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. 


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