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MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week: What Could Evaluation Unencumbered by Whiteness Be Like? by Duaba Unenra

Duaba Unenra here—Program Officer for the Black Movement Ecosystem Fund at Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

We are African diasporic people living in our ancestors' future, now. What are we doing with that? How are we alchemizing our displacement…as a mode of BEING in the world, at this moment?

Neema Githere

These are the words of Neema Githere, a guerrilla educator and theorist from Kenya who offered the concept of Afropresentism. Afropresentism is a philosophy and praxis born from the “mothership vision of Afrofuturism,” which reminds us to “claim space boldly and unapologetically in the Present.” It is about embodying what has happened to us as people of the Black Diaspora, and what is happening now. Neema’s theorizations focus on technology and digital social networks. I want to imagine what a commitment to Afropresentism in evaluation could be like.

My ancestors imagined a more vibrant destiny for me than fighting a dying colonialism for the rest of my days. I am a Black man whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States; I stand among their descendants who continue to resist oppression. Afropresentism is not a praxis of self-delusion: I acknowledge systemic oppression is still in effect. What Afropresentism does is call me into deeper awareness of the ways I have been conditioned as an evaluator to center the violence and reach of white institutions as primary—the only reality worthy of my attention.

The very serious function of racism is distraction.

Toni Morrison

Yet, Toni Morrison almost pre-figured Afropresentism.

At times, our focus on systems of domination can give away our own power. Can focusing on our desires and the latent power in our relationships enable us instead to build systems of liberation?

As a Black evaluator and cultural knowledge worker, I am engaged with this core question of Afropresentism: How do we become unencumbered, unburdened—in our cognition, imagination, and living—from systemic oppression? Phrased another way: Who might we become, when we who are surviving oppression pursue the fulfilment of our own desires, rather than forcing ourselves into compliance or endless cycles of reactionary engagement with those who harm us?

In evaluative practice, engagement with Afropresentism pushes me to repurpose my role towards becoming a facilitator of reflective spaces, sanctuaries from the violence of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, and sites of reconnection with Africana epistemologies and value systems. In this way, my clients and I could make the practice of evaluation less about compliance and self-surveillance, or even critique of systemic oppression, and more about engaging in what Neema calls the alchemization of trauma into new technologies and more loving ways of relating to one another.

Lessons Learned

Through an Afropresentist lens, my evaluation and information science practice takes up the following guiding outlooks:

  1. Black communities will outlast the collapse of the systems that enslaved us. Therefore, we need to be concerned with what is to be done now, while those systems are collapsing, and after their fall, rather than prioritizing compliance with foundations and agencies that are often primarily concerned with maintaining a politically and economically fragile and deeply violent white nation-state.
  2. Commitment to the social imperatives of our ancestors and the generations to come will truly transform us. Commitment can shape discourse. Discourse can influence attention. And often, what we pay attention to gets funded and thus gets done.

As I write this, the trial of Derek Chauvin has started in the Twin Cities. Today was also a 71-degree day, which counts for a lot after what felt like endless yet necessary months of winter. A day that many spent intently focused on the live-stream, I spent unplugged and with family. Being present with my people was an alternative to numbness. With my attention on the present moment—my ancestors’ future—I found space to become excited by the re-emergence of fertile ground in our collective social ecosystem. This fertile ground was made accessible again by the early-stage collapses taking place amongst our fragile, colonial, oppressive social systems.

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