In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, Myles and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week— including Black women targeted by a big pharma company, Black Americans lead the NFT/crypto revolution, a judge’s criminalization of mothers who report domestic abuse, and the trial and triumph of artist Campbell Addy. DeRay interviews activist and speaker Bridget Todd about the roots of the internet, the impact that it has, and why it disproportionately harms women, communities of color, and LGBTQ folks.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, news that should have been mainstream but wasn’t, but is important when we think about race, justice, and equity. And then I sit down and talk to activists and speaker Bridget Todd about her internet expertise. She spoke to the roots of the internet, the impact that it has, and why it disproportionately harms women, communities of color, and queer folks. Here we go. My advice for this week is to read something out loud. I was with one of my friends, today actually, and it was so cool. We were going over a cool, a cool piece that we come across and started to read it out loud. And I forgot how we don’t read things out loud any more. Read something out loud. It’s like a, it felt cool to process the words in that way, and it’s not class, it wasn’t for a thing I had to turn in. It was just a good thing to do to hear the words in a poem, to hear the words in the story and to read out loud. So read out loud this week. That’s you.
De’Ara Balenger: Family! Welcome, to another episode of Pod Save the People. We’re all here, and we’re so excited to be. So excited to be here and happy that you’re joining us again. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and not saying much of anything on Twitter @dearabalenger.
Myles Johnson: My name is Myles E. Johnson, and you can find me @pharoahrapture on Instagram, and I’m trying more and more not to say a lot on Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson, @hendersonkaya on Twitter, and I comment occasionally.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay, @deray on Twitter. I retweet a lot on Twitter and I say a whole lot of things on Instagram.
De’Ara Balenger: So speaking of saying things on Instagram, I was very curious to see Miss Tina. And for those who don’t know, Miss Tina is Beyoncé’s mama, OK? And if you don’t follow her on Instagram, you really should. So Miss Tina posted the other day about Jussie Smollett and went off, OK? And she was saying that there are people that, there are white folks that have murdered people and they have not gone to jail, and the fact that this baby is going to jail is just, you know, a reflection of how terrible our legal system is. And she went on and on and on. Now I saw that post, and usually I very much agree with Miss Tina, but this time—well, I guess it’s not even that I, that I disagree with Miss Tina, but I’m just like, there’s so many people who actually were charged with the crime that they did not commit that need your platform, why are we concentrating on Jussie Smollett? But, listen, there may be some fans on these, within these Zoom boxes I’m looking at that have a different opinion, but that, it was kind of the whole, the whole thing around Jussie was, it was just not newsworthy to me in my life. But I wish him well. I wish him well and I love Jurnee. Wish him well, and love Jurnee. If something happen to Jurnee, now I’d be on my Instagram talking, but . . .
Myles Johnson: I saw it just now with, thank you for letting me know that this happened. And I think sometimes I just really feel a little ghastly in like Twilight Zone about the Jussie Smollett situation. And I think and I’m really been like examining it—I might bring this to my therapist once I find one. But, but for now, I’m bringing it to y’all three. And I really like sit with this and I’m like, Wait. So I think it’s because I’m inside of the Black queer community and in the Black LGBT community and I think that Jussie in the popular culture conversation about Black stuff is positioned as the least of these, right? But because I’m with Black trans people of a dark-skinned fat, low-income variety, often—and part of my, you know, 9-d is helping these people—I think wen I look at Jusse, I’m like, Well, this, he’s not the least of these. He, he is a very successful person who is—listen! I’m like, I’m like, I go to Harlem and we used to try to catch Jusse’s in order to not be [laughs] in Brooklyn not paying rent and doing bad on bills ,like Jusse is a catch. So it’s interesting that because of how this case has been positioned, he’s to me, sometimes I hear people talk about him and I’m like, Well, he’s not the—I don’t know, there’s, there’s so much nuance not taken around it. And I’m like, why, why is it him that it’s in. And his like, specifically esthetic and class privilege is any of that, and just social power, is not the reason why so much, like so many people feel so comfortable galvanizing towards him. Because I’m like, This is atrocious—you know, I don’t believe in jail, like, I don’t believe in prison, and I also don’t believe in having to lie and do all these other things. You could just be like, I was, you know what, I was doing some drugs, allegedly, and I wanted to get more famous, allegedly, and I did some stuff allegedly, and I still don’t belong in jail. I believe in that. I believe in being able to say, You know what? I’m a flawed human being, and I still didn’t do anything worse than the people who you got on this money. So let me go. So I don’t, I’m not saying that I want him to be punished, but it’s just really a interesting—I don’t know, this this fascinating to me. I’m like, I’m like, How did this happen? And then when I see somebody like Miss Tina, who is, you know, the mother of, you know, some of the most important artists in the world and I just believe Miss Tina is an important figure in our culture, specifically Black pop culture, I’m like, I’m like, How did this, how, like this one? We have so many. We can call up Ava right now. We can call up, you know, just so many people right now and be like—
Kaya Henderson: Isn’t this a, to me, it seems like this is an issue of proximity. I mean, Miss Tina and Jusse, right? Like, you know, she probably either knows him or has encountered him, they probably run in similar social circles or have people in common, right? So when something happens to somebody, you know, you get outraged about it, right? Despite the fact that things have been happening to Black folks all over the place for lots of things, but you speak on it because you have some proximity to the issue. So I felt like this was Miss Tina sort of caping for somebody that she knows or, you know, is probably only a few degrees of separation removed from. And, you know, I think she thinks she is, you know, this is her social justice, a social justice moment where she’s standing up to point out the disparities and [unclear] [laughs] I’m serious! Don’t laugh at me lawyer girl.
De’Ara Balenger: No, because when I lost real interest in this, I saw a picture of Jussie Smollett like doing a, you know, like Black fist in the air in the courtroom. And I was like, that’s not, that don’t go together. Like, this all don’t go together.
Myles Johnson: I said, put that waffled-colored fish down Jussie. This is not the time. This is not the time. This is not the time.
Kaya Henderson: I mean this, y’all, we got the mental health issues in this country all over the place.
DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I’d say is that, you know, I was very closely involved in all of it at the beginning and then took a step back. But regardless of whether you think he did it or not, 150 days, five months in jail feels that like, is not a consequence that fits the crime. So I think that’s true. One of the things that I hope people understand, though, because Jussie is not in jail, is that he is out of jail, but they did not, like he will, if he does not overcome the appeal, he will go back. It’s not like he’s running the clock out while he is, while he’s doing this, so, so I’m hopeful, you know. And I’ve talked to people in Chicago, like people in, who like, know the system well and they’re like, This judge never hands out sentences like this. And that the only reason they did it is because the state put so much money into prosecuting him that they got to show something for it. And I think Kim Fox’s consequence was the right one. It was, he got like a whole lot of community service and something else. Like that is, that should be the consequence of something like this. I worry about making an example out of people. And you’re right, you know, I do think I agree with you, Kyra. I think that this is definitely like a proximity issue, which is why people keep talking about it. I have been frankly sort of surprised at the comments online, especially on Instagram, because people I didn’t think, I didn’t realize how few people had sympathy for him in the like everyday neighborhood. That it’s very, there are a lot of elites who have a lot of sympathy for him, and people in the gay community, I would say Mules. Like I think that there are some, some in the queer community riding for Jussie. But in sort of every day, not following things closely or not having an identity marker that is close to him, I’ve been like Whoo, looking at these comments like, wow, that actually surprised me.
Myles Johnson: And narrative’s absurd. So like, no matter how you slice it, like the only person who can like successfully, if we ever do like a Jussie Smollett, what we think happened, the only person since we do this would be like a Tyler Perry-type of director, because it’s that bad and it’s that weird. So I get it too. And I think that also the regular everyday person since the Jussie situation has happened to now, I think we all, but specifically, you know, just the everyday regular person like, you know, the non-elite, you know, whatever you want to call it, have been through a lot more! So I think that now there’s even less less sympathy because now, a pandemic later, like a insurrection at the Capitol, like all these different things have happened since Jussie that is now just, I think sometimes people’s sympathy is kind of tug of war with like what they’re going through too.
De’Ara Balenger: OK. Yeah. My news today is from the New York Times. It is about a very talented young photographer named Campbell Addy. And I just love beautiful, Black, real, joyful imagery. And so I’ve been following him for a while, and I saw this piece in the New York Times and got super, super excited. And I was like, This is my news. And then I read the article and I was like, Hmm, why would this cultural critic concentrate on some of the specific things he concentrated on in this article, which I will get to. But part of what, how I wanted to frame this is I love Black art, again I love Black imagery and one of my favorite Black artists is actually Agusta Savage. She said, “I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” Which I just think is so beautiful in such a spectacular way as the incredible artist to think of your work and to think of your process and your legacy. So I feel like although British, he is, you know, it’s the diaspora. Addy, Campbell Addy is, grew up in London. He is a Ghanaian-British. He’s 28-years old and, you know, just really having this dynamic moment in fashion. He shot for Wall Street Journal, Dazed, he’s been shot for shoots that have been in British Vogue. He captured portraits of Tyler The Creator, FKA Twigs, and so many others, and was recently the recipient of a New Wave British Fashion Award. And he got that two years in a row. And I just I love this quote as well. So Ibrahim Kamara, who’s the editor of Dazed Magazine, has said about Addy that he “brings so much joy, and every moment is so beautiful because of his attention to detail.” And this is someone who started in the fashion game, you know, very young, but also not from the elite, obviously. And so the fact that he’s had this path, it’s really just showed how gifted and how gifted and talented he is. And he kind of fits within this new canon of young Black photographers, Myles Loftin, Quill Lemons—who we love—, Tyler Mitchell—who is a dear, oh. So this this group in, among others, it’s just, yeah, they’re just doing their thing and they’re just bringing truth and honesty and beauty to fashion abd to magazines and to all these different publications. Now, so follow him, follow his work. Also, Tyler Mitchell, Quill Lemons, like all these amazing people. But what I wanted to dig into is a little bit just about this cultural critic whose name is Daniel Penny. This is his first byline for the New York Times, by the way. And the way this is written, it’s basically like, you know, kind of a rags-to-riches story, sort of. And so he talks about how, you know, he’s from humble beginnings but his family found out that he was gay. His mother, in particular, found out that he was gay when he was 17. He went to live in a foster home, essentially. So there’s, I forget where it is in this article, but there’s, in England, there’s some nonprofit that their specific purpose is to make sure that, you know, LGBT kids that can’t live at home have a place to live. So then he was placed with this white man, Mr. Fields, who was an artist himself. And as the article writes, it really inspired Addy Campbell and it really brought out his artistry. So all that to say, it’s like, it’s kind of written like his Ghanaian family was terrible., he went to this white man’s house, who was his white savior, and now, boom! He’s a highly sought after fashion photographer. And then Daniel Penny tweeted, he, but he said that the most the most compelling thing about this piece is when Campbell went to Central Saint Martins and he mastered in fashion communications. So he basically tells this story how he was at the school, and he didn’t know, he thought Margiela was cheese. And the girl was like, Oh my God, are you kidding? And Daniel Penny, the cultural critic of this, that wrote this piece, thought that this moment was such like a compelling moment because Addy Campbell didn’t know who this fashion designer was. When I’m just like, the way you center whiteness and the way you center these western values, like, who cares who this—? Of all the moments for you to think that’s compelling from this story and from this young man’s life, that’s what you choose?! So I don’t know. I was getting, I can go on and on about like how hot I was getting as I was reading this thing, and how he was portrayed, and how so much in terms of, you know, how he’s made it in this white space, despite his blackness like was centered here as opposed to his brilliance and—his brilliance and his legacy as a Black person is the reason why he is where he is. So I don’t know, just bringing that to the pod. So, one, you know, read the article, you know, learn more about Addy Campbell. But also, just like we need to really be careful about, like when we’re reading things, particularly cultural critics who are writing about Black art and folks of color, just really be careful about how they’re presenting information and the lens from which they’re presenting it. Or don’t, because then you’ll just not be upset on your Sunday morning reading the paper. You know what I mean? It’s up to you, really.
Kaya Henderson: I’ll come in with a slightly different perspective.
De’Ara Balenger: Always! Always saving the day. Because you know, petty, you know, because petty Patty, you know, I was getting worked up.
Kaya Henderson: So teacher Kaya read this article, and thanks petty Patty for bringing it because I had no idea who Campbell Addy was before I read this and I’m excited. His work is very exciting because it looks like me and the people that I know, there’s skinny people, there’s fat people, they’re famous people, there’s regular-degular people. It’s a little bit of everybody. I love that! That’s the world that I live in. And with my teacher hat, I thought his life story was incredibly interesting. A lot of things that I think about in terms of what we need to do for our young people are things that he, that happened to him along the course of his life, whether it was his immediate family or somebody else. And so one was just exposure. And so when he went to live with the foster home, in the foster home, he just got to see things that he hadn’t seen in his regular low-income family. And you don’t have to leave your family to get exposure. But when I taught, one of the things that was most worrisome to me is I taught kids in the South Bronx who really had never left more than a 10-block radius of where they lived. And we lived in the most vibrant city in the world where at the time, for a dollar twenty five, you could, you know, see Yankee Stadium, see the World Trade Center, see the Museum of Modern Art, all of these things. And so our young people lacked exposure, and I felt like he got that. The positive talk that he also got at different points through his career, you all have no idea the power of the word on young people—when we tell young people that they’re amazing, that they are great, that we have great expectations for them. And he had people across his life who were telling him that he was talented when he didn’t know that he was talented or, you know, that he had the capability and capacity. He also, the Margiela quote made me think about him as a constant learner. He was like, Listen, I don’t know, I might not know who she is or who he is or whatever it is—because clearly I don’t know who Margiela is—But I might not know what that is all about right now, but I’m a figure it out and I’m going to find out. And our young people are resilient. They are hungry and curious, and that’s the thing that builds greatness. I think also authenticity like this cat—I mean, 28, are you kidding me? This dude was like, I’m going to do this thing my way. I am going to, I’m not going to follow the mainstream fashion trends. I’m going to photograph what I want. I’m going to start my own agency, my own modeling agency. I’m going use my friends, my hairstylist, my makeup artist, my people, to execute on my vision. I am going to start my own magazine. I’m not going to wait for somebody to find me. I’m going to put my whole thing out in the world. And like, you know, somebody had to be telling you that you could do that because most of us don’t even think that audaciously. And so I thought this dude was a great example of what happens when young people get the right inputs. And I mean, boom. LIke, let me tell you what I love about blackness: give us a little bit, just a little bit, right? He was poor. His people may not have been so supportive. He was stuck between two religious worlds and two whole countries, in dat dat da da da—you give that dude a few crumbs and bladow! He is the talk of the town and British fashion and he’s in the New York Times and whatever. That’s why they’re scared of, y’all, because, you know, with a little bit of something. Sorry, I like, this, so that’s what this thing did for me Miss De’Ara. I was excited about Campbell Addy.
De’Ara Balenger: Kaya, that’s why I was, like, kind of disappointed by the way it was laid out. Because that, when I saw the headline like, that’s the feeling I had, I was like, Oh my God, I can’t wait to dig into this because he is so brilliant. And then I’m just like, OK, y’all.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Fair enough. Rock on Campbell, you got a new fan.
Myles Johnson: I, you know, luckily, I can agree with both of y’all. Because I definitely agree that it’s just fascinating. Anytime I see like these, like visual artists come, come along, I always get really excited for when they hopefully eventually go into like film because I think that when, like those artists are paired with really good storytellers—and I feel the same way when I read a really good storytellers or like really good literature, like new literature, I’m like, I can’t wait for a really good visual art, Black visual artist to do it because I think that pairing is just so beautiful. I think, you know, we’re still talking about Moonlight and, like, like even Insecure, like in a similar way. It was just this galvanizing for all of us to see it like that. Like that great literature, great writing paired with somebody who really cares poetically about the Black form, Black esthetic. But what you were saying to me really reminded me of Nikki Giovanni poem, Nikki Rosa, and I just want to like, quote like a little bit of it because I do also agree with when somebody who is outside of the Black experience globally, American, British, whatever does it, they can’t help but to do it in a way that centers them and that if you’re really sensitive to like to do certain things, you’ll pick up on it. But Nikki Giovanni says, “Your biographers never understand your father’s pain as he sells his stock and another dream goes. And though you’re poor, it isn’t poverty that concerns you. And though they fought a lot, it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference.” And then, I’m going to read the whole poem, but then at the very end, she says, “and I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me because they never understand Black love is Black wealth, and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy.”
DeRay Mckesson: Come on, Nikki! Come on Nikki!
Myles Johnson: And I do think that there’s a sensitivity—Nikki Giovanni, my, my favorite poet
De’Ara Balenger: I knew the ancestor was in me talking to me.
Myles Johnson: Well, well, first of all, Nikki Giovanni [unclear] ancestor, we got to keep her here. She’s still on this plane. We can have tea with her tomorrow in the form. No séance needed. She’s still walking with us so let’s remember that. But yeah, it really, really reminded me that. And that’s the, that’s the struggle of kind of wanting to be a catalyst and break through the mainstream culture, but then also kind of having to again, play this like, this dance, this tango with white people and their gaze and how they interpret your experiences. And how they just had to write about it, because all those things could be facts, all those things could be right, and I can still interview Campbell and still think that’s not the most interesting thing about him. And then still think that it’s actually amazing and maybe part of his brilliance that we’re seeing that child captivated by this because he didn’t know who Margiela was, because he didn’t know European, certain European designers and esthetician, so his gaze was actually a Black gaze and that’s what you’re fascinated by. Just like everybody was fascinated with Toni Morrison, and then she comes out and says one of the reasons why you think that I’m as good as Hemingway and Faulkner is because I don’t care what you, what y’all talking about. You know, and and I think that perspective is often missing. And again, it’s a systemic, less about to do with that individual writer and more to do with just with the system and how we’re trained to interpret people’s stories depending on who they are.
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll say as organizers, we always say that every story is a lesson in power. And I think one of the things that you sort of challenge us on De’Ara, and Kaya, that you remind us of the beauty that we can always find some magic in everything that’s put out. Like, that’s a gift to blackness. And Myles taking it home with Nikki is I always think about like, how would I tell this story to my aunt versus how I would tell it to white people? And you think about the snippets, if I only have 15 minutes to tell my aunt something, I’m not telling her he didn’t know Margiela, right? I’m telling her, I’m like, Did you know he figured, he got the camera this time and, you know, he took the first photo. I’m asking him what was the first photo he was proud of? I’m like, When did you think that you—? Like those are the stories that I want to hear from him because they give me much more perspective and color into how he understood his own power and how he understood his own eye. And I think that what you said, Myles is so beautiful. One of the things that makes him gifted is precisely that he was not enamored and centering whiteness in the way that he developed what it meant to see beauty. That actually is like a really beautiful thing in of itself. And this question of like, what are the stories that we choose to tell? And when other people tell our stories, it’s normally stories about pain and damage and strife, which we all have had, but that is rarely how we talk about ourselves to each other. You know what I mean? And I’m always interested in the stories that we would, the snippets that we would pick and tell to each other, because, as we say in the organizing world, every story is always a lesson in power. Myles, can you tell us the name of the poem?
Myles Johnson: Nikki-Rosa, Nikki Giovanni’s Nikki-Rosa? Yeah, so it’s literally just Nikki, hyphen, Rosa. And it’s a great poem. One of my favorite. Just the whole thing, if you ever go on Spotify and go put in Nikki Giovanni, I don’t think a lot of people know, but she’s recorded a lot of her tapes in the ;70s and records, so that’s all available for you. I go around and walk in Brooklyn and listen to it and feel like my aunty is talking to me when, when the rates too high, my patience is too low.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming.
Myles Johnson: Oh, so I wanted to talk to everybody about cryptocurrency and NFTs, and I came across this really great article about how Black people are actually leading a lot of the, just the representation in those spaces. And I think that sometimes when things are new, just mainstream in general, but sometimes Black people specifically can be a little bit “what’s going on, what’s happening?” Because I know that as much of a tech computer futurism geek as I can be, like it got, the NFT cryptocurrency stuff, got very mathematical and boring and bro’ish and lost me, and I thought this article did a really good job. Some stats that I thought were interesting from it were 23% of African-Americans own cryptocurrency, compared to 11% of white Americans and 17% of Hispanics, according to two recent surveys conducted by Harris Poll and provided to USA Today. “Minority communities who have historically been left out of growing industries like alcohol, marijuana, and more are now eager to be a part of this latest shift” the article goes on to say. And I thought that was really interesting because, and—I was going to say, this has been my beat, but I haven’t wrote about it, It just been my beat in my head. I’ve really thought about how interesting it is that we are a community that has let, that Black Wall Street happened. A lot of our communities, a lot of our banking, a lot of that stuff that were material were burned down and destroyed from us. And now some when I see the cryptocurrency and see Black people, Black artists get with it and in explore it, I see that a lot of —it just kind of gives me a hope where I’m like, Oh, we actually have the space to create something that can’t just be so easily burned down. And then again, this is not actually in this article, but another company, I think I’ve talked about them before, it’s a Black tech company called Black Tag actually has bought Black real estate there. They announced it at South by Southwest. They came up with their own cryptocurrency called Black Rose. And I just really implore people to A, read the article, research NFTs, follow Instagram and Twitter Stories that are talking about cryptocurrency and NFTs specifically for Black people and get more, just get more comfortable with it. Because I really do have a lot of hope for it, and it’s really interesting and really cool. And again, it feels like this way to build a wealth, to build ownership and not have the looming threat that when somebody decides that you’re too powerful, it could just be burned down or taken away, specifically because now there’s this space where we can own digital property—and child, you know, because I know, because I think we all got some pictures on the internet where I’m like, How come this can’t go away? So we know once it gets into that space of internet, it’s going to be a lot harder to burn that down! You’re going to have to try really hard to reverse that. And yeah, I just thought the topic was really interesting. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never talked about it, but I just feel like it’s just, the conversation around it’s grown bigger and bigger, and I wanted that to be my offering today, this Sunday.
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll just say I’m not. I’m not yet into the imaginary, buying imaginary things. Feels a little wild. I think I spend so much of my actual day trying to make sure that people like have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and don’t get hurt by the police. And the idea that people are spending real money on some clip art is really, just it blows my mind. So I’m not there yet. But I will say, and Myles, I did not know about the overrepresentation of Black people, but I thought about it. I’m like, Of course, we will be the people that make this cool because we make everything cool. We’ll be the people that make it, give it flavor and make it relevant—All those things. And I hope that this momentary spike in Black people participating is long lasting and that we can benefit from it. Because you’re right, I think about other industries, like marijuana is a great example that, like a Black people made that industry a real industry when it was illegal. It’s legal and now . . . nowhere to be found. So not because of our choices, but because of the way the system’s set up. So I’m excited to potentially learn more. Like Web3, all that stuff just feels very imaginary in a moment where people are having real problems, so I’m not there yet. But Myles, I’m happy that you are.
Myles Johnson: And it’s both/and, right? Because it’s not a, it’s really about ownership, and because there’s so much going on in the internet and there’s so many rights, you know, Instagram owns the rights to your pictures and digital rights, and digital ownership is a real thing that artists are really upset about and not getting stuff on is really who has ownership and being able to sell ownership to somebody for digital representation of the stuff. Which is still really heady and I get why it’s imaginary. But I think like just like, maybe oversimplifying it to like it’d be like imaginary. I’m like, No, we’ve been, we’ve been talking about digital ownership and stealing for a minute now. So I think, I think that’s how I entered it.
DeRay Mckesson: OK. I can receive that push.
Myles Johnson: That’s what made me, that’s what made me care about it, is because that’s how I entered it.
Kaya Henderson: I think that that whole piece around, like the fact that this is a way to own the culture that we create is incredibly powerful, right? Like it everything, I mean, you know—I’m on some stuff, apparently this week—but like every, every TikTok that you watch, every like, every everything in mainstream America is impacted, created by, influenced by Black people. And we don’t have a stake in that. And so I see the possibility in cryptocurrency and NFTs if they are what they say they are and if, you know, if this thing logically pans out. But two things worry me. One is, you know, to DeRay’s earlier point about how you explain stuff to white people, how you explain stuff to your aunty—we can’t explain cryptocurrency currency and NFTs to our aunties, right? And I think there has to be a way for more folks to—like part of what I see around Black people rushing to this is, you know what we’ve been taught about all of these things in capitalistic society is the people who get in earliest are the winners, right? And the people who get in late are the losers. And so I see a lot of people running to this because they want to get in early. They want to play the game the way the game has been played. And I think we have to help people understand that there are some upsides for sure, but what are the downsides? And how do we mitigate against those downsides? Because let me tell you what history tells us: every time Black people start doing well, white people will figure out a way to undo it. Ask me about reconstruction, where in 12 years we created 5,000 schools, 37 historically Black colleges and universities, 500,000 Black men voted and the presidential election was only one on 300,000 both. We own 20% of the farmland, we incorporated our own towns, banks, insurance companies—12 years! In just 12 years. And white people were like, Uh oh, see that coming, Jim Crow, Black codes, you know, the Ku Klux Klan, whatever, prisoner leasing, let’s shut this whole thing down. And so my worry, frankly, is that there is a way for this to come all down Myles because that’s what society tells us. And the overrepresentation makes me a little worried. I want us to be on the low with this and this is going to work, because—
Myles Johnson: They’re using some white avatars.
Kaya Henderson: —this is what history tells us: they will, they won’t lose the game. They are going to turn this around and create a new game, change the rules, whatever, whatever. So I am, we need to explain this to our folks, and we need to figure out ways to ensure that people don’t, that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, it’s the furthest from like a perfect thing. And I think that’s how come I’ve been so, again, it has been the Rapture Myles times in my head, the magazine that is award-winning that happens in my brain—that’s been my beat. Is because I’m like the same way when I was studying queer theory and feminism and Black feminism and really wanting to put a gaze on like pop culture so more people would think about that critically, I really cared about that specifically with DeRay. I really care about us not being, us Black people, not being afraid of the future and technology, even if we’re doing—so there were a lot of articles that are calling out racism that’s happening, a lot of articles that are like, This is where everything could go bad, whatever. But I think that in general, even if NFT and cryptocurrency is just not a thing in two years, I think what I’m seeing in the center of it is a fear of Black people of what is digital and what is futuristic and where the planet’s going, and I think that I just like the idea of breaking that down because—
Kaya Henderson: I agree. I totally agree with that. I want us to be—I mean, we gonna be in the center of futurism because we are in the center of present-ism. We’ve been in the center of past-ism. Yes, I made those words up. That’s OK because we are creative and we do, we bring our own vocabulary to the party.
Myles Johnson: Listen, that’s just future vocabulary. That’s just a little Shakespeare’ism.
DeRay Mckesson: I see you. I see you.
De’Ara Balenger: And I think that the only thing that I’ll add is that, first of all, this conversation, I’m now inspired and I got to know what’s going on. So I’m going to do all that.
Kaya Henderson: Can you do a primer, De?
De’Ara Balenger: But I think to Myles’ point, I think there is this embedded fear or just this kind of pushing away of things that are kind of like radically imaginative right, for Black folks. So I even think of like Marcus Garvey and Black Star Line and how he was like, I’m buying a ship and we out of here. And people were like, What, what are you talking about? But it was just like just to be so imaginative around what the future could be and the possibility, and I think we’re just somehow, I think that’s the part of white supremacy, how wired we are to be fearful of things that are just wildly imaginative and futuristic. And so I think part of what I want to do around this is just to unlearn that, because I feel like that is just something that we have embedded in us just from the generations of being told we can’t do shit.
Kaya Henderson: I feel that. Help us unlearn, girl.
De’Ara Balenger: Thank you, Miles!
Myles Johnson: I was like, I was like, If I can even just, this was like a challenge of challenges. I was like, If I can do it here, then I got some business talking about it anywhere else.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week literally like has my blood boiling, and it is about this drug called Makena, which is a drug that is supposed to prevent premature births and it is targeted towards Black women who have higher rates of preterm birth. But this drug, Makena, is a synthetic hormone that is literally a 60-year old drug that wasn’t initially used to prevent preterm births, but it is in wide use. And a recent large study failed to demonstrate that Makena reduced the risk of preterm birth. In fact, the scientists who looked at Makena recommended that be taken off the market. Well, when a drug is not working and the scientists say it should be taken off the market, it get’s taken off the market, right? No. Covis, which is the company that makes Makena, Covis Pharma has actually refused to take the drug off the market. They continue to promote Makena, saying, in fact, that Black women, who are the most at risk, need Makena. They’ve dismissed the results of the trial by saying that in the trial, they were more European women than Black American women. They’ve asked for more time to prove that Makena works. And while they are, I guess, asking for more time, they are still continuing to push this drug. The top medical and OB-GYN societies continue to recommend it. The FDA has considered previous trials that also said it wasn’t effective and yet and still, this drug is being marketed to, prescribed to, and injected into Black women. The long-term effects are unknown, but the rate of preterm births have continued to rise in the country over the last five years, even though more and more women are getting injected with this drug. The article says “The story of Makena shows how pharmaceutical companies can use America’s drug approval system to make hundreds of millions of dollars from a cheap, decades-old medicine with questionable effectiveness and safety.” And who bears the brunt of this? Black women? Let me tell you the story. So the drug was not actually developed to prevent preterm births. It was developed to do something completely different, and they noticed that in some cases, the number of preterm births actually went down. But the studies that they were using to prove that this drug was good for preterm birth was flawed in a bunch of different ways. In fact, outside experts looked at the studies and said, you need to gather more data. But there’s an accelerated regulatory pathway at the FDA that allows people to get drugs passed immediately if you can say that there is effectively exigent circumstances, right, people need this drug right now, even though we don’t have the scientific approval for it. And experts, scientific experts, say this regulatory pathway, this accelerated pathway, is not OK. But, but despite that, and despite the fact that additional trials showed that the drug didn’t work, a new company bought the initial company. They hiked up the price by more than 40 times what pharmacies have been charging for this drug, and they created a huge presentation called the “$1 billion Makena Market Opportunity.” What they figured out—actually, before I even tell you about that, Makena costs about $803 per week and over a full course of injections costs about $13,000. And they are averaging about 310,000 women who have taken Makena over the last, you know how-many-ever years? And what the company did was figure out how to market this thing, figure out how to literally push the drug into Black women, Black communities into the medical field, with this $1 billion market opportunity. They targeted 140,000 pregnant women. That was their goal. If they could get 140,000 pregnant women to take this, they’d be making their cash. They had reports done to say that you should increase the number of injections from 13 1/2 to 21. And so imagine if you know the price is up and now you need, you know, more than what you did, you know, what you needed before, you’re making more money. They found interesting and creative ways to keep women taking the shot, despite the fact that women were experiencing side effects. They hired physicians as influencers to write articles about how good Makena was. They financially supported two of the top professional associations, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, which has over 5,000 doctors around the world as members, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is the largest OB-GYN professional association. They gave cash or gifts directly to 5,800 doctors who were prescribing Makena. They paid to create an advocacy group called the Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance, a group wholly-funded by Covis Pharma, to lobby the FDA to say that people needed this drug. And, and still, like all of the evidence shows that this drug doesn’t work. The FDA has a database with 18,000 reports of patients who are experiencing adverse effects from rashes all the way to stillbirth. In fact, there are now slightly higher rates of stillbirth for women taking Makena from women who don’t. There’s a young lady from Baltimore, DeRay, in the article who took Makena during her first pregnancy and the baby came out premature, took it during the second pregnancy and the baby came prematurely, and the third pregnancy, the doctors were like, Yeah, we’re going to give you a little Makena. And she was like, No, no way, I had migraines, I had depression, I had all kinds of setbacks. No thank you. They put pressure on her and she had to really fight and advocate for herself to say no. And when she didn’t take it, her baby came full term at 38 weeks. So there’s also evidence that the, that the long term effects of Makena might cause rare cancers, not only in the children of women who take it, but in the grandchildren of women who take it right. The FDA has done multiple analysis and they show that there is nothing that shows that this stuff is better for any subgroup of women, including Black women, and yet and still, this drug is on the market with no end in sight. And who is hurt the worst? Black women? This was, I mean, it was just astounding to witness. This is just like no common sense, right? No common sense. No studies. No, no nothing. Adverse effects. Y’all. This really made my blood boil and I brought it to the pod because this is, you know, there are Black women out here every single day being prescribed a drug that is not only not good for them, but it’s probably bad for them and their children and their grandchildren. And it ain’t no way to stop Big Pharma’s hustle until, unless we know about these things and act differently.
Myles Johnson: Just wild on the biggest thing too, that I connected. You just said everything so eloquently is I’m like, What can I truly add? But the biggest thing to me is how these situations permeate and connect with distrust when it comes to pandemics and COVID, and when it comes to like what we just thought, like as long as these type of things are happening, there’s going to be continuous like distrust in medical institutions. So these situations, we just A, have to continue to talk about them, have to continue being critical of them, have to be continue to want to transform the medical, the medical institutions that we see them. But then also start connecting these situations to other situations that we see when it comes to distrust in the medical institutions and then how that will then harm everybody when we want something like vaccines to be trusted. We have to, it starts when Black women are pregnant. It starts when, you know, people go get checkups, it starts way before the pandemic arrives for us to start trusting our medical system.
De’Ara Balenger: I think the thing that really floored me here is that the FDA has been clear that it doesn’t work right, like it’s not even like the FDA was slow to say it doesn’t work necessarily. They said it doesn’t work. But the company is literally just refusing to stop selling it. And this is where the FDA is complicit, is that they have granted, they have, there’s a hearing that’s been granted but hasn’t even been scheduled. And it’s like, those are the things that you’re like, what is going on? It also is a reminder, too, of how much the pharmaceutical industry or the whole pharma health care like, you know—Makena is not the only drug like this, like this is the one that people just know of today. And it’s like, how do we even lift up their advocacy so people know, like, call your legisl—just like, how do people even get to make this a crisis? Because if you hadn’t put this up, Kaya—I don’t know how you found it, but if you hadn’t put it here, I literally have never even heard of this. And the people on my timeline in my world who talk about race all day long had also never heard about it from them. And it’s like, how do we make sure that these issues get to people so that we can all raise the alarm? Like, I haven’t seen this on the news. I mean, this should be like, this should be a national story, especially targeting Black women like this. And the woman from Baltimore, I think her name is Brittney, shout out to her for her advocacy. But like she shouldn’t have to fight. I mean, that’s so, that’s a wild. But it is an interesting way to think about regulation, especially when people talk about the free market and stuff like that, is that all of us just assume that you would not get something sold as a prescription drug that is not actually effective. Like that sort of like a, that assumption is—we know that vitamins are looked at by the FDA, so you take the vitamin and just pray. But when you take other medicine, you’re like, No, no, this is supposed to do a thing. And this actually just is not doing the thing, which is so scary.
De’Ara Balenger: It’s also not that difficult to get this drug to stop being made. Attention, Susan Rice, can you step in here since you are the head of White House domestic policy, and make it happen? Jen Klein, who’s co-chair of gender, women and gender at the White House. Adore her. Y’all get together, get a plan and get this stopped. It’s not actually that hard to do, and it’s why we have this administration. So I think partly it’s just, let, you know, we know how, we know how the system can work around this. We know who those people are. We voted those people in. Let’s hold them accountable on something that is so clear-cut as this. You can sign my petition at just kidding, but you know what I mean. We can make this happen.
DeRay Mckesson: My news is about a Wisconsin judge and a mother in Wisconsin. It is titled, “She said her husband was abusive. A judge took away her kids and ordered her arrest.” It’s published by ProPublica. Now I got to this because in my day job, in my in my advocacy work, I was on a call with somebody and they were like, DeRay, did you know that when women alleged domestic abuse, sometimes the kids get taken away from the woman? And I was like, What?! That doesn’t even, that makes no sense to me. And then right after that call, I came across this article and it is this exact same circumstance. The short version is that she alleges domestic abuse. It goes through this whole the process. When her husband is asked on the stand, Did you hit her? Did you hurt her? He invokes the Fifth Amendment. He won’t really engage. He gets some like counseling, some other stuff. But the laws are sort of, the laws in Wisconsin at least are such that they want to keep the whole family intact, which makes general sense, right? But not when you know one parent is abusing the other parent or putting the kids in harm’s way. And what this story details is that the judge—and I spent almost all of my time in criminal court issues so I just don’t even think about Family Court, like that’s just not where my mind goes, but this is a Family Court case where the judge holds the mother in contempt four times. Essentially strips her of her ability to see the kids. And not because she’s particularly done anything wrong but challenge him. Appeals Court overturns three of the contempt findings. One, that appellate court’s like, Yeah, she really did just yell and do all this stuff in the Middle Court. But the other one, the Appeals Court is like they were just meant to be punitive. They were just about power. The judge, he assigns a new like guardian for the kids. That guardian that he assigns says the mother is not fit. Like this judge is wielding his power to just ruin this woman’s life and make it so that she can’t see her kids. She has to get a civil rights lawyer. Like all this, she has like a whole infrastructure that she has to get to support her so that she can even fight the judge and fight her husband, her ex-husband, to just be able to see her children where he was the one that was abusing her. And it just blew my mind. And it reminded me of sort of the consequence of all of the energy and the big space being focused on Criminal Court, that we don’t really see what happens in things like Family Court. I think about this as a white woman in Wisconsin. If it took her, if she’s getting thrown in jail four times, if she’s being held for contempt of court, if they are taking her kids away, God only knows what’s happened to a Black women with no connections to lawyers, with no money to hire people. I mean that was the scariest part about this. If they’re doing this to a white woman who is like by all intents and purposes has her stuff together, I can only imagine what Latinas are dealing—like, I just don’t even know, you know? And that’s what, that’s why I wanted to bring it here because in the arc of the podcast, we focus so much on immigration court and Criminal Court. Family Court has been a black box and I wanted to open that box.
Kaya Henderson: DeRay, my mind went exactly where yours did, which is if this is what a white woman is going through, I mean, God help any nonwhite person who is dealing with this. It also made me really angry from a gender perspective that, you know, she’s being unreasonable and disruptive in however she is expressing her reactions to this existential threat to her family, right? Like, I would be crazy too if this dude has beating me or beating my kids, and I’m in court and I’m presenting my case and everybody is, you know, on his side. Like, she’s having reasonable reactions to what is a really crazy thing happening to our family, but we don’t allow women to be expressive and emotive in that way. We watch men in courtrooms say all kinds of crazy things and parade and express their emotions in whatever kind of a way and rarely does it have the kinds of consequences that it’s having for this woman. And so I mean, y’all, this judge thing is so scary because all up and down, you know, people are being placed in judgeships and we don’t have any light into who these people are or who’s putting them there. You know, we’ve talked about on the pod before how former President Trump put more federal judges on the bench than any president in the history of the United States. We don’t have, I mean, we’re now just seeing, we’re getting more critical insight into the judge appointment process because of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, only because people are critical of her and what she’s done, then we ever saw in Kavanaugh or Coney Barrett or any of these other people. This is stuff that we have to pay attention to. Lord, today. Distraction, racism, you got it. You got us fighting on 59 different fronts. But this is bananas. Oh, my soul.
De’Ara Balenger: I think that’s all right Kaya. And I think, you know, we have to remember that family courts are predicated on patriarchal gender norms and bias against women. And so I think oftentimes, you know, I think there’s this notion or this narrative that, you know, when we’re talking about custody, that a mom is automatically going to get custody, and that’s not the case. Usually, there are times where she does not, and also there are times when the father is allowed to have custody even though there’s been proven accounts of domestic violence, right? So there’s so much bias in the system in the family court system. And also Kaya, to your point, it’s male judges. And so, you know, there are more male judges, obviously, than women judges and so the biases that go along with that are there. So, yeah, I think it’s, I don’t think enough attention gets spent on Family Court and its impact on children, obviously. And so I don’t, DeRay you know, thank you for bringing this one to the pod because I think it’s a way for us to focus and highlight some of these really, really, really challenging issues.
Myles Johnson: Yah. Again, nothing, nothing super soulful to add to that. But just echoing what Kaya said earlier is the weaponization of like that, that deeply patriarchal idea of like women’s hysteria and like and but, you know, even like the word hysteria comes from, comes from being associated with like the women’s, like the woman’s body and stuff. So it’s like that was so weaponized there so when I was reading, and I was like, Oh, this is actually a, if I was ever to try to communicate that theory to somebody, this is literally the case that I would show. And this is the real-life ramifications of what we do inside of our culture, and how it really changes the course of people’s lives and people’s destinies in the end. Yeah, it’s disturbing.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week we have Bridget Todd on to give us a glimpse into the World Wide Web. While many of us use the internet daily, Bridget surf, studies, and researches the internet all at the same time. She’s a fierce advocate for social media platform accountability and creating safer digital experiences for women and other marginalized folks. Bridget and I dig deep into the root of the internet to figure out how and why misinformation spreads. Censorship and online abuse have run rampant within the metaverse. Bridget speaks on all this and more in her podcast, “There are no girls on the internet”, on which you’ll hear more about as well. Join me in welcoming Bridget Todd.
DeRay Mckesson: Bridget Todd, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Bridget Todd: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
DeRay Mckesson: So I’m pumped because, you know, I don’t have a lot of podcast hosts on the podcast, interestingly. Not for any reason. But as I was listening to your podcast, I was like there are a lot of things I don’t know, and I wanted to bring you on so I could learn, and so we all could learn from you and learn with you. I’ll start with how did you get to a podcast? How did you get to your research around the internet’s effect on women and queer and people of color? Like how did, how is this your work today?
Bridget Todd: Yeah, that’s a great place to start. So I’m so excited to be in conversation with another podcast host. In addition to hosting my podcast in my day job I work for a gender justice organization called Ultraviolet, where we have over two million gender justice advocates nationwide fighting for, you know, a fairer world for marginalized people. And for me, so much of that work has been in the technology space, and so we do a lot of sitting down with the leadership from organizations like Facebook and TikTok and really trying to work with them and advocate for them to create policies that we think will be more inclusive. And you know, it’s work that I really enjoy, but it’s one of those things where in these meetings with, you know, leadership from these groups, I would look around and everybody at the table on my side of the table would be a woman or a queer person or a person of color or a Black woman, and I thought, Wow, the people who are doing the majority of the work ,really making space for our voices and our identity, and doing the work of making our social media platforms and technology platforms safer and better and more inclusive are all traditionally marginalized people. Yet the story that we’re often told is that, you know, the internet is by and large like built for and by white, straight, cisgender people. And so I really wanted to change the narrative and create a place where our voices really could be meaningfully centered. And this thing that I knew to be the truth, that marginalized voices are so impactful in the space, could really be heard.
DeRay Mckesson: What has it been like being a podcast host? How’s that been?
Bridget Todd: It’s been interesting. You know, I love, I mean, I’m an audio nerd. I’m a kind of person who has like, listens to podcast when they fall asleep and when I get up in the morning putting on a podcast, the first thing I do. And so it’s th, it’s like my happy medium. It’s my happy place. I think it’s a place where people can have conversations with a little bit of nuance. And so it’s so easy— I’m sure you’ve experienced this—it’s so easy for when you tweet something for that tweet to get misconstrued or one tweet from a whole tweet thread to go viral and sort of like, misconstrue what you meant. And I feel like with podcasts, people are there because they want to get into the meaty conversation. They want a nuance. And so I love being in this space. And I think, you know, for me, my journey really began when I would look at podcasts on the podcast charts about technology that were for, you know, women or people of color or other marginalized identities, so many of the podcasts were about how you start a side hustle in tech or how you can refine your technology career. And you know, those are really important conversations to have but I also feel like, you know, marginalized people deserve having conversations that are heady and about the culture of technology and the way that technology and the internet impacts our lives and our lived experiences, and so I wanted to also offer something that wasn’t so sort of, you know, capitalistic, so attached to like your nine to five, but also with a space for marginalized people to really do some heady exploration of the culture around tech because I feel like we really deserve those conversations, too.
DeRay Mckesson: I was listening to your episode on the Ukraine that, I was listening, there are two I think, but I was listening to the one most recently about the TikTok people. And I didn’t know, literally, I knew nothing about it. How do people monetize—? Well, first, what made you do that episode about the scammers in the Ukraine, the scammers on TikTok using Ukraine stuff?
Bridget Todd: Yeah. So I sort of came at it just like you, right? When I saw the news of the invasion in Ukraine, I was like, Oh my God, this is really scary, this is a real crisis moment. And so I was scrolling social media just myself and I would see all these videos that seemed horrific, right? And so, you know, live streams on TikTok that show people purporting to be in Ukraine, you know, facing really scared, bombings and things like that. Very scary. And you know, those videos all created this intense emotional reaction to me where I immediately thought I need to share this, I need to amplify this. And, you know, I’ve been talking about social media and the internet for a long time and so my little mantra is always when you feel that emote, that intense emotional reaction where you’re like, I need to share this right away, that should be your cue to stop and pause. And so I stopped and paused. I didn’t share any of those videos and I did a little more digging and it was really—I wish I could say I was surprised to find that people were faking videos, purporting to be in Ukraine and not really being in Ukraine, manipulating videos that were, you know, saying like, Well, this is a live feed from Ukrainian, when they weren’t, manipulating images and stills from video games and other graphics, saying they were from Ukraine. And so that was, I wish I could say I was surprised, but people really will do anything to grift on the internet and the internet makes it very easy to do that. But then the added tragedy of these people collecting money. So, you know, if you come across a video that looks really scary and someone says, Oh, this is a live feed from my experience in Ukraine, can you donate money for me? You know, that’s money that could go to actual people experiencing hardship in Ukraine. That’s money, that’s money and attention, but it’s being diverted from actual substantive issues. And so, yeah, I wish I could say I was surprised that people would scam in this way using a crisis and a tragedy to grift money from people, but honestly, we have an internet and digital ecosystem that makes it very easy to do this. And so obviously these individual bad actors are to blame, but it’s also systemic. It’s also institutions. It’s also platforms that should really make it so that it’s not so easy to grift off of a tragedy.
DeRay Mckesson: Is there a platform that you think is doing this better than the others? Is there’s somebody, is there a platform that you think is taking it more serious than not? Like what’s the—? Well, I don’t know. You know this better than I. I use them, I don’t study them. You study them. Is there somebody doing it Well?
Bridget Todd: That’s such a great question. Honestly, I’m almost surprised to hear myself give this answer, but I got to shout out the folks at Reddit. Not too long ago, my organization, Ultraviolet, put out a report card grading each of the major social media platforms of how they, you know, serve marginalized people, how they serve women, queer folks, trans folks and other marginalized identities who show up online, and Reddit got the highest grade. And I, you know, I sort of got my start as a person on social media really getting into Reddit and so I was really, that experience, you know, many years ago was not the best and so now, years later, seeing Reddit really stand out as a social media platform who is actually interested in creating safer and more inclusive experiences online was surprising. But I also want to shout out TikTok. TikTok is an interesting platform in that it’s newer than a a lot of the other social media platforms, and so I think they have more space to grow and more space to, I don’t know, more space to take seriously a culture of inclusivity and online safety. And so recently, they recently added dead-naming to their list of unacceptable behavior on the platform. And that was obviously a great win that we had with GLAAD, you know, really advocating for them to do this. And so I think that it’s such a young platform, but I think that they really have an exciting opportunity to sort of bake these things into the platform. So I’m really excited to see where they go with it.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let me tell you, I don’t think I have ever used Reddit. I think that the only time I ever used Reddit is when I’m Googling something, and Reddit is like the first thing that comes up, and I’m like struggling to try to understand. So I need to step my Reddit, step my Reddit game up. When you said that, I was like, Oh, I don’t even know what to ask you about Reddit?
Bridget Todd: Yeah. Well, the thing is, so something about Reddit, if you don’t use Reddit, if you’re ever looking for, like let’s say that you’re like, Oh, what’s the best wallet to buy or what’s the best, I don’t know, hairdryer to buy, if you Google the brand that you’re looking at and then Reddit, trust and believe there will be hundreds of people weighing in on their opinion on the best obscure thing that you want to buy. Trust and believe. So it’s a great platform for if you’re ever stuck on like, well, what should I buy? Go to Reddit.
DeRay Mckesson: Got it. Yeah, that’s literally the only time I’ve ever. And I’ve never gone, yeah, I’ve gone to Google and then gotten to Reddit. Is there, can you tell us about, I’m interested to know in an episode of the podcast or like a topic you covered where you were like, you learned something during the interview that surprised you? You were like, Oh my goodness, I didn’t know this. This changed my perspective or this help me understand something better? Can you give us one of those moments?
Bridget Todd: Yeah, that’s such a great question. I’m so glad you asked. One of the episodes that I’m most proud of is the one with this woman, Shafiqah Hudson, and for folks who don’t know her story, Shafiqah, back in, I think, 2014, she was spending a lot of time on Twitter and kind of more or less uncovered that that this vast network of people posing as Black women on Twitter were trying to cause chaos and discord on social media, and so he reported this on Twitter. Of course, they did nothing because the person reporting it was a Black women. And come to find out, you know, in 2016, a Senate inquiry report confirmed that there was, you know, no bigger group targeted for Russian meddling along the 2016 election more than Black users of social media. And so it’s one of those things where I remember when I heard that news, I was like, Oh, wow, if only people had listened to her when she was first reporting this to Twitter and first reporting her experiences. And so, you know, I think that what really shocked me about that story is how that continues to happen today. You know, during the 2020 racial justice protests that we saw all around the globe on social media, Twitter and other platforms confirmed that white supremacists were pretending to be Black people on social media to cause chaos. And so setting up Facebook groups that were purporting to be aligned with racial justice and actually being run by white supremacists to cause chaos. And so I think the surprising part to me is that we know this is happening, but nothing is really being done. And so these bad actors are really allowed to frame the conversation both on social media and in mainstream media by using these nefarious online shenanigans.
DeRay Mckesson: I remember when that story came out. Yes. Yes, that is, it is so wild. Is there like, was there a moment for you that you were like, I need to study the internet more seriously than people like me who use it, I use it to do my work. I don’t study it. Was there like a thing that happened that prompted you to say, OK, I need to step back and study it.
Bridget Todd: Yeah. For me, it was really personal. It was conversations around COVID. You know, when COVID happened, I was already sort of doing this work, but I thought of as very kind of, you know, like, this is my day job and it’s not really related to my community and my lived experience like this is, it was very separate in my mind. And when COVID started, I really started to see the ways that folks in my own communities, my own family, were really being swayed by things that I knew were misinformation and disinformation. And so I remember during the 2020 election, one of my family members sent me this message on WhatsApp that basically said that if you were going to vote, you would you had to bring your voter ID because they live in the South and that you would have to take off your face mask to show that your face matched the face on your ID. And so basically, the post was sort of suggesting that if you go vote, you would be at risk for getting COVID. And so this was before the vaccination and this was, you know, when we were really starting to see COVID decimate the Black and brown community. And so I really saw the ways that that specific piece of misinformation was targeting a lot of the traumas and fears and pressure point in my community, right? So already Black folks have a lot of historical trauma around, you know, barriers being erected to us being able to access our voting rights, right? Already Black folks have a pressure point around disproportionately being impacted by COVID. And so I started to see how savvy bad actors and disinformers were at targeting marginalized communities and communities of color, including in my own family. And so that was really when I was like, Oh, this is not just a tech issue or an issue that I work on 9-5, this is an issue that has deep, deep impact in my own community. And so I really wanted to reframe the conversation that centered the fact that folks are being targeted along the basis of their identities, and we should be talking about that.
DeRay Mckesson: Is there a way for people to get involved with Ultraviolet? Is there like a way for people to volunteer or to follow or participate? Like, how can—people hear you and they’re like, Oh my goodness, I want to do, I want to learn more, understand more. Obviously, they need to listen to the podcast. Is there anything else that people can do to follow your work?
Bridget Todd: Absolutely. So you can go to Feministnet dot org board to find out all about Ultraviolet’s campaign to build a more feminist internet, a more inclusive internet. We would love to have you there. You can follow us on social media, and you can follow me @BridgetmarieinDC on Instagram or BridgetMarie on Twitter. And you can check out my podcast on iHeartRadio, “There are no girls on the internet” where we are continuing to have conversations about what it means to show it as a marginalized person online.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. There are two questions we ask everybody. The first is what’s the piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Bridget Todd: Ooh, what a good question. I would say, you know, it’s a little bit of a cliché, but, you know, like nothing is, nothing like—how can I put this—nothing is that serious, right? Some things are life and death. There’s, for me, there’s no such thing as a podcast emergency, right? Like, everything will be fine. It’s OK. Like, I guess I’ve really learned to not take anything in life too seriously because nobody gets out alive anyway so, you know?
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. You know, sometimes you can stress yourself out so bad that you can’t even do your work. The second thing, though, is what do you say to people who are like, they’ve done all the things, they read your research, they listened to your podcast, mine, they were in the streets and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?
Bridget Todd: I, first of all, I really appreciate that question. For people who are feeling that way, I see you. I hear you. I completely get it. I would say the, my own personal understanding of the way that there are so many powerful institutions and forces that are invested in us not making change— re they’re very powerful and they exist, right? We’re all just people. We’re all just individuals. And so I think that keeping in mind that we are going up against powerful moneyed forces who have a vested interest in the status quo. And so if you’re feeling like, Oh God, this fight, I’m just really tired, I’m really burnt out—that’s an approp—I understand that feeling. However, I also still deeply, deeply believe in the power of people. If you look at, if you look at the fights we’ve had with social media platforms, so many of the times that these massive billion dollar companies global, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—so many times that they have been forced to do something they don’t want to do is because enough people stood up to them. Enough people said, Hey, this is messed up. Enough people said Stop. A good example is after Francis Haugan, that Facebook whistleblower spoke out about the ways that Facebook and Instagram had been harming the mental health of young girls, enough parents said, Hey, Instagram, maybe you shouldn’t be making an Instagram platform specifically for young people, as they had plans to. And they stopped those plans ,because enough people spoke out and said no. And so you know the fight is long. There are so many forces who have a vested interest in the status quo, but they are not more powerful than when people come together.
DeRay Mckesson: Let them know! Let them know! Well, tell us the name of the podcast again so people can remember to go to it now.
Bridget Todd: Yes, it’s iHeartRadio’s, “There are no girls on the internet.” new episodes come out every Tuesday and we would love to have you there.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Awesome. Well, we consider you a friend of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back, and we’ll see you soon.
Bridget Todd: Thanks so much for having me. This was a super fun.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.