I hope the fact that I voted makes this an easier read 😬

Part One: Examine the Self

I was appalled at the cognitive dissonance in movement thinkers this summer. I witnessed “radical” organizers, activists, and thought leaders encourage members of the rebellion to channel their rage and frustration with state sanctioned violence into voting. Simply and unilaterally, “Vote!”, was the universally agreed upon call to action. Folks rarely identified whom to vote for or on what which ironically symbolizes the meaningless nature of their compulsing. The investment into state infrastructure puzzled me. 

Organizations and individuals that do land acknowledgements before meetings know whose territory they’re on, but insist on realizing freedom through participating in state systems of governance that further solidify the state’s occupation. I am not feeling that folks can legitimately have a decolonial or anti-coloniality orientation while they are actively advocating for voting and other methods of change-making that involve the state over autonomous, localized, and collective organization of meeting human needs. 

Aspiring revolutionaries “often present themselves as being critical, political and radical yet, in practice, and by what they produce, remain innocent, neutral or, merely well-intentioned.”​[1] Peopletrying to design existences different from our status quo consistently give way to reform. I feel this is because we have not collectively nor individually interrogated our cognitive dissonance. We have not killed the cops, the state, the capitalist, the oppressor, the aspiring winner in our own heads. We have treated the means of allowing for the emergence of generative deviations from our trajectory of global ecological collapse as somehow separate from the ends. Keshavarz continues: “…designers cannot simply engage in such complicated issues without a complex political understanding of their own position in terms of gender, class and ethnicity as well as how the contemporary orders of capital and the bodies serving those orders are organised by dispersed material articulations such as passports, camps, and borders, all configured by design.”​[2] Our failures to develop​ self-awareness are the precursors to reform.

Part Two: “We Want to Do More Than Survive”​[3]: Self-Examination

As Imani Scott-Blackwell penned so eloquently in a Facebook status about the 2020 Presidential election: 

“While y’all mourn the results, I’ll continue grieving the fact that rather than using our resources, time, and talents to fortify local mutual aid networks that can sustain and protect us regardless of who the elected official are, we instead put that into elections, pamphlets, yard signs, social media tech company coffers, Halloween candy and snacks for the sake of “voter outreach”.

“I’m really just confused like what are we actually doing…..what is it we actually want? Because impact > intent and we seem collectively committed to the wrong solutions and though I do see people that are critical of electoral politics few seem ready to talk about what we really need to do here…..divest from electoral politics all together.”

The amount of people encouraging other people to vote this year was historic. In my personal experiences, strangers with my private information texted and called me, knocked on my door, and hand wrote me letters urging me to engage in the spectacle of emergency voting. In meetings with grassroots and change-oriented organizations, people are doing land acknowledgments, and discussing indigenous sovereignty. These same meetings that begin with land acknowledgement often ended in encouraging attendees to vote.  

But aren’t the state and its power inherently colonial? So how does a strategy that envisions freedom and/or sovereignty for black, incarcerated, indigenous, and/or undocumented people include actions that codify state hegemony? 

Part Two Bee: Cognitive Dissonance

The first type of cognitive dissonance that “hit me in the head”​[4] was W.E.B DuBois’ Double Consciousness​[5] in high school. It applied so directly to my experiences as a working class black girl packaged and scholar-shipped into a wealthy, predominantly white private school with a college acceptance rate of 100%. I took so much pride in this despite constantly having to be “twice as good to get half as much”​6. I spent so much time explaining I tested into Detroit Country Day, that I wasn’t there because I was good at sports. I spent so much time laughing on the outside while crying on the inside at insensitive jokes and comments. I spent so much time embarrassed by being dropped off in my father’s rumbling work van. Upon understanding W.E.B DuBois’ theory, I realized all that time was wasted. I made an instantaneous shift in my consciousness. Learning about my positionality disrupted how I speculated about my future.

In becoming aware of my own cognitive dissonance, I was able to immediately re-imagine myself off of the trajectory of becoming a black femme agent of white supremacy. I leaned into my queerness; I continued to wear my hair as it grew out of my head; I defended myself and others against harm, and became increasingly disinterested with seeking the approval of my white classmates. One might have seen a Condeleeza Rice as my future, but I became an unemployed, overworked, weed-smoking, mushroom tripping (okay, only like twice), hippie dippie black abolitionist, gay ass radical. I changed my belief system and praxis to incorporate what I was learning about myself in relationship to the structures that dominate our lives, and the trajectory of my life was disrupted.

Part Three: The Theory 

Again, can we who believe in freedom from US hegemony have a decolonial orientation while encouraging engagement in state infrastructures? Is channeling mass frustration with state violence into voting a decolonial framework? I ask, declaratively. 

Professor Jamer Hunt at The New School once summarized a point by Arjun Appadurai from his piece “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy”:​ “​We lean on sameness, really, to understand if we’re doing things right.” We do this in the most mundane of ways. If you got the same answer as me, then I must have gotten it right! Right?… In her iconic work, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House,” Audre Lorde teaches us difference is a practice of discovery. However, we respond to differences -not the status quo as difference within marginal contexts- as if it’s a disruption​[6]. As a deviation in need of discipline. We then, sometimes, rely on our conceptions of hierarchy to determine “rightness”: young over old, literally any racial-ethnic identity over black, teacher over student, man over woman, etc. Our cognitive dissonance reflects our discomfort with deviation.

The job of the “state” in “nation-state” is to spread itself. Colonization (direct and indirect) is what makes/made this possible; coloniality is what makes it enduring. After all, a state is simply a condition or what “is”, and white supremacy ​is​ what ​articulates​[7] and​  unifies this being. Therefore, one can only conclude that on turtle island, the “United” “States” is the product of spreading white supremacy in all shapes and fashions, enduringly. This has shaped identity, positionalities, and mobilities and thus speculative design(ers). Statist thinking is thwarting possibility and distorting it into limited likelihoods. This is a trapdoor to reform. This is where decolonization, returning land to the not only indigenous people, but indigenous life is transformed into a metaphor to live in infinite land acknowledgements and celebratory, meaningless ​court decisions. ​The endurance of the state’s illusory nature forces us to endure, feeling as though nothing will change or end. Right? Nope, that’s not the same answer I got.

In ​Design Politics: An Inquiry Into Passports, Camps and Borders the most fire book on design right now, Mahmoud Keshavarz asserts the nonenduring nature of statehood: “The State is designed”. He says, “Refugee, settlers, displacement, and I would add colonization and racism etc. is realized via statehood.” Statehood will not be the liberating variable in these narratives.

Advocating for divestment from state infrastructures is unfamiliar, different, and possibly unsettling. But unsettling is our future if there’s anything real behind your land acknowledgements. To summarize Yang and Tuck in ​Decolonization is Not a Metaphor:​ “What is unsettling about decolonization” is the literal unsettling. To “Unsettle” is to disrupt. As designers think about futures, we must know our standpoint, reorient, and think about what decolonization, anti-racism, undocumentedness, anti-capitalism, etc. wants – designing from this standpoint is where speculative disruption is born.

Part Four: Speculative Disruption

Speculative Disruption begins where reform ends. Speculation, unimaginatively, has become a practice of prediction. A space we’ve let our data-driven culture of determining likelihoods colonize (Lol, jk.)​[8] imagination in service of accuracy. We let our obsession with predicting outcomes, performing certainty, and being “right”​[9] be conflated with and distort possibility. I believe this is an issue with speculative design – it’s failure to disrupt our thinking and how we might imagine life after now. 

Decolonization is a speculative disruption and a deviation from the trajectory laid out before us, requiring the abolition of the state. How is this achieved? There is a saying circulating around radical communities: “abandon the capitalist, king, and the economy to govern an empty house”. Designers can materialize the future right now. “…Zoom out and start with new realities (ways of organizing everyday life through alternative beliefs, values, priorities, and ideology) then develop scenarios and possibly personas to bring it to life (173)”​[10]

This is deeper than designing what we “want”. Folks love to metaphorize colonization in the following phrases: “decolonizing our desires” or “decolonize our minds” though I think they mean our thoughts have been co-opted by the enduring nature of the nation-state and reinforcing of sameness and correctness. What we want, unfortunately, is influenced by what we aim to destroy (“the system”) as evidenced by the cognitive dissonance rampant through change making institutions. “VOTE!” But “Police are bad”, “So we have to vote for the people who vow to hire them!” [I’m not making this up]. Or immigrants or black people who defend their piece of the settler pie while feeling “it’s a shame what happened to the ‘natives’”.

My friend Sasha once said we need to organize to make things possible and impossible. This is the speculative and disruptive process of designing the unfamiliar — the being that does not replace what we have and is not an evolution of the existing. The word unfamiliar comes from the Latin and Old English words for servant and family, respectively. Humans need to prepare for freer worlds that don’t currently serve our present ways of thinking and that are non-proximal to us. The designs for free worlds will come from the wants of the subaltern who have consciously refused to endure. We need to design the abolitionist mechanisms that will make a commons possible while making the empire impossible. 

Speculative disruption speculates the unsettling, the deviation from where we are headed and the orientation towards the directions in which we hope to journey. I ask declaratively: How can we learn to be okay with what is not familiar to us, and how can we allow that which does not serve the current and dominant trajectory to inform what we create? How can we engage in a radically feminist practice of embracing uncertainty by acting without fear of consequences we are also uncertain of? 


[1] ibid.

[2] ibid

[3] The title of a book on abolition and education from scholar Betina Love

[4] Keshavarz references this quote by Sarah Ahmed “When we are hit in the head by something, we become conscious of something”. 

[5] W.E.B DuBois coined this term in his iconic work ​The Souls of Black Folk ​to describe the double consciousness experienced by black people in white topics. This was later expanded upon by Franz Fanon in his canonical work ​Black Skin White Masks​. A quote said by black parents/non-white parents to their children who enter white spaces to compete. Non-white children, especially black children, are automatically thought to be “less intelligent” because of their distance for whiteness and need to perform whiteness to the nth degree to make up for this distance.

[6] An important distinction

[7] See above definition

[8] I couldn’t help it

[9] A settler, essentially

[10] Page 173 of Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby

By: Miliaku Nwabueze

About Community Movement Builders (127 Articles)
Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people dedicated to being a force for creating sustainable self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. Our mission is rooted in Black love and equity. Grassroots Thinking is our newsletter/community blog about our work and movement activity

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