We must remember the context of the times in which these Great Leaps Forward were being made: the Industrial Revolution, the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of millions of innocent people that fuelled it.
Europe was busy carving up the African continent at the time and using it’s military might to destroy great, ancient cities upon which its civilisation were built. Scores of African cities, libraries and centres of learning were razed to the ground by the armies of England, France and Germany.
Our Forgotten History
Malicious, deliberate acts of erasure have Black people, in the absence of records, endlessly re-inventing the wheel – unaware that we pioneered the same fields hundreds and even thousands of years before. The achievements of Ada Lovelace, as mighty as they are, must then be placed into the historical context of a world in which Black flesh and bones were (and still are) expendable.
We were quite simply the consumables that powered the railways, steam engines and funded Brunel’s terrific feats of engineering.
Survival, Resistance, Mathematics
We would do well to remember, if we will, that modernity is built upon a legacy – one of a mathematics and binary principles that emerged on African shores long before Europe emerged blinking from the Dark Ages into the light of the Renaissance. It’s legacy we must build upon if we are to forge our technological independence.
I returned, jubilant!, from a small-but-perfectly-formed conference in The Smoke to a sadness. While we listened, dialogued and wondered whether science could be decolonised – an expression of similar movements on-campus around the world – Chuck Berry died. Damn. Seriously, why man? I’ve tired of asking.
The need to innovate and make that next sh*t is a primary drive in Black cultural production.
We invent new forms, and re-imagine the old:
The same is true of all forms to which African-descent people have access. The question is one of access. The unseen forces, the Dark Matter of Black cultural production bends all to its will, re-making a thing in its own image.
Black Twitter is a force. It’s also not particularly well understood by those who aren’t a part of it. The term is used to describe a large network of black Twitter users and their loosely coordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics due to the network’s size, interconnectedness, and unique activity.
There’s an opportunity here. I think that Black hackers twist things and invent and bend ones-and-zeroes to their will, the way everything else must obey our cultural vodun.
The point is rhetorical: not to recreate the old, but invent what comes next. We are a force – under-served and under-valued, as per. To assume that coders focused on Black audiences are bound to be ignored, and the things we imagine must be derivative, marginal efforts, doomed for the digital knacker’s yard is off. I say: let’s form all-Black hacker collectives and throw down. I say: what we make blows the fuck up, like always.
The problems I see down the road are different: how do maintain control of the fruits of our labour? The issue is so persistent, it bears thinking about now.
The premise of Jack Hamilton’s deep new study Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination seems like something that’s been on rock history’s tongue for a long time without ever quite leaving it. Chuck Berry, a black man with a guitar, had been a rock and roll archetype in 1960, but by the end of the decade Jimi Hendrix would be seen as rock’s odd man out for being… a black man with a guitar. How did that occur? “Tracing the Rock and Roll Race Problem” an interview in Pitchfork.
The relationship between Europe and Africa, white culture to Black, is that of vampire and victim.
Colonialism is the parasitical asset-stripping of our resources – material, creative, cultural.
Serving the computing needs of Black audiences – domestically and in the Diaspora – is also a hedge against the under-employment faced by computer science graduates who can’t get jobs in Silicon Valley, or face hostile working environments once they do. Given all of that, I’m optimistic. I think we can do this.
This is a really good introduction to the ideas behind Afrofuturism, and why it matters. The first part is here (via Colorlines).
Imagination matters. It takes courage to imagine yourself in a future and define it your way, as a place where you exist, are wanted, and can flourish. You won’t find it on Netflix. We are the underground – but most heroes worth a damn are punching up.
People are kicking back against systemic oppression. Those hard days, marching against deaths in police custody, I wondered if this day would ever come. Technology has networked our minds; the internet has folded experience in on itself and allowed us to share our experiences – and practice. Hashtags allow us to connect our experiences, to join Walter Scott and Eric Garner to Rekia Boyd and Sandra Bland. The struggle is the same as it ever was, but we can more easily compare notes. We know what to do, now. That’s the difference.
It’s the weekend! You’ve gone to the cinema. Got popcorn? Check. The lights go down, a silence descends… If Moss Code were a Brit flick, what kind of film would it be? A trailer from the award-winning film production company Riverhorse TV about our mission.
“Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called… Life.”
Prince, Let’s Go Crazy (1984)
Life After Death
I had a terrible weekend. Didn’t everyone? It’s not all bad, though. There are some lovely write-ups around the web, so won’t repeat what’s already been said. How many times can one say “genius” before it gets old?
Great artists are fearless. Prince wandered through the same politically-aware, sexually-charged waters that the great Marvin Gaye did a generation before.
Stories will surface, like Questlove?’s crushing-but-hilarious tale:
Maybe Prince was important to me because he allowed me to dial-in to Hendrix, re-connecting rock music to my identity. I couldn’t believe it to see him in Purple Rain; my hero re-incarnate, reborn, resplendent. Black cultural production is nothing if not constant innovation and a breaking with the old, although there may be darker reasons for such creative fury.
For the eagle-eyed, nuggets like this will turn up alongside, perhaps, the vault of unreleased music he is rumoured to have in the basement at Paisley Park. Here’s a wonderful interview from 1985. I love it.
Mostly though, I’m going to dance my arse off and party like it’s 1999. Thanks for the music, brother.
I felt a right mardy bastard filling in the feedback form after the show – after all, everybody had worked so wonderfully hard, bless them! The fizzing volunteer who’d asked me to do the always-boring paperwork was visibly deflated after talking to me, making me feel a killer of tiny, gorgeous creatures. My review was unsparing – but she did ask.
What’s The Issue, Buzzkill?
Well, let me tell you the issue. This year’s theme was climate change, but what kind of host throws a party and fails to invite it’s most important guests? Bar the inclusion of Lemn Sissay as Magical Negro, both panels and audience were overwhelmingly light, bright and damn-near white.
There Was Not A Single Black Woman Delegate In Attendance At The Entire Event
Need I say more? Not one. I find it astonishing that one can organise an event tackling issues of sustainability and climate change, but those who make up the majority of the planet’s population – the dreaded “people of colour” – are not represented in significant numbers – or in any numbers at all. Did they think nobody would notice? How can an event like that be relevant?
Technology conferences are displays of white European power and as such, serve their constituents flawlessly. Those constituents are white people. The panels are white people. The event was full of white people talking to other white people about the rest-of-the-world-as-object. We’ve seen this story before.
Diversity: Eat Your Greens
the hush following @lemnsissay’s plea for diversity at #futr16 was like the awkward silence of an outlaw walking into a bar in a western…
I’m tired. I no longer want to be included. I’m not here to make up the numbers. I don’t want to turn up at opportune moment: a “Magical Negro”, like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, designed to help white people find their moral conscience, only to disappear again at the end, usually through design or death.
To my friends at FutureEverything, I say: “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s cool.” You’re not any better or worse than any other technology company, festival or media platform in the space. You all perform abysmally – but it’s all good. I’m still that guy you can let onto at a party. I’m still the one-Black-friend you know. Eeeveryone knows me. You’re not like those other white people, who only know that one Black guy – John, I think his name is – the cleaner. Or is he security? It’s so easy to get these things mixed up! Modern life, eh?
White people mostly hang out with white people, and only know other white people. My god, there’s even a documentary that talks about this in brilliant detail called (you guessed it!) White People:
I don’t do funny speeches, won’t do a star turn to exit stage left and leave everybody with a warm, fuzzy feeling. What if you’re about to organise a tech event in 2017 but feel really bad after reading this rant? I have the answer.
The government has thrown public services to the dogs. Adult education – so key, so vital – has been cut to the bone. This is the scenery. Is it possible to rock up in Moss Side with a laptop and big ideas and expect it to run smoothly? Is it?
What is the role of a computer science lab in a community where there is no scientific base at all?
When I first realised the anti-science whispering that proliferates on social media is taken seriously by many, I bristled – but who should take a bullet? Not ordinary people, struggling to make sense of the world while on the run between benefit sanctions and food banks. I have asked:
How does a community that had really been the object of scientific and medical scrutiny for generations — with really negative outcomes — come to see science and technology as a positive thing, or something that can be used for self-knowledge and liberation?
“I had a terrible education and, to be honest, I’ve learned more from Facebook than I did at school,” said one brother last night.