Week 39 — bodies on the line

I hope you’ll permit me a personal story to start this week’s missive.

My job booked a conference for all the designers to attend. Last week when I looked at the lineup, I was very disappointed to see predominately white speakers and no Black folks at all. I mentioned it to my manager who booked the tickets, and she wrote to them about it.

Their response was, quite frankly, ridiculous. I didn’t read it verbatim, but excuses were ranging from a pipeline problem (in 2020, seriously now?) to lack of time. It made me mad enough to publicly tweet them and some of the speakers earlier this week.

There was this moment, for a day or two, where it seemed like something might come from this. Several of the speakers committed to adding diversity clauses in their contracts so this doesn’t happen again. They got at least one Black person added to the speaker list.

But, after a couple days, the studio organising the conference released some lukewarm message about ‘starting work’ for diversity and inclusion. There was almost no engagement from the wider design industry. It made me wonder what could have happened if those who have actual clout and reach in the design and tech industry spoke out and took action against this stuff. What if it wasn’t just some relatively-unknown, mid-career designer like me?

Our industry is so hostile to Black people and people of colour. I feel so bad for the Black folks who were asked to speak in reaction to this, which very clearly communicates that they were an after-thought. I feel horrible about those who saw this play out, and saw the industry show once again how little it cares about them.

It’s time to do away with the studios and designers who uphold white supremacy. The future we need, the future I want to live in, is not going to be built by them.

Captivating Technology
edited by Ruha Benjamin

I read the introduction by Benjamin and the chapters in Part III. Brilliant to understand how technology is part of and upholds the carceral system.

Antiblack racism … is not only a by-product, but a precondition for the fabrication of such technologies—antiblack imagination put to work.

But it isn’t just a critique

This book also asks: To what end do we imagine? How can innovation in terms of our political, cultural, and social norms work toward freedom? How might technoscience be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends? Ultimately, this volume is about what people can do, are doing about it.

Ultimately, my hope is for you, the reader, to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones we cannot live within.

Various writings
by Mimi Ọnụọha

Really good work about data. The project Missing Datasets and some background on the project.

That which we ignore reveals more than what we give our attention to. It’s in these things that we find cultural and colloquial hints of what is deemed important. Spots that we've left blank reveal our hidden social biases and indifferences.

This piece on Algorithmic Violence

As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.

On geolocation data, which is as terrifying as it is interesting. I don’t think I’m very data literate, so her approach of learning was interesting.

Once data becomes personal, it is that much easier to educate yourself on how it is collected and how meaning might be derived from it. … this process of learning, understanding, contextualization, and action can be summed up in the phrase data literacy.

On Technodiversity: A Conversation with Yuk Hui
by Anders Dunker

I really enjoyed this text. I think it might be my first brush with philosophy of technology. Or, of the technology area I inhabit. Or of looking at it not just from a western philosophy perspective. That’s the bit that really drew me in.

Instead of a universal history describing one technology with various stages of development, we can step back for a moment and instead describe technological development as involving different cosmotechnics. I call this technodiversity.

Exchanging Perspectives
by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

A kind of exploration of different cosmologies. It was the text for our reading group, but I was totally in the wrong headspace and struggled with understanding it. Still, the reading group is so special. I really enjoy the nuance of picking apart what is good or dangerous or useful or uncertain about a complex text. I also really liked this quote because it’s about me.

Cultivated plants may be conceived as blood relatives of the women who tend

‘Ch 0: The Wild Beyond’ in The Undercommons
by Jack Halberstam

I read a chapter of this book in a module last year. I wasn’t ready for it. It really affected a close friend of mine, and I felt it scratch at something. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t ready. I’m ready now! I had to get up and walk around midway through to shake off some of the energy. It knocked me clean over.

Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine.

That link is open access.

What Does Pride Mean Now?
by Jericho Brown, Thomas Page McBee, Carmen Maria Machado

Three devastating stories.

But in those years, I also learned that queerness does not protect you — not from domestic violence, not from racism or sexism or transphobia. … Not only does queerness not protect you, it does not absolve you. You are not made better by your body, but what you choose to do with that body, and your life.

“You are not made better by your body, but what you choose to do with that body, and your life.” from Carmen. I had to write it twice, because reasons.

by The White Pube

A very good text, which includes a huge list of resources to learn more about the ideas she explores. I’ve taken to watching Zarina read them on Insta, which is a perfect background for my Sunday lunch break.

I love exhibitions and galleries, even just the act of walking through one regardless if I like the art. The White Pube challenge me to reframe the way I engage with the art world.

Reform presents us with platitudes, the sweet promise of action, of new people and faces, but it is fundamentally the same shape. Overhaul presents us with a structure that has a radically different shape entirely, with different priorities, and different operational models (different people is just an added bonus). We cannot just swap out the people, inject new audiences and new workers into the different roles that already exist, leaving the structure unchanged. The structure is the problem.

Entering The Matriarchy
by Fariha Róisín

These texts are difficult to read, in that way that makes them important. This bit, this bit I felt very much.

Recently, my friend, a white man, texted me saying he was willing to die for this, for justice, for Black liberation. As I read it, I felt truly scared. Because I could feel his truth, and I could feel mine, too. But there’s been an unsaleable part of me that wrestles with it too, wrestles what real allyship to Black liberation mean as non-Black people… Doesn’t it mean literal bodies on the lines for Black people? Isn’t that what we owe Oluwatoyin?

There are a lot of things to do in order to even be there. I’m still figuring out what they are.

I have questions about the efficacy of these massive reading lists. Mostly, where does know how to even begin. But if you are looking for a specific text, here are 2 Google drive folders/collections with lots of texts available for free.

You could also play reading roulette and pick one at random. That sounds v fun actually.