Let’s not let the answer be an echo

I have somewhat of a routine every Friday. That is, to wake up early, send my mother to her religious class and while waiting for her class to end in about 2 hours, I would pick up my spot in a café somewhere to read journals or articles.

This morning, I decided to read a paper by designer and scholar Sasha Costanza-Chock on the principles of design justice. The paper posits that the existing design processes reproduce inequalities in what Black feminist scholars call matrix of domination: white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism. These can manifest at all levels of design processes, from designers to intended users, affordances and reaffordances, scoping and framing, design sites, governance, ownership, platforms, systems, narratives, and so much more. It also proposes that the idea that sometimes designers reproduce these values not because they are inherently evil, but because of the structural forces and the powers that be — available resources would often be allocated by and to the privileged — that lead them to these decisions. By understanding the oppressive systems we could cause in all aspects of our design processes, we can do better by countering them within the design justice framework, which was also built on the theory of intersectionality — a theory by Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw that reconceptualises race, class, and, gender as interlocking systems — and one that must be taken into account whenever we decide to evaluate how our designs should do no harm. The principles are outlined in Design Justice Network website, and while it is a living document, it is one that is comprehensive enough at this point of time and one that I am going to be referring constantly when the need arises one day (for work, for uni, etc.)

These days I think a lot about words and actions that I could do to reduce harm, especially when it seems like the world is being thrown to the wolves. I hope I have the conscience to distinguish which affiliations are doing good, and to have the strength to distance myself from ones with questionable practices, and perhaps call them out. I am not always vocal — that’s one of my regrets, but I am trying although more so than often I have to put my mental health first and foremost — but I always had hoped that I have used, and will continue to use my skills and talents for good. I hope I am not engaging in complicit silence over the oppression of others, and if I do I hope I have the awareness to recognise it and take action on it.

In the poem A City Like a Guillotine Shivers on Its Way to the Neck, Ukrainian-born poet Ilya Kaminsky addresses the problem of complicit silence, “At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow this?”

Let’s not let the answer be an echo.

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