Policy: Seductions and Silences

J. Khadijah Abdurahman, Sucheta Ghoshal

to undo, to undo and undo and undo this infinitive

of arrears, their fissile mornings,

their fragile, fragile symmetries of gains and loss

—Dionne Brand, “Ossuary II”

The term “policy” has become so conceptually wedded to the state that when it is spoken, most imagine something akin to what scholar Jasbir Puar calls, in the case of Israel, an “asphyxiatory regime of power”—a series of guidelines enforced by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) producing both physical and virtual hi-tech enclosure where “the target is … not just [Palestinian] life itself, but resistance.”1 This dominant idea of policy signals an abandonment of abolitionist politics and an investment in the buttoned-down world of reform, where tepid conversations concede “better training for police” instead of the street’s demand for their destruction. What is more cisheterosexual and abled than the capacity for upright compliance with state assignations positioned as policy—in other words, a seat at the table?

However, as Safiya Noble offers in this issue, we can envision a more capacious policy that is wedded neither to the state nor to the reformist disregard for Black life embodied in Michael Brown’s depiction as “no angel”—or the rendering of Palestinians as “human animals” and India’s Dalits as “untouchables.” What are the guidelines and precepts for A Nation on No Map, as William C. Anderson’s critical text on Black anarchism is titled? How do we conceptualize a set of beliefs to guide us through these “brutal undoings,” to borrow Christina Sharpe’s phrase,2 without attempting to stabilize liberal notions of citizenship, personhood, or monstrous innocence?

Sharpe’s introduction to Dionne Brand’s collection Nomenclature reminds us that in Brand’s book-length poem Ossuaries, “we are in the deep wreckage of modernity … it is this ‘malicious horizon’ that ‘made us the / essential thinkers of technology.’” This stanza geolocates the transnational network of tech corporations that develop weapons of occupation field-tested on Palestinians and Tigrayans, mutually exchanged with militarized forces from the Indian army to US police departments—including in Atlanta’s “Cop City,” a sprawling police training complex that, if/once completed, could potentially deepen the longstanding partnership between the IDF and the city’s police. What are Logic(s)’ duties and obligations as a Black, Asian, queer tech magazine to speak to a future as Ossuaries’ protagonist does—a time when the same brutalities are no longer being sedimented? 

One of our policies is that a legitimately technological undertaking must deeply engage with poetry and testimonies from the wretched of the earth. This is a different process than counting up Black (un)life as spectacle, but it is no less a tool or technique. As Sharpe further remarks, “Black life is riven by the inventory; cleaved by it.” One example is automated decision-making systems such as Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST), which generates a score for incoming calls alleging child abuse based on the county’s administrative data. AFST scientifically codifies the surveillance of Black and poor families on the pretext of benevolence and child safety. 

This issue of Logic(s) juxtaposes modes of inventory originating in antiBlackness with other racial contexts in an effort to think through transnational linkages (while being wary of careless elisions as we transit across borders). For instance, while the ruling party of the India—the Bharatiya Janata Party—appears to promote pseudoscience (a brand carefully cultivated by the closely affiliated paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) through actions such as banning the periodic table from children’s textbooks),3 all of their national policies have relied heavily on producing subjects through enumeration and scientific capture. The biometric identification project, Aadhaar, aims to build an overcentralized administrative inventory “by deploying untested and fragile technology” upon millions,4 and the project pursued through the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, which would systematically exclude Muslims, therefore delegitimating their status as subjects of the state.5 These policies operationalize rhetoric of enumeration in order to exclude and eliminate the poor, lower-caste, Adivasi, and/or Muslim residents with precision. As recently as 2016, Rohit Vemula, a Dalit PhD student of Hyderabad University and a prominent anti-caste activist, took his own life after being subjected to “almost six months of political and administrative persecution by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led union government, and the opportunist pandering of the central government by the University of Hyderabad administration,”6 to the point of university expulsion. In his final letter, Vemula wrote, “the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”7

The “humanities” are leveled like a condemnation against those who refuse the violences of numerical abstraction.8 The “I’m just an engineer[s]”9 have begrudgingly conceded to the addition of ethics courses to their “hard” science departments, and they resent the perceived chorus of apocalyptic critics who complain ceaselessly about the genocides they’ve abetted and the predatory labor arrangements that allow their tinkertoys to run. Nonetheless, we remain unmoved. Nonetheless, we continue to be concerned by the speed at which transnational networks of fascistic movements are sharing notes and resources.10 Nonetheless, we seek a shared lexicon that is equipped to destabilize the very idea of the nation-state, while avoiding the subsumption of important distinctions into a pragmatic metanarrative, and the politics of litany in which peoples and places are listed as “and, and, and, and … ”—a formulation typically stabilized by a deep understanding of one context followed by postscripts mapping “the rest” to nowhere else at all.

Where computation seeks to automate the counting of human life, operationalize heuristics,11 and embed through numerical vectors, poetry interrupts the foundational grammar. Poetry “insists on life.”12 Shivangi Mariam Raj’s poem “In Plain Sight” notes, “In the archipelago of rubble… Squirming through the veins / of dust, each thing chants its elegy, aching for the touch.” Refusing to be discarded and disposed of, the debilitated steward scholarship. Victoria Copeland continues the long tradition of scholars who produce knowledge from the bed.13 Inexplicably, six months ago, they lost their voice, so we conducted an interview over text about continuing to organize against family police, the use of predictive risk modeling like the AFST, and wrestling with the betrayal of their body and a society that’s abandoned them.

matthew omowale anthony slips in and out of poetry to narrate his story of severance from Black family. For anthony, sold to white evangelical parents and raised in an alleged sundown town, James Baldwin becomes his Uncle Jimmy as he grapples with access to Black kinship after escaping the horror of his adopted childhood. When welfare reform advocate Angela Burton used her professional position within the New York State legal system to narrate this horror of ancestral severance, it got her fired.14 In our interview for this issue, Burton reflects on the ultimate goals of organizing against a family policing system that, she emphasizes, “systematically targets the African American descendants of chattel slavery.” Here, she mirrors Safiya Noble in saying, “All Black people want is peace and to be left the fuck alone.”15 Each of the sixty-minute interviews from the listen&speak section was about fourteen thousand words long before edits. However, the omission of ten thousand words is not just a pragmatic decision for the sake of achieving a word count: the original interviews contain intimacies that don’t need to be for everybody. There are times to cultivate silences within all our inadvertent archives,16 just like the righteous refusal to capture the faces of fellow protesters as the streets scream, “Free Palestine!” 

In 1936, the Indian caste abolitionist B. R. Ambedkar remarked in an undelivered speech that “[s]ocial reform in India has few friends.” Ambedkar could have easily delivered the speech today, as Indian troll armies outmatch the Israeli state in distributing Zionist propaganda while simultaneously maintaining campaigns of harassment against Muslim, Dalit, Scheduled Caste, and Adivasi people in the country. Rohit Vemula, in his suicide note, remarked, “My birth is my fatal accident,” referring to lower-caste existence as a deadly condition unto itself. Hyderabad, the city that was the locus of his pain, is examined in this issue in a coauthored study by Nikita Sonavane, Mrinalini R, Aditya Rawat, Ramani Mohanakrishnan, and Vikas Yadav. Their analysis of the Hyderabad police demonstrates how New York City’s data-enabled policing is exported as a model and modified by Brahminical supremacy to create a state of surveillance and captivity in which caste is a central mode of classification to enact social control. In contrast, Nikhil Dharmaraj imagines the death of Brahminism while at the altar of remaking trans life. 

The US is also the source of another major export: the technoprophet. Sun-ha Hong reports from AI Expo Korea 2023, where Sam Altman was received as a god-like figure by  South Koreans seeking to “catch up with the modernity” Altman is perceived to symbolize. Conversely, Hong offers us a glimpse into a countercultural performance space that rebukes the Protestant self-help ethos of bootstrapping into the future, asking instead for the audience to meditate on the local displacement “disruptive” technology creates. Hong’s exploration of Seoul’s “imported prophets” sits next to Kalundi Serumaga’s feature-length essay, “Overseen: memories of the search for a thing that maybe never was.” Serumaga encounters his father in the Idi Amin era of Ugandan state TV, forgotten somewhere in London. His journey to save the dislocated archive raises questions about film’s capacity to hold Indigenous memory, to authorize a genocide, or to colonize the mind. To whom does propaganda about a people belong? To those subjected to it, or to those who packed it up and brought it to their capital city once African states declared independence? 

Move slow and heal things, the manifesto of our previous issue, was a call coming from within the house. Heeding this guiding principle, we have since changed our cadence from three issues per year to two, in order to invest even more in each contributor and to be more thoughtful about how to weave stories across conceptual frameworks, geographies, and genre; to think very carefully about what kind of counter-seductions and silences we’d like to foster. Thank you for taking a chance on us. There are pieces within this issue that will bring joy as well as mourning, and that continue to challenge our very conceptions of technology. 

much appreciated,

J. Khadijah Abdurahman and Sucheta Ghoshal

1. Jasbir Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 135.

2. Christina Sharpe, Ordinary Notes (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2023).

3. Dyani Lewis, “India Cuts Periodic Table and Evolution from School Textbooks—Experts Are Baffled,” Nature, May 31, 2023.

4. Reetika Khera, “Impact of Aadhaar in Welfare Programmes,” Domestic Development Strategies eJournal, September 29, 2017

5. Uma Menon, “India’s National Register of Citizens Threatens Mass Statelessness,” Journal of Public and International Affairs, June 2, 2023.

6. The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) published an editorial in the aftermath of Rohith Vemula’s death further naming University of Hyderabad’s role in the matter. “Death by Discrimination” 51, no. 4 (January 22, 2016).

This specific case was contested by the BJP legally and in public forums, but as Anand Teletumbe writes, “Rohith Vemula’s death is not a stray case of a life claimed by caste prejudice. Atrocities against Dalits have intensified with the rise of Hindutva forces.” Notably, the series of events that led to Rohith’s expulsion started with a false allegation to “by the president of ABVP's Hyderabad Central University (HCU) unit, N Susheel Kumar-who is also the organi[z]ation's state committee member-alleging that 30 Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA) members had beaten him up.” From “Rohith Vemula’s Death” 51, no. 6 (February 5, 2016).

7.My Birth is My Fatal Accident: Rohith Vemula’s Searing Letter Is an Indictment of Social Prejudices,” Wire, January 17, 2017.

8. Here we are not endorsing disciplinarity or a Western secular society in which the liberal arts college, and what Sylvia Wynter refers to as the “degodded” amoral rights bearing subject, are the ideal. Rather, we are merely pointing to the grammar and template operationalized by computer scientists who resent the critique leveled, whoever by.

9. Matthew Hutson, “Artificial Intelligence Could Identify Gang Crimes—and Ignite and Ethical Firestorm,” Science, February 28, 2018. A later version of this article corrects the quoted phrase to “just a researcher,” but here the original (mis)quotation is more germane.

10. Meredith Whittaker, “Origin Stories: Plantations, Computers, and Industrial Control,” Logic(s) 19 (Spring 2023); plus others on transnational networks.

11. While the output of models marketed as machine learning or artificial intelligence may be translated from or to word based language in order to best interface with humans, the models themselves still process information numerically. An embedding is a string of numbers that serves as a unique identifier which also signals “semantic information” in the form of a vector. This semantic information is basically the model’s prediction of what any given word is likely to be found next to or in between. The use of embeddings is considered a leap in proximity to human thinking because meaning and capacity to derive meaning from a string of letters, is distributed across nodes in neural language architecture. An embedding is also the process by which a deep learning model generates a vector for similarity searches. Prior to this process, large language models like most natural language processing systems use tokenization. Tokenizers can parse or split text into characters, subwords or words before being translated into a numerical machine readable format.

12. Dionne Brand, Ossuaries, in Nomenclature (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022).

13. Leah Lakshimi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work (Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp).

14. Jennifer Morgan’s Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021) demonstrates how writers historically produced Africans as enslavable by virtue of women’s behavior—some using the connections between value and computation to undergird the connections about the ways women carried sexual disorder with them. The severance of Black kinship that followed the juridical end of American slavery has continued into the present on much of the same basis.

15. We think about this sentiment alongside this line from fahima ife’s Maroon Choreography (Durham, NC: Duke University Press): “they live as fecund as movement {not / owned} not propertied / not possessed” (37).

16. Jacques Depelchin, Silences in African History: Between the Syndromes of Discovery and Abolition (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki Na Nyoka, 2000).

Khadijah Abdurahman is the editor in chief of Logic(s).

Sucheta Ghoshal is an Assistant Professor at the Human-Centered Design and Engineering department of the University of Washington and is the Managing Editor of Logic(s).

This piece appears in Logic's issue 20, "policy: seductions and silences". To order the issue, head on over to our store. To receive future issues, subscribe.