Abolitionist and Decolonial Technologies

But too often the story that dominates is the one that purports to rise above the genre, becoming the story of reality because it deploys the language of big data, thereby trumping all other accounts. This master narrative must be abolished – including the subplot that says “that technology is loyal to the master.”85 Abolitionist and decolonial technologies tell a different story: emancipatory designs are not only possible, they already exist.

Perhaps most importantly, abolitionist tools are predicated on solidarity, as distinct from access and charity. The point is not simply to help others who have been less fortunate but to question the very idea of “fortune”: Who defines it, distributes it, hoards it, and how was it obtained? Solidarity takes interdependence seriously. Even if we do not “believe in” or “aspire to” interdependence as an abstract principle, nevertheless our lived reality and infrastructural designs connect us in seen and unseen ways. This is why, as Petty insists, oppressed people do not need “allies,” a framework that reinforces privilege and power. Instead, “co-liberation” is an aspirational relationship that emphasizes linked fate.86

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In her study of how automated decision-making impacts welfare recipients in the United States, Virginia Eubanks recounts a conversation she had with a young mother who, in 2000, alerted Eubanks to the fact that caseworkers were using electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to track people’s spending. With prescience about the pervasive “electronic scrutiny” that now embraces many more people across the class spectrum, the young woman urged: “You should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next.”87 By deliberately cultivating a solidaristic approach to design, we need to consider that the technology that might be working just fine for some of us (now) could harm or exclude others and that, even when the stakes seem trivial, a visionary ethos requires looking down the road to where things might be headed. We’re next.

Reimagining Technology It is easy to get caught off guard by new “killer apps” that are developed and marketed, sometimes as “reform.” It is vital, therefore, to experiment with speculative methods, so that analysts, artists, and activists alike may better anticipate and intervene in new racial formations that, like shiny new gadgets, may appear to be a kind of radical alternative but may very well entail their own logics of subjugation. Writer Arundhati Roy expresses this struggle over the future:

One particular imagination – a brittle, superficial pretense of tolerance and multiculturalism (that morphs into racism, rabid nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, or war-mongering Islamophobia at a moment’s notice) under the roof of a single overarching, very unplural economic ideology – began to dominate the discourse. It did so to such an extent that it ceased to be perceived as an ideology at all. It became the default position, the natural way to be … From here it was a quick, easy step to “There is no alternative.”