Technology and its promise of a better world is a part of Baratunde’s DNA. In this episode, Baratunde reminisces with his older sister, Belinda, about their upbringing in Washington DC in the 1980s. They discuss their mother’s influence on his earliest experiences with tech that would someday come to shape this very podcast.
Baratunde Thurston 0:00
What's up, fellow citizens. For those who are new here, I'm Baratunde Thurston and this is How to Citizen with Baratunde. Welcome to Season 3. In honor of this new season, I want to tell you about some new stuff and some new ways to connect with us. We got @howtocitizen on Instagram. That's right, so follow us, hashtag it up and see how we're expanding on the themes of this show in conversation with you. We also have a website, howtocitizen.com, and a new email list that you can sign up for right over there. Looking forward to seeing you.
For this first episode, I want to shake things up and take you back to about the year 1983, a very foundational year for me. I was six years old. I wore too-tight t-shirts in too-short shorts. I loved the movie WarGames and Return of the Jedi.
...World opening of Return of the Jedi...
Baratunde Thurston 0:52
I was addicted to the A-Team and pitied the fool that messed with B. A. Baracus. D.C., for me, was a place of joy and community, and partying all night long to the sounds of Lionel Richie at our block parties. I also recall our family grew at this time, we added a new member. Wasn't a sibling, wasn't a pet, nope, my mother came home with a computer, a personal computer. For those of you who don't know, my mother was a computer programmer at the advent of the personal computer revolution in the 1970s and early 80s. This is a big deal for a black woman who never got a Bachelor's degree and was raising two kids on her own. And having a computer in the home was a rare thing at the time for anybody, much less anybody in my neck of the woods. I didn't know anyone else in my neighborhood or my school who had a computer in their house. We were different, and she came with this Apple IIe computer. Beige and blocky...
...Apple IIe small, inexpensive, simple to use...
Baratunde Thurston 2:15
...With the rounded screen, and the green blinking cursor. I think she loved it so much, she put it in the corner of her own room, so we had to travel to her room to get to use the computer. It sat on a small table underneath the posters of black history heroes and inspirational quotes next to the file cabinet with all of our vital information, but the most vital thing in that room was that computer. Oh, I was so excited, and I'd love to pretend from the distance of now that I was excited about the potential to expand my mind and build society in a beautiful human way with this computer, but no. I was just excited to play Dr. J vs. Larry Bird over, and over, and over again--the greatest video game ever invented. So realistic that, when you dunked you broke the backboard and shattered it into 1000 little pieces, and a little janitor came out sweeping up your mess cause you were that good. Ever since that time, technology has been a huge part of my life. Most of my career has been inseparable from technology through multimedia storytelling and playful hacking of tech systems, and trying to use tech for progressive politics. So yeah, I love tech; but I've got to admit, it's getting harder and harder to love. We've gone from a time of Apple IIe's and a world of possibility, to the rapid spread of misinformation, giant tech monopolies, cyber bullies, and AI built on racist data. I thought tech would save the world. Now, that world looks a lot more like Black Mirror, and yet there's still a part of me that believes we can turn it around. So this season, as you've probably already guessed, is going to be all about tech; but instead of the Black Mirror story, we're going to explore the potential of technology--not the naive potential of those early years, but a renewed, reimagined and inclusive potential that serves us all because I know it's still possible to build that. This podcast is built on the very basic belief that citizen is a verb: something to be acted on; and if we choose to hold it correctly, tech can be our secret citizening weapon. We will focus on the people who are leveraging design, and data, and code to help us show up for our community, strengthen our relationships, and flex our power to benefit the collective; but before we meet these incredible people, I want to take you where it all started for me, and to do that I knew I had to speak to my sister.
Belinda Thurston 5:19
Belinda Yvonne Thurston. I am best known as the older sibling of Baratunde Thurston. I am a native Washingtonian. I am a journalist, a writer, a speaker, a yogi, a Tai Chi player, a human on this planet.
Baratunde Thurston 5:40
How would you describe your relationship with technology, Belinda?
Belinda Thurston 5:43
How much time do we have?
Baratunde Thurston 5:49
Growing up together in a house full of challenges, curiosity and imagination shaped so much of our worldview. Belinda's got insight, not only as an older sibling who showed up on the planet before me, but she drops serious knowledge from a life lived in exploration and discovery. My sister writes beautifully, observes closely and is the most spiritually-attuned person I know. Belinda is going to take us all down memory lane, yes, but more importantly, we talk about our mom and how her views on tech would some day shape how I citizen after the break.
Belinda Thurston 6:35
Baratunde Thurston 6:37
Good to see you again.
Belinda Thurston 6:38
It is good to see you, as well.
Baratunde Thurston 6:40
Well, listen, to begin, let's roll back in time a little bit. I remember, though, on Newton street in D.C., we lived a few blocks from the elementary school, Bancroft--I think it was three, three and a half blocks--and I came out of school one day with my friends--it was probably third grade, maybe fourth grade max--me and a bunch of little boys, and here you come up the hill; but you're not just, like, walking up the hill to pick up your brother after school. You're riding your orange 10-speed bike with one hand and in the other hand you're carrying my BMX bike, and you're pumping up this hill, and my friends are, like, "yo, your sister's the coolest person in the world! Oh my--how does she do that? She's so strong! What?! That's amazing!" I was, like, "yeah, that's my sister. What? What? Don't you mess with me. You see what she could do with one arm? Imagine what she could do with two." That's a defining, you know, you have my back, you're literally helping me get around and carrying my vehicle while you're riding yours. A very defining moment for me.
Belinda Thurston 7:53
Wow, I wish I had that memory. I definitely have bicycle memories and great adventures; some that got us in trouble, well, got me in trouble not you in trouble because I'm supposed to be responsible for you and not try to kill my brother.
Baratunde Thurston 8:11
Thank you for also not killing me. That was great.
Belinda Thurston 8:13
You're welcome. You're welcome, although you have accused me of trying to kill you.
Baratunde Thurston 8:17
I mean, I was younger then, you know. For the record, I've looked up to you and continue to, basically, every day of my life and a lot of my path was one cut first by you: digital media infused with tech stuff. You definitely did that first. When I think about that past life of yours--Belinda the digital journalist--that ended up being a lot of what I did. Why did you end up leaving that path and going down more of the, the yoga, Tai Chi path instead?
Belinda Thurston 8:53
In some ways, the shine and the luster was gone. I definitely fell out of love with the corporate end of things and the downsizing of newsrooms. It seemed to be diminishing the value of the people who make the stories happen, leaning more toward the technology, as though the technology can actually do the storytelling. I'm sorry to disappoint anyone who believes that AI could actually take over storytelling: that isn't going to happen. I just decided that I felt that I could make a greater impact on the earth outside of newsrooms. When I started teaching community-based yoga, donation-based yoga, I really got to know the heartbeat of the community; but I had not really had that level of connection with community until I started practicing yoga as yoga community outreach to actually try to embody living the definition of yoga as connection.
Baratunde Thurston 10:00
That's beautiful. What year did you leave journalism formally?
Belinda Thurston 10:06
Baratunde Thurston 10:09
Okay. How would you describe your relationship with technology, Belinda?
Belinda Thurston 10:17
How much time do we have? In some ways, I'm completely fused. In some ways, I try to be as disconnected and unattached, and embrace impermanence as much as possible. I have some contradictions in myself as a Buddhist, as a yogi, and as a person in modern day life.
Baratunde Thurston 10:41
Okay, and how does tech play a role in what you're doing nowadays?
Belinda Thurston 10:47
Livestreaming is wonderful. It allows me to remain as organically myself, but I feel grateful that I'm dexterous enough to be able to roll with the punches at the same time of asking someone: did they breathe? Have they twisted? Where's their mind right now: is it on inner peace or are they frustrated about some bug that just bit them?
Baratunde Thurston 11:11
I remember checking in with you earlier during COVID, and you had figured out some livestreaming things that I hadn't quite figured out. I had figured out some lighting things that you hadn't quite. We were just jamming and swapping notes, not missing a beat. We are definitely related, because I'm hearing you and I'm like, "that sounds like somebody else that I know, another Thurston I know."
Belinda Thurston 11:36
It felt like the good old days.
Baratunde Thurston 11:38
Yeah. Do you have a memory that you think really illustrates or defines our relationship?
Belinda Thurston 11:46
I would say, for me, really it's a little more current. Maybe more 20 year, 15 year. We were actually coming back from Montauk.
Baratunde Thurston 11:59
Yeah. Montauk, Long Island.
Belinda Thurston 12:04
A little bit of background, Baratunde and I had gone to Montauk with this great, dramatic plan of releasing our mother's ashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Then, of course, Belinda tried to kill her brother.
Baratunde Thurston 12:18
I mean, facts, though, because we almost died.
Belinda Thurston 12:21
We did. We did almost die.
Baratunde Thurston 12:23
We get out there and the waves are intense, right? We were attacked by the Atlantic Ocean, as far as I know.
Belinda Thurston 12:31
There were signs that said, "don't get in the water."
Baratunde Thurston 12:35
I don't remember that. I don't remember that at all. We end up just fighting to stand up, to not get overwhelmed and not get sucked out, bashed up against the rock that we thought of as security. We're soaked and, for a long time, I think I still have the t-shirt I bought at the gift shop out there because everything was soaked.
Belinda Thurston 12:55
Everything was soaked.
Baratunde Thurston 12:57
Belinda Thurston 12:57
But then we had to just lead foot it to get back to New York because Baratunde had a show in Times Square. We get into a train and just blaze to go down to Times Square, but we had to change trains. In the changing of trains--now this is definitely analog tech in the Thurston family is a Moleskin, a Moleskin journal, and Baratunde had notes--when he jumped from that train to go to the platform to get ready to jump into another train, his Moleskin fell down between the train into the tracks, and it was...
Baratunde Thurston 13:48
Belinda, oh my God.
Belinda Thurston 13:48
...All stop. It was all stop. It was a little bit of a freakout moment because you were like, "my notes!"
Baratunde Thurston 14:00
My whole comedy career was in that notebook.
Belinda Thurston 14:03
This was really important, but you had to get there. They needed you there early and we were already messed up. We just finished having a life and death moment of releasing our mother's ashes; that hasn't even saturated. So I'm like, "I got this." I don't know how I'm going to get that thing from down onto the rails, but I wanted you to go and wanted you to not think about it. "Don't worry about it. I've got this." Off you go. I'm here in New York acting like I live there, which I don't. I was living in Texas at the time, I was in Dallas at the time.
Baratunde Thurston 14:41
Far from New York City.
Belinda Thurston 14:42
Yes, far, we're really far. It's not my proudest moment, but it was one of the few moments in my life that I did play the damsel-in-distress card, because short of it I was ready to go jumping down there, but you know that third rail really freaks me out, so...
As it should, it's designed to. The signs say, "don't jump in," right?
...There was an old fella who was doing clean up with a broom and a dust pan, and I just went up and said, "oh my goodness. Can you help me out? This is life or death. If we don't get that journal down there, life is over for my brother and I want him to succeed in life." This old fella, he jumped down there, he got it for me, handed it to me. I just did some real quick thank-you's, some namastes, and off I went trying to figure out what train and I was rushing. I was pushing people, I didn't care. It was like I was back in the 80s in D.C. on the metro. I'm running, it felt like I'm just running with a chalice in my hand.
Baratunde Thurston 15:46
Precious cargo, man. Precious.
Belinda Thurston 15:49
I think you were already getting ready behind stage, but people were just handing handbills out, and I just thought it was so cool cause your name was on the handbill; and I was, like, "ah, look, it's my brother! I've got his journal! You gotta get it to him. No, I can get it to him. Nobody else can get it to him."
Baratunde Thurston 16:07
Now, why did that story occur to you as defining us and our relationship?
Belinda Thurston 16:15
It's gonna happen, we're going to make it happen. There's going to be a story behind it, and just watching you rock it off into amazing success.
Baratunde Thurston 16:26
Oh, well, thank you for being there for me carrying my bike and getting old men to jump on the train tracks. Whatever era, whatever city, Belinda's gonna be there. Thank you for that.
Belinda Thurston 16:40
Baratunde Thurston 16:42
Because it's 1983, I'm gonna ask you not to touch that dial. We'll be right back.
You mentioned D.C. in the 80s; that's when we're from, right, in so many ways--the 70s more for you, the 80s more for me--let me get our time zones a little more correct.
Belinda Thurston 17:01
Baratunde Thurston 17:02
What is it like growing up in D.C.? What are the memories you come back to of that period for us being our mother's children, being of D.C. residence?
Belinda Thurston 17:13
Ah, being our mother's children... It's a really interesting transition time. I actually looked over some pictures you had scanned in some black and whites I hadn't seen in forever: I've got some cornrows and I'm holding this itty-bitty, football-sized Baratunde. From that time in the late 70s to when I went to high school, and certainly by the time you went to high school, the time changed so much from that period of time, as far as how neighborhoods behaved. The quality of life in our neighborhood at that time was still relatively safe--albeit poor--when you were born, and then things just got exponentially a little more precarious. How about we just use that: precarious.
Baratunde Thurston 18:07
Precarious, yeah. I lived in the more precarious end of that spectrum as D.C. in the 80s became less and less stable--more pothole-ridden, more drug dealing, more police activity--so this late 70s. Being born in 77, I didn't really know the neighborhood that I was born into. I kind of got a taste of it and then it was more tension: "don't go out after this, be careful of that, avoid such and such."
Belinda Thurston 18:41
Inside of all of that, life and technology, and modern times were just Jetsons-ing us into the future. Just want to cue Jetsons music, right? I was thinking about this a little bit, we barely ever had a 13-inch black-and-white television with the little clickety-clickety-clickety-click, whether you're doing the...
Baratunde Thurston 19:08
UHF, VHF, yeah.
Belinda Thurston 19:08
...UHF, VHF, exactly, and a push-button, pull-button to turn it on and off; but we had an Apple IIe.
Baratunde Thurston 19:19
We had a computer, that's right.
Belinda Thurston 19:21
We didn't have Atari and Nintendo...
Baratunde Thurston 19:26
Belinda Thurston 19:26
...No, but we had encyclopedias. We had different things that were nerdy and set us apart. I definitely didn't earn any kind of street cred in the neighborhood. I didn't wear anything fashionable. I could have had a Velour sweater: no. I could have had some Nikes and some Adidas when they first came out: no, right? I'm wearing secondhand whatever-whatever's, but I've got a solar calculator, I've got an Apple IIe. It just really kind of showed what was really important to Ma, as far as what to give us. The rest of that stuff, it was either irrelevant and/or "immadertion."
Baratunde Thurston 20:11
A word our mother has made up.
Belinda Thurston 20:13
It was either irrelevant or, if we really liked it, "look hard and long, and remember well."
Baratunde Thurston 20:19
Remember well. Look hard, remember well. How many times can I remember Ma saying that? We're driving down, there's something amazing out the window, "I wish I had a camera, we should take a picture!" "Look hard, remember well."
Belinda Thurston 20:31
There we go.
Baratunde Thurston 20:32
We were a family with cameras.
Belinda Thurston 20:33
With cameras. I have Ma's Nikon F. If you look at the things that we valued and the rest, she really believed in letting us know what was important. Taking that picture and the money that we saved from that versus "do you want some floppy disks? You want to be able to save this stuff? This dot matrix printer needs some ribbon." It was interesting to be a part of that transition time. At least for me, kind of, cusping, right? I feel like I'm, I cusp 70s and 80s.
Baratunde Thurston 21:11
There's this combination of lack of resource and excess of a certain other kind of resource, being ahead of the curve on certain resources--no cable TV, no Jordache jeans, no velour sweatshirts, no money, per se; yet Apple computers, floppy disks. What was going on financially in the house and how do you think about resource in this childhood that we had, which was split?
Belinda Thurston 21:40
I think it's appropriating the resources based on the real priority and I think if I could dare to try to put myself into Ma's mind, information and knowledge is the gold. She wasn't going to give us any great inheritance, and wanted us to be able to invest in ourselves and in our own energy. With that was education, a thirst for knowledge and to question that knowledge; always question it.
Baratunde Thurston 22:13
Belinda Thurston 22:14
Just because it's written, what does it source? Where did it come from? Where does it belong in your memory banks? Then, access to that information because that information can be freedom, right? That information can end up freeing someone else and, so that, to me, was her interpretation of being able to give us a leg up. "Here's this new thing and it's called this computer thing." She brought home just shy of a punch-card mainframe.
Baratunde Thurston 22:42
Let me pause you here. A home from work where our mother worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency division of the Department of the U.S. Treasury, where she ultimately rose to be a systems analyst, a category of computer programming. She wrote in many early languages, including COBOL--I still have some printouts of her COBOL code--and she worked on a computer all day long making computers do stuff.
Belinda Thurston 23:10
Exactly, exactly. We couldn't have afforded a computer and I think I referred to it with you recently. I said, "I'm pretty sure that that was her version of dumpster diving," as far as being able to retrieve one of these early Apple models. That meant that the government was already done with it, and nobody knew what this computer was we had in our house. It wasn't like I could go down the street and be, like, "Hey!"
Baratunde Thurston 23:42
You weren't impressing your friends with this?
Belinda Thurston 23:43
Absolutely not, because it's just a big black screen and a keyboard, and a wide slot for a floppy. You couldn't talk to it--there was no mouse, there was none of this. You got a C prompt and that's it. She's got the equivalent of coming home to her two kids and saying, "here, play with this," and we did. We figured out ways to play really boring games that were just...
Baratunde Thurston 24:15
Those text-based games.
Belinda Thurston 24:17
Baratunde Thurston 24:18
Belinda Thurston 24:21
A little bit of memory lane, I was a huge fan of the television show Knight Rider with the Trans Am.
Baratunde Thurston 24:29
Belinda Thurston 24:31
The KITT 1000, Knight Industries Two Thousand, the very first basic program that I ever created. I actually wrote to the producers of that show. They sent me schematics of the car, and I wrote a program that had four functions. You could choose to have the Trans Am come to you, and so I had... it was just a short horizontal line and it got wider, and wider, and wider as it came up on the screen. I did make a car jump, and then had it say, like, "Michael, I don't advise that," or something like that, right? You could do that, but there was no voice then. I forgot what the fourth thing was. Hands down, I won at Banneker High School computers, and I ended up subbing and being an aide for the rest of my high school career because of writing that program.
Baratunde Thurston 25:28
Wow, I didn't even know you made that program...
Belinda Thurston 25:30
On the Apple.
Baratunde Thurston 25:30
...On the Apple in basic programming language. That's... I'm glad we're doing this because I didn't know that about you, and I remembered Knight Rider; that was like a religion in our home to watch the show. I remember the theme song still. It was one of the coolest shows ever--Hasselhoff! David Hasselhoff--but the fact that you brought that show to life on a computer is a very different childhood.
Belinda Thurston 25:55
What it really makes me also kind of see is a bit of fusion between the information element that I'm telling you about that Ma felt like, "okay, what can... What can I help impart? What can I help facilitate for these two beings," that she brought into this world? Not only our pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the world around us, but sci-fi.
Baratunde Thurston 26:19
Belinda Thurston 26:20
Sci-fi was becoming real in our lifetime and in her lifetime, right? Ma was kind of a first-gen Trekkie and watching tons of original Trek. I remember when the first Trek movie, I stood in line. I didn't get dressed up, but I definitely stood in line wanting to have a tricorder, always being able to have a Tribble joke, all of that kind of stuff. By the time right before she passed, I had a Razer phone. I would flip it up and just make the click-click sound just because it was my own little tricorder, and to have information in the palm of our hand...
Baratunde Thurston 27:09
There's another bridge that I see here, and I want to talk a bit more about Ma directly, but you've described access to information for sure as a big, big part and the storytelling influence. There's also the creative, though, and I think what I love about your story of the Knight Rider video game is that you made something. It wasn't just consume, download, read, watch, listen; it was make. It was put something out there. It was infusing your cultural reference, your joke, your point-of-view into something using tech; and that's an age-old battle, but we were really early to try to find that balance because of our mother.
Belinda Thurston 27:52
I have some difficulties with the current-day usage of the term, "oh, such-and-such is a techie," and they're really just referring to a consumer and they're referring to the end user. It does saddened me as to how little a lot of these so-called techies actually know about how things work. I think that Ma wanted us to understand how things work, be the person who creates...
Baratunde Thurston 28:20
In more ways than one.
Belinda Thurston 28:20
...Whether it's socially, whether it's politically or technologically, because that's the power. Knowing how things work is being as fully-informed as we can be, understanding all ends of it, understanding the experience as the initiator and vendor-creator, so to speak, as well as what's the end-user experience.
Baratunde Thurston 28:48
I'd like you to paint a scene for me: your earliest memory of Ma--sights, smells, sounds--what do you get?
Belinda Thurston 28:58
That would have to be growing up in the Envoy Towers; I think it's now referred to as The Envoy on 16th Street, right across the street from Meridian Hill Park. If anybody is familiar with D.C., you'll know exactly where this big high rise is.
Baratunde Thurston 29:17
Now Malcolm X Park.
Belinda Thurston 29:18
Malcolm X park. Across the street from the apartment building, so on our side of 16th Street, was a great big hill. We would walk over to that hill and picnic there. I'm about five or six years old, and she would let me make Dagwood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What does that mean? Bread, peanut butter, jelly; bread, peanut butter, jelly; bread, peanut butter, jelly; bread, peanut butter, jelly...
Baratunde Thurston 29:56
What! That's where... now I know why I love peanut butter jelly sandwich!
Belinda Thurston 30:00
...A big stack. Of course, by the time you get across the street, it's a mush sandwich. She was always, like, "wow, that is the biggest thing! Wow!" She would eat this thing that I made for her. We would lay out a blanket, I would feed her this ginormous, ridiculously large glop of a sandwich, and we would lay and look up at the clouds. She would say, "tell me what you see, Belinda." She would always be absolutely amazed at anything that I thought that I saw and she would encourage it: "wow, you see an elephant all in that little spot?! What's over there?" It is definitely one of my most-treasured memories of just laying on my back side-by-side with Ma, pointing up at the sky and her going, "wow, you see all of that?"
Baratunde Thurston 30:37
That's a beautiful memory. That's beautiful... Did you observe any of the stress that she felt or any opinion she shared about working as a black woman in this kind of techie environment, in this government job? Did she like being a programmer, as far as your conversations with her or what you observed being around her?
Belinda Thurston 31:36
In some ways, this conversation is helping reframe a little bit of that memory with Ma for me because seeing how stressed out and angry, and tired Ma was every day; how ignored and exploited she felt because she was often, especially toward the end of her career, she was training new college graduates--usually white kids--how to do the job, and then they would end up with a higher grade than she was. I know that she would apply for different promotions and not get them. I know that she had a little bit of solidarity that felt like a little bit of sisterhood and support other women of color; otherwise, I know that she felt really isolated and alone as a single parent, and as someone in that workplace and not feeling any of that support. I remember pulling her boots off when she got home and see how tired she was. I know that, nowadays, I have a lot more forgiveness in my heart for understanding how abrasive she may have been when she got home, because her coming home from work wasn't roses. I needed to make sure the homework was done, the chores were done, you know, "let's get these boots off of this woman and get some food in her face, so that she's a little happier." If I would imagine her being able to work in a positive workplace environment nowadays, and be able to play--let loose her creative, playful self--I don't know what she would have programmed and created. I know that it would have been wondrous, it would have been magical. It probably would have had to do something about superconsciousness, or maybe something that went into our lineage and history. She would have taken her astrology programs to a whole other level. I hope that workplaces today are able to nurture, and facilitate innovation and playful intellect because I know that Ma was playful about math, she was playful about science. I didn't get that gene, I thought that you guys were the ones who were all about that gene. I was just, like, "whatever, 2 + 2 = 4. I got it."
Baratunde Thurston 33:47
Your wish for Ma is in part what she gave you at Meridian Hill Park: that encouragement, that playfulness, that tell-me-what-you-see and being excited about your creative interpretation of that little patch of sky. I love that so much. I, too, removed her boots at the end of the workday; that was a daily occurrence, so feeling the impact of the stress on her body was something we shared across the nine years. I want to know if there was something that you remember mom marveling at when it came to technology.
The "oh" and the "ah," right?
Belinda Thurston 34:29
As TVs got to be more HD, different sound technology in the theaters, and feeling her reaction sitting beside us--because I'm, like, "it's not that real"--but just to see it was almost like having our own kid in her wonder and excitement, and computers getting smaller and smaller. That MacBook that she had, her last MacBook, that was her baby.
Baratunde Thurston 34:59
12-inch PowerBook, she was protecting that thing to the very end.
Belinda Thurston 35:04
That was her baby, and her playlists of all of her Tina, all of her Miriam Akiba. She got to have all of what was vital to her at the tip of her fingertips there. Like I said, I think that she would marvel at the future being right here at our fingertips, and all that it could help us unleash more of today. I don't know whether she would like the Facebook portal or not, or whether she would be turning it off and being, like, "no, you're in my house. No, you're bugging me."
Baratunde Thurston 35:38
Then having us look up the stuff she didn't want on her searches.
Belinda Thurston 35:41
Baratunde Thurston 35:42
If you had to pick a word to describe our mother, Arnita Lorraine Thurston, what would that word be?
Belinda Thurston 35:52
Baratunde Thurston 35:59
Belinda Thurston 36:04
I just feel like from all of the different chapters of her life and watching her grow through it, and eventually letting me see lots of it, that she was always constantly becoming. Dealing with whatever the past layers were, but always having the courage to continue to reach toward whatever it is that she could see for herself, inside of herself, and know that there was still something more to grow in spirit, and in intellect, and in healing. She wasn't done, and she was always moving into something. There's always another way to level up. I don't know if you remember when mom passed that I said, I know that right then and there I was quite impressed, and stunned, that she was still parenting through her death. Those last weeks she wanted us to be aware of what she was aware of, what she was experiencing, and what she still was treasuring and enjoying. She was not ending, she was still living...
Baratunde Thurston 37:29
Belinda Thurston 37:30
...She was still becoming.
Baratunde Thurston 37:35
Yeah, that's a good word. That's the best word, and it certainly aligns with how I see her life and kind of make sense of the story of her life too: that she was always growing and trying to learn, and, in her ways, address some of the pains of this life that she lived. Extraordinary, extraordinary life. The remarkable achievement I will credit our mother, and the legacy she left us other than the thirst for knowledge and a bunch of computers--which are important; those were more important assets, and important points of view and perspectives on the world--is the self-love. I saw her as finding a way to love herself and I remember the stories of her childhood that she would share with me, where there wasn't always a lot of love there. Sometimes it was, but there was also a lot of "you're not this, you're not that. You're too this, you're too that." I felt like I got to see someone who had shed a lot of those stories about herself and adopted some new ones. It's very inspirational, painful--especially in her absence--but also beautiful. The parenting continues. Even this very second, I'm, like, "I'm still learning from this lady. She's still here." Getting to talk to you about her is like bringing her back in some beautiful and new ways, so we are also becoming because of her.
Belinda Thurston 39:03
Indeed. I like to, even in my own work, say that we're not only just being, but we are just becoming, and to never feel as though anything has finality because it doesn't. Ma always had a ring on her hand that was infinity. She really believed in the impermanence, yet the infinity of it all. I know that if she were here today with all of our streaming, and our ability to pop in on all kinds of wondrous conferences and whatnot, she wouldn't have to do what y'all did back in 2000, 2001, crashing my Buddhism in America conference in Colorado; she could have just streamed into it.
Baratunde Thurston 39:14
First of all, I remember going to that conference. I believe we were invited; that's the story I'm telling myself. It was really good to see you and Colorado was beautiful.
Belinda Thurston 40:02
Baratunde Thurston 40:03
She would be sucking in some more.
Belinda Thurston 40:05
Exactly, exactly. She would really be enjoying being able to pop in on something live with the Dalai Lama right now. What? Live right now with Angela Davis. What? She would just be all in all of it, and I think that she would be having a play day every day. She would be blowing up our phones.
Baratunde Thurston 40:27
Yup. Oh, I have no doubt she would be constantly up in our devices, like, "have you heard about this? Check this out. What do you think this means? Can you get that for me? Can you do that? Look this up."
Belinda Thurston 40:38
"You're gonna come over here. You gotta come over there. Let's all go do..."
Baratunde Thurston 40:43
"I signed us up for..." We would just get confirmations from Eventbrite. "I didn't... Why? How did this end up on my calendar?" She would just add stuff to the Google Calendar. Thank you so much for being my sister and thank you for doing this conversation.
Belinda Thurston 41:04
Thank you! I appreciate being able to create memories and take Ma from analog into digital. With this kind of technology, being able to--look, you're on one coast. I'm up here in Michigan--we're able to connect and share storytelling, love of information and this technology element right now. Keeping her alive, she gets to still be becoming.
Baratunde Thurston 41:33
That's a perfect ending. Belinda, you're a perfect sister.
Belinda Thurston 41:37
Number one brother, because that's how Ma would have rolled. Our mom called each of us the number one daughter, number one son.
Baratunde Thurston 41:45
Yeah, no big deal.
Belinda Thurston 41:46
There we go. From a B.T. to B.T.
Baratunde Thurston 41:48
I love you, Belinda. Thank you.
Having this ability to share my mother's influence on me and my sister, it feels like she's still here; still teaching, and challenging, and questioning right here in the room. When I think back on these life lessons my mother passed on, I realize she is the model of how to citizen. She gave me these gifts of creativity, and resourcefulness, and innovation. She was really into trying to build community and deepen her connection with herself. She was into becoming more of her and really trying to grow herself, which is a hard and brave thing to even attempt, much less make some progress on.
As we move on from my origin story into this season, I want us to keep the wisdom of Mama Thurston in the back of our mind. Our guests this season harken back to some of her same fundamentals and build on our mission to connect, humanize and reclaim our power. When we return, we're going to get the crash course from the no-mercy, no-malice man himself, Mr. Scott Galloway!
Scott Galloway 43:22
Mark Zuckerberg, and I've said this before, is the most dangerous person in the world.
Baratunde Thurston 43:26
That's right. Tech and business expert, Prof. G, is in the house to help me set the stage as to how things got to where they are, and what can get us out of this mess. Thanks for listening, and I can't wait to get started. Talk soon and keep citizening.
How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of iHeart Radio Podcasts and Dustlight Productions. Our executive producers are me, Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Euceph. Our senior producer is Tamika Adams, our producer is Alie Kilts, and our assistant producer Sam Paulson. Stephanie Cohn is our editor, Valentino Rivera is our senior engineer, and Matthew Lai is our apprentice. Original music by Andrew Eapen, with additional original music for season 3 from Andrew Clausen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Tamika Adams. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeart Radio and Rachael Garcia at Dustlight Productions.
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