on restorative justice and dana schutz’s painting of emmett till

dana schutz’s painting of emmett till at the 2017 whitney biennial is the 2017 version of kelley walker’s paintings at the contemporary art museum of st louis is the 2016 version of kenneth goldsmith reading mike brown’s autopsy report is the 2015 version of joe scanlan’s performance as a fictional black woman donelle woolford in the 2014 whitney biennial. in other words, it is yet another white artist’s appropriation of a black body and black death, under the justification of white free speech.

the conversations around schutz’s painting are disappointingly familiar. in some regards, i truly feel i can add no more to the conversation about white free speech versus black death. (hint: white free speech is never the answer. here are some reads.) and then art historian melinda guillen posted this curious question: would intersectional woman of color feminism call for the destruction of the artwork? or, rephrased, how do we approach this offense by considering restorative, instead of punitive, justice? if that proposition makes people on both sides of the debate want to throw up, please bear with me as i navigate through the nausea.

as someone who has experienced sexual assault, who has both experienced and perpetrated domestic violence, and who believes deeply in a non-carceral future, i have spent a few years sitting with the question of restorative justice. i often still find myself at the uneasy crossroad between anger, accountability, and forgiveness. when stanford rapist brock turner was sentenced to a mere 6 months in prison and his supporters were calling the reduced sentence restorative justice, i wanted to throw up without knowing if i had the right to throw up. it was in that moment that this piece of writing clarified my understanding of restorative justice.

in sum, restorative justice is about the centering of the victim(s)’ suffering, creating shifts in elements of the victim(s)’ community that enabled the offense, and determining restitution for the perpetrator based on centering the victim(s). none of that happened when brock turner was sentenced to a trivial 6 months. indeed, the centering of turner and his feelings of hurt, shame, and remorse, is frightening similar to the centering of schutz’s good intentions and right to free speech.

when whiteness transgresses us, which is apparently still every single day, the path to resolution cannot center whiteness, the great transgressor. but it is also not enough to identify the guilty party and rest. non-carceral does not mean non-accountable; rather, it means looking for accountability on a systemic level. we must acknowledge our various roles in the system and use this moment to shift the bigger issues in our community that have led up to this point.

for example:

  • how could two asian-american curators make this anti-black oversight, which debuted the same month that a korean storeowner assaulted a black woman? (by the way, my offer to come collect asian nonsense still stands, as long as i am provided with a direct connection to the source of the nonsense)
  • how are we still defending white free speech in 2017, after the election of a billionaire who used his “free speech” to encourage white supremacist violence against women, immigrants, and people of color?
  • why are art schools, art classes, art books, art galleries, art shows, art funding, art markets, art fairs, art museums, art nonprofits, art spaces, everything related to art pretty much, still disproportionately white?

schutz’s painting is representation of violence—just not the violence she intends to portray. it is a representation of the violence that black and people of color encounter daily as cultural workers. undoing that violence may include destroying the painting, but the call for transformative change also goes much, much deeper.

photo credit: Parker Bright protesting Dana Schutz’s Open Casket, SCOTT W. H. YOUNG (@HEISCOTT)/VIA TWITTER

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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.