Afrofuturism, once considered an artistic tradition combining elements of black and African cultures with sci-fi and fantasy, has reemerged in recent years as a political ideology concerned with the economic and political future of black people in the U.S. and elsewhere. One of the movement’s most prominent voices, Ingrid LaFleur, made waves when she ran for mayor of Detroit in 2017 as an Afrofuturist. The former teacher, artist and Detroit native felt that a lack of trust in the city’s government was the result of mismanagement. In her plan of action, she laid out a proposal to revamp the city’s government using blockchain to raise accountability with the city’s population, which is overwhelmingly black. Her tagline: “Detroit is the Future.”
Since LaFleur’s mayoral run, which was ultimately unsuccessful, she’s continued to do community organizing, educating residents about the merits of blockchain technology, and has started a new job with EOS Detroit. LaFleur spoke with BREAKER about her new role and how she thinks blockchain will hopefully change her city for the better.
When did you start thinking about Afrofuturism as a political ideology versus an art movement?
About eight years ago now. That’s when I created Afrotopia, which was just me curating Afrofuturist books, and films, and events in my community, which eventually led me to running for mayor. I realized that people were hungry for it and were really open to exercising their imagination in a new way and expanding it, which is still super inspiring, because essentially that’s what it’s all about. We need a shift in consciousness, so that the tools that we use are something new.
What did you take away from your mayoral run?
I don’t think that people are used to that level of experimentation from a candidate that actually is running, but I think we need more of that. When I was running for mayor, people wanted me to just do the same old, same old, but all I was thinking [was] that nobody trusts politicians, nobody trusts our government. Me just repeating what politicians have been doing for decades doesn’t mean anything
Why is there an issue with trust, do you think?
Where do I start? Detroit, which is almost 85 percent black, has been gentrifying, and it has been so rapid and so aggressive. Recently, it’s come out that some of the schools have lead and other harmful substances in the water. The children and the public schools can’t use the water. Forty percent of Detroiters are without access to the internet. Internet access is extremely important, because we need the digital literacy as you’re moving quickly into the 21st century. It’s government that’s causing the problems and making it difficult for Detroiters to survive.
What have you been working on since your run?
I’m now the chief community officer at EOS Detroit. EOS Detroit is a block producer for the EOS blockchain and it’s my responsibility to teach about blockchain technology and cryptocurrency and also get Detroit ready for a decentralized application that our team is producing specifically for Detroiters. It’s been wonderful in terms of just continuing the agenda that I set forth when I was running for mayor. I’m still doing that work, and that generally is trying to create pathways for economic growth and prosperity for marginalized people. Over this year, I have learned so much more about the benefits of blockchain technology—or I should say the potential. We’re at the very, very beginning of it and I tell everyone this is one humongous experiment.
What’s that experiment been like?
I’ve been doing blockchain and cryptocurrency workshops just to get people to a deeper overall understanding of this pretty complicated tech. And since I don’t come from a tech background, it makes it easier for people to understand from me what blockchain technology is. But I’ve also tried to have this kind of larger conversation to just kind of get our minds stimulated and really think about what its mean to create an alternative economy. What are the tools necessary to make that happen and how? How will we do something different, so that we’re not creating harm and violence as usual?
What’s to prevent that from happening?
People are thinking about ways to get rich, or to just transfer their power within a new system. So that’s why I work really hard to have these larger conversations in Detroit because I want more people of diverse backgrounds to be involved. There needs to be more people at the table, especially with a governed blockchain. There is trauma around engaging with financial institutions and just working within this economic system. Black people really were never meant to participate within this economic system the way it stands now. Black bodies were seen as objects, not necessarily as that which could benefit from the economy.
How do we heal? How do we attend to that trauma while teaching the technology? That is a question there and we don’t know necessarily the answer. But I think people are trying to figure that out. And it’s those kinds of questions that come from that diversity of perspectives and experiences, understanding that there are there are layers to this, there’s complexity. And so it’s not just like, hey, I want to teach you about blockchain technology. It’s a record and it’s immutable, like, okay, that’s wonderful. But, you know, how do I trust this? How am I sure that you’re not going to replicate the same thing over again? And the only answer I have at the moment is, ‘Hey, come and work with us. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.’
What does it mean that EOS is a “governed” blockchain?
The governed blockchain means that when you want to purchase EOS, or to use EOS tokens, you have to sign a constitution and the first line of the constitution is that you cannot create any harm using EOS. Bitcoin you can use any kind of way. It’s not governed, there’s no one to talk to if you lose your Bitcoin or anything. Whereas EOS, there are people to talk to you. And it’s decentralized, so we’re just talking about people from the community willing to serve. In this way anyone and everyone can participate.
"Having marginalized people at the table means that you’re now having a perspective that often gets ignored, overlooked."
Its constitution is written and ratified by the token holders. So, this is why it’s so important to have more people involved who are willing to participate on a deeper level with the governance aspect as it’s still being built. And, and it’s shifting. It’s an experiment, so everyone’s just trying to figure out what can work and what doesn’t work. Having marginalized people at the table means that you’re now having a perspective that often gets ignored, overlooked.
What are some things you plan to do with it?
EOS Detroit’s mission is to partner with grassroots organizations to look for blockchain solutions that can really further support their work. For example, the Equitable Internet Initiative is now bringing mesh networks to neighborhoods in Detroit to bring Wi-Fi to poor communities. There is a small cost associated with it, but it’s affordable. My team is looking at how can we help incentivize people to participate in this awesome project, and also be compensated for having the equipment and creating a signal that’s available to their neighbors. I like the idea of people who are already creating these autonomous communities in Detroit being able to fortify that work using blockchain technology as a way to manage the community in a more efficient way.
Why do you think Afrofuturism and blockchain are a good ideological match?
It has the possibility of creating these stronger and safer communities that don’t have to rely on the current economic system. That is a way of manifesting futures within the present, and that’s what Afrofuturism is all about. Helping black bodies to control their destiny. That is the main ideology of Afrofuturism.