It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.
Here’s Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal!
Andre Blackman is an agent of change and innovation within the public health community. He is very passionate about the role of new media, mobile technology and other useful innovations as it relates to health communications and the improvement of public health in general.
Andre has been a featured speaker/commentator on a number of Public Health 2.0 related conversations around HIV/AIDS, mobile health, health disparities and new forms of health journalism. He has worked alongside organizations such as the Black AIDS Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dept. of Health and Human Services to educate and promote innovation around important health initiatives and opportunities.
Pulse + Signal postulates that social media, mobile technologies and integrated offline engagement are becoming very necessary to create the effective dialogues needed for lasting impact. Can you tell us a little about why, and how, particularly in terms of talking about healthy sexual relationships, sex education and violence against women?
Absolutely, the world where we are living in now – despite having a heavy investment with technology – is still dependent on our social & very human interactions. This absolutely includes our relationships with loved ones and sexual health. The tools such as social media & mobile technology are just that: tools that help us stay in touch, communicate and manage information.
For example, I first learned about The Line Campaign after attending the Sex::Tech conference last year and getting connected with Nancy in person (offline). Then I started following the Campaign on Twitter and have been connected there virtually, staying on top of relevant news (social media). Nowadays, when I see information around filmmaking or sexual health, I send a direct message on Twitter to you all to make sure learn about it as well (real time valuable information). The awareness + action that gets spurred when all of these factors come together can be very powerful for combating tragic issues such as violence against women. These tools and channels have opened up doors that no longer can easily be closed.
Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching in fact necessary marginalises certain groups?
The issue of the digital divide has been ongoing for some time now – however with the advancement of mobile technology and how mobile phones are getting into the hands of most everyone, the privilege barrier is starting to decrease around technology. This is especially true if we are talking about people of color/underserved populations. The Pew Internet Project has a ton of research data on usage and access issues for various demographics. I think the bigger issue is about digital literacy and making sure that those who want to get plugged in actually know how and where they can get resources on joining the bigger campaign – I think this is the root of any sort of marginalization in the digital activism landscape.
Can you talk a little more about your experiences as a man of colour and an activist? Was there a time where you felt your issues were being overlooked by the greater majority, and how your identity and personal experiences play into your work? How do you think it informs your work from a gendered perspective?
I do remember the first time that I was overlooked unfairly – the situation has been undoubtedly seared into my memory. As one of a few people of color in the high school I attended (initially), I took part in the science fair and was excited because science was my passion then. Knowing some NIH scientists I made an effort to do something pretty impactful and started doing actual lab work around genetics. When the time came around for judging of the projects – I did not place anywhere, not even an honorable mention. It struck me as highly odd until my science teacher mentioned that the judges didn’t feel like I could do this level of science and that I probably had the work done for me. It was “above my intelligence” you could say. From that moment on I realized that sometimes things don’t always go your way because you’re smart enough or passionate enough. That moment also taught me to work even harder at things that I want to succeed at even when others (or even myself) tell me that it can’t be done.
This really became clearer after going to school for public health in college – I didn’t have that many male colleagues in my classes (I was the only one in several) and being African American set me apart even further. It seemed as if public health had a certain “face” to the field and it gave me pause to think about where this field is going as well as its faults. Much of what I’m advocating for these days in an opening up of the public health field to better ideas to improve the health of communities. Instead of one-off events in low income communities, we should be working alongside the community to develop sustainable plans. Also, incorporating other fields to come up with designs and technologies that can truly give the field an effective facelift. Diverse thinking is what I’m about because of those experiences.
Do you think healthy relationships and sexual education play into public health concerns? Do you think is is important that they do?
Public health absolutely has to do with healthy relationships, especially since it brings together issues such as mental health and sexual health. This is what I was getting at when I was discussing what public health should look like – making sure that people understand how to have healthy relationships plays a large role as to how well they do at work, how they take care of their families, how they treat themselves on a daily basis, etc. It impacts everything in the long run, which is why relationships/sexual health education is so important in the public health world. The field stems from the prevention angle so the more we can educate people, the better we can prevent them from having to be hospitalized, needing medication, etc.
Do you feel that grassroots activist organisations and non-profits are taking full advantage of the techological tools available to them? Where do you see these methods and processes going in the future?
I think the non-profit world is booming right now as far as the resources that are available now with online tools and social media. Organizations for a cause are now able to grow their donors, fellow activists and rally them around events/initiatives that they care about. The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is a brilliant source for information on how to do everything under the digital sun for a grassroots activist group or nonprofit to fulfill their mission.
In the future I see these organizations being better at being available for people to plug into as well as finding their fans, volunteers, activists. Social technologies are getting better at connecting with two aspects that I think will be even more important down the line: local & mobile.
Are there any drawbacks to technological tools, do you think they’re distancing or can be overused?
Just like any other tool (online or otherwise), they can be abused and improperly managed. Just as there are several positives about social media, if used incorrectly, can cause unwanted attention and damaged reputations. We’ve all seen situations where an individual is using a Twitter application managing multiple accounts and tweets from the wrong one – usually with a message that is inconsistent with that account’s focus, to put it gently. In my opinion though, the positives outweigh the negatives and making sure you use the tools wisely is important. Stick with a few that you see working for your cause.
How do you think we, as young activists and students can best make use of our resources to instigate and create change?
When I talk to students about jumping into a career, I usually advise them to take part in groups and organizations through internships while still in school. This is pretty much the best way to understand roles and responsibilities as well as making use of the tools on a daily basis. That way, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to use these resources to fulfill your own causes while making great relationships and contacts.
Also, go ahead and start writing for a blog – either one that already exists around your subject area or start your own. Don’t be afraid to ask to write a guest blog post or reach out to leaders involved in your cause. With these tools and resources, the barriers to access individuals and groups are very low, so take advantage of it!
You can find Andre’s thoughts on public health and innovation through his blog, Pulse + Signal and via Twitter as @mindofandre.