My theory around social media has evolved since this page first began last year, influenced largely by cultural workers such as @idealblackfemale - who first coined the concept of “critical caption essayism”. In the spirit of that evolution, in this post I share with y'all two prime examples of critical caption essayists and story-curators whose work on Instagram is both illuminating and deeply intentional in its delivery.
These past months, I have grown even more intentional about the pages I follow, choosing to immerse myself in the day-to-day work of artists, writers, farmers, lovers, dreamers, schemers, and travelers whom I admire—curating a feed which is both educational and inspirational. Although I still believe in the necessity of divesting from behavioral modification empires, I believe a tangible step towards that ultimate goal is to alchemize/hack the structural toxicity of such platforms through increased intentional usage. As Octavia Butler says "All That You Touch, You Change."
The first is a critical caption essay by KhoKhoi: "a sub/tropical Filipina-gringita decolonizing cosmic roots between sea & sky. A graduate of anthropology from Barnard College, an MA candidate in Media Studies at The New School, & endlessly enrolled student of Earth, she experiments with auto-ethnographic storytelling (RealityEnRoute.blogspot.com).”
"dreampr00fx Plants in my family’s backyard in Bantayan island, Visayas, Philippines, yet none of these are ‘native’: moringa, atis, chili, guava, avocado… Most arrived here during the Manila Galleon Trade at height of Spanish colonial empire...🌿
If plants have taught me anything, it’s that seeds have no borders & root from no nation-states. Many of the “ancestral” medicinal plants of the ‘Philippines’ arrived via recent colonial, settler & migrant trade relations across the Pacific, Indian & Arabic seas ::: guava (from Arawak [indigenous South American] ’guayabo’), mango (from Malayalam [southern India) mangga), moringa (from Tamil Indian ‘murungai’), avocado (Nahuatl [Aztec] āhuacatl), chili (from Mexico & Peru), chayote (from Nahuatl chayohtli), atis or sugarapple (from Nahuatl ‘ate’) & so much more. 🌿
While colonization contributed to psyche manipulation of the peoples & lands, it also spurred global seed redistribution & cultivation of indigenous plant knowledges. We can critique colonial processes of extraction & erasure, & at the same time, know that it permitted plants to live out divine destinies of survival across oceans. My relationship to herbal medicine is intimately linked to Mexican & Indian heritages. The history of ‘our’ peoples & ‘their’ planted roots goes beyond romanticized ideas of nationalist identities. We must honor all ancestor caretakers of seeds & soil, across oceans. 🌿
I mention this because fascist nationalism is at its new height across the globe. From Hindu-centric Indian nationalism denying Muslims as citizens, to Tagalog-dominated Manila imperialism removing Lumad peoples from their territories to Wet'suwet'en denied sovereignty over their lands in the hands of corporate-invested Canadian government to the continued occupation of Palestine by US-backed Israeli army, the leftover colonial framework of ‘nation-states’ continues to infect fascism across the globe - all in the name of ‘unifying’ diverse peoples - under the same umbrella used by colonizers. 🌿
If we are to listen to & learn from & with plant medicines, it is know now, more than ever, that we must stand for local autonomy & indigenous sovereignty in a global network.”
@ewokgia, on the other hand, is a moving example of a critical story curator. Their work serves as a daily news bulletin of indigenous movements worldwide. They also frequently feature work by indigenous artists, and visual incantations of indigenous values.
I remain troubled by the ethics of digital labor - I see the work of people like Gia and KK and feel like Instagram should be paying them for adding this much value to the platform. At the same time, I feel it's equally critical to move away from money-centric value systems. I cherish the work they do, and pay such workers with my attention -- taking more time to deeply internalize what they share, and to pause/slow digi-time for a moment to digest their work.
With that in mind, I have attached a short worksheet below to encourage reflection on these two cultural communication strategies & explore ways that you might be able to implement these strategies yourself.