but the richest universities, the conclusion has never truly been in doubt.
The movement to defund the police in the United States is gaining unprecedented momentum as protests continue across the globe. This 2-part series taking with Ruth Wilson Gilmore is insightful and motivating. Iconic geographer and abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of “Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California.” Gilmore is one of the world’s preeminent scholars on prisons and the machinery of carceral punishment and policing.
This week I highly recommend the “Revolutionary Suicide” article and the “Seeds” article. Both are very long but totally worth the time. The other three articles highlighted are also excellent – topics explored include slavery, conspiracy theories, and a review of Michael Moore’s latest documentary.
We need to commit revolutionary suicide. By this I mean not the killing of our bodies but the destruction of our attachments to security, status, wealth, and power. These attachments prevent us from becoming spiritually and politically alive. They prevent us from changing the violent structure of the society in which we live. Revolutionary suicide means living out our commitments, even when that means risking death.
We are left with an inescapable conclusion. Being black, in and of itself, is a grave economic and social disadvantage, while being white confers considerable advantage. That this is true today, 155 years after the end of the Civil War, after three constitutional amendments, the great civil rights movement, a large number of civil rights laws, and lord knows how many college courses and sensitivity training sessions is testament to the power and tenacity of racist social structures.
This article explores the rise of activism around seeds worldwide over the past three decades. We adopt a broad definition of seed activism as encompassing all actions that oppose the enclosure of seeds and defend individual and collective rights to seeds. Not surprisingly, those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture – peasants, farmers, and indigenous peoples – are clearly on the frontline of these struggles.4 Communities are displaced by agribusiness expansion and lose plant varieties due to genetic contamination. They are not only denied the right to save seeds but can also be prosecuted for infringing seed patents.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen.You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight.You know all this because you believe in Q.
Capitalism and White Supremacy. I don’t know if that’s quite the right title. I really wanted to have the Environment in there too. Anyway, these are the topics I’ve been wrestling with lately and are the general theme of this essay.
The quarantine of 2020 has forced each of us to live and do things differently. As a librarian at a community college, I have been very fortunate to both retain my employment and to work from home. Although it has been difficult from time to time, it is truly a luxury to have personal safety and a steady income. I know this isn’t the case for many millions of Americans.
Throughout my life, I’ve always been a learner. It’s one of the reasons I went into academic librarianship. Not only do I get to learn from the students on a regular basis, I also get to be surrounded by the written word. And during this quarantine, I’ve definitely upped my reading. In fact, I seem to have accidentally created a curriculum for myself that focuses on capitalism, white supremacy, and the environment.
This isn’t a catch-all, be-all type of essay. Just opening up with a few of my thoughts and then sharing my curriculum with you. It’s at the bottom if you want to skip ahead.
Capitalism and Racism
These topics are so intertwined together. Moving forward, it will be difficult for me to look at each individually without considering the whole. And that’s a good thing! Researching and experiencing these more deeply has been pushing me to reflect on what is most important, and therefore where I might place my attention and resources. In some ways, the curriculum has radicalized me more than I expected.
Historically, I have rarely identified myself as “a liberal.” I’ve always considered myself a bit further to the left than the liberal. In fact, I’ve struggled to vote for a Democrat for president for decades (and 2020 is going to be especially difficult). In the end, they seem to always let me down and don’t seem to move society forward.
So, I’m probably somewhere on the anarchist, socialist, communist spectrum. It does beg the question whether someone like me should even vote in a presidential election. I don’t know the answer. If you have ideas, please do comment. This accidental course of study has definitely forced me question our current political structures as it relates to capitalism, white supremacy, and the environment. Do current politics in United States have the capacity to address the damages of capitalism, white supremacy, and environmental degradation?
Capitalism in the United States is detrimental for all workers, but especially for BIPOC communities, and the environment. It forces the lowest possible wages and the weakest environmental considerations in order to feed the shareholder. The costs of capitalism are both extremely obvious and also deeply hidden. The Capitalist State upholds this structure and the mentality permeates all aspects of society. From the church to the oil company. I’m not a great scholar, but this is the sense of what I have gleaned from my recent readings. It’s also been quite interesting during this COVID Crisis to see capitalists embrace more socialist approaches (such as the large bailouts of corporations and the IRS payment to workers).
White supremacy is propped up by capitalism.
Perpetual growth based on theft and slavery is the name of the game. From the first arrival to North America by Europeans that forced the death and/or migration of native peoples, to the theft of the southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California), to chattel slavery, to post-reconstruction lynchings and Jim Crow laws well into the 20th century, to redlining to prevent home ownership of black people, to the continued violence and murder of black Americans in the 21st century, to reliance on fossil fuels. My god, I’m only 52-years old and legalized segregation in schools and colleges existed within my lifetime! And three of the greatest Civil Rights leaders of the 1960s were all assassinated (Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X).
And white supremacy isn’t only about Black Americans. Immigration of cheap labor from “non-white” countries such as Italy and Ireland in the early 20th century, all the way to present-day immigrants from Central America and Mexico. And then we have anti-semitism throughout history that continues to this day. They all suffered at the hands of the Capitalist State. Is it surprising that some of the most polluted locations in North America are within non-white communities? Is it surprising that incomes, better health, and home ownership are all highest for white Americans?
I’m feeling this is enough of an introduction to the topic at hand. I did want to dig deeper into the environment, since this is intricately tied with capitalism and racism, but I’ll leave that to be explored on your own through the books, podcasts, videos, and articles listed below.
Clark, John P. Between Earth and Empire: From the Necrocene to the Beloved Community (2019)
Eberhardt, Jennifer L. Phd. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do (2019)
Lowy, Michael. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe (2015)
Note: The title of each episode is first, followed by the guest on the show, and then the name of the podcast. You can search online or in your favorite podcatcher.
Community-Led Practices To Build the Worlds We Need, Sasha Costanza-Chock | Data & Society
COVID-19 in Black America, Ibram X. Kendi | This is Hell!
Covid19 and the Crisis Capitalism Creates in Normal Times, Silvia Federici | Latin Waves Media
Food Workers and the Virus, Raj Patel | Belabored
I Am Not Your Negro: Racism in the Us, Richard Johnson | Factual America Podcast
The Nature of Democracy in the Times of Crisis, A. C. Grayling | KPFA – Letters and Politics
Technological Change and Social Protests, Kerstin Enflo | A Correction Podcast
We Have To Begin With Emancipation, Asad Haider | Millennials Are Killing Capitalism