the dallas way

as i prepare to leave for the east coast, this is my parting poem to the texangelena condition.

the dallas way is committees.

the dallas way is “if we don’t talk about it, it will just go away”.

the dallas way is “let’s only talk about it and not do anything to make it go away”.

the dallas way is “how dare you talk about it”. 

the dallas way is the problem with marginalized communities is not their structural marginalization but their lack of love and compassion, clearly. 

the dallas way is did you know richard spencer grew up in highland park?

the dallas way is if you want to punch a white supremacist but don’t know where to find one, join some neighborhood groups in gentrified areas.

the dallas way is an “arts mayor” who lacks the visual literacy to expedite removing confederate monuments.

the dallas way is abrahamic faith leaders with god complexes.

the dallas way is thousands of people showing up for slain officers, pussy hats, and charlottesville, and only hundreds showing up for a slain 15-year-old black boy from balch springs.

the dallas way is hugging police officers at protests.

the dallas way is “all lives matter”.

the dallas way is sundays in the park that oil built.

the dallas way is putting you in a straitjacket and punishing you for pointing out that you’re in a straitjacket.

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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.

Weekly Reading List: Brock Turner is a Rapist Edition

Stuff on the internet that I’ve been reading instead of Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Social Justice

Arts – Dallas

  • Changing Gears At Dallas’ Office Of Cultural Affairs – After a yearlong search by a $50,000 paid search committee, City Manager AC Gonzalez decided to reject the search committee recommendations and instead appoint someone relatively unknown by the Dallas arts community to the Executive Director position of the Office of Cultural Affairs. I’m willing to not judge Executive Director Jennifer Scripps until we see evidence of whether or not she takes steps to support individual artists, cultural equity, government transparency, and creative ways of publicly leveraging private support (I am very curious if the references to private support means that the onus is on artists and organizations to raise their own funding (ugh), or if the city will find a way to publicly manage private arts patronage) – but if the search committee was pointless, I want that $50,000 of taxpayer money back (#grants, anyone?).  Also, stay tuned for the June 23 special meeting of the Arts Commission, in which the OCA will either try to explain or find a way to ameliorate why they are cutting $60,000 from each city cultural center’s upcoming budget. Dallas, y’all! Supporting culture, one budget cut at a time.
  • GABRIEL DAWE: IN RAINBOWS – An artist from Dallas makes it onto the national scene, and everybody loses their shit (just kidding, I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Dawe’s work for years).
  • Building a bridge, not a wall: Crow Collection announces major partnership with Mexico – The resident museum of Imperial-Era Chinese Art (#NotAllAsia guys, #NotAllAsia) has announced a partnership and traveling exhibition with museums in Mexico, and all this chinita poblana can think about is, does this mean we’ll finally get to have a panel on the ChinaMex origins of the chimichanga?

Arts – Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles Is Hiring a Sound Artist to Help Make its Streets Safer – Almost three years ago, I entered a large gymnasium wearing earplugs and holding a blue balloon. The sound vibrations from the building were so loud I could hear it from the parking lot, and I laid upon metal sculptures designed to transmit the sound vibrations. I’m thrilled to see that Alan Nakagawa, artist behind said piece and one of my favorite people, has been selected as the inaugural LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) Artist in Residence. I’ve been really interested in this residency program ever since it was announced, for the way that it models itself after programs in San Francisco and New York that create space for artists in civic departments (Mierle Laderman Ukeles is one of my big inspirations, so, you know). I would love to see additional cities and city departments (AHEM, AHEM) create positions for artists-in-residence to contribute to the poetic and experiential reading of the city. I can’t wait to see how Alan’s work in sound art and field recording contributes to a more walkable city.

Misc