- do you wonder if you’re not passing well enough?
- do you wonder if you should wear heels and lipstick more often?
- do you internally scream that you would be passing if you lived in san francisco or new york?
- do you wonder if that’s the reason you didn’t get the grant?
- do you wonder what the church ladies say about you when they go home?
- do you think about the people who would shun you if they knew?
- do you try to look respectable knowing no part of you is respectable?
- do you feel bitter resentment when your colleague introduces himself as a “husband and a father”?
- do you wonder if you will be received just as well if you introduce yourself as “unmarried, childless, and prone to relationship anarchy”?
- do you prefer to stay home alone rather than be exhausted by the heteronormativity of your social environment?
- do you kiss your lover in public?
- do men watch you when you do?
- are they armed?
- have you found love here?
- have you given up on finding love here?
- do you think you’ll find love here?
- do you think you can survive without love?
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.
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:
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.