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Alienating Geographies: Reflections on Suburban Southern California and ‘America’s Finest City’

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Latin@ Politics, Philosophical Musings, Racial Politics on August 31, 2015 at 12:10 AM

When I made the decision to leave New York, I wanted to test a hypothesis: does geography play a role in one’s happiness?

If I had to describe it in a few words, I’d say that the motivation to leave Gotham was based on a multi-layered amalgam of ambivalent feelings, much of which was deeply embedded in urban alienation.

Like many New Yorkers, I had a bipolar love-hate relationship with the place: it never felt like a unitary totality that could ever be home in a traditional sense. A city in constant metamorphosis, it can be home one day and someone else’s turf the next.

In my case, my impetus to leave Gotham was driven in large part by a need to un-jade myself—that is, to keep myself from falling further along this precipitous decline I felt myself on, one that felt like a free fall towards the inevitable end of the “jaded old queen.”

Another reason was existential. I developed my roots in Brooklyn, and as much as I came to love my cosmopolitan, working-class immigrant neighborhood, I also had a profound sense of what it meant to live in a truly fragmented and atomized neoliberal playground–one where the constant battle for space and time lent itself to a paradoxical sense of loneliness amid human congestion. My ties to family and home were both strange and estranged.

20140729_155235

Mural in Sunset Park, Brooklyn


I can’t think of my years of experience in New York now without recalling sociologist Georg Simmel’s classic essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903), in which he links the overstimulation of the built environment with the “blasé attitude” of the metropolitan human.

Similarly, I conjure up the characterizations of heartache and existential turmoil that afflicted the black protagonists of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, both of whom wrote beautifully at length about structural oppression and alienation in the big city of late capitalism.

As the queer, bookish son of two, working-class immigrant parents, witnessing the enigmatic health complications of my brothers, and personally living through the nightmarish consequences of autoimmunity and the cold indifference of the biomedical industrial complex, the urban terrain acquired a distinct set of meanings for me.

While I had numerous positive coming-of-age experiences in Brooklyn, it almost feels redundant to say that painful memories became etched into the physical environment as well.

A multidimensional mental map of the city is littered as much with tokens of joyful, ecstatic and almost-sublime experiences as it is with recollections of the solitary long walks, the spells of disappointment and wistful yearnings.

A quarter century of existence is legible in landmarks and streets: The overshadowed, gray-and-yellow playground under the Gowanus Expressway; the sooty, humid 59th St Subway Station in south Brooklyn; the silver, razor-like currents of the Hudson from a Battery Park City bench; the giant, moveable black cube on Astor Place near an old workplace; the striking emptiness of the Christopher St. Pier on a very cold, winter morning.


Two memories jump out at me as I think of my motivations for considering leaving.

The first was seemingly rather innocuous: a date with a friend to catch up. My friend invited me to a fundraiser for an organization that we both had ties with, an organization with unique, well-articulated politics that engaged queer youth of color around issues like gentrification.

As it turned out, the fundraiser was directed at alumni (such as myself) and our social networks, and it was taking place at a rooftop bar in downtown Brooklyn I had never heard of.

Unexpectedly, this time with my friend ended up sparking unease as I found myself surrounded by a conspicuously, upwardly-mobile coterie of queer men of color and white “allies.”

The surrealness of the experience was highlighted by the fact that I was at a rooftop bar—something unheard of during my many years in Brooklyn—and my disgust that evening in the gay meat market showroom.

More alienating than that, however, was the larger environment that surrounded us: a 360° panoramic view of downtown Brooklyn. To be sure, all those years of living here had never given me this level of access–the opportunity to see my home turf from an eagle-eye vantage point.

All around me were reminders of the changing topography of an early twenty-first century neoliberal city—an ever-emergent, postmodern cityscape. An insidiously spatial warzone.

Having spent my freshman year of high school near downtown Brooklyn, the micro-level changes were all-too-dramatic: a spate of new high-rises (including the development of Brooklyn’s then-tallest building, the Brooklyner), the mammoth Barclay’s Center, countless ritzy restaurants and bars, and in the distance, the multi-million-dollar Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Brownstones in my old neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. How has the brownstone come to represent a certain urban lifestyle? And who has access to it?

Brownstones in my old neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. How has the brownstone come to represent a certain urban lifestyle? And who has access to it?

The second memory is rooted in a more sweeping experience of the city at the ground level.

It was the archetypal overcast, gray, late fall day, and an unhappy line-up of medical, personal, and work-related appointments forced me to make pit stops in four boroughs (and Long Island) within a short time period.

Driving around the traffic-clogged Belt Parkway became stressful not because I was running late all day, but because sitting for hours in a mobile, metal capsule forced me to marinate in melancholic memories.

As I drove all around the city, I was bombarded with movie reel-like scenes for each passing landmark and place.

I tried to hold it in, to think positively of what was to come, but it jumped out from an invisible crevice inside of me: so many memories


Now that I’ve lived in “America’s Finest City” for a full year, I’ve been given a number of things to think about.

As one can guess, it is much more complicated than a “thumbs up, thumbs down” evaluation of San Diego. But my situation has forced me to pause and consider how multiple layers of alienation can operate socially and spatially.

There’s suburban alienation. Academic alienation. The geographic alienation of living far from community.

Being economically compelled to live in the cheap graduate housing that lies within the super-wealthy, super-white neighborhood in which UCSD is situated—La Jolla—my life is more than just physically situated in a borderlands space.

It is filled with stentorian, everyday reminders of where I am, a fact that was striking during my first month in which I felt I was experiencing in La Jolla a selectively orchestrated bundle of the worst, Hollywood-infused stereotypes of southern California: suburban cul-de-sacs with breathtaking ocean or canyon views; limitless, box-model shopping malls and plazas that house uniform chain stores, cafés, and restaurants; a hegemonic car culture that reproduces (sub)urban sprawl; and a prevailing cult of self-fixated bodily perfection centered around the “beach body.”

A different kind of geography: A typical La Jolla intersection.

A different kind of geography: A typical La Jolla intersection.

As I understand it, the hyper-individualistic consumption ethos that is both cause and effect of this catastrophe is intimately intertwined with a long history of white supremacist dominion over colonized space.

I’m learning, through one of the most extreme examples possible, what it means to exist in  the hyperreal space of suburban hell (something I see as linked to contemporary neoliberal gentrification for numerous reasons).

It is this notion of owning or occupying a private space of “your own,” the emphatic American ideal of home ownership, that marks what race scholar George Lipsitz calls the ‘possessive investment in whiteness.”

It is an investment that produces clear spatial consequences: gated communities on one end, criminalized black and brown communities on the other. As we see in cities around the world, these ‘othered’ urban spaces are increasingly targeted as domestic threats under national security policing.

The surrealness of having been transplanted from the Brooklyn barrio to this ultra-ritzy beachside suburbia is one that never escapes me, for I am constantly reminded of the ways in which I don’t belong.

For instance, my beat-up, used 2001 Honda Civic garners the attention of police in a neighborhood where new sports cars and militarized BMW’s are the norm. (To say nothing of my first six, car-less months, during which I experienced street harassment simply for waiting at a bus stop or walking on the sidewalk.)

In a similar vein, as a low-income graduate student paradoxically living in an affluent area, I frustratingly find that my nearest options for food and services (like haircuts) are incredibly overpriced.

The signs are both subtle and not-so-subtle. The environment makes it clear that I don’t belong here.


Whether we speak of suburban, academic, or neoliberal alienation, the same holds true with respect to geography: spaces can become alienating and confining, even carceral, in the absence of community and genuine social ties.

If there is something that my experience has foregrounded, it’s the nature of the way postmodern geographies can be alienating and surreal in numerous ways: whether it takes a cosmopolitan, suburban or exurban form, there are simply exponential ways in which one can feel excluded and distanced.

It is a reality that also brings me backs to my former ethical reflections on resistance vs. acceptance: Up to what point should we continue to fight to shape our local spaces, fight to build and sustain geographies of radical democracy and freedom? Fight for our right  to mold liberatory spaces that align with the needs and interests of our communities and local environments? Fight for our right to the city?

On the other hand, at what point must the atomized self relinquish designs on radical reconstruction of space in order to seek out a path of radical acceptance (if such a thing is even possible)?

Not to be confused, this is not a question of accepting or submitting to injustice or geographies of domination. It’s about acknowledging that many of my issues may not be resolved simply by moving from one geography to another; it may actually be about transforming my perception and relationship to the cities I live in. Being able to find joy and serenity even within the most distant and ‘alienated’ of places.

This leads me to a final question: Can one find home anywhere?

If a homeland can’t be reclaimed in a physical geography, how useful and necessary is it to search for home internally–be it mentally, spiritually, or psychically?

To seek, in other words–in the tackiest of terms–a home at heart?

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Wars on All Fronts: Why Solidarity Among People of Color Matters

In Decolonization, History, The Revolution on August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

I was in San Pedro Sula when the first bombs from the latest Israeli offensive were dropped onto Gaza. I was already in bed, but my decision to jump into the Facehole kept me thinking.

It was my last night in the city that gave birth to my mother, and where a good deal of our family still lives. And having had the opportunity to experience—if only tangentially and precariously—life in what bourgie whites have dubbed “the most violent city in the world,” I tried to relate what I saw and heard to the news accounts coming out of my MacBook. Before I even had time to process my thoughts on this emotion-ridden trip, I saw (in one of those brief moments of Internet access) a post on my Facebook News Feed from the Electronic Intifada: an unmistakable cloud of dust over buildings in Gaza City. It was, supposedly, the culmination of a series of events that could be traced back to Nakba Day, when two Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It was a culmination of events that brought on a full-scale bombing by one of the world’s most well-equipped military regimes in the world. (As of 2009, Israel’s military was only second to the United States in terms of per capita spending)

It was already almost midnight as I read about it on my smartphone. Gang-based terrorism keeps most of the San Pedro Sula indoors by nightfall, so it was, for a New Yorker like myself, more solemnly dark and quiet than I was used to. I had spent a good part of the past week reflecting on something that has been making headlines for months, but now it felt all-too-real in its complexity: What were the factors that would propel people to flee a narco-run Honduras, risking their lives to avoid a destiny of insecurity, if not death? What was driving this renewed genocidal impulse against Palestinians? And in this latest show of force on a marginalized, Black community in a St. Louis suburb, I’ve been made to wonder again, now from the luxury of my Brooklyn apartment: what does it mean to be an American citizen and a person of color in a time of ongoing wars?


Coming back from Honduras, I didn’t know what to make of the relative lack of non-Arab people of color at the Palestine solidarity marches. Where are the people who came out on May Day to protest the Deporter-in-Chief? Where are the people who made their beautiful voices heard on Union Square—and in the spontaneous follow-up march—the day after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted last summer? Likewise, are the Arab youth who made their way to the United Nations some weeks ago also seeing an image of their brethren in the Brown children being deported at the border, or the unarmed Black youth gratuitously shot multiple times by hyper-armed, racist police?

This brings me to the point of this exercise: Solidarity. Lately, the most inspiring, hope filled moments in this time of War—in Gaza, in urban America, in the borderlands—have been during the courageous displays of crucial love and support, even when these displays were no more than symbolic. It has been demonstrated in protest signs, joint letters (examples: here and here), and countless alliances; here, too, social media seems to have played a role in at least making them more visible (if not also helping facilitate the exchanges).

So having, like many of my friends, absorbed most of my news media through my Facebook and Twitter accounts, my online Walls have forced me to home in on the linkages between the issues that matter to me. While we’re often inured into parsing issues by region (e.g. the Middle East, urban America, the Southwest), exhibitions of solidarity also have the potential to break down the dictatorial walls of rigid disciplinarity and news-mandated regionalism, and help us see common ground and common goals. After all, as frustrating as it is for me to choose between a march for affordable housing in Manhattan, and a concurrent march for Palestine in Brooklyn, or between a bus trip to Ferguson and a bus trip to Nogales, having to ghettoize the world’s problems the way we do our cities strikes me as counter-revolutionary. (This is not to argue in defense of large mobilizations versus smaller formations, but, rather, that when we make our way to our respective marches and rallies, we should have the plight of others in our heart as well)

Our data-drenched world also has the potential to facilitate a broader, more critical understanding of what has long been intuitively felt: the same multinational corporations, like Elbit Systems or Caterpillar, will be as involved in the destruction of communities at the US-Mexico border as they are in the construction of Israeli settlements and separation barriers that torment Palestinians in the West Bank. The back-and-forth exchange in surveillance and “defense” technologies, as well as policing tactics, between the states of Israel and the United States will end up producing analogous outcomes against Black and Brown people around the world. The flip side of this liberalized exchange, however, is the accessible, live action sharing of information between peoples struggling for liberation, as was seen in the Tweet suggestions between protestors in Palestine and Missouri, both of whom have faced the tear gas canisters manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc.

Shedding light on the crucial linkages between mass incarceration, militarized policing, immigration politics and the War on Terror is not merely an ideological exercise—it is a necessary part of the struggle for liberation. As the error-prone militant groups from the early ’70s themselves realized, tracing out the different ways in which oppressive neo-colonial logics and technologies work to ‘divide and conquer’ is part of the ongoing work against capitalist white supremacy. And so I put myself to work researching  three battleground areas: Gaza, criminalized/gentrified America, and the US-Mexico border.

And then the political economy crept back in again. I realized these issues, while rising in prominence in the last decade, had common roots in the 1980s—the same period most commonly attributed with the rise of global neoliberalism.

As made evident in David Harvey’s iconic A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the decade saw: the roll-back of the welfare state; the growth of austerity programs locally and abroad; the pummeling of poor (er, colonized and robbed) economies; the rise of civil wars in Central America and the concomitant migrant refugee crisis; the crack “epidemic” and the rise of the War on Drugs (and with it, the beginning of the rise of mass incarceration); and, lastly, the beginning of the first Intifada.

Recognizing the perverse capitalist incentives that enable for these common oppressions, and tracing the genealogies of colonial thought that make themselves manifest in the undying quest to destroy the livelihoods of people of color, one comes to see that solidarity is not only useful—it is essential. And resistance is not simply justified—if we are to survive, it is mandatory. That protestors in Ferguson and Gaza need even supply a rationale—that resistance under occupation is justified—already speaks to the heavy hand the State exerts in the colonized mind.

In speaking about solidarity with Palestine (or about child migrants or the gunning of black youth, for that matter), it’s not enough to talk about “humanitarian crises” and the condescending “poor people” of Gaza. This dispels actions abroad as something that is out there, when the reality is that they are just as much in here. If there is a message I would like to emphasize above all others, it is that this is not a “Middle Eastern conflict”—this is (for those of us in the United States, but also everywhere) just as much about us, and our complicity as purveyors of genocide, as it is about the people who are resisting.

And in directing this message particularly to the people of color of the United States (“people of color” being as problematic a phrase as any, but being useful in this context), the intent should be clear: a failure to show solidarity among ourselves is not merely a tactical error. It’ll be a perpetuation of the colonial divide and conquer strategy that killed off my ancestors in the Native American Holocaust. The tired ol’ adage of people not knowing their history will be ever more real in this context.

 

Between Light and Shadow: the last words of Subcomandante Marcos

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, The Revolution on May 26, 2014 at 4:44 PM

 

EZLNDelivering his “last words” on May 24th, 2014—more than 20 years after the Zapatistas first launched their counteroffensive against NAFTA-mediated neoliberalism—Subcomandante Marcos was indelibly poetic and forceful. I’m sure numerous articles analyzing the Zapatista spokesperson are forthcoming (not to mention the numerous misnomers, equivocations, and otherwise hostile corporate interpretations), but I couldn’t resist the urge to share his powerful speech. In it, he runs through themes of primal importance to revolutionary struggles today, as pertinent to indigenous survival as to the larger preservation of humanity.

Talking in the aftermath of the murder of Galeano, a Zapatista teacher killed by a state-infiltrated farm workers collective (Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos Histórica, or CIOAC-H), he conjures up themes of memories, dreams, illusions, and holograms to discuss what is imminent in the struggle of La Realidad (“The Reality”), the telltale site of the murder. Speaking to the pain and rage of the loss of Galeano (as well as the loss of twenty years of Zapatista insurgency, and 500 years of indigenous resistance), his last words will likely leave an imprint as powerful as those of fallen revolutionaries like Malcolm X or Huey Newton.

Except that Subcomandante Marcos is an illusion. A hologram. A strategic fabrication. A spokesman placed before the media, a play of light and shade.

Speaking towards an audience of alternative media reporters, he talks about how indigenous leaders in Chiapas decided to construct the personage that became Subcomandante Marcos [self-translated; original transcript here; audio here]:

 

“Just days [after the initial uprising in January 1994], with the blood of our fallen still fresh along city streets, we realized that those on the outside didn’t see us. 

Accustomed to looking down on the indigenous, they didn’t look up to see us.

Accustomed to seeing us humiliated, their heart didn’t understand our dignified rebellion.

They focused, instead, on the only mestizo wearing a balaclava.

Our chiefs then said:“They only see things on their own level, as small as they are. Let’s put someone on their level so that they can see him and, through him, they can see us.”

Thus began a complex maneuver of distraction: a magic trick that was terrible and marvelous; a mischievous move the indigenous heart that we are: the indigenous wisdom defied modernity in one of its strongholds: the media.Thus began the construction of the character named “Marcos”.

I ask you to follow me in this reasoning:

Suppose there is another way neutralize a criminal. For example, creating his murder weapon; making him believe it is effective; order him to construct, on the basis of its effectiveness, his entire plan so that, in the moment in which he prepares to shoot it, the “weapon” turns back to what it always was: an illusion.

The entire system, but especially its media, play a game of building reputations only to destroy them if they don’t bend to their designs.

Their power resided (now no longer, as they’ve been displaced by social networks) in deciding who and what existed in the moment in which they chose who named and who silenced.

Anyway, do not pay me much attention, for as has been demonstrated in these 20 years, I know nothing of mass media.

The fact is that the SupMarcos went from being a spokesperson to being a distraction.

If the path of war–that is, of death–had taken us 10 years; that of life took longer and required more effort, not to mention blood.

Because, believe it or not, it is easier to die than to live.”

 

In speaking to the power of story-telling, illusions, and the violent coercive power of the statist, corporate media, Marcos—the hologram spokesman of the Zapatistas—deepens the linkage between hegemony (ideology) and material reality.

Undoubtedly, the media has long played an important role in projecting images and representations of the Zapatistas and their struggle against neoliberalism and State violence; many have even suggested that the survival of the indigenous rebellion in Chiapas necessitated something of a spectator “global civil society” (including its alternative media) to keep eyes on the State. Today, social media platforms are recent entrants to the mix of representation, helping project the voices of countless indigenous freedom fighters from Chiapas and beyond.

And at the crossroads of “vague geographies,” cyberspace, historical memory, and trans-generational story-telling, there arises in the physical death of Galeano the symbolic death of Marcos. The insurgency has decided that Marcos, the iconic image of the EZLN, had become obsolete:

“…we realized that there was now a generation that could look at us upfront, that could listen to us and speak to us without waiting for a guide or leadership, nor wanting submission nor following.

 Marcos, the personage, was no longer necessary.

The new stage in the Zapatista struggle was ready.”

 In its stead shall thrive the resurrected Subcomandante Galeano, who states after Marcos disappears: “Ah, so that’s why they said that when I’d be reborn, I would do so in the collective.”

Between Light and Shadow, Fantasy and Reality. A comrade dead, another resurrected.  ¡Pa’rriba Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano!

Voten Galeano Vive

Bring Them Home: Plight of Undocumented Youth

In Decolonization, Educational Justice, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 23, 2013 at 11:06 PM
educationnotdeportation

The various links between the school-to-prison pipeline and immigration policy are astounding. Rather than investing in our underfunded public schools, jurisdictions throughout the country have been putting money into building new prisons and expanding law enforcement agencies.

A group of undocumented Mexican-Americans decided to showcase the need for a humane immigration policy by making a trip to Mexico–and then trying to cross back into the united states.

The eight activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA)–dubbed the “Dream 8”–were almost sure to get arrested despite the applications they brought to re-enter the u.s. on humanitarian grounds. Yesterday, as they attempted to cross through a Border Patrol station by Nogales, Mexico, they were detained and sent to Arizona’s Florence Detention Center.

Although the youth from NIYA did not explicitly target the DREAM Act, I’m sure their courageous efforts resonate with many undocumented youth looking for an opportunity to “naturalize,” go to college, no longer live in fear. (The DREAM Act, first introduced to the Senate in 2001, would provide permanent residency to undocumented youth who grew up in the united states for an extended period and complete two years of college or military.)

Currently, after twelve years of activists and politicians fighting for approval of the DREAM Act, it seems as if some important congressional ground has been traversed. The DREAM Act was embedded in the  S. 744 Border (in)Security Act passed by the Senate last month (read more about S. 744 from my previous post). And after several debates within the House of Representatives, with strong pro-immigrant leadership from Chicago’s Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), Reps are now wrangling over whether undocumented immigrants who are not covered under the DREAM Act should receive amnesty.

For some activists, this has been an exciting as well as nerve-wracking period as immigrant amnesty seems, for the first time in a long while, possible. Others are cautious, wary of of the attached provisions and stipulations, or completely furious about the potential hazards immigration reform (as it exists right now) can unleash. I definitely fall in the latter group, fed up as I am with congressional-statist politics as well as the lethal implications of border militarization that congressional Republicans are demanding.

Lulu Martinez, an undocumented youth activist, discusses her decision to travel to Mexico:

Having worked around a number of immigrants’ rights campaigns in New York and Rhode Island, not to mention my steady passion May Day immigrant-labor solidarity, I usually have much to say about the politics of immigration to the united states. As the son of Latin American immigrants, having grown up in a large immigrant neighborhood in a multiracial metropolis, working for immigrant justice was intuitively appealing. And as a college student at Brown, I became involved with a group that worked on policy and legislation. I’ve since come to disdain electoral and statist politics, having been inspired by anarcho-communist activism, but I very much understand the impact of laws on peoples’ livelihoods.

Investigating immigration history and reading about these latest DREAMers, I’m also reminded of the fascinating politics that surround this bill.  Acknowledging this bill as dreadfully reformist,  a growing number of leftists are voicing an opposition to it for creating a stratification  of merit and arbitrating who has good “moral character.” By giving youth the option of becoming naturalized through military service, it essentially incentivizes matriculation into the country’s large war machine, particularly for youth with limited success in academics. And by selectively  deeming which undocumented youth are “worthy” of naturalization (i.e. those with good grades, with no criminal record, etc.), it also promotes a meritocratic myth that is simply harmful for youth trying to overcome life obstacles. Personally, I would be glad if the DREAM Act passed (it’s just common sense), but I would temper that optimism with an acknowledgment of those immigrant youth who are not eligible under the  arbitrary legislative measures. 

Once again, I am left sighing about the unfortunate state of immigration policy. It is one of the most conspicuous examples of how the state adjudicates who a belonging member “citizen,” who is in and who is out. Focusing the public’s attention on distracting issues, such as the question of who has a right to reside in this country, mainstream politics succeeds in diverting us from thinking about the more fundamental questions. Why, for instance, do we have borders? Why do we have countries, and why are millions of people immigrating to the u.s.? And why is it that we give special privileges to citizens, as opposed to acknowledging the humanity of every global civilian?

racist_xenophobic_patriotic_ad

Patriotic, nationalist fervor typically goes hand in hand with xenophobia. This flyer is truly fascinating, if misleading: whites were the original colonizers, the first “aliens” to steal land on Turtle Island.

Articles on the Dream 8:

Washington Post

Buzzfeed

Lizbeth Mateo:

no-nations-no-borders-and-no-gods-no-masters

My sentiments, exactly.

The Trayvon Trial and the Need for Righteous Rage

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin
 (March 21st, 2012)

Hard to believe it was over a year ago. I’m proud of the fact that I was present here, although shamefully sans hoodie.

As the jury deliberates its verdict for George Zimmerman, the man charged with the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I feel some uncomfortable fusion of listless resignation and indescribable fury. White supremacy has never left us, and Jim Crow has only morphed into stealthier, more subversive villain. The long list of issues makes it clear how badly racial justice has regressed in this country, for in the last few weeks we have seen:

  •          A curtailment of voting rights in the South
  •          The evisceration of affirmative action
  •          The proposed militarization of the country’s borders
  •          Several state-by-state threats to a woman’s right to abortion
    (affecting particularly women of color)
  •           Direct assaults on indigenous sovereignty
  •           An ongoing criminalization of young men of color that targets “cultural”
    behaviors over economic disenfranchisement (e.g. the school-to-prison
    pipeline, or (quite unbelievably) the various “saggy pants” legislation
    throughout the country

And yes, surprising as it may be to some, this has all happened under a black president, a Democrat, and a man who was supposed to represent “hope” in the aftermath of global financial disaster and eight difficult years under President Bush.

As far as the Trayvon Martin case is concerned, I am feeling quite cynical of the possibility of true “justice” being served. Although I hope some modicum of justice transpires, such that Zimmerman is found guilty of unreasonable and bigoted manslaughter, I am completely aware that sending one man to prison isn’t enough. (This, even as last year’s cathartic chants of “Prosecute Zimmerman” and “Execute Zimmerman” still ring clearly in my ears.)

And I agree with the recently published statement by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, where the group states:

We have no plans to celebrate any conviction, since all possible “legal” outcomes point squarely toward a re-imagined Jim Crow justice….

Zimmerman may be acquitted, and while this would be a slap in the face, the entire trial has been a slap in the face, the media campaign to demonize this young man is a slap in the face, and the entire system of racial profiling, mass incarceration, capitalist exploitation, and police terror is a slap in the face and a punch in the gut.”

And this demonization of Trayvon Martin, an innocent 17-year-old who was targeted for wearing a gray hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, is not novel. Not in the least.

Trayvon_Martin_Justice

The Trayvon murder ignited a national conversation about something that is all too common. Yes, we’ve chanted, we’ve rallied, we’ve marched. But when do we know we’ve found justice?


Decolonizing Jim Crow

As a person of color, as a still-young man who has worked with various youth populations, I understand how the white mainstream can—and will—vilify us to exonerate their culpability in heinous inequalities. It is evident in the spatial injustice that constitutes marginalized ghetto communities and poorly funded neighborhood resources. It is evident in the scarce funding for public schools, and the inversely proportional funding for our expanding prisons. And it is evident in the fact that more than half of young black men without a high school diploma are unemployed (much more than comparable demographics).

Indeed, I have experienced just how injustice is propagated even in the most “liberal” of amerikkkan cities—New York. I have experienced, and witnessed, “proper” white adults from more affluent neighborhoods patronizing us for the ways we dress or speak (not daring to investigate the roots of resistive language against oppressive white hegemony). I have experienced, and witnessed, white people showing authentic surprise when we showcase “mature” or “intelligent” qualities (read: able to adapt to and integrate white cultural norms). Even worse: I have experienced, and witnessed, the very nuanced and subtle ways in which white supremacy infects us to the point of creating an epidemic of internalized bigotries, becoming a source of rage that rips apart families.

None of this is meant to so much as scratch the surface of a long history of white supremacist violence against men of color. It also does not touch the equally, if not more devastating, topic of violence against trans* people of color and women of color. But seeing the highlights of a trial that has showcased the worst stereotypes of racism in the neoliberal age of colorblindness, I am reminded of the perverse and irrational abuses that murder innocent young men like Trayvon, Ramarley Graham, and Bo Morrison. While we may be indoctrinated to view these cases as isolated incidents of “bad cops,” people fighting for true justice must resist this ideological wrench.  We must make it clear to the public that an amerikkkanist culture of white supremacy—a “re-imagined Jim Crow”—still persists in everyday life.

subway racism

In New York City, the subway facilitates a convergence of different types of people. As such, racism proliferates in subtle ways (sitting or moving elsewhere) and not-so-subtle ways (the relatively rare screaming or pushing).

Despite my deeply-entrenched indignation, I still bear optimism for the possibility of change. But as corresponds with my skepticism of reformist politics in challenging state-orchestrated violence, I imagine that a substantive overthrow of this new Jim Crow will require an extirpation of imperial legacies more than 500 years old. A true uprooting of racism—to the extent that such an ahistorical process would ever be possible—would necessitate a potent counter-resistance that can match the powers that link liberalized capital and the modern colonial-settler state. In other words, it would require a decolonization of the mind, body, and soul of a people conditioned into an acceptance of racial hierarchy and violence.

Indeed, from my vantage point, our country’s regrettable actions against youth of color—as seen in the ways we deprive them of opportunities given unquestionably to whites, as well as in the ways we criminalize and vilify them in the mainstream media—are simply demanding civil unrest. Whether this manifests as a veritable uprising that takes cue from the militancy of ‘60s Black Power, or from the cyber-fluidity of contemporary, regime-changing revolutions, remains to be seen. But given the direction of racial politics in this most imperialist of nations, more civil unrest is a virtual guarantee.

And as with every such unrest, it’s hard to forecast where the fire will finally ignite.

trayvonmartincase

Zimmerman’s defense attorney apparently acquired a graphic design person to manufacture this indelible image: it is an animation “proving” how Trayvon attacked his murderer.

 

“I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN”

A young white woman acknowledges that, if anything else, whites should really be saying “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” I find her points potentially instructive for a mainstream white audience in the united states.

Kristin Richardson Jordan

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