our immigration struggle must center blackness

a few days ago i wrote a piece that elicited so many white tears, they could be used to provide the city of flint, michigan, with water. i have also appreciated the ways that people have engaged with and questioned the piece, so that sentence will be the only joke i make about white people in this post.

in reflecting on why some white people and nonblack people of color don’t think some of the behaviors i outlined are destructive, i truly believe it is because our traditional immigration narrative has been rooted in anti-blackness.

i am equipped to speak to the traditional immigration narrative because i am the most model of model minorities. my father received a scholarship to come study in the united states after completing his degree from the Harvard of China. my parents received WIC aid and worked themselves up from factory jobs to homeownership and sending their two children to top tier, ivy league universities. everyone in my nuclear family has citizenship and advanced degrees.

this doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt racism and discrimination along the way, or that we don’t know what to it’s like to survive through poverty. however, i think it does mean that we have rested on those experiences of suffering to not engage with solidarity efforts with black people in the united states, who also suffer racism, discrimination, poverty, and additional violences like police brutality and trauma from slavery.

this is ironic because black people have been at the forefront of fighting for our rights as immigrants in the united states. the civil rights movement fought for voting rights for immigrants, and martin luther king jr and malcolm x were vocal critics of the united states’ imperial war in vietnam. black people have done more in the united states for immigrants than white people, and we need to revise our immigrant narratives to acknowledge the role of blackness.

anti-blackness in the immigrant narrative starts happening when distinctions are created between “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants”, or “good minorities” and “bad minorities”. this is why i am vehemently opposed to narratives about”great” immigrants, because they are used to indict black people and people of color, especially undocumented people, who don’t fit into this mold. black people are criminalized in the united states according to stereotypes like “lazy” and “thuggish”, whereas immigrants are praised for being “hard working” and “upstanding”. donald trump is already perpetuating this good minority/bad minority divide with his order to publish a list of immigrants who commit crimes (funny how white people are suddenly silent about how  “we are all immigrants” on that front). focusing on “great” immigrants is just a white liberal way of doing exactly what donald trump is doing.

the good minority/bad minority distinction is perpetuated by paternalistic descriptions of peaceful, docile immigrants (asians!) in stark contrast to angry, divisive black folks. however, paternalism has always been a key justification for colonial wars. the submissive asian woman stereotype continues to sanction violence to this day, when asian women are killed by their white boyfriends because of a paternalistic narrative of submission. this violent history is at the root of attempts to persuade white people to let in “the peaceful and kind immigrant,” which is why i don’t fuck with appeals to how comfortable my existence is for white people.

lastly, it is important to understand that anti-blackness and colorism plays a role in the erasure of certain immigrant communities. i have often been told that asian americans are too wealthy to concern themselves with the struggle. this may be true of some east asians, but it not true of darker southeast asians, many of whom are refugees, and who live in some of the highest poverty in the united states. anti-blackness and colorism within white communities and our own communities erase immigrants who are systemically disenfranchised because of anti-black discrimination across the globe.

in having conversations over the past few days, i’ve come to realize that the mass narrative of immigration is not accustomed to being challenged at this profound level (though these arguments are nothing new amongst immigration organizers). we’re in a moment of transformation where i think we should question and challenge many of the prevailing ideologies that got us to this moment—including our ideologies about immigrants. i point out these fallacies in the immigration narrative not to be divisive but precisely because we can never come together under an ideology that commits violence against some of the most vulnerable in our society. it is this violence against black communities and people of color latent in white liberalism that divides, not the voices of people of color who point it out.

your defense of immigrants is fucking colonialist

This past week, Donald Trump showed his ass. So did white liberals. You know, the ones swathing themselves in American flags and holding pictures of dead Syrian children. For a moment I thought the alt-right had gone so far right it was left again, because some of the white liberalism I witnessed at #NoWallNoBan actions this weekend was downright imperialist in the name of immigration. 

“Yo!” you protest, “Stop criticizing the people that are joining the movement! They should be rewarded with freshly baked cookies and golden safety pins for their allyship!”. To which I reply, without criticism, the only movement that these white liberals are joining is the United States’ movement to colonize the globe. People need to understand what they’re fighting, and it is unfortunately abundantly clear they will never reach this understanding without my salty first generation immigrant opinions ruining their day, nor the voice of other sisters who’ve been fighting their entire lives. 

In no particular order, here are some things I want to express to well meaning white liberals. And trust me, I’m a model minority, so this is the nicest and gentlest way anyone is ever going to explain this to you. 

  • It’s the United States, not America. There are many countries in North and South America, and they sure as fuck don’t want to be lumped in with a monstrous administration that is trying to legislate them out of existence. 
  • The United States’ “greatness” is a code word for expansionist imperialism. It is part of decades-old nationalist rhetoric that says because the U.S. is greater than other countries, they are justified in imposing their greatness on other countries through military violence. Seeing United States flags and hearing “USA! USA” chants is fucking violent to those of us who have seen nationalist jingoism be used to justify military intervention in our home countries. This is not at all a proud moment for the United States, so leave your patriotic pride at home. 
  • Immigrants don’t owe you any explanations for their existence. Please stop with the well meaning talk about how immigrants make this country great, as if we ONLY grant citizenship to great individuals. If citizenship were based on greatness and contribution, we would be revoking the papers of white people who didn’t do anything with their lives. 
  • If it takes a picture of a dead Syrian child to get you to care about immigrants, you might need to have a talk with yourself. If you are NOT a member of a community of color who has PTSD from seeing dead bodies killed by the state, then you should thank the stars for your sheltered existence, and then have a talk with yourself. And then stop circulating those images forever. 
  • Yeah your great grandpa was 1/8 Hungarian or something, but unless Trump signed a ban on travelers from your country OR your family is here due to the U.S. bombing your country, please kindly stop appropriating the experiences of people who are actually suffering. “We are all immigrants” is cute in theory, but it completely erases the role white supremacy plays in specifically targeting Latinx, South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern* immigrants. 
  • Learn some fucking Spanish. Or Arabic. What’s the point of expressing your well intentioned allyship if the people you are supposedly supporting can’t understand you?***
  • Immigrants are among most impacted in the United States by lack of access to healthcare, wage theft, poverty, gentrification, police violence, etc. So if you’re pro-immigrant, consider fighting for those issues that affect immigrants once they have to figure out how to live here.
  • Black people are Muslims/immigrants too. Sudan, one of the countries on Trump’s ban list, is a country of predominantly Black Muslims. The United States has been resettling refugees from Africa for decades. And slaves were brought to the United States against their will. And yet people will hold #RefugeesWelcome signs and in the same breath wonder why #BlackLivesMatter isn’t #AllLivesMatter. If your immigration stance is only based upon uplifting immigrants that are pale (i.e. light-skinned Muslims) or stereotypically docile (i.e. Southeast Asians), then you are not actually pro-immigrant; you’re pro-white. To oppose colonialism is to oppose the anti-blackness inherent in our global systems, and to say #BlackLivesMatter.

Now go drink some water to wash away that salt. Oh, and that poster by Shepard Fairey sucks. 

* 1/31/17 UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated “Arabic” and omitted South Asians and Africans affected by the ban.

** 1/31/17 UPDATE: White people have complained that this post leaves them paralyzed and without action items, so I have culled only the directives from what I have written above  :

  • Leave your patriotic pride at home. 
  • Stop with the well meaning talk about how immigrants make this country great.
  • Have a talk with yourself.
  • Stop circulating those images [of dead Syrian children] forever. 
  • Stop appropriating the experiences of people who are actually suffering [via] “We are all immigrants”.
  • Learn some fucking Spanish. Or Arabic. ***
  • Consider fighting for those issues [healthcare, wage theft, poverty, gentrification, police violence, etc.] that affect immigrants once they have to figure out how to live here.
  • Say #BlackLivesMatter. 

***2/2/17 UPDATE: People are apparently tripping out over the fact that language justice is like, a thing, so here’s further explanation. https://www.waysidecenter.org/programs/language-justice/ 

on love as a critical resistance practice

white people love to say we need to fill our hearts with more love in this post-trump world. this upsets me (and many others) greatly, as a denial of our right to anger and resistance. but it also upsets me because it perverts and appropriates what has always been, to me, a critical resistance practice.

when white people say we need to fill our hearts with more love, they most likely do not mean the following. but i do:

  • love black people. love blackness. unlearn all the anti blackness in you that has been passed down through your own culture, that has perhaps caused you to not love yourself. understand loving blackness as a key underpinning of how to become free.
  • love people of the same sex. love trans folx. love your friends. love your friends’ children. resist the idea that love only exists in a nuclear family formation between a man and a woman and their biological children. love your friends.
  • love the earth as if it were another being to be honored rather than another resource to be pillaged. resist the commodification of life in the form of restricted access to clean air and clean water. love the people who are fighting for the love of this earth.
  • love with humility. know that love means learning and undoing your own ignorance and complicity. love through listening.
  • love because love is balm against violences perpetuated by the state. recognize this violence in your most loving moments. love not only through feeling, but through actions that dismantle oppression.
  • love because the emotional and supportive labor of women, queers, and people of color have always been cast aside as unimportant. love because emotional labor is and has always been central, not ancillary, to the building of our movements and communities.

happy holidays, i love you.

so you’re woke. now what?

on november 9, millions of americans woke up and for the first time realized this country is racist, and sexist, and classist, and many other -ists. maybe you’re one of them. maybe you started wearing a safety pin (0.5 woke points), or maybe you called your senator about #noDAPL (3 woke points), or maybe you took a class on intersectionality in college (5 woke points).

i’m just kidding. there is no such thing as woke points, because wokeness is not a competition (use of ‘woke’ while non-black: minus 50 woke points). in all seriousness, i’m noticing an epidemic of people who are beginning to have a social justice political analysis, or who have had a political analysis for a while, but who do not have a method to act on that analysis. 

it’s great that many more people are beginning to develop their political consciousnesses. please continue! read here and here and here and here. but while i do believe social media is an important aspect of 21st century discourse production, sitting around saying what’s wrong with the world is not going to change it. and i say this as someone who sits around quite a bit saying what’s wrong with the world. 

one issue with the sole focus on social criticism is that it tears things down, but it does not build. and creating is harder than destroying. as an educator, i am always thinking about how to create entry points for people just discovering the work. what enables me to have empathy for people wearing safety pins is reflecting upon when i was, quite frankly, a privileged little shit, and what it took to get me to this point, and where i still need to go. how do we move people from wearing safety pins to being on the front lines of resistance?

working in community-based art for the past few years, this is where i think socially engaged art is helpful in providing an entry point to praxis. perhaps people don’t know how to organize a campaign. but they can make a visualization on paper. and i’ve seen that one material realization of an idea be the starting point for many, many more forms of material realization. i’ve heard many participants in community arts project say, “i never thought i could be an artist”. maybe it’s time we find a way to change that phrase to “i never thought i could be an activist”. 

having a political analysis is meaningless if you cannot practice your words: if you constantly flake out on others, if you speak but never listen, if you perpetuate toxic masculinity or colorblindness while criticizing patriarchy or structural racism. but praxis also looks different for every individual. for some it’s getting involved in organizing efforts. for others it just looks like staying alive. however, it is up to you to be self conscious of your praxis, able to articulate it in relationship to your political analysis, and willing to self reflect and self challenge. 

as a political educator, i commit to the task of sharing tools, building bridges between analysis and action, and constantly learning and holding myself accountable. here are some places where you can start, and i’m more than happy to share resources offline or directly. 

in these times more than ever, we must hold each other close and love each other, and in the words of dr. cornel west—“never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

(so stop with all that ‘all we need is love’ crap—seriously!)

the strange orientalism of ai wei wei

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Photo: Tania Bruguera and Ai Weiwei, at Brooklyn Museum, ELLEN QBERTPLAYA

my parents think ai wei wei’s father, ai qing, writes bad poetry. my parents also think donald trump will save the u.s. economy, so their opinions are to be taken with a grain of salt.

still, there’s something refreshing about hearing a chinese person’s opinion on chinese art. i don’t hear that often living in the united states. instead i hear opinions from people who have never set foot in asia, not only about ai wei wei, but about the legacy of communism and about tibet’s right to be free.

i want to clarify that i’m not denying the trauma of Maoism which i still feel in my body to this day, and i’m not denying that china has committed severe human rights abuses in tibet. there’s this metaphor that i use to explain gayatri spivak’s argument in “can the subaltern speak?”, which is that when your mother tells you to finish your food because there’s a starving child in africa, your mother doesn’t actually care about the child in africa in this situation, even though their starvation is real. the african child is the subaltern through which another power justifies its regime of domination. so is the tibetan monk. and perhaps, so is ai wei wei.

when ai wei wei was imprisoned by the chinese government in 2011, i remember many US-based artists showing up in protest for ai wei wei’s freedom. but how many of those artists in that same breath wore clothes that were made in china? documented their protest on iphones made in chinese factories with abysmal working conditions? and how many of those artists are conscious of the hong kong umbrella revolution*, and the jailing of chinese feminists?

in a recent exchange with tania bruguera at the brooklyn museum, ai wei wei was invited to discourse on his work regarding freedom and dissidence. but freedom for whom? dissidence against whom? i often wonder if ai wei wei would be considered such a champion of freedom if legacies of orientalism and fear mongering against communism did not paint china as one of the ultimate representations of unfreedom. i also wonder if dissidence is acceptable and glamorized only when it is a dissidence towards a “foreign” government and not a current global superpower whose quest for empire has decimated the lives of millions. certainly i don’t claim that the chinese government is blameless, just as i don’t claim that there are no starving children in africa. but in the context of ai wei wei and western art, the china being evoked for brooklyn audiences is a western imaginary rather than my diasporic reality.

i used to joke that the US-based ‘free tibet’ movement was analogous to a minority group of chinese citizens raising awareness in asia about freeing native americans from US occupation. but it seems like the chickens have come home to roost as the UN sends an investigation into human rights abuses against indigenous water protectors at standing rock. in a country where 1 million black people are incarcerated, water protectors are brutalized and held in dog kennels, and the current presidential election makes me seriously consider what life would be like if i repatriated to the homeland, i’m not comfortable with saying that we are freer here, then we are anywhere else.

*though hong kong’s colonized road to democracy is another complicated subject.

some kind of exhaustion with the creative class

more and more, i am tempted to disavow my identification with the creative class. i can’t tell if it’s just a dallas-based discontent, or if it is more far flung, like when i see gentrification apologists being smug on facebook.

in this particular situation, ‘class’ is the operative word. i still remember sitting in on a meeting of a group from CalArts that was working on the topic of MFA debt, in which one of the white male organizers stated quite clearly, “i want to be able to afford to not live in a ‘bad neighborhood’.”

as someone who grew up with parents working in factories, nursing homes, and back-of-house restaurants, the distinction that the creative class makes between itself and the working class/poor (aka the people who live in ‘bad neighborhoods’) makes me twitch. in my experiences with some artist organizing in los angeles and dallas, it seems like the class concern stops at the artist’s well being. as long as artists with MFAs can live in affordable apartments and have steady jobs with benefits, it’s fine. nevermind the fact that the gallery you are about to open is in an area that displaces hundreds of working class families.

in dallas it’s particularly exhausting because very few artists here generate art with political content. it’s one thing to generate art with political content but then not practice that politics in one’s real life. it’s another to be completely disengaged with politics altogether. this lack of critical political thought leads to artists not making the connection between the city’s complicity in evicting renters and its crackdown on art events without a certificate of occupancy. artists are willing to mobilize for the latter, but not for the former, because ultimately the creative class in dallas does not see itself in solidarity with the working class/poor.

when the city of dallas finagles a closed door $15 million bailout of a performing arts center that pays its top executive just shy of half of a million per year and dallas opera is telling you to go shop at versace so that they can get a percentage of the proceeds, the class affiliation of the dallas art scene is seriously, seriously twisted. why does the creative class see themselves in these institutions, and not in the faces of working class families who are most likely closer in income and struggles? is it aspirational? is it the denial of privilege?

i think it’s a difficult pill to swallow for artists to take a step back and say “i’m privileged”. but it’s true. i have to pay my student loans and my health insurance every month, but i have an MFA and a savings account and because of that, i’m one of the most privileged people living in my neighborhood. privilege stops being an indictment when one transforms that privilege into solidarity. that solidarity is what is lacking in creative classes not only in dallas, but nationally.

there are a handful of people in dallas who keep me going, without whom i probably would have given up this place months ago. some of them are artists, but some of them are decidedly not. i’m fighting, but i’m also fighting exhaustion.

the politics of amplification

what i’ve noticed about living between places/modalities (texan, angelena) is that people have very, very twisted views of the other. i want to flip over a table every time i hear the new york times extolling topochico or the hip art galleries in boyle heights, as i witness deeply the pain and politics of gentrification that accompanies the discovery of “cool” in your place of residence (dear non-texan world, please don’t ever talk to me about south by southwest).

it’s this crisis in amplification and miscommunication that leads me to have conversations with community organizers in in the chicanx neighborhood of barrio logan, san diego, who are puzzled as to why “they’re protesting nonprofits in boyle heights, los angeles”. angelena organizers on the ground will be very quick to explain to you why, but nevertheless, the miscommunication has already happened.

likewise, dallas experiences a significant crisis in amplification in which white-led nonprofits who shall not be named gain national attention and significant funding for their work that is, on the ground, exploitative of the labor and struggles of communities of color. but through channels such as slick powerpoints, annual reports, or perhaps the new york times, organizations like this rise to the top of the national consciousness.

amplification then, is a double edged sword. i have seen amplification be critical in bringing the controversy around the kelley walker exhibition at the contemporary art museum of st. louis to the national stage, ultimately resulting in the departure of curator jeffrey uslip. but i’ve also seen amplification come at the expense of unsung hometown heroes who may never see their day in the sun.

i would argue that particularly in the age of social media, what we amplify and the ways in which we amplify are highly political choices. i hear the calls of others to bear witness, and occasionally i call out too, for example, begging that my pain as someone in a deeply policed neighborhood not be swept away in the national narrative of the dallas police shootings. i make this call to amplify while recognizing that, when you’re on the outside looking in, it is crucial to be conscientious about what you see.

when i see a slick powerpoint or a hip artist enclave, often times i don’t see it as a representation of accomplishment; i see it as a representation of capital*. i think about the immense amount of start up capital that someone or some organization must have in order to present themselves according to the norms of corporate media, and how different communities have different forms of access to capital. if you’re flat broke, you will not be able to afford a shiny website. but conversely, if you’re flat broke and still making a difference in your community, then perhaps that practice is more worthwhile of amplification, even if your website is kind of shitty.

since moving away from los angeles, i’ve made my choices about what to amplify based on listening to people on the ground whom i trust implicitly due to our personal history and our ethical alignment. and in terms of ethical alignment, i mean aligned in an understanding of justice that looks beyond attractive surface representations to uplift labor, gender, and racial equity in practice, not just in name.

whenever i see a practice or initiative, i often ask, what is the critical take on this? whose voices are missing, and what are people saying**? it’s not just because i love myself some chisme, but because the politics of place are so complex that a critical perspective is the only way to begin to acknowledge all of the contradictions and power relationships inevitably at play. my bias will always be towards asking questions geared towards liberation, rather than suppressing them. i think this is the only way to ethically address the task of amplification.

*on an unrelated aside, i’ve been thinking about people who use the refrain “what about class?” in discussions of marginalization. i am concluding that what they are pointing to is less about class difference as a category of analysis, but about capital as a form of violence that enforces class/race/gender difference. this is why class might be seen by some as the ultimate differentiating identity category; however, usually when it is invoked this way, it conflates the function of capital with the function of class. 

**my practice will always be indebted to the work of the school of echoes, who taught me how to listen. 

i want to live in a world in which i don’t spend my time debating neo nazi imagery

long story short for non-denizens of dallas, texas: a biker showed up wearing an SS patch at double wide, a local bar known for its nouveau trailer trash aesthetic. two people called him out on the patch, and were thrown out of the bar for being belligerent. the dallas internet and media thus spent several weeks debating the right of bikers to wear neo-nazi patches and the sensitive nature of social justice warriors*.

*first, as someone who could be labeled a “social justice warrior”, i don’t give a fuck about your denigrating labels.  in my work for socioeconomic justice, i experience daily harassment and microaggressions, consistently work 50+ hr weeks, and hold space for/witness people who lose their homes, jobs, and lives due to systemic racism and disenfranchisement. so calling “social justice warriors” thin-skinned when y’all can’t even handle not being able to wear your favorite white supremacist patch is white fragility at its finest.

other than the fact that i was right about double wide all along ever since they allowed one of their patrons to bring in a chicken and use it to sexually harass me, i’ve been trying to expend zero fucks about this incident. because i need to reserve my energy for you know, the aforementioned people losing their homes and stuff. but it still doesn’t excuse the supreme idiocy of people thinking they need to debate whether or not neo-nazi imagery is white supremacist (i thought we reached that conclusion after, i don’t know, the holocaust? can’t you guys debate something more 2016, like klyde warren park’s relationship to the dakota access pipeline?).

many neo-nazi supporters in the comments of these articles are claiming their right to the first amendment, which to me illustrates a general troubling ethos in texas of advancing individuation without any acknowledgement of social context. not all identities in texas, or the united states, are allowed to individuate in the same way without repercussion. for example, are the same people who are supportive of a biker’s right to wear SS patches as a form of self expression also as passionately engaged about the recent federal court ruling that allows employers to ban black women from wearing locs as a form of a self expression? are these same defenders of the first amendment also passionately engaged in defending the eighth amendment regarding police brutality ? of course not.

now that we’ve established defenders of double wide are not actually that concerned about constitutional rights for all, what exactly are they defending? they are defending the social order that allows certain identities to exist in public without repercussion. they are defending their willful blindness to texas’ bloody history of violence against women, queers, and people of color. to my knowledge, a brigade of queer folx have never targeted white supremacists for physical violence, but the same cannot be said for white supremacists and their treatment of queers. so who gets to appear as their full selves in public? the white supremacist or the queer?

if you are truly concerned about rights of free speech, then please, defend colin kaepernick’s right to kneel during the national anthem. defend black women’s right to wear locs to work. defend trans women’s right to wear what they want without being murdered at a higher rate than cis women. and yes, defend my right to opine that neo-nazi apologists are total shitwads.

as long as white supremacist violence exists, neo-nazi imagery will continue to represent that violence. if defenders of double wide truly want to neutralize the symbols of white supremacy so that they can wear it without repercussion, they need focus their attention at neutralizing the violence of white supremacy itself. see you on the social justice warrior side.

on teaching social practice, Fall 2016

Learning is odd. Some lessons you learn only after years of obstinacy, denial, and making mistakes. In the case of socially-engaged cultural practice, I am still learning, and a lot of that learning is about how to be a good person in relationship to others. You don’t learn that kind of thing overnight, or even in a semester.

How then do you teach social practice? And how do you teach it in a semester? This is my task for Fall 2016 when I am still very much, a learner. Moreover, how do you teach a field that is living, breathing, and changing before one’s very eyes? In reading through Nato Thompson’s Living as Form, published in 2012, for syllabus material, I am struck by how much the landscape of socially-engaged art has changed in just 4 short years. And of course, this choice to construct a particular narrative history of socially-engaged art is a political choice, one fraught with the hierarchies of the formal art world that often exclude “community arts” and activist practices.

I don’t always refer to formal art history—my practice is much more shaped by the intellectual legacies of post-colonialism and black feminism—and my choices in crafting this course reflect that tension between an aestheticized practice and a more straightforward social justice approach. When it comes to the broad range of socially-engaged practice and topics, the course that has taken shape is not by any means comprehensive. It is a specific response to the knowledge and context needed to develop a site-based artist proposal for Trans.lation Vickery Meadow, an arts and cultural platform focused on issues of neighborhood identity and equity.

In a larger schema, this course is a political intervention within the Texas pedagogical landscape. Texas ranks 49th in the United States in per pupil spending, and its public education textbooks are riddled with inaccuracies. No wonder then, that students are systemically disenfranchised from developing the knowledge, analysis, and voice needed to address the structural inequalities manifest in their daily reality.

Teaching is how we can interrogate the status quo and create space for possibility, and because of that, in Texas, our most important task is to teach. One such space of possibility that I’d like to open up is that learning is always amplified when it is shared. And moreover, that learning is produced through dialogue and critique. So please take, read, add, suggest, critique:

Link to Syllabus, Readings, and Presentations (Presentations will be uploaded the week of the course)

Holding space in the wake of the Dallas shooting

Even though I was not at the vigil that evening, the shooting in Dallas hit me hard, as I’m sure it did everyone in my immediate community. But it hit me hard for numerous different reasons than the average Dallas-ite, because as someone working for racial and economic justice I am tasked to hold space for deep, painful, and powerful counternarratives. I am still processing the aftermath of the shooting, but I hope that putting some of my truths to (figurative) paper can help illuminate the path through the pain.

I am holding space for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Alva Braziel, and many others. I am holding space for the anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in Waller County Jail. I am holding space for the way Erica Garner’s grief was disrespected at the White House gathering. I am holding space for the acquittal of the cop in the Freddie Gray case. I am holding space for the ways in which black life continues to be devalued in this country and internationally.

I am holding space for my friends from Baghdad who have lost family members in the car bomb. I am holding space for everyone not in the “first world” who experiences this form of daily terror. I recognize my terror and my privilege.

I am holding space for my friend Sara Mokuria, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality and one of the most amazing people I know, who never stops working for justice for families affected by police brutality.

I am holding space for the immigrants in my community who think that seeing a minimum of 10 police cars patrol their neighborhood on a daily basis is “normal” for the United States.

I am holding space for the homeless Sudanese refugee behind our storefront who routinely gets his camp cleaned up by the city, hidden away when the organizations in the area host festivals where city officials will be present. I am holding space for his friends who routinely get questioned by the police.

I am holding space for how difficult it is to be or do anything when one is under psychological siege.

I am holding space for my teens who told me about seeing a black man harassed by police in our neighborhood, just hours before the shooting happened.

I am holding space for all the moments I have seen hate for myself, my friends, and my family, in a white person’s eyes, that tells me that white supremacy is real. I am holding space for my weariness in thinking such people cannot be changed.

I am holding space for the man in our parking lot who lost his job working odd jobs at the bars down the street, because the local business improvement district shut that shopping strip down and are in the midst of redeveloping it using the excuse that “African American men who hang out at those bars cause crime”.

I am holding space for my undocumented brothers and sisters in my community who have been harassed by private patrols, evicted by changes in property laws, and for whom DACA/DAPA is not enough. I am holding space for their dreams of a better future.

I am holding space for the sex workers in our neighborhood who experience the threat of violence from their pimps and their johns, but can’t call the police without putting themselves in jeopardy. I am holding space for all the sex workers and homeless people in the world who are completely ignored by service agencies with a moralizing focus.

I am holding space for my brothers and sisters fighting against gentrification and displacement in Los Angeles, your struggle is important to me. Your struggle informs my struggle here in Texas and my moral positioning as a cultural worker.

I am holding space for my black brothers and sisters who shouldn’t have to do this work, who shouldn’t have to be subject to the daily reinscription of state-sponsored terror. I wish I could give all of you paid mental health leaves for the rest of your lives.

I am holding space for myself as a teenager, growing up in Texas, terrified that someone will come after me with a gun because of a difference in skin color and belief. I am holding space for the enormous pain that results when civilians and police can access military-grade equipment.

I am holding space for that girl I taught in mural class in South Central Los Angeles, who said she wanted to become a police officer so that she could see transformative policing in her community.

I am holding space for the one cool police officer I know, who is my friend on Facebook, who routinely advocates against negative stereotypes of my community that are perpetuated by other DPD officers, who hopefully knows that none of my rantings about systemic violence are about her.

I am holding space for everyone who knows that “coming together” is really code for “let’s stop talking about systemic violence and the difficult choices people in power will need to make for true justice to occur”.

I am holding space for everyone who wants a more just future.