Saturday May 16th

Letter to My Past

I just completed this workshop

  • I was just in a workshop with a professor from my undergrad named Rea, through Wendy’s Subway.
  • Yes, I was the only computer science person there (but again; I find myself often in spaces where I am “the only”).
  • It was amazing, and we looked at work from several Japanese authors, filmmakers, and photographers, and even work from Derrida (specifically, the work “Archive Fever”).
  • The focus of the workshop was on archives, which is something I think about quite a bit, in the context of data and anonymization.

One of the exercises

  • One of the exercises was to write to a famous figure, in a mock conversation, using our prompt. I decided to write to Uriah Butler.
  • He was a figure that we learned about in school in my country growing up; he was seen as a hero and someone who advocated for the working class in my country, and was given the nation’s highest award, but in outside sources such as Wikipedia, for years he was written up as a “troublemaker”.
  • He worked in the Labour Unions of the oilfields in my country, and was even termed “too unstable” by another famous Prime Minister in my country who I would describe as the opposite of Butler in many ways. I think about this often; how this other Prime Minister was the epitome of civil model leader, and as such emphasized the importance of education (a popular quote by them is that the future of our children is in their bookbags, or something to that effect). However, at the same time, one of the future criticisms of this very Prime Minister was that he encouraged citizens to work in organizations that reinforced colonialism and that stifled local entrepreneurial efforts. He told our citizens to leave their small shops and instead work in Ministries of government, which decimated an entire generation’s entrepreneurial proclivities. So it’s an interesting contrast that I think about. But he (this Prime Minister) was highly educated, and did lead our country to Independence from Britain in the 1960s. He also completed his DPhil at Oxford. Butler, on the other hand, served in the military in Egypt and was always advocating for the middle class, the working class. He was inspired by Garvey, and worked in the oilfields in my country of birth, which was occupied by many foreign companies that pillaged our country for oil reserves. Today, I learned about the pivotal relationship between oil and the birth of cinema in Iran. However, unlike Iran, to my knowledge, pillaging our oil left us with not that much. They began to move away from our country as the pipelines began to trickle.
  • In many ways, in comparing this Prime Minister with Uriah, we would more easily accept one hero over another, and we have to ask why their stories were told the way they are. The highly educated, the suit-wearing, the well-spoken seems like more of an appropriate hero, and we have to ask ourselves why.
  • Rea was in our breakout room for a bit, and she and my breakout room-mate, Kayla, said I should write my letter / conversation, which is about 10 minutes of thought, in which we would talk back and forth.

The prompts were

  • Construct a conversation between you and the figure. What are your questions for them? What will they ask you / need to ask you in order for you to talk about what you need to discuss? Juxtapose yourself and how you are against them and who they are.

My conversation with Uriah

  • UB: What do you hope to get from this education? What will it teach you? How will you think for yourself in spite of education? Are you skeptical of education? What will it teach you that you have not already learned about life?
  • Me: I want to ask you how you found the courage to pursue your own path, in spite of being labelled a troublemaker. You were seen as a savior by our own people, improving working conditions for the middle class. How did you find peace between spirituality as a bridge between whitewashed education that seeks to justify people like us as inferior? What did you see in Egypt during your time in the military? Did it give you hope, did it inform your identity?
  • Do you find it ironic that our nation’s highest award is the Trinity Cross, which you were awarded, which is still itself shrouded in the ideology of colonialism? (Note: this award is no longer given (2005 was the last year), as you can read in the article, which talks about how, in our multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan country, it is seen as discriminatory, but was given to Uriah in 1970.)

A lot of these are questions I ask myself

  • I didn’t grow up in spaces where I saw myself as being less than, or insufficient, but I am in worlds that subconsciously try to reinforce these ideas.
  • I often think about what I gave up to be in a space of lies. How do you keep your truth?
  • I often imagine that because Science is the discovery of the NEW, that perhaps that is why I am there. To bring my perspective, my skepticism. This is my time in Academia. Reimagining new worlds. I laughed earlier this week thinking about the fact that the first 2/3 of school is being (half) lied to, and the last 1/3 is telling you to be skeptical of those first 2/3 (half-lies), and to contribute something new. Or is it to just justify or add on to those lies? shrug
  • The part of me that is from my home country, and a region that fought so long to escape these very definitions, often asks what I am doing here, being brainwashed, once again. Are the things they teach me useful? Is there a way to obtain the statute in this society without lowering one’s own identity or ancestry?


  • One of the questions in the workshop that was asked is “do you think you have a role to play in uncovering / sharing / reinterpreting knowledge?
  • I’m still trying to figure that out. I believe I do, but it’s complicated, because I have lived in the midst of structures that have tried to erase my identity and the importance of my ancestry for so long, I sometimes wonder if I should be the one to play a part, or rather moreso a conduit. As Rea said, “never use archival materials decoratively; point to contexts and sources; where things come from”.
  • Historically, though, omission or a lack of acting also means being complicit. This is weird because there are so many of my peers in tech who don’t think that they should be; in many ways, we came to tech because we wanted neutrality. And my very discipline enforces that belief.

And that’s it

Written on May 16, 2021