Growing a New World With Viral Justice
How A Vivid Vision from Ruha Benjamin, Ph.D. deeply affected me to Critically Act. How the harsh truths of reality are softened by the Germination of Hope and Justice.
I happened to see a post by one of my social science heroes, Ruha Benjamin. It was a contest relevant to a section of her new book, Viral Justice, in which she talks about a range of topics around injustices, such as those affecting Black mothers in the healthcare system, which is deeply relevant to why my wife and I decided to choose a midwife and doula that are Black women in the Metro-Detroit area. The prompt was to “comment the most memorable moment from your first birth/pregnancy.” As a somewhat recent father, I hesitantly commented:
“I don’t know if I can participate as a man, but my most memorable moment during my wife’s homebirth was her handling the delivery in the hot bath like a champ. She spent the day walking along a curb to help induce the pregnancy by the end of the night, and our son arrived as beautiful as can be. I loved cutting his umbilical cord even though blood and organs isn’t something I’m particularly keen on. We have one heck of a doula & midwife team. Both Black women from Metro-Detroit. There’s only 3 Black midwives in the area. We need more because these doctors aren’t for us! We still had a horrid hospital story [in which they tried to induce labor and give her a C-section for no reason] despite opting for a homebirth.”
After a few days of anxious anticipation, I received a message from Ruha stating that I’m a winner of Viral Justice. Wow…I won Viral Justice… It felt like a small revolution in my mind was about to be sparked.
How I came to know Ruha’s work actually began as an assignment for my Philosophy of Technology course in which I had to attend a presentation from an expert in the field of technology. No… the presentation I attended was not Ruha’s, but it was a rather boring white male professor’s fireside chat with the Purdue’s president-at-the-time, Mitch Daniels. To say I was not intrigued nor invested would be an understatement. The references used were beyond culturally irrelevant to me and it seemed like a conversation reserved for two rich, white men. However, I started to look at listings for other speakers coming to Purdue that semester and I happened upon Safiya Noble, Ph.D.’s presentation on her book, Algorithms of Oppression. To be brief, I was enthralled, captivated by the exposure of injustice by way of one of my old, best friends, Google, who was evidently racist which was unbeknownst to me until then.
“There has to be more of this!” Looking at the listings of events for almost a year, I eventually saw Ruha’s Critical Data Studies Distinguished Lecture “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code.” Needless to say, I had to attend!
I decided my wife and I would come a little early in an effort to possibly talk to Ruha. At this particular time, I was knee deep in my master’s thesis proposal, Cultural Value in STEM + Entrepreneurship, but I was troubled by the uncertainty and doubt about where I was heading with such niche interests. When I came to Ruha, she was extremely comforting, reassuring me that I was walking down the pathway meant for me and I would gain clarity of my vision, which seemed so out of reach to me at the time. She was one of very few people who I initially encountered who so effectively spirit nurtured me. Experiencing her lecture blew me away as she tied together so many intersecting ideas pertaining to race, technology, and social justice. I left the event inspired to pursue what I saw as a worthy cause.
Who knew, almost 3 years later, she’d declare me worthy of winning Viral Justice.
I must say, after completing this book, I started the book extremely excited to learn all the rich insights she had to offer. However, there was a certain fatigue that came on me throughout the week of reading. It wasn’t because of her awesome, captivating stories. It was because of all the tragedy and heartache exposed in her detailed accounts of injustice. The book is not all doom and gloom though. It was the painful reminder I needed to jolt me into action. To counterbalance the woes accounted for, each chapter carefully wove a personal and relevant story of Ruha’s life as well as successful examples of viral justice in society. This book concluded with a call to live poetically and “weave new patterns of thinking and doing, whether internally, interpersonally, or institutionally.” She further admonishes that “these patterns must, of necessity, take many different forms, drawing on our varied skills, interests, and dispositions… The last thing we need is for everyone to do or be the same thing!”
Similar to how I left Ruha’s lecture inspired to pursue a worthy cause, I’m closing this book inspired to pursue my lofty vision:
“To lead a fulfilling and meaningful life rooted in my faith, where I prioritize spending quality time with my loved ones and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. I aspire to use my career as a platform to create positive social change in the world, particularly through promoting racial justice and inclusive innovation. I strive to be a leader and role model in my community, using my skills and influence to create a more equitable and just society for all."
I may have won the book, but we all deserve Viral Justice.
Thank you, Ruha, for moving mountains within minds, one seed sown at a time. We will grow the world we want and need!