Podcast: Mass Surveillance of Black Bodies & Anti-Racist Data-Sharing: An Interview with Data 4 Black Lives’ National Organizing Director Tawana Petty

Tawana Petty is a mother, social justice organizer, youth advocate, poet, and author. She is intricately involved in water rights advocacy, data, digital privacy rights education, racial justice, and equity work. She is the National Organizing Director at Data for Black Lives, former director of the Data Justice Program at Detroit Community Technology Project, co-founder of Our Data Bodies, a convening member of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, an anti-racism facilitator with Detroit Equity Action Lab, a Digital Civil Society Lab fellow at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and director of Petty Propolis, a Black woman-led artist incubator primarily focused on cultivating visionary resistance through poetry, literacy and literary workshops, anti-racism facilitation, and social justice initiatives.

Podcast Host Miriam Castro and Ms. Petty discuss how the push for biometric mass surveillance in Tawana’s home city of Detroit has contributed to the dehumanization of Black bodies during COVID-19. Tawana shares with Miriam the process all allies must take from allyship to co-liberation to foster real social justice and what steps organizations can make to create anti-racist data-sharing efforts. 

* Note: In this episode, you will hear the host Miriam and Tawana provide their physical descriptions. The purpose of audio description is to give people who are blind or have impaired vision a more complete picture of what is being shown, enabling them to share in the presentation as fully as a sighted person. Here at All In, we strive to create content that every member of our audience can engage with.

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Takeaways from the Interview 

In the words of Tawana Petty…

1. Health inequality statistics during this pandemic provide a tragic story of marginalized communities being hit hard by a broken system. 

” When we’ve been otherized, disenfranchised, dehumanized, do not have the resources, care, compassion and empathy that we need- a lot of us respond in traumatizing ways. Some more violent than others. But in all forms, it is dehumanization. So, when you’re thinking of collective liberation, you’re saying we all need to be liberated from a system that is pitting us against each other, and making us compete for resources, deep breaths, and the ability to make a living, or be seen as fully human.”

2. The pandemic is bringing about the realization of age-old injustice embedded in our present healthcare system.

” During the very beginning stages of COVID-19, at one point, Detroit had forty-percent of the deaths for the entire state of Michigan. To me that was a very rude awakening as to how drastic this impact was going to have on my community. I think this pandemic and the heightened racial disparities has given us the opportunity to have a deeper dialogue on how [Black people] have been experiencing the medical industry for generations.”

3. Allyship is just the beginning of anti-racist social justice work. 

”  I was tuned into the fact that allyship was enough in the social justice movement. I’ve since learned and determined that allyship is the very basic interaction within the movement. So I’ve been doing a lot of work for people to start thinking about allyship and solidarity, and moving towards collective liberation, or what I like to call co-liberation. In co-liberation, we have to see our liberation tied up into the liberation of others in order to free us from systems that are harmful.”


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