In Plain Sight

I’ve been really into James Scott (see: Seeing Like A State and Three Cheers For Anarchism) and Anna Tsing (see: The Mushroom At The End of The World and On NonScalability) for some time, and I recently got hip to this amazing artist Kenya Robinson (https://www.teamhuman.fm/episodes/kenya-robinson). The thing she said on that podcast was so great.

“You will never catch me at a protest…I wonder if we are missing out on other options such as deceit, secrecy, spycraft, glamour….”

Kenya Robinson

Also this https://www.obfuscationworkshop.org/
And this https://syllabus.pirate.care/topic/hologramsocialcare/


This is from the Nick Cave show at the NYC Armory in 2018. My son is there at the end. Following enthralled.

Maybe we are going about this all wrong and the project of making ourselves more and more defined is just a trick to make us even more legible to the state and ruling classes?

Maybe we need loose cloak, spy closet identities to drape over who we actually are and what we are after?

Maybe instead of
Diversity
Equity
Inclusion

we focus on

Deception
Evasion
Illegibility
?

Gratitude: April 2021

Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name

I used to watch Dolemite movies in college as a late night goof with friends. I never knew much about the backstory of the star Rudy Ray Moore and I figured there wasn’t much to what he’d pulled together. So when Eddie Murphy came out with Dolemite Is Ny Name on Netflix, I didn’t figure it was worth watching. Fortunately, a very trusted friend pushed me to watch it and I am glad I did. It was a celebration of black culture and ingenuity. I hadn’t realized 1) Rudy Ray Moore intended to make a silly character/movie (I’d assumed he was more of an Ed Wood character) and 2)he was essentially an amateur folklorist, capturing a rich aspect of black culture that many others might have preferred to stuff into the dustbin of history.

Murphy was really great in it, but the other two standout performances were Wesley Snipes as D’Urville Martin (Dolemite’s reluctant director), and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed (Moore’s protegee, trusted confidante, and muse).

Small Axe

Another recommendation from my amazing friend was Small Axe by Steve McQueen. It is a series of 5 full-length films about the Afro-Caribbean struggle in UK in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. This was exceedingly moving and I am sure I will watch again. It is one of those things I will get in box set if I am able to. Truly all classic.

This interview with Steve McQueen rocked my world. Loving this man FOREVER.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Another friend hipped me to this new album Breathe by Dr. Lonnie Smith. The track below is my favorite on it

Old Customer Care Lady Sayings

As a leader in customer care, over the years I have developed a few sayings that I believe have held me in good stead.

Camille’s Top Three Customer Care Sayings

#1: No Special Snowflakes

To My Fellow Caffeine-Fuelled Zombies: The Special Snowflake Paradox

This means that –as much as possible — we want to avoid having to support custom features, special builds, weird bespoke SLAs, and anything else that is going to be hard to track and resolve. Specialness is frustrating to handle and an impediment to scale. If we are running a tiny neighborhood cupcake shop, fine, I am happy to handcraft cupcakes. If we are trying to build a mega cupcake conglomerate, it needs to come off the conveyor belt the same as the others. I tend to say this to sales people and occasionally to overzealous engineers.

#2: Keep Receipts

In your career and in your day to day work, a lot of information goes flying back and forth and it can be hard to track across public Slack channels, private Slack channels, DMs, emails, Google Docs, Zoom calls and so and so forth. When in doubt (and you should mostly just STAY in doubt), write things down, have other people write them down to you, record things, screenshot things.
You will forget.
People will forget.
People will pretend they forgot.
People will try to reinvent the wheel.
People will try to rewrite history based on their faulty memories or wishful thinking.
Keep receipts to remind them (and yourself!) of the good things, the bad things, the mistakes, and the almost-forgotten strokes of genius.

#3: Reduce information asymmetry

I wrote about this here and it is a brief read, but the tl;dr isI this:

If you know something that the customer should know, tell them right away. It will give them some information to gather OR help them set expectations on their side OR prompt them to fashion a workaround. They might not be happy about what you tell them, but at least they won’t be sitting idle wondering if you forgot about them and their problem.


What about you? What are some of your favorite sayings or rules of thumb?

Everything Is About Time

I feel like everywhere I turn people are talking about time. Here are a few recent references

AmarElo

This documentary was so gorgeous. It opened with the saying,

“Eshu threw a stone today that hit a bird yesterday.”

Emma Dabiri – Don’t Touch My Hair

The weaving that occurs in the braided hairstyles, the aspects of their temporality, their consistency as well as their adaptibility, share many similarities with the oriki (Yoruba oral tradition) genre. What is this something else that oriki performances aim at? Simply posing this question highlights a profound difference between a Eurocentric concept of history and Afrocentric engagements with time.

In our language the word for the sea means the ‘spirit that returns’

I found my way to the land closest to nowhere after Google Maps said there was no road to follow. My eyes told me different and I kept going. To get there that first night, especially alone after dark, I was far more reliant on strangers’ knowledges of well travelled roads than any formal map or its timings. Nowhere is an invention. Real or not, it enables navigation, not on land but at sea:

Latitude 0°
Longitude 0°
Altitude 0°

Nowhere is the centre of the surface of the world. It is on the longitude line that links Britain and Ghana. Nowhere sets its clocks to Greenwich Mean Time. This nowhere is the nowhere because the British were best at sea. The land closest to nowhere is a cape jutting out into the Atlantic, not to one point, but three: nowhere is never somewhere you get to one way.

Towards a Temporal Rezoning

At Home With Ursula LeGuin

In “A Non-Euclidean View,” Le Guin cited a writer and folklorist who described a saying among some members of the Cree people:

Usà puyew usu wapiw! (“He goes backward, looks forward.”)

The phrase is used to describe “the thinking of a porcupine as he backs into a rock crevice.” The author in question, Howard A. Norman, wrote that “the porcupine consciously goes backward in order to speculate safely on the future, allowing him to look out at his enemy or the new day. To the Cree, it’s an instructive act of self-preservation.”

Reducing Information Asymmetry in Customer Care

As a customer care person, you are placed at an important vantage point between the company and the customer. You (should) have visibility into the product and people in your company beyond what your customers currently knows/can see. You are there to solve problems for the customer using both information that may already be publicly available to the customer as well as information that is not.

If you know something that the customer should know, tell them. Tell them as soon as you know. If time is running down on an SLA and you are still waiting on an answer from Engineering, find a nice way to tell them that (the phrase “I have escalated this matter to our Engineering team” works). If you are investigating something specific, tell the customer what you think might be the issue. If you need them to provide you with more information from their end, ask them right away so they know the ball is in their court.

I can’t count how many times I have seen a support ticket with numerous back-and-forth internal notes in it and no response to the customer. Things are obviously happening. Ideas are being shared. Surely there is something there we can tell the customer.

If it is a question between providing what you think is a perfect answer and speed, choose speed.
If it is a question between providing what you think is a perfect answer and providing context, choose context.
If it is a question between assuming something or asking the customer, ask the customer.

You are the customers’ eyes in the company, let them see.
You are the customers’ ears in the company, let them hear.
You are the customers’ voices in the company, speak up for them….. and to them.

2021 Brain Picking Bank

Well, I have reached the point in my career where people reach out to me rather frequently to “pick my brain” about various things, particularly business or product ideas. After griping about this a bit on LinkedIn, I got brilliant pieces of wisdom from two brilliant people in particular (Liz Fong-Jones and Nikki Yeager):

  • Liz shared that she schedules a set amount of time per week for brain pickers so that she doesn’t give away more than she can manage.
  • Nikki shared this great blog post which has some great ideas for how to deflect meetings and/or filter out people who aren’t focused.

I have decided that I will try to cap brain picking at 5 hours a month and I will use this blogpost to track how it goes this year. Wish me luck!

Questions

What counts as brain picking?
Any stranger or person I don’t know very well reaching out to ask me for my opinion or input on an idea. It can also include friends or family if the primary purpose of wanting to chat is to get my opinion or input on an idea. It does not include work people, because I am obliged by money to let them pick my brain.

Will you share details about the content of the brain picking sessions here?
Unless the person explicitly requests that I do, no I will just share the date and time expended.

Why five hours?
It is a totally arbitrary number.

Can I pick your brain?
Maaaybe… First answer the following:
[ ] Do you have specific questions?
[ ] Do you know what your specific questions are?
[ ] Is it less than 3 questions?
[ ] Do my answers need to be delivered synchronously?
If your answers to everything above was YES, contact me and we’ll see.

Brain Picking 2021 Log


8 January 2021 – 30 mins
17 March 2021 – 30 mins

Gratitude – October 2020

Wow, have I really not done a gratitude post in almost a year? Shame on me. My mother was right all along! I am ungrateful. Just kidding! Despite All Of This, I’ve had plenty things to be grateful for. Here are a few of the latest:

Brittany Howard

Brittany Howard of The Alabama Shakes is so dope. Last year she put out a solo album, Jaime. I listened to it a lot in the winter and am now revisiting it because it is good for singing along to. I recently discovered that she did an NPR Tiny Desk last year so I have been rotating that a lot these days too. Especially recommended for people who like Prince or Mavis Staples.

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Mensah

Ever since this whole pandemic went global, I have had some challenges focusing. Riding on the subway to and from work was my reading time. So I’ve been reading snips of this and that, but nothing grabbed me, especially not fiction until this book fell in my lap. As a girl of Ewe descent this book grabbed me from the first page. Weird cultural things that characterize our culture in this modern age were turned up to absurdity level 11, and I couldn’t put it down. I hope this gets a film treatment!

Cillian Murphy on BBC….yes, again

Cillian is back on BBC 6 Music! This time coming live from…his basement! It is always super good and I love his weird little stories and segways. Just listen!

Singing lessons

Taking singing lessons has been on my bucket list for years, and in January I decided this would be the year. I booked my lessons and was excited to start when the lockdown hit NYC. Undeterred, my amazing new singing teacher moved the whole operation online. So for the past 8 months I have been taking singing lessons. I am a natural soprano! Who woulda thunk? What a year to find my voice!

How to Live In Denmark

Another unexpected thing this year is that I changed jobs/companies, and I now work with a bunch of brilliant Danes (and other people from other countries but it’s mostly Danish people day to day). Shifting to this new location and cultural orientation has been quite a shift, so I was grateful when my boss introduced me to Kay Xander Mellish and her How To Live/Work in Denmark series. I am learning so many new things and better able to understand/contextualize and affect what is happening around me.

My 3 Favorite Tools (Right Now) for Working With My Geographically-Distributed Team

I recently started a new job where I am working from home with a team spread across Europe and the US. Some of the team is working from home because they always do, others are working from home due to the pandemic, but yet others are actually working as per normal from our company’s headquarters.

With a team spread across so many geos as well as work configurations, I prefer the term geographically-distributed to remote, since that better describes what we are. And while we definitely use the typical collaboration tools (e.g. Slack, Zoom) to connect us, there are a few others I also really like when working this way.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse is a great project management tool in the sweet spot between Jira and Trello. (Full disclosure: I used to work at Clubhouse and am still a shareholder. But, seriously, if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t mention it. ) When my company was mostly just team members colocated at the HQ, they would track their tasks on a physical whiteboard. In fact when I started here a few weeks ago, I remember someone in the office taking a picture of the board and dropping it into a Slack channel so those working from home could see it. However, with all this uncertainty and people working in and out of offices, that simply can’t do anymore.

So several teams have been using GitHub Issues, while my team and several others have started using Clubhouse. I have introduced Clubhouse at every startup I’ve worked at since I left Clubhouse and it has been a hit with the teams. We can communicate in the comments and threads, create filtered views for specific teams or efforts, and the ability to have cross-team views and higher levels of abstraction beyond tasks is such a win.

My favorite thing, however, is the daily summary notification email.

The Clubhouse Daily Summary (beautifully redacted by me)

At a glance, I can see everything that got touched, created, completed. It is nice to wake up every morning and get a full situation report. The more people in the company are using it, the clearer that image becomes. It is a great time saver.

Clubhouse also has a handy app and a great Slack integration.

Geekbot

With a team this spread out, a lot of important things can happen long before some teammates even wake up. In order to keep people on the same page since we aren’t all in the same timezone, we use this handy Slack app.

With two simple questions (that the Geekbot is programmed to ask at the *end* of the person’s workday), we can share a lot of details and easily pass the baton” from east to west without having to do a boring daily standup either late or night or before we’ve gotten out of our jammies!

Loom

Long before the pandemic, I shared my hesitation about working from home (click to read if you missed that one). One of the things I most miss about working together with people in a colocated office (aside from free lunches, coffees, and team singalongs LOL) is being able to just look over someone’s shoulder at their screen as they explained something to you.

In order to approximate this, I’ve been using Loom a lot. It is an easy way to show someone something without being in the same place or having to set up a Zoom call. Because we all surely have extreme Zoom fatigue. When you wanna try and avoid a Zoom, try a Loom!

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Black Women’s Defense League in Dallas, Texas

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Because reform won’t happen.

By Mariame Kaba (reprinted without permission from the NYT)

Ms. Kaba is an organizer against criminalization.
June 12, 2020

Congressional Democrats want to make it easier to identify and prosecute police misconduct; Joe Biden wants to give police departments $300 million. But efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.

Enough. We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police.

There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.

So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.

Now two weeks of nationwide protests have led some to call for defunding the police, while others argue that doing so would make us less safe.

The first thing to point out is that police officers don’t do what you think they do. They spend most of their time responding to noise complaints, issuing parking and traffic citations, and dealing with other noncriminal issues. We’ve been taught to think they “catch the bad guys; they chase the bank robbers; they find the serial killers,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, in an interview with Jacobin. But this is “a big myth,” he said. “The vast majority of police officers make one felony arrest a year. If they make two, they’re cop of the month.”

We can’t simply change their job descriptions to focus on the worst of the worst criminals. That’s not what they are set up to do.

Second, a “safe” world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death.

I’ve been advocating the abolition of the police for years. Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid of the police or simply to make them less violent — here’s an immediate demand we can all make: Cut the number of police in half and cut their budget in half. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. The idea is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.

History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.

The Lexow Committee undertook the first major investigation into police misconduct in New York City in 1894. At the time, the most common complaint against the police was about “clubbing” — “the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks,” as the historian Marilynn Johnson has written.

The Wickersham Commission, convened to study the criminal justice system and examine the problem of Prohibition enforcement, offered a scathing indictment in 1931, including evidence of brutal interrogation strategies. It put the blame on a lack of professionalism among the police.

After the 1967 urban uprisings, the Kerner Commission found that “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.” Its report listed a now-familiar set of recommendations, like working to build “community support for law enforcement” and reviewing police operations “in the ghetto, to ensure proper conduct by police officers.”

These commissions didn’t stop the violence; they just served as a kind of counterinsurgent function each time police violence led to protests. Calls for similar reforms were trotted out in response to the brutal police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the rebellion that followed, and again after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The final report of the Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing resulted in procedural tweaks like implicit-bias training, police-community listening sessions, slight alterations of use-of-force policies and systems to identify potentially problematic officers early on.

But even a member of the task force, Tracey Meares, noted in 2017, “policing as we know it must be abolished before it can be transformed.”

The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence. But police officers break rules all the time. Look what has happened over the past few weeks — police officers slashing tiresshoving old men on camera, and arresting and injuring journalists and protesters. These officers are not worried about repercussions any more than Daniel Pantaleo, the former New York City police officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death; he waved to a camera filming the incident. He knew that the police union would back him up and he was right. He stayed on the job for five more years.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.

What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response. Additionally, police officers themselves commit sexual assault alarmingly often. A study in 2010 found that sexual misconduct was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct. In 2015, The Buffalo News found that an officer was caught for sexual misconduct every five days.

When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.

People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.

When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.

Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) is the director of Project NIA, a grass-roots group that works to end youth incarceration, and an anti-criminalization organizer.