Citation / Annotation:
Lee, Chris. “This Was Written on Stolen Indigenous Land.” Decolonising Design, 11 July 2017, http://www.decolonisingdesign.com/guest-contributions/2017/guest-post-this-was-written-on-stolen-indigenous-land/.
Taking as his starting point a video showing an argument between local kids playing a pick-up game at Mission Playground in San Francisco and a group of adult “tech bros” (Lee) who believe that possessing a document showing that they paid to rent the field for an hour entitles them to displace the kids mid-game, Chris Lee explores how “graphic design has been mobilized as an instrument of statemaking, and via colonization, [to] impose a normative universalization of its logic.” Beginning with the observation that the Cree syllabary was “the first typeface to ever be designed within the settler-state now known as Canada,” Lee traces “a narrative of graphic design functioning as an instrument of dispossession and colonization” in which “typography and printing” are employed to “civilize” and “modernize.”
The permit is perhaps less the “graphic design artifact” that Lee refers to it as than it is a textual artifact, and although Lee never mentions it his article closely relates to Angel Rama’s The Lettered City, in which Rama elucidates the ways in which the ordering impulse of European imperialism was manifested via bureaucratic systems frequently connected to language/text, particularly through the primacy of written documents, which played an important role in the concentration of wealth and the formation of an elite class. We can see the absolute primacy of the written document in the tech workers’ unshakable belief in the written document that proves they have paid a $27 fee to rent the field that local customs—customs in which they are welcome to participate—have managed for decades, and more generally the entire incident, representative of this wealthy new elite’s disregard for local customs (and presumption that their document supersedes them) and indifference to the local kids’ longstanding but unwritten claim to the space, is roughly analogous to European colonizers’ treatment of colonized places as blank slates on which a new order could be imposed regardless of the existing population’s customs and legitimate land claims. As Rama writes, the “capacity of signs to configure the future was complemented symmetrically by an ability to erase the past” (9).
Rama, Angel. The Lettered City (1984). Translated by John Charles Chasteen. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.