Imagine Otherwise: Catherine Knight Steele on Black Feminist Extensions of Grace

Oct 14, 2021 | Podcast

One of the most common refrains heard across the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic is how unbalanced our work and home lives feel. As work tools take over kitchen tables and schedules become even more difficult to coordinate, many of us hope that a new app or platform can deliver us more balance in our daily lives.

The very concept of a digitally mediated work-life balance reveals the faith we are encouraged to place in technology to fix the problems of capitalism and the racially gendered labor that props it up.

Queer technologists, Indigenous hacktivists, and feminist scholars of color, among others, have long pointed out that power dynamics are built into the technologies we rely on to do this fixing, even if we’re encouraged to assume tech is somehow neutral.

So how can we approach work-life balance and technology differently?

In episode 142 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview digital studies scholar and professor Catherine Knight Steele. Catherine’s work reveals the central role Black women and Black feminists have played in developing, challenging, and transforming our digital technologies.

Approaching Black digital studies holistically, Catherine shows how marginalized groups build lasting community through online, in-person, and hybrid practices, including sustainable models for mentorship and mutual support.

In our conversation, Catherine and I chat about why extensions of grace and collaboration are so crucial to building the future of Black digital studies as well as a supportive world more broadly.

We also explore the nonlinear paths that bring us to our areas of research and how learning to value that nonlinerarity can often be the key to writing a book or creating a project that feeds your soul, not just professional requirements.

Finally, we close out the episode with Catherine’s techniques for redefining the history and future of technology in ways that place Black women at the very center.

Catherine Knight Steele wearing a black shirt and gold necklace. Quote reads: So much of the work that Black women do in the academy is in the quiet spaces of mentoring and community building.  What if we rewarded and recognized that labor as being an important part of our future as a field and also the academy more broadly?
Catherine Knight Steele wearing a black shirt and gold necklace. Quote reads: What I try to do in Digital Black Feminism is carve out the space for us to reflect and to rethink the definitions we ascribe to technology so that the Black women who have been integral to building up this country, to building the tech future that we hope to have, are respected and valued in our history.

Catherine Knight Steele

Catherine Knight Steele is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Maryland, College Park and was the founding director of the African American Digital Humanities Initiative. She now directs the Black Communication and Technology Lab (BCaT) as a part of the Digital Inquiry, Speculation, Collaboration, and Optimism (DISCO) Network funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Her research focuses on race, gender, and media, with a specific emphasis on African American culture and discourse in traditional and new media. She examines representations of marginalized communities in the media and how groups resist oppression and practice joy using online technology to create spaces of community.

Catherine’s research on the Black blogosphere, digital discourses of resistance and joy, and digital Black feminism has been published in such journals as Social Media + Society; Information, Communication and Society; and Television and New Media.

She is the author of Digital Black Feminism (NYU Press, 2021), which examines the relationship between Black women and technology as a centuries-long gendered and racial project in the US.

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