Idée Fixe Interlude #7

8:46 has become a symbol of police brutality

Thank you for being here, when really you could be many other places. If you are new to Idée Fixe, welcome. I’m Toni Cowan-Brown and this is your weekly newsletter into the ideas that matter, and dominate our minds for a prolonged period.

Idée Fixe #4: Your guide to Formula 1 🏎

Seeing as we just covered the business of e-Sports and that Formula 1, like many other sports, will be kicking off again in July with their first race of the season in Austria. I thought why not provide you all with your beginners guide to the fast and exciting world of Formula 1 motor racing. It will be short and sweet, but as complete as possible.

Idee Fixe Interlude 🥳

In the meantime, I will share with you what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and what has caught my eye recently - this is your Idée Fixe Interlude.

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First up.

Seven Fucked Up Days in American History, As Told By NYTimes Front Pages. A Thread. As protestors take to the streets, 8:46 has become a potent symbol of police brutality in America. Another number that has been shared in the past few weeks is 3.5% which is the number of the population actively participating in the protests that it takes to ensure serious political change. As the Founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian steps down from his seat as a board member and urges the company to replace him with a black candidate (resignation as an act of leadership), as Snapchat cuts ties with Trump, and as Mark Zuckerbergs write one of his lengthy Facebook posts, we ask ourselves has tech’s reckoning on race and power arrived? And if you thought your company issued a powerful statement supporting the BLM movement, think again. 🎙Here are nine podcasts that demand your attention this week.

Politics 🗳️

A conversation with President Obama: Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence (Obama Foundation and NYT)

Obama shared his thoughts and his optimism for the future in the wake of continued police violence (too much violence and too much death as he put it). There are a few pieces really stuck out to me:

Obama reminded us that most of the reform needed takes place at the local level and thus we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about said change. As such it isn’t useful to think of things in terms of voting vs. protests or politics and participation vs. civil disobedience and direct action. This isn’t an either/or situation it’s a both/and situation to bring about real and lasting change - we need it all. We need to highlight the problems and translate this into practical solutions and laws.

👉What can we do according to Obama:

  1. We know there are specific evidence-based reforms that if we put in place today would build trust and save lives.

  2. All local elected officials need to review and follow-up on their use of force, as well as police misconduct and violence. We need those in power to say that this is now a priority.

  3. Every city should be a ‘my brothers’ keeper community.

“I’ve heard some people say that we have a pandemic then these protest, and this reminds people of the 60s and the chaos and discord and distrust throughout the country. I have to tell you […], there is something different here. […] More people have felt moved (a broad coalition) to go to the streets - that wasn’t the case back then. A majority of Americans still think these protests were justified. There is a change in mindsets and a great recognition that we can do better, says President Barak Obama.”

💻 watch the full speech and discussion here and check out the Obama Foundation to understand what their mission is and to get informed about police brutality in America.

Pandemic, Protests and Police: A Primary Election Like No Other (NYT, June 2020)

The pandemic that had put a hold on the election season produced a new dynamic on the primaries behind held Tuesday: all locales had seen an exponential surge in absentee voting because of the virus, with some states receiving more than 20 times the absentee requests of four years ago.

The pandemic is going to change the game for the 2020 elections in a myriad of ways and it’s obvious that the USA is not quite prepared for the impact that these changes will have. For starters, more voters will take advantage of the absentee ballot (1), and as a direct impact of this, jurisdictions will most likely be overburdened by the number of mail ballots meaning it will take longer to report the numbers (2). And that’s only if you believe that you have a right to use the absentee ballot - in America, unlike many other places, this topic is highly political and contentious as per Trump’s latest tweets on the subject that got him fact-checked by Twitter.

Technology 📱

Beyond the Bubble: The online conversation on research and development (DEMOS, December 2019)

“Social media is often accused of causing a breakdown in trust, as users can struggle to differentiate between true and false information, and the most popular content isn’t always the most accurate. However, if researchers use platforms’ optimisation for virality to their advantage, social media is an opportunity to open up expertise to the public. Researchers need to work harder to be a greater part of online conversations in order to create an informed debate, or we risk facts becoming ever more distorted and misused.” - Elliot Jones, Researcher at Demos and Beyond the Bubble co-author

👉 Full report available here.

Free Speech Is Not the Same As Free Reach (WIRED, August 2018)

The complex debate around censorship has been going on for some time now. Actually it often feels like an endless conversation where we always end up at the same place. And as I have mentioned many times before, although it has been proven censorship does not work, it seems to be the only quick fix we call for and then subsequently complain about, especially when it comes to social media platforms and the hate speech and misinformation that it helps propagate.

It honestly doesn’t feel a lot different this time other than the fact that I have seen more people make the explicit distinction between free speech and free reach which I am hoping can be seen as a call for a wider discussion on what kind of democracy we actually want for the world. But yet again, both the politicians and the media have been focused on the surface level discussions around misinformation and censorship rather than the actual technology that shape our online experience and spread of misinformation - or why not even the systems in place that allow for such discourses in the first place.

“But in this moment, the conversation we should be having—how can we fix the algorithms?—is instead being co-opted and twisted by politicians and pundits howling about censorship and miscasting content moderation as the demise of free speech online.”

📚Not just one book this week but rather an important compilation of anti-racist books from as well as this compilation from AfroTech of 10 black-owned online bookstores you could be supporting.

📕On the topic of books, I also found this piece about what makes an iconic book cover quite an enjoybale read.

There’s a famous saying about never forming your opinion of a book by the jacket adorning it. But most readers know that we do, in fact, judge books by their covers all the time. Everything about a book’s cover – the font, the images, the colours – tells us something about what we can expect to find, or not, inside.

I for one realised that I am drawn to bright colours or black & White covers, minimalistic and abstract covers, and I will most likely never pick up a book if it has people on the cover - with the exception of memoirs.

Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist (Unlocking Us podcast with Brené Brown)

“I’m talking with professor Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and the Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. We talk about racial disparities, policy, and equality, but we really focus on How to Be an Antiracist, which is a groundbreaking approach to understanding uprooting racism and inequality in our society and in ourselves.”

💡One lesson that I took away from this episode and that has been swirling around my mind for the past few days is how we so easily take the most negative and socially agreed-upon characteristics of a group of people of colour and assign it to the entire community. And we far too often take the best characteristics of one or two white people and assign those to the entire white population. As Brown and Kendi put it, this is both incredibly self-protective and self-destructive at the same time.

The Media is Dead, Long Live the Media (Problematic Podcast with Mike Solana)

In the previous episode Mike spoke about the concept of shadow capital - where are the big decisions really being made? In America is it DC, LA (Hollywood), NY, or Silicon Valley.

“My issue with the tech press is that this is the biggest story that they have had to cover [COVID-19] and they chose to cover it using the same snarky tone that they have used to cover board disputes. The style of people who are tech journalists and what they have come of age writting about does not match the enormity of a global pandemic.”

💡So what role does the press have and what power does it actually wield? A topic that I have often dug into and one that is extremely complex and layered, and yet a topic that we aren’t talking about nearly enough in my opinion. One of the key topics that both Katherine and Mike touch upon in this episode is the idea of understanding the business model(s) of the media industry and how it’s evolving as a whole.

It’s only when you understand the business model(s) (and revenue streams) of an industry or a company that you can start to understand why and how they might do certain things, take specific decisions, and respond in certain ways.

Block Party is a consumer app trying to solve online harassment and put us, as users, back in control. The app was built by Tracy Chou who is both an engineer and tech diversity advocate and she designed the app to prevent online abuse and harassment on Twitter - something which she has become all too familiar with. You can read more about her journey and mission here.

🧐Shit I Googled this week

Honestly this week I googled a lot of things and none of it was shit for once. It was mostly research around the BLM movement, racism, white fragility… I definitely feel overwhelmed by the amount of new information I have consumed and also very determined to continue my research. This document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein is a great place to start as a resource for white people and parents to deepen our anti-racism work. I’ve personally found it to be a great starting point.

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