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

Advertisements

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.

your defense of immigrants is fucking colonialist

This past week, Donald Trump showed his ass. So did white liberals. You know, the ones swathing themselves in American flags and holding pictures of dead Syrian children. For a moment I thought the alt-right had gone so far right it was left again, because some of the white liberalism I witnessed at #NoWallNoBan actions this weekend was downright imperialist in the name of immigration. 

“Yo!” you protest, “Stop criticizing the people that are joining the movement! They should be rewarded with freshly baked cookies and golden safety pins for their allyship!”. To which I reply, without criticism, the only movement that these white liberals are joining is the United States’ movement to colonize the globe. People need to understand what they’re fighting, and it is unfortunately abundantly clear they will never reach this understanding without my salty first generation immigrant opinions ruining their day, nor the voice of other sisters who’ve been fighting their entire lives. 

In no particular order, here are some things I want to express to well meaning white liberals. And trust me, I’m a model minority, so this is the nicest and gentlest way anyone is ever going to explain this to you. 

  • It’s the United States, not America. There are many countries in North and South America, and they sure as fuck don’t want to be lumped in with a monstrous administration that is trying to legislate them out of existence. 
  • The United States’ “greatness” is a code word for expansionist imperialism. It is part of decades-old nationalist rhetoric that says because the U.S. is greater than other countries, they are justified in imposing their greatness on other countries through military violence. Seeing United States flags and hearing “USA! USA” chants is fucking violent to those of us who have seen nationalist jingoism be used to justify military intervention in our home countries. This is not at all a proud moment for the United States, so leave your patriotic pride at home. 
  • Immigrants don’t owe you any explanations for their existence. Please stop with the well meaning talk about how immigrants make this country great, as if we ONLY grant citizenship to great individuals. If citizenship were based on greatness and contribution, we would be revoking the papers of white people who didn’t do anything with their lives. 
  • If it takes a picture of a dead Syrian child to get you to care about immigrants, you might need to have a talk with yourself. If you are NOT a member of a community of color who has PTSD from seeing dead bodies killed by the state, then you should thank the stars for your sheltered existence, and then have a talk with yourself. And then stop circulating those images forever. 
  • Yeah your great grandpa was 1/8 Hungarian or something, but unless Trump signed a ban on travelers from your country OR your family is here due to the U.S. bombing your country, please kindly stop appropriating the experiences of people who are actually suffering. “We are all immigrants” is cute in theory, but it completely erases the role white supremacy plays in specifically targeting Latinx, South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern* immigrants. 
  • Learn some fucking Spanish. Or Arabic. What’s the point of expressing your well intentioned allyship if the people you are supposedly supporting can’t understand you?***
  • Immigrants are among most impacted in the United States by lack of access to healthcare, wage theft, poverty, gentrification, police violence, etc. So if you’re pro-immigrant, consider fighting for those issues that affect immigrants once they have to figure out how to live here.
  • Black people are Muslims/immigrants too. Sudan, one of the countries on Trump’s ban list, is a country of predominantly Black Muslims. The United States has been resettling refugees from Africa for decades. And slaves were brought to the United States against their will. And yet people will hold #RefugeesWelcome signs and in the same breath wonder why #BlackLivesMatter isn’t #AllLivesMatter. If your immigration stance is only based upon uplifting immigrants that are pale (i.e. light-skinned Muslims) or stereotypically docile (i.e. Southeast Asians), then you are not actually pro-immigrant; you’re pro-white. To oppose colonialism is to oppose the anti-blackness inherent in our global systems, and to say #BlackLivesMatter.

Now go drink some water to wash away that salt. Oh, and that poster by Shepard Fairey sucks. 

* 1/31/17 UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated “Arabic” and omitted South Asians and Africans affected by the ban.

** 1/31/17 UPDATE: White people have complained that this post leaves them paralyzed and without action items, so I have culled only the directives from what I have written above  :

  • Leave your patriotic pride at home. 
  • Stop with the well meaning talk about how immigrants make this country great.
  • Have a talk with yourself.
  • Stop circulating those images [of dead Syrian children] forever. 
  • Stop appropriating the experiences of people who are actually suffering [via] “We are all immigrants”.
  • Learn some fucking Spanish. Or Arabic. ***
  • Consider fighting for those issues [healthcare, wage theft, poverty, gentrification, police violence, etc.] that affect immigrants once they have to figure out how to live here.
  • Say #BlackLivesMatter. 

***2/2/17 UPDATE: People are apparently tripping out over the fact that language justice is like, a thing, so here’s further explanation. https://www.waysidecenter.org/programs/language-justice/ 

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.