KC Lathrop The Importance of Staying Creative During a Crisis

Automatic Summary

Navigating Creativity and Racial Injustice: An Exploration

As the inevitability of crisis looms, the role of creativity becomes more vital - a beacon in navigating the tumultuous tides of uncertainty. While today’s circumstances are largely defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, another insidious crisis exists – one that has persisted for centuries: racial inequity and injustice.

Like COVID-19, racism is a pervasive virus that affects us all, and it is within this backdrop that we explore the interplay of creativity, crisis, and racial injustice.

The Meta Approach to Racial Injustice

The recent racially motivated incidents involving Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and George Floyd, have sparked a heightened awareness of racial injustice. This elevated awareness has prompted many to reflect on their involvement and responsibility, both on a personal and professional level. In a bid to contribute to the fight against racial injustice, I chose to adopt a meta approach - analyzing racism as a design problem that requires gathering information, testing, and iteration.

Addressing complex issues like racism involves making mistakes, initiating uncomfortable conversations, and learning throughout the process. This aligns with the principles of user research in design work which is built on listening, learning, and educating oneself.

Learning From Conversations

In this exploration, I reached out to several black women in tech a for their perspectives on racial injustice. Their responses provided invaluable insight and affirmed the importance of starting conversations about racial injustice. They emphasized that while raising awareness is crucial, it is the lack of genuine change and action that continues to perpetuate the cycle of racial injustice.

Four Key Points From These Conversations

  • You need to be uncomfortable in order to change.
  • White women in tech have an important role in practicing intersectionality by advocating for all women.
  • Unlearning and relearning is a crucial part of the process in addressing racial justice.
  • Open, honest conversations about racism lead to increased awareness and community building.

Art: A Powerful Tool for Conversation and Change

Framing these conversations within a creative framework, the idea of using art to spread awareness and ignite conversations arose. I embarked on a 100 Days of Making project - a cathartic, creative journey aimed at sharing the narratives of black individuals who have fallen victim to racial injustice.

Art is a potent vehicle for storytelling, carrying an inherent ability to distill complex issues and provoke thought and discussion. Particularly in the context of racial injustice, art becomes a powerful tool to educate, raise awareness, and advocate for change.

Building Awareness Through Creativity

To explore how creativity can contribute to change, I decided to focus on celebrating the art of black women artists. I used my platform to amplify the voices of these artists, using their creations to educate ourselves about black history, culture, and experiences, and catalyze difficult, necessary conversations.

Lessons Learned and Steps Forward

Through these uncomfortable but enlightening conversations, several lessons emerged:

  1. The fight against racial injustice is a collective effort - one that necessitates constant learning, growing, and action from everyone.
  2. Embrace discomfort - it is an inherent part of growth and change.
  3. Use your platform to raise awareness and drive change.
  4. Continue to educate yourself about the histories of black, indigenous, and people of color.
  5. Be ready for the messy, uncomfortable, and continuous journey toward racial justice.

In conclusion, the fight against racial injustice is an ongoing struggle. Using creativity as a tool to incite change and conversation is just one way that we all can contribute. Through continuous learning and uncomfortable but essential conversations, we can all play a part in creating a more equitable world.

Video Transcription

My name is Casey Lara. And today I was going to speak about the importance of staying creative during a crisis and the crisis I was going to speak about is the COVID-19 global pandemic.However, in the past few weeks, a new crisis has surfaced and it's a crisis that has existed in many different ways for centuries. This crisis is racial inequity and injustice. Like COVID-19, racism is a virus that has affected us all. So how could I attend here at this conference and not talk about racial injustice and just focus on creativity as this conference came closer? And the events of Brianna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd circled the media. I knew that not addressing racism on this platform did not feel right. So today I'm gonna take a bit of a meta approach and I'm gonna show you the process I took to make small steps to fight racial injustice and examples of how we can continue to build a more equitable world with not a lot of time to prepare an entirely new presentation. I thought what if I looked at this hugely com complex issue of racism in the same way we look at a design problem. In order to solve complex issues, you need to gather information test and iterate.

We will get it wrong and make a lot of mistakes along the way. But through each conversation, we learn and the more that we discuss how interwoven this virus is in our culture, the closer we will be to solving it. So like all design work, I started with user research when I decided I was going to do my part and listen and learn and educate myself. One of the things I did in addition to reading books and listening to podcasts about black history was to join the black community channel at IBM. So this channel was set up for black people and non-black people to join and have a conversation, an open conversation about race, which is really special in a work environment. It became a space where a lot of black people were sharing experiences that they've had um that where they were affected by racism on an everyday basis and that also allowed people of color and non-black people um and white people to listen to those stories. It also became a, a place where we can share resources and learn together through that channel. I met Lauren. So Lauren is an A I education and curriculum lead. She's also a math and science professor. Lauren is clearly an educator inside and outside of the classroom.

And so she decided to form uh a group with other IBM. And the purpose was to bring people together to normalize, talking about race at work. She said there's no obligation or expectation for participation. I just wanna open the door as a note, I'm just taking some initiative based on the discussions we've had around the IBM community about the painful and traumatic murders of black folks in the United States and the consequences and conversations we're experiencing collectively.

And essentially, I don't have anything official to offer. But in the search for resources, conversation, understanding, I wanted to do something. And this was a really amazing opportunity um to get with a group of people um from different backgrounds and discuss in a really open environment about what was going on. It felt really good, but it also felt really vulnerable to, to experience that. So this got me thinking, I decided to reach out to two women. I know uh two black women who work in tech. And I asked them about this idea. I had of presenting about racial injustice at this conference. And I knew that worst case scenario, they could tell me to go away. And I don't know what I'm talking about or not answer. I was really, really nervous and uncomfortable to even email them. The opposite happened. Their responses were so positive and honest. One said you don't come off as insensitive. In fact, thank you so much for using your platform to raise awareness. I don't think the chief issue is lack of awareness. Surely some people don't have a frame of reference, but it's mainly a lack of change and actual action towards change. And there's a lot of work ahead and I'm so emotionally exhausted. Thank you for using your voice and platform.

It means a lot to read your email and see that you have put a lot of thought into how you can be an ally and help spread our message. So in the first conversation I had was with T who was a data analyst. And I told t that I was thinking about veering completely away from the idea of creativity and possibly speaking um directly about my privilege. I told her I could speak about my journey from education to tech and how the recent events have made me look at the experience, my experience in a different lens. Now I don't devalue my experience or journey, but it also makes me wonder how much of my success was due to my white privilege. Am I aware of the challenges black women face? Especially in the tech field? She was honest to say her experiences have been harder, but it's important now that white women use their platform to discuss this. She said to make sure I'm speaking with my white friends as it builds more awareness. And we talked about how this is all making us have really uncomfortable but very important and necessary conversations. I told her that my white friends and I have had a lot of different conversations about how uncomfortable it is to even discuss racism.

And she said each time we have these conversations, we are training a muscle and she said you need to be uncomfortable in order to change. So after this conversation with T I spoke with Katie who is a senior developer and I told her about my idea and asked her for some feedback and she said that she was glad that I was addressing the issue of racial injustice and racism because as white women, it's important that we practice intersectional feminism, which means we can't fight for women's rights without fighting for all women.

We are learning how to unlearn and relearn and we will probably make a lot of mistakes along the way. After this. I was, you know, starting to collect a lot of ideas. And so I continued to reach out to um other other friends and people. And so I reached out to Francesca who is a Pre Peruvian creative technologist and robotics teacher. I told her about this evolved idea and talking with all these people and she said that it made sense and it was good to address the current situation. She said your creative practice is always going to be influenced by context and we see this already with what people are creating and posting in order to make sense and educate others in this situation. And she said, we use art to understand situations and furthermore express our viewpoints.

So I took all these ideas together and I began writing and then when I felt like I had a good foundation, I sent it to tea for her feedback and she gave me the following. I didn't understand what you meant by seeing black artists. It sounds a little insensitive almost like we weren't seen before. Perhaps you could use different language like as a person with privilege, I've decided to use my platform to support black women artists. This helped me see more clearly how powerful words are and the importance of reflecting and re evaluating and how they can impact others and that it's OK to get it wrong. But as long as we keep trying and learn and iterate, we can continue. So after this, I spoke with another white person named Kristen who is a vice president of design. And lately she and I have been having a lot of conversations about racism and we've been sharing about different things that we've been learning through books and podcasts that are about racism and discrimination. And I told her about this journey, I've had so far in, in building out this presentation and what I wanted to speak about and how I talked to Lauren and T and Katie and Francesca.

And she said, maybe this is the story you could tell, this is important to show other women and white people in general who are scared to have these difficult conversations. This is an honest journey and how you've navigated this. And then we talked about the process of learning from each conversation and how important that is to share that and it could inspire others to do the same. And that would be, you know, if I talk to Kristen and we feel a little bit more comfortable to have these more difficult conversations. And Kristen can go and talk to somebody else and start to continue to build and this awareness uh and community building together. And so my idea kept evolving uh for this presentation. And then finally, I had spoken to Cameron and Cameron was the other um the other person I originally emailed Cameron's a software engineer and mobile developer. And I told her from the beginning to at this point, all the evolution of this presentation um from my first idea. And after uh speaking basically nonstop for a few minutes, she responded by saying first, thank you for having these conversations, Black people and black women in tech want allies and advocates. We want to be heard.

We know these conversations are uncomfortable for white people, but they are uncomfortable, uncomfortable for black people too. Hold leaders accountable. If you have a platform, you need to use it. People are looking up to you for guidance. She told me how important it is for white people to read about the history of Black people to understand what they have gone through and what they, what they go through on a daily basis. She said, being a black woman in tech is really hard and having support of white women is so important. This conversation alone showed me just how powerful it is to simply address this, this super complex issue and, and discuss it and just be open and honest that we don't really know how to navigate this yet. But we're learning and we're open to learn with each one of these conversations. I learned something new from each of their perspectives. It felt like I was passing each of their stories to the other. And it also highlighted the importance of bridging the equality between races.

As I learn more, we know the fight for racial justice is racial justice is super complex. It can feel overwhelming daunting, make you feel very vulnerable, weird, uncomfortable, but none of those reasons are a reason to stop trying. So what can you do at an individual level to contribute in this fight? We know that inaction hurts more than helps. So we must act and we must continue to act. So what if we got creative about our action? So I wanna explore how creativity can help us build awareness, self, educate and educate others. I will be showing you a bit of my journey in this and then show examples of how other artists, especially black artists have used their creativity to not only contribute to change but also use creativity and art to tell and share their stories. I started this practice called a 100 Days of Making back in 2017. And this is basically a practice where you choose uh a topic or a theme and you iterate to create something new every single day for 100 days. So this example that you see here is 100 days of drawing. Generally, this practice has helped me build creative confidence and learn new skills. But even more, it's a practice that has shown me the importance of being creative and that creativity contributes to positive mental health.

I believe this is done in two ways. The first is that when we do something that makes us happy and fulfilled, we are able to support others. This is the same idea as if you fill up your cup, then you'll be able to fill up others. There's a lot of devastation going on in the world, but you have to take care of yourself in order to be there to support others and fight this big fight. The second is that art helps us understand the world either for ourselves or for others. It can bring awareness, joy, knowledge and through the lens of those creating. This is also why it's really important to follow the art of black people and people of color because we need to hear their stories. I started drawing two years ago. Uh This was my first drawing on January 18th, 2018. And drawing has since become a way for me to explain things I've experienced or seen and to visually share things. Um For example, that I've taken up activities I've taken up in quarantine or to recall memories of my grandma from my childhood. Drawing has become a way for me to visually journal and process these experiences. What I've learned through my practice is that art is that um tech uh art is a powerful technology and storytelling. For example, examining drawings and paintings from centuries ago, were able to piece together history without words.

So what if this creative practice could be a step toward racial justice? I've been finding a lot of work by different artists um that are using art and creativity to educate others and explain really complex topics. So on the top, you can see illustrations um that we see about mixed race protests and animation about systemic racism and a comic explaining the Black Lives Matter Movement. These pieces in particular are by art, white artists. And I think that it's really help helpful to educate white people to white people as we navigate how to not only recognize their privilege but also how we have contributed negatively to the discrimination and racism of others. Upon the recent deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and Ahmad Aubrey, the world has opened up in a new way which hopefully will have a lasting impact like many across the country and world, difficult conversations are being held. These conversations are admittedly uncomfortable, but this is a miniscule discomfort compared to the everyday racism black people experience. Again, this is a muscle we are training to continue building and through a continuous effort to learn, listen and stand up for justice.

Returning back to the quote, your practice is always going to be influenced by the context. I found myself unsure how to navigate the deaths of black people in the news. So I started drawing black people who have been killed by racism and, and deaths that could have been prevented. This was a way to commemorate the lives the black lives lost and, and to help us and, and me also to remember them to draw them. I need to look through several photos. I need to read about the causes of their deaths, the lives they live, the loved ones they left behind. There's something about being so close to someone's face zooming into the intricacies that of their facial characteristics that forces me to contemplate their lives and often what I was doing when they were losing theirs. This has become a way for me to educate myself and hopefully inspire others to remember these people's names and also uh learn about them and celebrate their lives and and learn how to contribute to change. So we don't see this in the future. So going back to this original question, how could I talk about creativity with all of this racial injustice in the world. Well, what if I used creativity in a way to celebrate the art of black women?

I can observe their art to learn about who they are and try to see the world through their lens. And I can continue to use art to educate myself about black history, culture and black experiences. I can use art to have difficult conversations and be a catalyst to talk about topics that are usually really difficult to talk about. So what's next? In only a matter of a few days, I was able to have many meaningful scary but really honest conversations with these six women through each of their perspectives. I learned a little bit more and each time it became a little less scary. Although I didn't plan on this outcome. I'm really, really grateful that the experience of just making this presentation gave me the courage to hear these stories. My goal here is to show the importance of listening to others and that sometimes being uncomfortable is a really, really good thing for humanity. I'm not going to solve the issue of racism through a few days of research. But the more that I try and the more that individuals like you try, the more that we will be able to accomplish. I wanted to share some lessons I learned through this experience so far. No one person will solve this.

But together one by one, we can make an impact the only way to create change is to act, listen to others, especially people from different backgrounds or races. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you have a platform, use it to build awareness. Read about the history of black indigenous and people of color. This is messy. There's no one answer. We're not going to solve it in a week. We need to be patient, but we also need to keep going and we need to keep trying. I want to give a special thanks to Lauren Thomas T Reg Cameron Parky, Katie Toski, Francesca Rodriguez Ola and Kristen Wisniewski for allowing me to have these open conversations with you guys and also um to share this in this presentation. I also wanted to feature um the black artists that I showed in one of the previous slides. So please check them out, follow them, support them. And I thank you guys so much for listening today and I hope that um you figure out a way that you can use creativity to contribute to change. Please feel free to follow me on social media and watch as these illustrations evolve. Thank you so much.