Unpacking Identity: A Conversation Exploring Self in Society | Self, Made | Exploratorium

Unpacking Identity: A Conversation Exploring Self in Society | Self, Made | Exploratorium


– Good evening, everyone. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us here tonight for this very special After Dark, the opening exhibition of Self, Made. (audience cheers)
Yes! A lot of work has been
put into this summer show that’s going to be
running through labor day, and so we’re really glad
to be able to kick it off with this great panel conversation that you’re going to see tonight. My name is Sam Sharkland, and I’m part of the programming team
that helps put together these After Darks. Of course, I’m not the only orchestrator and conspirator in putting this together, but just the one who gets to be the face of this tonight. And I wanted to acknowledge as well that we’re lucky enough to
be in this beautiful site at the beautiful bay, and we’re also on ancestral
Ramitush Olonie land, that acknowledge the native land that we are currently on, I
think is part of the process where we can continue to think about our place in the world, which, of course, Exploratorium
is expert at doing. Tonight’s panel is filled
with some incredible guests. We have a lot of thinkers
around the exhibition, we have a writer, you’ll
get introduced to them in just a moment. But, again, the intention
of this exhibition as a whole is to start the process of conversations and discovery around this big, big, big idea of identity. Identity is pervasive, it
is part of all of our lives, sometimes we feel our
identity more than others. In the exhibition,
you’ll find lots of ways to kind of experience your own identity. But part of that acknowledgement
that it’s a big topic, the realize that the
conversations need to continue. So, this panel is one of those places where we’re going to be
able to start to unpack some of the ideas behind the exhibition, and as well, we’re continuing
our public programs throughout the summer
in relation to identity. So, this is the first of some
After Darks related to it. Next week, the theme is Mirror, Mirror. The following week, Hashtag Selfie. The following week, You Are What You Eat, and Self-Styled. So, all of these were
kind of try to continue to tease out other ideas around identity. Of course, recognizing
that they can’t all be done in one exhibition or one night. So, thank you for being
here at the beginning of this journey with us. To get a couple housekeeping
things out of the way, if you need to exit, we have
an emergency exit there, that will take you outside the museum, and in the back, where you came in. There is a restroom in the
center of the museum as well, where you entered, if you need that. And please, of course, if
you have any mobile devices or electronics, that should
be silenced at this point. Otherwise, I’m happy to
start to introduce the panel. We’re lucky enough to be in partnership with the New York Times, who brought us the perfect person to start
moderating this panel. Walter Thompson Hernandez
is a multi-media reporter based in L.A., and a lot of his stories are covering emerging subcultures. So kind of there on the ground floor, where we see these identities take form and flourish en mass. So we’re very grateful that he is here to kick off the panel, and, without further ado, welcome
Walter Thompson Hernandez. (crowd claps)
– Hello. Thank you so much for that introduction. I really appreciate it. I want to thank everyone
for joining us here tonight. We have a really great audience and is it packed to capacity, I think? I see people standing up. That’s always a good sign, right? (crowd cheers) We are really excited about this panel. (screen whirls)
What’s going on, man? (laughs) It’s all right. Are we done? Okay, great, I’m going to keep speaking. I want to thank ahead of time the maintenance and janitorial workers who will be here long after
this event is over tonight. (audience claps) To help keep this museum
open for tomorrow, right? I believe. We’re really excited about this event and this exhibition and this talk, I think we had a really
lively talk backstage that we kind of want to continue. But this is sort of a
moment where this process of collaboration between curators, between the directors of this show, and between advisors and consultants kind of comes together
in ways that we can have hopefully a fruitful conversation about what identity means. I think both personally,
but also in our communities and in our institutions. I was introduced, I am a
New York Times journalist, I cover subcultures around the world, I, in the past eight
months, have been in Ghana and Japan, Dominican
Republic, couple other places, where I usually work on
stories about identity, about this pressing
question about belonging. And I ask communities around the world if they belong or not, and understanding how
complex that question is. And so, this exhibition and this talk is a perfect segue for that. We are living in one of
the most divisive times, regardless of political leanings, I think we can all agree with that. And I think our panel tonight, and the people next to me,
are experts in their field, and they’ve each
contributed to conversations around identity, and really pushed that conversation forward in ways that add to the lexicon of
words and terminologies. And so, I want to introduce them, briefly. They’re resumes are
really long and extensive, they really are, and so
I’m just going to start by talking about Ramzi Fawaz, who is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Madison, with an emphasis in queer
and feminist theory. Jennifer Eberhardt is
a social psychologist and professor of psychology
at Stanford University. She was the recipient of a 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant award, and she has a new book called
(audience claps) Yeah, for sure, definitely clap. A brand new book called Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See,
Think, (laughs) and Do. – Ramzi’s book.
– Ramzi’s book as well. And we’re also joined
by Melissa Alexander, who is a fixture here in
this museum and the city, and who has produced
numerous award-winning creative projects and exhibitions, including the award-winning
exhibition Revealing Bodies. And so, with that said, again we’re hoping this conversation can help us understand the exhibition in greater detail, and sort of take a step forward in that conversation about identity. With that said, I want to start
with a very broad question, and I want to start with Melissa. Thinking about why identity, and why now, and why the people on this stage. – Well, that’s big.
– (laughs) No pressure. – Before I answer that question, I want to say that if you’re interested in my colleagues, the custodial
and janitorial workers, you can meet two of them. My colleague Jerry and
Odelia both contributed to the census exhibit out there, and so find them in there, because they have really
great stories to tell. Why identity, why now? I think you said it, Walter, when you said this is an
incredibly divisive time for us to be alive right now. In this country, it seems
that we’re at a place that we’re all trying to make sense of. How did we get here? I think we all need tools
to understand each other, and I think that identity
is a lens and a mirror for where we are right now. I feel, and I think my colleagues in the Exploratorium, especially the team that worked on the project, believe that it factors into everything
that we’re dealing with. We have a climate crisis,
identity is part of that. We have cultural challenges,
we have the largest population on the planet we’ve ever had, we’re seeing migration in numbers that we’ve never seen before, and yet we have to figure
out, just as people, what that means to us. So that’s why, and I have great
faith in my colleagues here, who have spent 50 years
getting really good at helping visitors make
their own inquiries into this, and that’s partly because
we start as learners, as opposed to experts,
but we get the best, smartest experts we can find, including D’wayna Fowhyli,
who’s also sitting in the audience, right in front of us. (audience claps) So is that good? – That was great.
– Okay. (audience laughs) – And whoever wants to jump in next about the same question, I’m asking, I think both of your individual work and research and writing obviously deals with this question of identity, but I wanted to know, in the
context of this exhibition, and really in this cultural moment, why this question of
identity matters right now. – Well, I guess I can start. So, yes, I’m a social psychologist, so I think about identity quite a bit, and as social psychologists, we also talk about identity or the self as being we have multiple selves, and so what self comes to the surface, which self presents itself
at a particular time, depends on the situations
that we find ourselves in. I feel like we are finding ourselves in a situation right now. About a couple of months ago, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that six in 10 Americans feel like race relations in particular are generally bad, and of
the majority of Americans feel like things are
getting worse on that front. And I feel like we’re kind of at a crisis moment in our history. I think as social psychologists, we think about identity kind of
changing in the moment. So you can be in a particular situation where a certain self will emerge, and another self will
recede to the background, and I feel like as a country, you can think about us being in a moment like that too, so what selves are we now? And how is what’s going on around us shaping who we are and
how we see the world? I’ll stop there, I guess (laughs). – No, I think that’s really powerful. I mean, another way to
think about this for me, is if we live in this historical moment when every institution that we rely on to have our sense of collective life is grinding us into, it’s
like obliterating us, all the institutions that we rely on, they don’t work. We’re like, education is not teaching us. The economics system is
destroying our ability to make a living. Our government doesn’t represent us. And so, one of the things
that we all do, collectively, to respond to that is to hyper-expand our sense of identity. To create a sense of self,
through like Instagram or the internet or whatever, that seems to try to protect us, or shore up our sense of who we are. And I think one of the pitfalls of that is that we lose the sense of what it means to have collective life. So it’s like, I have to articulate my sense of self so intensely that I don’t know what it means to be in communion with others. So we talked about this in the back, when I teach my queer studies students, so many of my queer students, my queer students of color, they have such a deep
investment in saying, I am this thing, these are my pronouns, this is who I am, and if
you don’t recognize me in this way, I will X. Like, I will die a social death, I will lose my sense of who I am. But what happens in that process, as important as that sense of self is, is that they don’t know how
to look around at their peers and be like, who are you? Like, I want to get to know you, can we talk about our
general collective life? So I think a lot of the conversation we had about this exhibition was how do you honor the fact that
people are really invested in developing a public
sense of identity right now through all of these digital
and other popular forms, while also saying, by the
way, when you’re doing that, you’re actually engaged in civic life and you don’t even know it. We wanted to show people
what are the public political dimensions of
creating a sense of self. Yeah. – That’s perfect.
(audience claps) One thing that the exhibition
outside delves into is this extremely dense glossary of words and terminology that we now
have access to as a society. And I think that’s partly generational, where I think if you’re a young person or student these days, you have access and time and privilege to think about your identity in ways that maybe our parents
and grandparents did not. So, I think about, again,
I started this talk with what do we do with that information? But then, what do you
do if students of yours, who obviously are coming into
these terms and identities, this is who I am, this is who I represent, these are the worlds that I represent, and they do. How fruitful is it to really think about themselves in that way, without
thinking about the other? Does that make sense? Really thinking about how identity can sometimes serve as a bridge, but also as a way to divide us. Is there a way maybe in your teaching that you are helping students come into themselves in this way? – Yeah, I can start with it. I think the key bedrock for me is developing a sense of
historical imagination. Like I want students to project themselves back into another moment, and to see that A,
people have been talking about what they’re talking
about forever, one. Like, they didn’t invent it, they think they invented like,
me, see me, understand me, like a lot of people have
been interested in that. And I want them to actually
step out of themselves. Like I want them to actually think about what was it like for a hippy queer person to move to San Francisco
and to meet The Cockettes? Like, in 1970? And to be like, “Oh my God,
I could go out in public “and dress like a geisha superhero warrior “and like be on LSD.” Like what is that?
(audience laughs) Like what is that world, right? And I think part of
what chalks my students is precisely how radically
different people are. Like they think they figured it out. They’re like, “Race, class,
gender, sexuality, disability,” and I look at them, and I’m like, “Five? “That’s it? “Like five differences?” I’m like, “Temperament,
religious and spiritual belief, “intellectual capacity,”
all of these things. And so what shocks them is the idea, they’re so obsessed
with an inclusion model, like, “We want to include
everybody and everybody’s equal,” and I’m like, “Everybody is not equal.” Everybody is different and
that’s actually valuable. Not everybody in this room is as smart as everybody else, not
everybody is as talented, and that’s not bad thing. So, part of what I try
to do is to show them that they have the creative capacity to imaginatively leap the distance from themselves to
other people who existed at different historical moments, and I think what unlocks
for them when they see that, is the broad range of positive affects that difference produces. So they step out of their
sense of woundedness, we were talking about this also, of like, “Oh, my identity
always works against me, “it always oppresses me,” and they’re like, “Oh, there
were also queer people of color “who experienced exuberance and happiness “and community as well as
oppression and suffering. “And like, all of those
things were happening, “and I’m capable of engaging
that entire sensorium.” And that’s part of what I do, I actually just bombard them
with stuff they’ve never seen. Popular culture and movies,
and I make them read stuff, and they’re constantly amazed, and that seems so simple
as just like exposure to other worlds. – Right, absolutely.
(audience claps) Did you want to add to that, Jennifer? (audience laughs)
– It’s kind of hard to add to that. – So, it’s clear, that I think so much of our identities are not only
how we perceive ourselves, but how we’re perceived in the world, and in society. And I think so much of you
work deals with this idea of bias, and how whether it’s melanin, whether it’s pigment,
whether it’s bone structure, whatever it is, that comes
with a certain classification in our world, and meaning
and different reality. Your work, your book Biased, and maybe how you consulted here earlier, in the earlier stages of this exhibition, we see that in each of the pieces here. Is there something that you think about how we’re choosing to look at one another? And this idea of bias that
you’ve seen maybe change in the past like five, 10 years, and maybe how your research has evolved, and how that question has evolved for you? – Yeah, so, I think
people use the term bias in different ways, so
there’s an unconscious or implicit bias that I have
focused a lot of my work on, and it’s a kind of bias,
basically it’s beliefs and the feelings that we
have about social groups that can influence our decision
making and our actions, even when we’re not aware of it. And so, it’s not about about a moral issue or being a good or bad person, and it’s not about intentionality. You can be motivated to do the right thing and be good, but then still act in ways that could be infected by bias. I think often times when
people think about bias, they’re thinking about
old-fashioned racist, and they’re thinking about
people burning crosses, they’re thinking about people who hate, and you don’t have to
be a hater, necessarily, to have this bias. That’s what I wrote the book about, it’s what I teach about as well, and it’s one of those
things that, especially now, it’s a difficult subject to talk about. Bias is one of those things too, where just like the self,
that it’s conditional. So, it can change across
different situations, so just because we’re vulnerable, and I believe we’re all vulnerable to this unconscious or this implicit bias, doesn’t mean that it’s always
something that’s activated. It doesn’t mean that we’re
always going to behave in ways that show that bias. The key is figuring out
what the situations are or what the conditions are that trigger it or give rise to it, and then to try to be mindful of that, and I think being mindful of that, you’re also being mindful of the harm that can come from bias. Because even though, again, you don’t need to be a bad person, you don’t need to intend it, but whether it’s implicit
bias or this explicit bias, it can all still have
negative consequences, it can all do harm. So that’s why you want
to be mindful of it. And I think, in terms of its connection to the exhibit here, we’re thinking about self in these same ways. That you can show up
as a different person, as a different self,
depending on the situation, and some situations call for, you have all these different selves that you can sort of bring out, and I feel like bias is in that same way, where there are certain
situations that can tamp it down, and then other situations
that can give rise to it. And when it gives rise to it, you’re giving rise to a
different aspect of self, but it’s still an aspect of self. – Absolutely.
(audience claps) Melissa, in designing the
framework for this show and exhibition, and even when thinking about our own biases, and our own need to question
how we walk through the world and how we see the world, was there something
different about putting the show together that maybe forced the curators, or people
involved with the show, to maybe question your own biases, about how you operate in the world. – Oh yeah.
(audience laughs) I’ve been trying to think if I should tell this story or not. – You should.
(audience laughs) – So, when I try to explain the show and my drive to do it,
I’ve sort of figured out there’s these two optical
illusions that we have here in the museum. One is the old woman, young lady, and one is the faces, vases. When you start to see those, you either sometimes see the old woman or the young lady, or you
see the faces or vases, but once you see those, you see them both, you can’t unsee them. And I think initial inspirations, the initial project,
was seated by learning from my colleague, who’s the
head of Living Systems here, about the HeLa cells, which
you’ll find out in the exhibit in the story of Henrietta Lacks, which captured my imagination. But then, about five years ago, I put a. Should I tell this story? Okay.
(audience laughs) – I think you should. – I told you this story. This is kind of how I got these folks, but I put a sculpture out
in front of the museum that was incredibly popular. It was done originally at Burning Man by a very talented pair of artists, and it was a stroboscopic zoetrope, and it was surrounded by these monkeys that were swinging from this, it was supposed to be
like an atomic bomb cloud, and they were snatching an apple from the mouth of a snake. And underneath it was a set of drums. When my colleagues expressed concern that people of color would feel that it was referencing them. And that shocked me. When I talk to people about it now, I call it my white fragility moment. Which is not a very attractive thing, but we have to talk about
these things, right? So, in trying to understand
what she was saying to me, I started to do a bunch of research, and that’s how I found Jennifer’s work, which went completely different places, but helped me make sense of
why I was the way that I was. And so, we’re at the Exploratorium, we’re discoverers, and
when we find something, we want to make it
visible to other people. And so, here we are. With Ramzi, I’ll just say, it was this expansive idea of the ways that popular culture works out these things
when some of higher culture is not noticing. And then high culture has always taken the art forms of popular culture, and then elevated them, and made them their own. If you look at European history, that’s kind of a thing that happens. So, I stole him for us.
(audience laughs) And so, we had a charette, which is an architectural term, but to kick off the project with my team and a bunch of really smart people that we put in a room with us, and here they are.
(audience claps) What were you going to say, Jennifer? – When you were talking, you
triggered something for me, which is there’s a quote by James Baldwin, he said, “A journey is called that “because you can not know what you will do “with what you find, or what
you find will do to you,” and so I was thinking about
that as you were talking. – There’s a great, can I read this? – Of course, yeah.
– There’s a great. Oh, sorry, I suck at holding a microphone. I either pop my Ps, or
I’m not very good at this. But, I was thinking about–
(audience member speaks) Oh, that’s all that counts (laughs). But how can I, next to her? But anyway, let’s see. I feel like. So, this is a pat, just
a quick thing from the. You should still read this book, I’m going to read you
a piece from the end. But, for me, this sort
of says it all for me about all the process that
the team has gone through, because we had to do this
inside of our museum, and have conversations with our colleagues as well as each other. But I feel like this is
the thing, right here. So, Jennifer says in the
chapter The Bottom Line of her new book on bias, “Institutional values,
norms, and practices “both dictate and reflect
the cultural forces “that shape society. “They can be a resonant force
for the sorts of social change “that help derail bias, “but it won’t be simple, cheap, “or without stumbles and scorn.” And so, that’s what the work is about. And then here’s a really nice one, too. Short, I promise. “It turns out that diversity itself “is not a remedy for,
though it may be a route to, “eliminating bias. “But we have to be willing to go through “the growing pains that diversity entails. “We’ve learned that diverse
groups are more creative “and reach better decisions, “but they aren’t always the
happiest group of people. “There are more differences, “so there’s apt to be more discord. “Privilege shifts, roles change, “new voices emerge.” So that’s sort of what it’s about, right? (audience claps)
Right? She wrote that. – Did you want to add
anything to your own words? (audience laughs)
– No, thank you (laughs). – You’re good? Okay, cool. I think what you said is
very important, Melissa. I think this is the time to question the institutions that we exist in, to question whiteness, to question all these different things that have existed for generations
without being questioned. And I think we’re all
better served for that. To segue out of that, last February, I did a story about a
certain cosplay community in Los Angeles, all black cosplayers who were using the Black Panther film as a way to really challenge
what cosplay looks like. I think historically, it was
like a very white experience, and you had folks who were using the film as a way to insert themselves. And that got me thinking
about performance, it got me thinking about comic books, in ways I had never
really thought of before. The part of the show
that you curated outside was really incredible. The part about drag,
the part about cosplay, it was all sort of related to this idea about the role of imagination
in creating worlds that we both escape from, and
that we want to be part of. And I think I’d love for you to maybe expand on the parts
that you curated outside, and just talk us through them. – I actually want to link it
to some of what you wrote. I think part of what is so powerful about that last quote that you read, is diversity is not a
value, it’s a description of a human fact. Like I find it so confounding that people talk about diversity like it’s a value of our
community that we’re doing, and I’m just like, diversity is the fact of human life. Everybody is different
from everybody else. Like, the famous queer
theoriest, Eve Sedgwick, has this very classic line, she says her first axiom for thinking is always, “People are
different from one another.” You just start from that bedrock. And something that I talk about in my work is that I use the word heterogeneity, which we often use as a
synonym for diversity, but I actually use it
to describe how people negotiate their differences. Which is what I think really matters. What really matters is what people do with their differences, and the context in which they have
conversations about them. And we know this in popular culture, because popular culture
is one of the places we encounter people who are not like us at a distance, imaginatively, but it doesn’t do everything. Like, if it did, than reading
African American novels would make everybody not racist. Like, we would all be not racist now, because we’ve all read Toni Morrison. But that’s not how that works, it isn’t a one to one relationship. But what I do think that
popular culture does is it opens this lever,
it’s the first step to that process that someone
might become not racist, not homophobic, is the opening up of their affective life to difference. To being affectively open
to otherness and difference, and that often starts with an unexpected and surprising encounter with culture. Like, you see something and you’re like, “Oh my.” Like you see Beyonce’s Homecoming, and you’re like, “What
is, who is this person?” I know so many of my students watched that and were like, “I literally, “my neurons have been shifted.” That doesn’t do all the work, but that starts the work,
and then there has to be a context for conversation, in which that then becomes politicized, and then becomes part of something larger. So, in my thinking about curating the popular culture
section of the exhibition, I really wanted to think about A, forms of popular culture
that people obsess over, things that we attach so, we
put so much investment in, so people become hyper-fans of comics, people love video games and
they spend decades playing them. But what fascinated me about
those particular things is that we invest so much, and
we think it’s all about us, but what we are doing in
every one of those forms of popular culture is being other people. Like, that’s what I find so interesting. And we forget that in the process. We’re like, “I’m
identifying with the X-men “because that’s about me,” or like, “I’m playing the Legend of Zelda “because I am this sword-wielding elf.” But really what it is is like, you’re not you, you’re
doing something else, and so what I wanted to do
with the parts of the exhibit that I curated was to say, look at these things that
help you have a sense of self, but see how at every turn, you are you because you are always playing not you. And that is exactly what
connects you to other people, like that’s one form of
negotiating difference is being able to step out of yourself, and that’s such a powerful skill. Like that’s something you can
train people to see and do. And so, I also just
wanted people to have fun, I wanted people to see things
that they love in a new way. Yeah. (audience claps) – I also wonder if what you just said applies to people who might identify with historically
marginalized communities, and this whole process
of not seeing yourself in popular culture and society, and having to see yourself in this imaginative, fictive world. And kind of how that adds another layer of complexity, right? Because then, this fictive space becomes the only space
where you can be something that’s not like white, or like hetero, or like a standard of
society that we’re all supposed to adhere to. Do you?
– Yeah. You just are pressing on something that is so central to my work. A lot of people who know
me and know my work, is I often take a very controversial or counterintuitive position,
where I’m very critical of the demand for
representational diversity. So, I’ll use the example of comics. So, people who are in love
with superhero comic books will often say, “There needs
to be more queer superheroes, “more black superheroes, “more queer of color superheroes, etc.” And the problem for me is, one, if you introduce all of those characters into a world that at
every level is controlled in its creation,
distribution, predominantly by white people, what will happen is you’ll get representational diversity and the next time Marvel
decides to have a big event, they will mass murder all those characters for entertainment value. Like, I love Marvel, but
Marvel makes billions off of the genocidal massacre
of mutant characters. So the question for me,
is how do you diversify, but how do you also create the context in which those characters
can have a rich life? So, for me, there has to be
a toggling back and forth between actually giving us characters that look like us, and
then giving us characters produced by the actual
communities that are, like, diverse communities, but also, the value of
seeing our identities projected back to us like anew. In a new way. If you look at the superhero comic book The Legion of Superheroes,
what’s so fascinating is there’s so many black
characters in it now, but none of them are African American. They come from other planets, and many people would say,
“Oh, that’s so problematic, “that plays out all of these stereotypes.” But actually, when the
comic book is really doing its work well, part of what it’s saying is it’s recognizing that blackness can be projected into different contexts, and it can mean different things to different people,
and what is it look like to see the categories we
know so well in one way, and to say, “Oh, now, I’m
going to project it back at you “in a different way.” I think that creates openings for new political imaginaries. So, that’s a long way
of saying we need both. We both need to see our ourselves, and we also need to
change all of the context within which we see ourselves. And both things have to be
happening at the same time, and they’re just too different strategies. Yeah.
– Absolutely. I think we’re going to transition. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think we’re transitioning
into questions now by the audience. – [Sam] I have a microphone and I’ll bring it to you, so just go ahead and raise your hands and I’ll pick a few for now, and then we will. So, we’ll go to you first (mumbles). Check, check. – [Audience Member] Thanks for making yourselves available for this forum. This is incredible,
thank you for being here. My question is, regarding
the sense of self and the question of identity, whether it is of your own making or shaped by society and your environment, how can a person acknowledge that fact and yet be happy with themselves and remain positive despite the answer? (panel members talking amongst themselves) – I mean, I think it speaks to the importance of shaping
the environment, right? So, as you shape the
environment, you shape the self, and so it just means that you have to put a lot of care into what
those environments are. I feel like a lot of
the biases that we have come from the disparities
that we see around us, and that’s the environment we’re in, and those disparities start
to get processed in a way where we’re automatically associating certain groups, whole social groups, with specific traits, and
then that kind of goes on autopilot, and it
feels like that’s natural and that’s normal and all of that, but a lot of that comes
from the social environment that we’re immersed in, and that environment makes it way into how our neurons are firing,
it’s making its way into how we’re thinking,
and it’s making its way into who we are as people. And to have control over the self, you have to have some control
over the social environment that that self is placed in. – That is so right, and
I’m going to give a more self-help answer, I feel like
that’s such a rich answer, that’s like way smarter
than what I’m about to say, but I often tell my students who, we were talking about this before, like my students who come into my class and they’ve taken so many queer and feminist studies classes and critical race studies classes, they have figured out the world. They’ve read about the
way oppression operates, and they live in a constant state of they’re devastated, because
they now have a language to describe everything that is horrible. And I have to remind them, I’m like, A, there’s the institutional
and the structural, and then there’s like, you
have to go get your groceries. Like, you also have to live, and you have to go have
sex, and have intimacy, and be connected to people, and there’s a level to which the volume has to be brought down. Like you have to be able
to scale back and forth between the institutional
and the structural and the everyday. And this is going to sound so basic, but I fundamentally, for
me, what keeps me happy amidst knowing all of this, is the capacity to turn
to people who are near me and to ask for the things I need. Even at a one to one relationship, to look at people within
the queer community that I’m connected to, and be like, “I think this is what I need right now.” Like, I think I need intimacy, I think I need to be able to
talk about X, Y, and Z thing. And I think my students are
so often at the macro level, that they forget that the way that they’re going to be nourished is through intimate accountability between people who share
love and connection. And I think they reduce a
lot of their friendships to systemic analysis. So they’re just like, “I
need all of these things, “but I’ve read you through this book “I just read in this class,” and I’m like, Well, instead of doing that, why don’t you say to that person, I’m really struggling
with X, Y, and Z things, I need this, and I think we’re
living in unbearable times. Part of the reason our
students are spinning is because they don’t
know what joy looks like, and I try to remind them, joy looks like looking at somebody who is where you at, and saying go ahead. I give you permission to go ahead, please give me permission to also live. And I think part of what we have to do, is we, in the face of all
this institutional madness, we have to actually turn to each other and be like what do you
need, here’s what I need. And I know that sounds
so like a self-help book, but I think we have to do that. Instead of being like,
this is what I know, and I’m reading you based on that, it’s like, who are you
and what do you need? (audience claps) – I’m leaving my answer as less good than either of you.
(audience laughs) But I would just remind you that you have an amazing
capacity for learning, and you’re a learner first, and that you are capable of having a functional understanding of the world and figuring it out, and that that in itself is joyful, and that even with complicated problems of our humanity, we’re lucky
to have those problems, we’re lucky to, right now, be the people that have the luxury to
sit in a place like this and have a conversation
and contemplate them. So, there is is, that’s what I would say. (audience claps)
– [Sam] We have another question here on your right. – [Audience Member] Hi, thank you. So, I’m curious. We tend to talk about community
as a very positive thing and as something that can
bring us some self-esteem and people talk to you
about how we’re feeling, but how should we think about communities that are harmful, say,
conspiracy theorists, or flat Earthers, or anti-vaxxers? There was an article this week about women in a Facebook group who are giving their
children a form of bleach to cure them of autism, and they’re sort of
supporting each other’s theses about the world
that may be harmful. I’m curious what you
guys think about that. – Deep, that’s deep. (audience laughs)
Sorry! (laughs) Bleach, comments on bleach. (panelists talk amongst themselves) Okay, so I might get a little high theory in a second on this. I think that, I’m going to make a comment on left politics and then link it to that. I think a really, really core problem with left politics today
is that we have this investment in political purity, and we have this idea that’s like, the only way we can have
political community, we definitely want diversity, but you have to believe what I believe before we start talking, right? It’s like, we actually
don’t know how to deal with radical alterity. Like, we don’t know
how to look at somebody who fundamental does not
agree with basic premises, and be like, but I still
have to talk to you. So what does it look
like to me in the middle? And that’s what real
democratic politics is about. Is it’s not about being
like, we all already agree on democracy, so let’s
have a conversation. It’s like, radical democracy is about we do not agree, and how
do we negotiate that. So, I am less worried about
the existence of those groups. This is where I’m going
to get high theory, like I’m very, very invested in the work of a political theorist
named Hannah Arendt, which I think we should all be reading, because she was the great
theorist of totalitarianism in the 20th century. She wanted to understand why, in the historical moment
of the most abundance that we had produced Nazism, and like, how? How did that come about? And one of the things she says is that we’re so obsessed
with the idea of truth, like those people, they don’t get it, that’s not true, bleach is
not going to help, right? Like, we’re so obsessed with that, like that’s wrong, that
we forget to really ask, what is the context in
which people come to believe anything in the first place? How does the context need to change so that people start to say, “Actually, it does seem
like climate is changing.” Instead of being like, “You are wrong, “climate is changing,
what’s wrong with you?” Which is what we love doing, what if we ask, why is it that
there seems to be a context in which people don’t believe that? And like, what is that context? So for me, what matters is not chastising or saying those communities
shouldn’t exist. Like, if people want to associate, they can associate. I think we have to ask ourselves, what are the contexts in which those kinds of pernicious associations
are coming into being? Why did we create a world in which people feel
that they need to have conspiracy theories? Like, what is that? And so I think we should
actually be talking, when we talk about those things, about the nature of public life. Like, what is the public
life that we want? What kind of civic engagement do we want? Why are we not creating spaces of public engagement that allow
people to look at each other and be like, “I don’t think that works,” and have someone be able to hear that, and be like, “I get what you are saying.” Like, that’s what I’m more interested in than the question of whether
you’re right or wrong. (audience claps) – [Sam] We have another
question here in the center. – [Audience Member] To
respond to what you just said, very briefly, you’re reminding me of Kurt Vonnegut, who talked a lot about true and false communities, and it seems like that. The ones that are built around ideas are not the real ones. But I wanted to tell a different story. I’m one of the authors of an introductory computer
science curriculum, which started as a college curriculum, and then we started
taking it to high schools. At first we took it to
individual high school teachers who were early adopter types, and what that turned out to mean was that either they
were in private schools or they were in PowAlto.
(audience laughs) And so all the students
were white or asian. And then, we decided to
jump into the deep end and take our curriculum to New York City, which is a majority
minority school system. Well, one of the early exercises in our curriculum was to write a game program to play hangman. And we got to New York and
we were told right away, “You can’t do that.” Because of the association with lynching. And I have to say, my first response was, “Oh, come on. “That’s obviously not what we’re about.” And then I sort of started analyzing that response in myself, and it’s like, so what if we don’t do
that particular exercise? We ended up writing one about
Wheel of Fortune instead. – About what, Field of Fortune? – Wheel of Fortune.
– Oh, Wheel of Fortune, okay. – But that instinctive
resistance that I had, I don’t know if I want to
call that racism exactly, but in this particular context, it was a display of privilege, I guess. And the point of my telling the story is just that it’s really
hard to catch that in ones self.
– Yeah, totally. – Yeah, I agree. I mean, I applaud you for
being able to catch it and to talk about it, and I think a lot of this, especially when it comes to bias, it’s the thoughtlessness, it’s moving really
quickly and just relying on these well-practiced
kinds of associations that we already have. And if the hangman or
whatever was good for you, it should be good for them. It’s the not thinking through, and I feel like also,
we’re living at a time where the technology is
kind of taking us there too. Because we have all these
products that we use where the whole point of the product is to take away the friction. So, everything’s intuitive
and everything is quick and it feels fluid and it feels right, and you don’t have to
think about anything, you’re just using that thing, and that is where you get bias, that’s where bias lives. When you don’t slow down
and you’re just relying on, when you’re not thinking, basically. You become a vehicle for reproducing all the stuff that we see out there. – D’wayna, I wondered
if you had any thoughts about this, given the story and what you’ve curated
for the exhibition. – [D’wayna] Okay.
(audience laughs) – So, D’wayna has done,
while she’s thinking about her answer, she’s
looked at science identity in the exhibition as one of the things that she’s talked about, but also who gets to be a
scientist and how, as well. – [D’wayna] So, what’s your name? – [Brian] Brian.
– [D’wayna] Brian. I really appreciated your story. So I mostly work with
genetic scientists globally, and it’s really interesting
how many of our politics in here, and how genetic
difference is written and taught and understood. In the U.S. context, it really aligns with racial differences in
the big three or the big five. Especially when you get into products like ancestry testing. And so, on the one hand, ancestry testing makes users feel like
they have a little bit of European or a little bit of African, and it can break up really
static notions of race, but the kind of parental populations are still pretty static in terms of that continental imagination of Linnaean racial categories, so it’s really interesting. I study geneticists as an anthropologist, so I go into their labs
and treat them as tribes, and set up my tent and observe. And in the beginning, they do have that kind of hangman moment of what’s wrong? Some of them are scientists
of color, as well, right, so it’s not that diversity is going to solve the issue necessarily. And so, just making, through conversations and me presenting at lab meeting. You know, “Here’s what
I see in the tribe.” It does make them have that moment of, “Okay, well, why am I being resistant “to changing my language here, “or my sampling practices
around the globe.” And it’s slow work, because
this is very valuable in the sense of profitable science for medicine, for pharmaceuticals, for identity politics, and so it’s hard to dislodge those ideas. But I definitely think
that having conversations, and getting scientists to see the bias, but also their attraction
to certain concepts. “This will work and this is our model.” And moving away from that is often a personal investment that has a longer imperial and colonial history to it. (audience claps) – [Sam] So we have time for just maybe one or two more questions, if anybody has them. – [Audience Member] So, there
was something I observed when we first walked in. At the bathrooms, there were two signs that kind of were displayed that said, if you were five foot four and under, you went to one bathroom, and if you were five six and above, you went to a different bathroom. And we stood there, just watching people try to figure out where to go. And for the most part,
those that were of color, they didn’t really think about it, they just kind of processed it quickly and kind of went there, to
one bathroom or the other. And those that were of Caucasian descent, there was a pause in them, kind of a schism, and you
can tell in their face they were trying to process what to do. There was a sense of agony. And it was interesting to
watch, as someone of color, that, in this case, it was rare for them to kind of have to deal
with a sense of lack of privilege and way, and have to figure out which bathroom to go to. And it was just fascinating to just watch this experiment. And, as someone of color that wants to encourage my Caucasian friends who are of privilege, how can I, in conversations, get them to understand that this is what happens to someone like me on a daily basis? Where I have to deal with
my lack of privilege, but also not having a choice in determining whether
I’m privileged or not. (audience claps) – Congratulations, Sam, for that, since you’re one of the creators
of that project outside. – So yeah, to speak on that briefly, I think that the impact
that you received from that modified space in the Exploratorium specifically for this night, is kind of what our
co-creators had in mind when putting this together
this bathroom experiment. Just to talk about it very briefly. Two colleagues, Shafer
Mazzow and Sal Outburr, did a subversive, not
really approved experiment in the staff bathroom, where they wanted to see what it was like to remove the gender
binary from the equation, and once you do that, what are the other playful, provocative ways
that you can ask people to reconsider, or have
that moment to reconsider what spaces they walk
into with what privileges. So, that kind of rogue experiment, although it was imprecise and not necessarily well communicated out, was a great seed to
continue this experiment out on the floor. So, that’s led to us doing this bathroom boundaries exhibition or exhibit at many After Darks, and again, I think that
your experience is right on, and for my part, which I
won’t have the best answer for my part, I think
sending people through the Exploratorium to
experience thinks like that, that then you can have
that shared conversation or other colleagues you
see if you’re coming in, and again, I think that
Melissa can also speak to what the exhibition intent is, but encountering a lot of those situations where you realize that either, “Oh, yeah, this is how it is,” or like, “Oh, I never
thought of it that way.” So I think bringing people, it’s hard to initiate those conversations, but I think at the Exploratorium, we hope that we have that
first kind of creative way to get people thinking or talking. But, I’ll pass the praise
along to my colleagues who are running the experiment right now, so thanks for that comment. (audience claps) – Thank–
– Okay, one more question – [Audience Member] Wow, I
really want to thank you. We’ve been working on this project on Treasure Island and Alcatraz Island, all about Future IDs working with people who have been in prison, and we’ve been so tunneled vision on people who are in prison, and their identity being stuck with that, and to think that it’s
people who aren’t in prison are struggling with the
same kind of identity, and being able to go back, and I work with them every day, and be able to tell them that other people have the
same problem (laughs). And, how powerful that it’s
not such an isolated problem, and what beautiful speakers and educated, and I’m just blown away. Thank you so much for inviting us and can’t wait to find out– – And you can find out
more about their project because they’re doing a public program with families, when, Sam? – [Sam] August 10th. So, if you–
– My birthday. (audience laughs)
– [Sam] I’m sorry, Melissa’s birthday. So it feels like we’re wrapping up, those were some very kind words, so I’ll give the rest of this context, and then we’ll give you all the last word. Yeah, in addition to the
After Darks related to the Self, Made exhibition, we also have a programming space in
our Black Box Gallery, inside Gallery One here, which has been transformed into a
comfortable community space, somewhat akin to a kitchen table, or your comfortable kitchen or comfortable living room, where you can have these
community conversations, and we’re activating it
throughout the summer with different groups coming in and Future IDs of Alcatraz
will be one of those groups to present, so August 10th. You can learn more about that, but let’s hear final
thoughts from the panelists before we wrap up. – I just wanted to, I didn’t
want to skip over the fact that you asked us a question. Because you gave a lovely
commentary on the exhibit, so I think that we skipped over that you were asking something
that’s really difficult, which is, you’re like,
“How do I get people “to believe me that I actually
live this experience?” One thing is, your friends
should believe you, A. But, B, if there’s
anything that I’ve grown to believe in my work, and this is something
I’m really interested in in my research, is that we have such an incredibly elaborate vocabulary to understand how people are racist and homophobic and transphobic, and we have such a dearth of vocabulary to understand how people
become not racist, and not homophobic, and people do change, and people are transformed, but I don’t think it most often happens through reasoned debate. I don’t think people
are transformed on this by rational proofs. I think people have unexpected and surprising encounters with a variety of different kinds of situations and world views and people,
that kind of shake them to their core, and I think one thing that I’m learning as I grow older is that one of the ways that it happens is that you go into public spaces and you let the people
that you’re with know when you’re finding
yourself uncomfortable. Like, I let people know. I go out and I’m in a space, and I’m like, “Oh, just FYI, this thing is happening, “and I just want you to know. “Like, I’m still having fun, “but I’m aware of this thing.” And the other is to just
articulate my vulnerability to people. So my friends will clock
me very quickly on this, which is that my brother’s also gay, but my brother presents physically as much more masculine than me, and is like, very big, and we go to a lot of the same spaces, like
he and his boyfriend and I, we go to dance spaces, we
go to all these spaces, and there are moments
when men to speak to me in ways that are so rude and so aggressive because I don’t fit a certain kind of, like my voice doesn’t match a
certain masculine ideal, etc. And they are so nice to my brother, like in front of his face. Like, they’re like, “Who’s that?” I’ve literally had that, when he’s like, “Here’s my brother,” and they’re like, “Who is that?” Right, and it required
me pointing that out to my brother, and then being like, “This really hurts my feelings, just FYI. “Like I’m capable of managing it, “and it’s fine,” and I remember seeing him finally be like, “I
think that’s disgusting “and I don’t want to be in spaces “where people act that way towards you.” But it required that double movement of being willing to
put myself out in space so he could see it, and then also verbalizing it to him from a position of vulnerability, because the way I used to do it was to be like, “This
whole culture is so evil “and gross” and whatever, he’s like, “It’s fine for me.” Like, he didn’t understand
it at a structural level, and I had to just be like, “It hurts me.” Like, “I don’t have fun when I’m out, “and I want to have
fun when I’m with you.” And so I think a lot of it for me, which sucks, because we’re
already so vulnerable, is I have to trust that
I can be more vulnerable and that that vulnerability
will be responded to. And I do that and when
it’s not responded to, I’m like, “Gotta go, bye.” Like, “Guess we’re not friends.” (audience laughs) Like, I don’t know what
else to do besides that. (panelists talk amongst themselves) – I feel like I’m always
following you (laughs). Anyway, I guess maybe as a last word, I would say that I feel like knowledge is important, that
the science is important, but the stories are how people can actually take in the science and to see the world in a different way. You have to both be available for that, and to be able to connect
to something emotionally before you can have a
theory or whatever it is actually really change your life, and I felt like I learned that in a lot of different ways in writing
every chapter of the book that I wrote, I met a lot of people on that journey of writing, and I feel like the meeting them and hearing about their lives and sharing their lives with me really sort of changed my
attitudes about the science, too. And I’ll tell you one
quick story that’s relevant to what you just said, which is I was teaching at San
Quentin, the state prison, and this was the first
class I ever taught there was back in 2010, and I was nervous about going to prison and all that, because I didn’t know
what the culture was like, I didn’t know, it was like
a whole different world, and so everything that I thought I knew I had to suspend, because
it was all just flipped or it was different and so I
was kind of nervous about that, so I go in and I’m in
front of the classroom, and I’m having people go around and say why it is they
wanted to take the class, which is how I would
start a class at Stanford, and so they all said different things, a lot of like common things, actually. Just, I need the credits,
the units, you know (laughs). That kind of thing. So there’s a lot of that, but there was one guy I’ll never forget, he said that he knew a lot already about how San Quentin
worked and all of that, and he knew the culture
of the place and so forth, and he says, “I’m taking this class “because I want to know
how free people think.” And it just stopped me in my tracks, and I learned he was
in his 40s at the time, but he had been incarcerated since he was a teenager,
since he was 14 years old, and he was trying to get access to free minds, and what
does that look like to have a free mind. And I felt like throughout the course that I was actually
there to become free too. I was there trying to
also sort of put away the shackles that society puts on us, and trying to see different and to learn in a different way, and to
be able to, I don’t know, to connect in a different way. So, thanks for that. (audience claps) – You have any last words, Walter? – No, I mean, I just want to give everyone on stage a round of applause.
(audience claps) – [Sam] Thank you so much
to Walter, for coming and moderating our panel. The conversation can continue, the museum is open for
another 45 minutes or so, and we hope you come back and visit the exhibition again and again.

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