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.

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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.

Sexual Harassment in Social Practice is a Real Thing Y’All

I think it’s widely known that I was sexually assaulted by one of my peers in my graduate program chaired by a prominent feminist artist, and when I reported it, my academic institution did very little, probably because men shedding tears over being friend zoned is a socially accepted thing, and they did not want to lose a Fulbright Scholar. Case in point: they welcomed another Fulbright Scholar the next year.

The thing with sexual harassment and assault as a femme bodied artist is that this is not my first rodeo, guys. I’ve been followed on the train. I’ve had strangers attempt to kiss me and look up my skirt. I’ve had a board member of a very prominent arts funding organization try to sleep with me. I’ve had a community member try to touch me with his erect penis and call me multiple times in the middle of the night asking to come to my house. And I’ve had an artist download my phone number without my permission and then manically text me about my whereabouts. Sexual harassment: the phenomenon that transcends age, race, and class boundaries.

People always ask, “Why don’t you report that shit?” (cue all the victim blaming during my graduate school incident), but if the case with my graduate program is any indication, I could have cured some disease with the time and energy spent (fruitlessly) dealing with sexual harassment. So for the most part I take a deep breath, spend some time with an imaginary punching bag, and move on. However, I think it’s worthwhile to take this moment and impart some feminist analysis to social practice discourse when it comes to sexual harassment, in the hopes that we can shift the ways in which we understand gendered labor in the field.

It’s pretty obvious from my scenarios that sexual harassment is a real thing in #life, but when it comes to social practice and community engaged art, I think there is a causal relationship to be unpacked between the inherent emotional and public labor expected from a social practice artist, and sexual harassment.

Social practice is a form of emotional and public labor. When you are working interpersonally and collaboratively, you are probably making an effort to not be a bitch to the other person. When you’re working on issues of neighborhood and community, you are probably making an effort to get to know your neighbors, stakeholders, and potential collaborators. Once again, probably requires not being a bitch. Kindness, care, listening, and consideration are part of the social practice toolkit, and in general, just part of the toolkit of being a good person.

However, we live in a society where cishet men are socialized to think that any small sliver of interest is enough to be considered as consent. We also live in a society where men are socialized to equate kindness, care, listening, and consideration with sexual interest, not with the mere practice of being a good person. Often I find myself at the following crossroads as an emotional and public laborer: I can either choose to work with men, and brace myself for the eventual harassment; or I can not work with men at all.

(For those of you who are like, “Why don’t you just set some boundaries up front?”, I can send you some very ineffective screencaps of me saying “stay out of my DMs”.)

(For the older women who have told me, “You’re lucky you’re still young and attractive enough to be harassed.”, please stop using ageism to justify violence against other femme bodies.)

For me it’s not a constructive solution to never work with men. Especially on the neighborhood or community level, men make up one half of that community and should be engaged in issues of justice and neighborhood health as well. When you are confronting and navigating male-dominated power structures, it is impossible to not encounter men, usually of the sleazebag variety. But it is a disheartening solution to need to put my body in the line of fire to do my work. And then I think about how this phenomenon trickles upwards in terms of the way that we build a field through practice and discourse.

For example, if social practice is premised on emotional and public labor, why are some of the most prominent and lauded social practitioners men? Why are some of the most referred to texts also written by men? Why are there conveniently no chapters on sexual harassment in those texts? I love Rick Lowe to death, but maybe his success is partially due to his ability to rally entire communities without having to endure sexualized touching.

I’m sure this doesn’t only apply to femme bodies, but queer bodies, disabled bodies, racialized bodies, and trans bodies as well in terms of our struggles to balance our personal safety with community organizing and community health. I want this acknowledged and I want our discursive support structures – the people who we uplift in the social practice field, the metrics that we use to evaluate success, the methodologies that we promote – to support the real live breathing bodies of those of us doing this work. Maybe it’s time to abandon narratives of communities – whether they be neighborhoods, cities, or theoretical/academic communities – as bound together through camaraderie, and instead look at the very real violences that run through and demarcate communities, and how these violences are structurally distributed. Only then does the dismantling begin.

Weekly Reading List: Jesse Williams is on 🔥🔥🔥 Edition

Stuff on the Internet that I’ve been reading instead of Grace Lee Boggs’ The Next American Revolution.

National/International

Regional

Social Justice

Pop Culture

Gentrification: A Web Reader

20160205_181033This weekend I will be participating (read: opening my big mouth!) on a panel about gentrification at Ro2 Gallery as part of the closing exhibition of Giovanni Valderas’ Forged Utopia exhibition at the MAC. Click for more information about Giovanni’s fantastic (and you know I rarely call anything in Dallas fantastic), timely, and relevant exhibition.

Accordingly, this week’s reading list is a list of gentrification resources that I’ve been compiling over the past year, with the goal of building connectivity between national networks and local knowledges about the ways in which communities of color are displaced and resist displacement. Please comment with thoughts and additional resources.

What is Gentrification?

Gentrifier Aesthetics and Aesthetics of Resistance

Local Context – Dallas

Local Context – Los Angeles

Local Context – Other

Macro Patterns of Migration

 

on dissociation and trauma in texas social justice organizing

one of my greatest epiphanies during allied media conference 2016 were the words, “dissociation is a survival strategy”. that, coupled with sessions on queering martial arts and decolonizing christianity, made me realize that i had been repressing so many parts of myself, so much deep pain and trauma in my past and present, in order to be present enough to do my social justice work in texas.

texas is a hostile environment for anyone who is positioned outside of the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy. it is a place where because there are few government structures in place to act as a buffer, the violence and hatred from people within the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy can be felt immediately and distinctly.

ever since returning to texas, and witnessing the policing, poverty, and racism in my neighborhood on a daily basis, i’ve been engaging in measures of self numbing. first it was alcohol, then it was netflix, now it’s sleeping. until the mass shooting in orlando happened, forcing all my emotions to the forefront, i had repressed the fact that i literally feared for my life and well being as someone who does not subscribe to heteronormativity. and that, instead of naming this fear that seized my brain on a daily basis, it was easier to sleep. it was easier to come home from a meeting with an extremely racist person in power and watch netflix, than it was to cry out the weariness in my body. this was because if i cried at that, i would find reasons to cry every day, and my body and work would not be able to bear it.

as someone who has been managing intergenerational, familial, and societal trauma my entire life, i’m only starting to realize that trauma has always affected the ways in which i can be involved in social justice movements, and that i’ve always felt a pinge of resentment at those who work in this space untouched by the trauma of structural violence (white people, this is why you get the side eye). i am also highly aware in my current practice, how much more slowly my work progresses because i spend so much time managing trauma, and how much of a better and more capable person i am when i am in safe spaces that don’t require such degrees of repression.

related to this, i had an incredibly healing conversation with a friend from seattle on effective ways of practicing transformative justice. these words of hers really resonated with me, “transformative justice is a process that takes years, and the way it’s practiced means there’s not any huge success stories that you can refer to.”. can we relate this to the healing we need to see in our communities, and in ourselves? and can we relate this to a critique of the charity-nonprofit industrial complex?

working in collaboration with charities and nonprofits, it seems that those who can, do. but those who can’t, don’t because they are the most affected who are too busy engaging in survival practices of managing trauma. and yet it is imperative to center the experiences of those who are most affected and this is something that i struggle with practicing within a charity-nonprofit industrial complex context.

people managing trauma require different forms of care and consideration, but we are not powerless. it is a testament to our power that we’ve already survived this far. reflecting on the texas context has taught me that we need to build better spaces for holding the ways in which we cope – whether it be through numbing or through catharsis – because there is so much hostility coming from every direction. we also need to build understandings that we are capable of grieving and being, coping and doing within the same lifetime. it just might take a little longer or look a little different from how we traditionally construct narratives of social change. maybe there is no heroic turning point or outcome. our trauma should not be the reason that we are barred from working for social change. if anything, our trauma holds the wisdom to our liberation.

Weekly Reading List: Adrian Piper is a Visionary Bo$$ Edition

Stuff I’ve been reading on the internet instead of Jeff Chang’s Who We Be.

Orlando

It’s ok for your heart to break and it’s ok to feel nothing. It’s ok to read all of the articles and none of the articles. I’ve been in mourning. These are just a few articles amid the rubble.

National

Regional

Arts – Dallas

  • The Lost History of Dallas’ Negro Parks – “Joy and suffering exist in tandem in the telling of the story of the Negro parks. Celebration and violence go hand in hand. Whatever peace the parks maintained, they existed in a world that was surrounded by hatred.”

Arts – Other

  • VISUAL CULTURES OF INDIGENOUS FUTURISMS
  • Cannibalizing the Culture of Colonizers and Other Artistic Strategies
  • Art For the Art-World Surface Pattern
    1. We can ignore political problems, but we cannot avoid them.
    2. We avoid political problems by: refusing to read the papers; OR reading the papers BUT refusing to understand what we read about; OR acknowledging or complicity in the problems we read about BUT refusing to admit we could solve them through a personal commitment to change; OR admitting we could solve them through a personal to change BUT refusing to admit that we should make that commitment; OR making that commitment BUT avoiding acting on it.
    3. We avoid acting on a commitment to political change by: refusing to acknowledge the interdependence of the personal and political; OR acknowledging the interdependence of the personal and political BUT refusing to acknowledge the political impotence of our personal lives qua personal; OR acknowledging the political impotence of our personal lives qua personal BUT refusing to recognize its dependence on a system of political oppression of others that makes our personal lives possible: Recognizing this but trying desperately to rationalize our lives by invoking other values like personal freedom, aesthetic pleasures, the right to privacy, etc., etc.- As if such values could have any meaning in the absence of true political freedom.
    4. Art for the Art- World Surface Pattern surrounds you with the political problems you ignore and the rationalizations by which you attempt to avoid them.
    -from the “Paris Biennale 1977” catalog (Paris, France Mus’ee d’Art Moderne, 1977
    Adrian Piper