Long before the pandemic, Ruha Benjamin was doing groundbreaking research on race, technology, and justice, focusing on big, structural changes. But the twin plagues of COVID-19 and anti-Black police violence inspired her to rethink the importance of small, individual actions. Part memoir, part manifesto, Viral Justice is a sweeping and deeply personal exploration of how we can transform society through the choices we make every day.
Vividly recounting her personal experiences and those of her family, Benjamin shows how seemingly minor decisions and habits could spread virally and have exponentially positive effects. She recounts her father’s premature death, illuminating the devastating impact of the chronic stress of racism, but she also introduces us to community organizers who are fostering mutual aid and collective healing. Through her brother’s experience with the criminal justice system, we see the trauma caused by policing practices and mass imprisonment, but we also witness family members finding strength as they come together to demand justice for their loved ones. And while her own challenges as a young mother reveal the vast inequities of our healthcare system, Benjamin also describes how the support of doulas and midwives can keep Black mothers and babies alive and well.
Born of a stubborn hopefulness, Viral Justice offers a passionate, inspiring, and practical vision of how small changes can add up to large ones, transforming our relationships and communities and helping us build a more just and joyful world.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the Stowe Prize, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
- Longlisted for the Porchlight Business Book Awards, Personal Development & Human Behavior Category
- A Seminary Co-Op Notable Book of the Year
- A NationSwell Book of the Year
"This is an openhearted, multilayered work that vibrates with ideas on ways to make a new world out of the interlocking crises of COVID-19 and racial capitalism. Progress may be a 'tear-soaked mirage,' as Benjamin writes, yet her book is far from devoid of a sense of humor or hope, full of ways to 'live poetically' while remaking the systems that have failed us."—New York Magazine
"Heartbreaking, inspiring, and hopeful. . . .Benjamin’s approach is undoubtedly radical."—James M. Jones, Science
"A powerful, urgent plea for individual responsibility in an unjust world."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"An emotional and thought-provoking wake-up shout to put an end to systemic discrimination. . . . [and] a rich and engaging space for collective healing."—Library Journal
"Compelling . . . . The final pages of Benjamin’s Viral Justice are a testament to human resilience, to finding meaning in little acts, imbuing beauty in the mundane, and growing a garden from a seed."—Mehr Tarar, Stanford Social Innovation Review
"There’s no one better to light the way out and guide us in building a just future than Ruha Benjamin."—Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine
"Benjamin’s choice to weave personal stories of childhood and motherhood with action and theory made it easier to see how I fit into the narrative she was crafting."—A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez, Yes Magazine
"A unique and inspiring intervention, that comes at just the right moment."—Ros Williams, Ethnic and Racial Studies
“Ruha Benjamin is among our sharpest, most expansive thinkers on the manifold inequalities of the current order. Viral Justice reckons with the practices that uphold that order and how we might dare to change the world—a book as urgent as the moment that produced it.”—Jelani Cobb, Columbia Journalism School
“As Ruha Benjamin narrates her life story, we come to see in detail both how structures—carceral, racial, gender—affect individuals and communities and how, through small acts of justice, we can navigate these structures, prefiguring the world that we want and need.”—Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz
“In this riveting and beautifully written book, Ruha Benjamin expertly channels her personal experiences to illuminate how solutions to social and racial injustice can be transformative when they are individualized. To accomplish meaningful, collective change, we should first look within ourselves. Justice can be contagious when it is personal.”—Uché Blackstock, MD, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity
“This book is an education. Wide-ranging and provocative, soaring yet grounded, Viral Justice reveals how racism poisons our bodies, communities, and institutions, but the book also chronicles inspired movements seeking repair and justice. The work of a beautiful mind and spirit, it moves fast—mixing memoir with social analysis and community engagement—and left me challenged and hopeful and stirred.”—Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City