positionalities from emergent grounds
A cogenerated catalogue of ongoing student and alumni practitioners organizing for antiracist, anticolonial, feminist education in the built environment design professions
Thank you for your continued attention towards an anti-racist, feminist education in the built environments. On the heels of Black History Month, Lunar New Year, and Womxn’s History Month we’re focused on expanding how intersectional feminist thought guides our research and organizing. Today, we’re writing about Data Feminism, whose authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein offer us an understanding that research is inherently personal, emerging from an intersection of our professional, social and political lives.
Although our different positionalities shape our experiences and understanding of the world’s oppressive forces in sometimes disparate ways, it is our obligation to educate ourselves and challenge systems of oppression and complicity. In the wake of the Atlanta mass shooting hate crime and amidst the rise of hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the past year, we write to you from our positionalities as two non-Asian, queer, cis-gendered people.
Chris: I’m a White cis gay man born and raised on Tonkawa land in Texas. My parents’ people come from Germany via Wisconsin, and from the Southern Jewish communities of Montgomery and Bessemer, Alabama. I grew up upper-middle-class, attended a predominantly White and Asian American, well-funded, public school and went out of state to a predominantly White private university. I learned to some extent, as a child, about histories of anti-Blackness in the United States. I was taught nothing of the histories of Asian Americans, or of anti-Asian hate in the US. I have learned a lot from the 2020 PBS documentary series ‘Asian Americans’ and, in particular, the NOLA Chinese blog by Winston Ho at the University of New Orleans, which details Asian American histories and cultures in the South.
Michelle: I am a Black queer from Maryland, the Indigenous Susquehannock land, with a post graduate professional degree. I am a second generation Jamaican American of one immigrant parent and one Black American. My brothers and I grew up lower middle class and went to diverse public schools. For university, we attended predominantly White, private, institutions. Similar to Chris, I was taught a surficial reading of anti-Black and anti-Asian racism and their histories. Presently, the institutional focus has centered Blackness in conversations about race and racism to a fault - forgetting and/or denying other identities’ oppressions.
Our thoughts on Data Feminism:
Michelle: For me, Klein and D’Ignazio redefined the word ‘data’ itself. Previously, data has always been about numbers and quantities supporting (or rejecting) particular claims and subsequent actions. Now I understand that behind every datapoint is a person and their entire lived experience. Data can consist of “words or stories, colors or sounds, or any type of information that is systematically collected, organized, and analyzed.” And I, a Black queer could simultaneously be a creator of data, as well as extracted data. The potential for this to be good or harmful, its power, is dependent on the answers to three essential questions: Data science by whom? Data science for whom? Data science with whose interests in mind?
Chris: I feel like my head is swimming in data, and data visualizations, every time I check Twitter or read the newspaper. Klein and D’Ignazio’s work clarifies for me that every design, authorial and editorial choice is political. I am now familiar with Donna Haraway’s concept of feminist objectivity, which acknowledges and draws power from our particular positionalities. Data Feminism taught me how gender and sex as I know them are products of the European Enlightenment. As White Euro-American political philosophers could not create the ‘free’ liberal, White, European ‘subject’ without the enslaved, Black, African ‘object’, they declared male freedom - “All men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable Rights…” - to create the category of female as unequal and denied rights. It’s one thing to talk about design justice and the matrix of domination in the abstract, but another - and for me, as a cis White man, more necessary - thing to site them at airport security scanners, in architectural offices, and within design studios.
We hope you’ll check out Data Feminism for yourself, especially as it’s blessedly free and available in its entirety online. No JSTOR paywall here! We’re also excited to share that, through Friday, applications are open to the Feminist Future(s) Hackathon, co-organized by co-author Professor D’Ignazio. The Feminist Futures team is taking applications for 50 participants and they pay a $250 stipend to people who are selected for the program, which will be spread out over the month, in sessions held on evenings and weekend afternoons to accommodate people currently studying and working jobs. The 'tracks' for participants are Reproductive Justice, the Care Economy, Prison Abolition and Environmental Justice. Whether through this platform, in your own design work, or through organizing, we hope you’ll continue to join us in bringing forth an emergent world of justice and transformation.
Michelle and Chris