JAMES FELTON KEITH
“Identity is a derivative of individuality and community. It’s every label that we define ourselves with and every label that other people place upon us.” James Felton Keith is the first black, LGBTQ candidate to run for U.S. Congress. The Co-Founder of Slay TV discusses the intersection of technology and identity for sustainable economic growth, the GDPR and capitalizing on personal data, representation and diversification in mainstream media and the published author and award winning engineer economist weighs in on the importance of “self-actualization” for a prosperous society.
YOUTH and ROLE MODELS
What advice would you give to your adolescent self?
Block with your left when you throw a right punch.
What’s one of your favorite qualities about your husband, Andy Tarradath?
Forged in fire, Andy is as strong as steel. When we met I finally found myself at a point in life where I could confirm that steel sharpens steel.
What are three books off your bookshelf that you would recommend and why?
The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform The Business of Your Life and The Life of Your Business. This book is all about controlling what you can about yourself until you uncover your own constitution. My mentor made me read it while running up hills.
Beyond Greed and Fear: Understanding Behavioral Finance and the Psychology of Investing. Understanding people and the incentives they have to make decisions is the most important soft skill-set a person could have.
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It’s important to understand “why” capital is, and more importantly how to create a culture that sustains the expansion of it.
Growing up did you have a queer role model and as an avid basketball fan what did it mean to you when basketball player, Jason Collins came out?
I didn’t. Jason’s coming out was a whisper in a loud stadium. When I built the world’s first Pride Night at every American Sports franchises, my objective was to turn up the volume. I remember following a young kid with a rainbow flag cap at the Detroit Tigers Stadium to see if anyone harassed him. My first instinct was to harass the harasser. I was on edge that whole day. But before Baseball, the Pistons lead the leagues.
Basketball is the most beautiful, competitive, and poetic sport ever created because of how it relies on team to cooperate, but with the right insight an individual can heavily influence the entire ecosystem of emotion and competition.
“The biggest challenge is racism, xeno-trans-homo-phobia, and money as a result. The slow rolling tide of change is always on our side though. People and investors can’t value something that they can’t relate to. We’ve been gradually becoming more relatable through story telling.”
POLITICS, ACTIVISM and ECONOMICS
You’re the first black, LGBTQ candidate to run for U.S. Congress – as a representative of New York’s 13th District. How can representation of traditionally marginalized social groups and progressiveness in a district promote economic growth?
Economic growth is a derivative of participation. Growth is literally measured by transactions that we as participants are able to have with each other. The more of us that can afford to transact goods/services in a place, the more the economy grows. It is critical that we all move away from the margins to be included via the things that we demand with our very identifiable existence.
Scientific theorist, Kurt Goldstein defined self-actualization to be the desire to actively pursue knowledge, embrace creativity and positively impact society. Talk to us about the importance of self-actualization and how obstacles that you’ve overcome in your own life have served you to “self-actualize” and be in a position of leadership with the tools to create change?
I’m impressed with the Goldstein reference. His writings were influential in my earliest books, Integrationalism which is the notion that we are all connected at the sub-atomic level. In my early life and travels, mostly for business, my lack of constitution was challenged when I came across grown men who knew exactly what they wanted and exactly how to take it. I had to write my own constitution in order to find value in my toiling and more importantly the diverse complex group of peoples that I’d run into as I hop scotched through the continents. Having spent 2005-2010 alone in the world working for clients I could care less about, I had a long enough runway to consider who I was and why I was that person. Self critique and self-actualization is the most important action an individual can take on their journey towards mastering any other soft-skill or hard-skills.
The Keith Institution is devoted to education and addressing economic inclusion. How do you think the intersection of technology and identity can ethically promote sustainable economic growth?
I think that technologies from the internet-of-things have spawned a renaissance of individuality that was always there, but that we had no data to point to tangible knowledge of. Identity is a derivative of individuality and community. It’s every label that we define ourselves with and every label that other people place upon us. I think that we should label ourselves more. Even as our identities are evolving and contradictory, it’s awesome to know that the rest of the world is trying to understand us, even if it doesn’t agree with us, yet. When I say “the world”, I mean the markets, or commerce, or the business people trying to solve every problem that tribes of individuals identify. That’s a good thing, because it compels participation. All of our empirical economic evidence suggests that societies are better when more of the individuals in that place are participating. The mission of Keith Institute is simply and dauntingly to include more of the identities that exist in the decision-making processes of the society. That means that they need to not only be acknowledged but also indemnified for their contributions to the society. Inclusion is not about diversity, as diversity is inherent to any place or group, it’s about out sustaining our growth as a species.
The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was recently implemented and organizations around the world have been updating the way they handle private information to ensure they maintain consumer trust. Do you think this is a step in the right direction or would you have introduced a different system to protect personal data?
Organizations are simply trying to comply with the regulation not promote privacy, trust, or human rights. I’m so proud of GDPR because of how it exports rights from the EU across the globe. The GDPR does 3 things:
1. Established cyber compliance.
2. Defines what it is protecting, personal data as anything that disseminates from you or that is derived about you.
3. Protects that data with the Right to Erasure, which is like the right to be forgotten. This human right is the step in the right direction, and a gateway for what I care about more: value, and a right to ownership.
In the USA we have a 1st Amendment, and the Right to Erasure can’t take care of all of the identity complexity I mentioned earlier. For instance, you may have the right to erase data you populate, but you don’t have the right to erase a bully’s interpretation of your labels. And as foul as that may be, it is morally right to let that bully have their broken thoughts. The USA’s ideal of freedom is still the most significant political ideal on the planet. My trade association, #PersonalData is actively pushing GDPR’s at the state level in selected states like NY and CA, but I want a Right to Ownership.
I care less about privacy than the people who know better, because I’m a poor Black Queer kid from the dirt of Detroit. I’ve had no privacy, but I am in need of protections from malicious intent, but more importantly than any of that is the incentive for protections. What I need is to be indemnified for my valuable input. When economists establish productivity as a measure of inputs, as they have since the beginning of the non-science, the GDPR can be used as a framework to determine how individuals have been inputs. It also gives us a legal argument to be paid for a piece of the productivity as it scales. Of the 99 articles in the GDPR, 11 are about employee data. Things like emails are personal data inputs that one could insist be erased when they leave a firm. That firm can retaliate and insist that the person’s input is the integrality of their intellectual property, and that is exactly the argument that I want to be made, because if I am a contributor to your creations, pay me an equity stake of that productivity. I think that this type of thinking has to be how to value people as we automate everything we knew as work. The autonomous-internet-of-everything needs to value people for their input to productivity, both employees and consumers. The value(s) of a product or service are a measure of the people that they serve.
You’re the Co-Founder of Slay TV, a network advocating queer and trans POC through media production. What do you see as one of the biggest challenges for increasing the diversification of characters in the mainstream media and what can we, the audience, do to leverage queer and trans POC in media outlets and reduce industry bias?
The biggest challenge is racism, xeno-trans-homo-phobia, and money as a result. The slow rolling tide of change is always on our side though. People and investors can’t value something that they can’t relate to. We’ve been gradually becoming more relatable through story telling. Bias is just the nature of ignorance, and we all are a bit. Entrepreneurs can combat that by identifying markets to amplify the identities of consumers in need. At Slay, we’re combating that by launching a cryptocurrency called Slay Coin to both fund an expansion of the platform and create a tool to fund the production of more content by all of the small production houses that we interact with across the globe. People will be able to buy an equity stake in films, and purchase subscriptions to Slay TV in Slay Coin, and they’ll be able to trade on the open markets, as all crypto trades in cash since the building of crypto futures contracts on some of the large tokens like BTC (bitcoin). When I ran the LGBT Chamber of Commerce we saw some Small Business Administration conduct a Many Faces One Dream tour of Black Gay spaces in the US and derive that the “Gold Dollar” was about $50B of consumer power. I think that based on the population that how many of us are still in the closet that it’s a much larger number, but $50B is a good start to make a case to the market that something like Slay Coin is worth owning. So we’ll launch the marketing of it at Slay Fest this July 21st in Brooklyn, NY. Thanks to 21st Century technology we can create a financial vehicle to fund out identity’s coming of age.
As a successful social entrepreneur what advice would you have regarding the realities of job fulfilment and entrepreneurial hardships for someone who wants to start up the business concept they’ve been too afraid to pursue?
I don’t know that any job or project has ever been fulfilling, or that they could be. There is a relentless necessity to becoming an entrepreneur. While different things drive different folks, I’m sure that confidence and anger drove me over a few humps. I was angry with the way things worked, and obsessed over changing things. Instead of looking for fulfilment, I would suggest looking to be great at what you do. This reminds me of an early business I created when a business professor talked about how difficult it was to start a company, and I balked. I used to Twirl canes for sport in college because of the fraternity that I joined. I obsessed about being the best at that competitively and I was. One of my first businesses was to sell DVDs teaching other frat brothers and enthusiasts how to do it. I copied the model from CD Baby, a CD website from the early 2000s, just to show my professor that it was possible. Little did I know a while generation of frat brothers move and shake like I did 18 years ago, because those videos made it onto Youtube when it came out years later. I would suggest letting the things that one does well compound, so to see what the entrepreneurial potential is. I would always suggest getting a job first. Knowing the rigor of working for someone else is necessary when considering how one might manage others. I meet so many young entrepreneurs who have great ideas for b2b and old industry solution but fail because they’ve never had a job in that industry or a job where they understand the workflow of business that they are trying to transform. Regarding the actual starting of a start-up, I would suggest having an idea for a solution to a problem that a market could implement in the next 12 months. I would also suggest exploring ones self-esteem and making sure that it is healthy to journey off. Even though it may seem like we’re living in hyper entrepreneurial times, we are not. The number of new businesses being started is down and the number of depressed people is up. Confidence in the possibility of one’s abilities is absolutely necessary in starting a new company or building a new product.
“Forged in fire, Andy is as strong as steel. When we met I finally found myself at a point in life where I could confirm that steel sharpens steel.”
How do you think the landscape of data derivation is shaping the economy and as the founder of International Personal Data Trade Association how do you propose that the individual captializes on their data in the knowledge economy?
I think that every person should fight to #OwnYourData, because it is at the center of all economic activity. I think litigation or creating a legal precedence is still the best technology that we have to help people capitalize on their value. The law will compel a new wave of technologies and growth of existing technologies to help people monetize the transactions of their data either from them as a 1st party or from 3rd parties that know about them. The problem of capitalizing on data, is not a hardware/software problem, it’s about ownership rights over the resource that is a data point. I think that personal data is a natural resource. Further, I think that all non-personal data is derived on personal data either from producers of products/services or consumers of them.
How important will the role of community be in the future and how can an individual’s intrinsic value create economic value for their community?
I frequently state that individuals are at their best when they identify with a community and communities are at their best when they identify all of their individuals. I think that all people have intrinsic value. I think that people derive their value from each other. Further, I think that people must own all evidence of their valuable contributions so to give them a real equity stake in the community. We must formally be at the tables of community to incentivize unity and opportunity. Real inclusion will be a measure of how we incentivize people to play well in the sand box of communities.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month. For many men ownership of their emotions is a battle. How can we prioritize our mental health and advocate that more men open up about their mental wellness?
We have to compel men to “come out” as mentally challenged, in the same way that we have with women about being harassed and raped, and how we’ve compelled LGBT people to wear their identity in casual conversation with others, and Black people shout that they matter, and so many other things. I see that happening. Recently I was advising a large pharmaceutical company that makes HIV/AIDS drugs on how to beat stigma, and I said “tech drives culture”. I’m a technological determinist and so I told them that if they paid to publish 10,000 new stories of people’s real lives that it would shift perception of people. I know that I am doing some men’s mental health conferences in the Fall of 2018 just to talk about the economic value of our identities, and that’s the work… Implementing tech: methodologies, hardware, software.
What would you graffiti on a toilet door?
I’d graffiti that we will not be remembered on a toilet door in hope that people will play for the team of humanity and not just themselves.