By Liz Courquet-Lesaulnier
Originally appeared in Word in Black
Given how overwhelmingly negative news about Black people is in the mainstream press, you’ve probably engaged in doomscrolling, the practice of clicking through news stories and social media posts that leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and demoralized. You need to be informed, but research shows if you don’t give yourself a break from consuming bad news, your physical and mental health suffers. Indeed, media steeped in anti-Blackness damages us psychologically and keeps us from envisioning what our lives could truly be without white supremacy.
But Ruha Benjamin is all about imagining a justice-centered future we can build together.
In “Is Technology Our Savior — or Our Slayer,” her recent talk at TEDWomen, the author and Princeton sociology professor spoke to a process of dreaming, transformative change, and how we can create and shape new realities and systems.
In her talk, Benjamin, author of the books “Viral Justice” and “Race After Technology,” challenges the limited imagination of tech futurists who envision either utopias or dystopias driven by technology.
“They invest in space travel and AI superintelligence and underground bunkers, while casting health care and housing for all as outlandish and unimaginable,” she says. “These futurists let their own imaginations run wild when it comes to bending material and digital realities, but their visions grow limp when it comes to transforming our social reality so that everyone has the chance to live a good and meaningful life.”
Instead, Benjamin calls for “ustopias” created through collective action and focused on safety, prosperity, and justice for all.
“Ustopias center collective well-being over gross concentrations of wealth. They’re built on an understanding that all of our struggles, from climate justice to racial justice, are interconnected. That we are interconnected.” Benjamin says.
To that end, Benjamin highlighted the “historic mobilization” of community members working to stop Cop City — the controversial $90 million law enforcement training facility planned by the Atlanta Police Foundation and the City of Atlanta — as an example of an ustopia that centers “people over profit, public goods over policing.”
“Atlanta’s forest defenders remind us that true community safety relies on connection, not cops. On public goods, like housing and health care, not punishment. They understand that protecting people and the planet go hand in hand. From college students to clergy, environmental activists to Indigenous elders, they’re inviting us into a collective imagination in which our ecological and our social well-being go hand in hand. An ustopia right in our own backyards,” Benjamin says.
Last year, Benjamin launched a newsletter titled “Seeding the Future,” which puts what she calls “bloomscrolling” — examples of justice happening across the nation and the world — in the spotlight.
We need “bloomscrolling to balance out all our doomscrolling, a space we can witness the many ways that people are seeding justice, watering new patterns of life, and working to transform the sickening status quo all around us,” Benjamin wrote in the inaugural issue.
This concept of seeding justice — “making it contagious,” as Benjamin puts it — and amplifying how individuals, institutions, and communities come together to build the future is a through-line that carries over to her TED talk.
As Benjamin makes clear, the path forward requires moving beyond “policing the borders of our own imagination” and embracing bold visions of liberation and care for all. Change is possible when people recognize our shared humanity, and start “imagining and crafting the worlds we cannot live without, just as we dismantle the ones we cannot live within.”