at the end of this day
i lean/ in/ on/around
what it is to live on this rock
in the midst of this war
you say- war is blood
invasion and troops, all flagged up
the pentagon and military
there and not here
some say- freedom and violence go hand in hand
but i’ll return to that
since freedom is an overused word
in an underfree world
this war is wave after wave
of pain, uncertainty, confusion
many of us seeking out reasons
relief, healing ourselves in our search for
answers for the pain and oppression laid at our feet
scrolled in our newsfeed
boiling in blood
scratching at our throats
do we speak, as we learn, as we unlearn
do we destroy as we deconstruct
can we support ourselves and each other
while we tear those behaviors-
the ones inherited, absorbed, internalized
out of ourselves?
these are the questions that keep me up at night
nearly every night
for the next day will be more or less, war
and the day after that will be more or less, war
comrades preparing themselves for the loss of themselves
if i hear another friend tell me to burn the world down if they die….
repression is what happens when you resist
oppression is what happens when you don’t
both to be dragged or laid at our feet
either way, this pain can bloom
and bruise in the most paintful of ways
on a canvas based white when it blotted out this land
framed states with borders
called some- person, subject, citizen
gave you- rights
just so they can take them away
called itself- the law
held together with blood
and that is not metaphor
but still we compete for affection under a societies misdirection
want it to reform itself, value our health
give it the allegiance it so violently demands of us
but does not deserve
there is no consent here
the state will never educate you on alternatives to itself
this hierarchy will never tell you there are other ways to organize ourselves
this government will never tell you it needs fear, racism, violence, poverty and war
to justify itself
some say- liberation and violence go hand in hand
i think they are correct
i am not a pacifist
because this system is violent
not because i think we can spread so called democracy
with the barrel of a gun
not because i think “guns” are revolutionary
because like most tools, no one thing is
but because we have to look at what is known about resistance
there are alternatives to this system
they are vibrant, all lifeblood and shiny
but not new
some of them so old we can barely remember
but each time we thrive together
making joy under the rubble of this hierarchy
we get just a taste of the remembering
even though the waves come crashing again
to remind us
they will come, again and again
we can rise with the moon each night
to meet the tide
if you look inside you will see that you know this
Since i’ve become involved in movement spaces, i’ve been frustrated by the still looming threats of sexism and rape culture, within and without activism, radicalism and society and the way that culture shows up differently depending.
As i’ve grown older and more aware of the hierarchy in which we live, i’ve revisited this awareness of sexism and gendered violence, with a commitment to searching out and confronting distorted accusations toward men of color produced by popularized white supremacist patriarchal culture. This production has likely served to insulate white men from being held to account for their responsibility in creating a hierarchy of violence and patriarchy that other nonwhite masculine of center and menfolk have adapted and enforced against womn in our communities.
But I digress, because i mostly want to talk about womn and femme of center lovelies in this world. I only hope that men too will revisit their behaviors and methodologies of interaction, of navigating the white supremacist patriarchy, with a commitment to confronting the learned usability of womn and femininity.
As with everything within a racialized rigid gendered hierarchy that still favors cis white womnn, the fetishization of radical womn can disproportionately become weaponized against women of color, particularly black and indigenous womn. It shows up in so many ways, first and foremost in the interpersonal, but also the structural way in which our movements are organized. There are so many amazing critical articles sharing perspective on sexism, misogynoir (specific racialized sexism against black womn, yes, even by other non-black womn), transmisogyny, over sexualization, fetishization of womn of color, all working together to categorize, amplify, restrict and attack how we express femininity.
I want to talk about how these sexisms and misogyny changes forms in self declared radical spaces, with participants who learn the language of anti sexism and “feminism”, who stand beside us and call us radical womn and say they mean it as a compliment, recognition, but it ends up being another category to be exploited. Where men call themselves feminists as proclamation rather than through actions that confront themselves and other men in non dominating ego flexing ways. Even while we have done extensive work on how patri-hierarchy oppresses and frames masculinity, men and all children, or how assigned/enforced gender and the contingent development of masculinity limits the development and recognition of duality, fluidity and femininity in gender identity. Womn continue doing work for men, even for their liberation. This has been true in so many ways, through emotional labor, material labor, in our homes, on the streets, in the workplace, in our movements, all of our relationships. Even if we preclude cis men from spaces to work on our own experiences of misogyny and breathe, they often need help coping with de-centering or processing exclusion, processing our resistance.
They are afraid we are angry. Under patriarchy our resistance, which is not the same (amongst each other), serves as another barrier to the men around us. Sure, they benefit from it. They even affirm it, they have to! But a lot of the times they just don’t know how to “deal with us”. Womn and femmes break barriers every day all day long, smashing silence, interrupting power, spreading resilience. But checking MANpower tends to not be enough, structurally. So in spaces where men or masc of center folks know they can’t be mainstream sexist, how does it show up?
Have you noticed that being branded a radical, while being femme, means you will be watched more closely, not just for information, but to catch you when you slip? While at the same time men or masc. of center people named radical seems to enjoy a type of buffer that shields them from the same hyper-critical visibility, it actually buys them space. If femininity isn’t taken as invitation enough to be constantly evaluated for our worth, being considered a radical and femme of center person seems to be a special kind of license for hyper vigilance and pressure. This visibility comes with our own hyper awareness of the ways in which others respond, verbally, emotionally, visually to us. We attract attention, the sizing up of womn in rad spaces like we are either opponents, which results in our actions and ideas being constantly measured, or as objects to be watched or tokenized. And with attention comes increased demands on our time, energy, labor, and our bodies. In liberal spaces this brings with it expectations- our “radical” participation is demanded, not respected, but used and wielded as leverage to win gains for more “reasonable” goals. Meanwhile, we take the risk.
On social media, it results in people watching us, piecing together our posts, constructing versions of us that fit narratives others construct for us- rather than what we construct for ourselves. Sometimes made targets based on the wholeness and multiplicity of our femmexperience and how attraction manifests in our spaces, the hierarchy of desirability (inclusion), the ways in which we are approached. For trans and non binary folks this attraction or attention can be dangerous or turn to violence.
We learn to navigate oppression and develop tactics and discussion to combat and confront misogyny in resistance for our fucking survival. This shit is not cute, even if we feel it. It is not meant to be sexualized, or an invitation for your attention or MACtivism or machismo. If you are at attention, you can be listening and learning while recognizing the unpaid, devalued labor we are doing for ourselves that you are piecing apart and benefiting from for yourself. So many of us become “go to” people to validate or explain analysis and provide information, even though half the time it results in needling and provocation with people who just wanted to argue in the first place. Online this results in harassment, trolling, death threats and if we speak out against it usually we have to deal not just with one abuser, but a network of apologists for the abuse.
Oftentimes femme resistance ends up attracting observers in a way that further objectifies us and divorces us, in their eyes, from the real struggle of our survival. The worst form of this is people who think that our resistance is attractive and while they are fascinated, they really want to tame us. They want to tell us we are overreacting, demanding too much, capture our attention just to show us that #NotAllMen. They invite us out or to an event, but don’t really want us to show up in all our fullness. They position themselves next to us for social credibility, but stay out of the kitchen when it gets too hot.
This is a reflection on informal hierarchies that develop in our relationships and mentorship relationships including with elders / re: intergenerational ageism in our communities.
As womn, femmes and youth, together there are so many barriers to participating in social movements and critical spaces that one of the solutions to this seems to be informal or formal mentorship. In my opinion, consent is the most important part of all our relations, including mentorship relationships. The issue with these relationships is they tend to look like- people who carry more social capital determining how younger femmes and womn can get access to enough social power to be able to participate authentically. Some spaces (less so these days) are dominated by men, and by fitting in under someone’s “wing” you can avoid the seemingly expected ritual of navigating a new space or movement without social capital. It should be noted that I’ve been in enough situations where older (white) womn have put me in positions where I am supporting them, but if i don’t follow predetermined expectations, they will withdraw emotional social material support. We all need a support structure, but how that support is structured is key.
Mentorship gone bad can have consequences. When (if, but when) issues that need to be addressed arise in the space, whether bullying or physical and sexual abuse, it tends to be a trend that men will call forward their comrades to confront folks on their behalf. I hate writing about this, because womn /femmes mediating patriarchy or abuse is common both as exhaustion and solution. If someone is also under the authorship of a mentor, and the person being called in is their mentor, there is that much more pressure on womn to act as apologist OR mediator or both for their mentor. This is partially a reflection on the dynamics and exchanges of social capital, a type of currency present in all our interactions but magnified within social movements. It’s that much harder to call to account a person who is highly regarded in the community, who has social capital, or provides particular skills or labor to the community, especially if they are positioned with privilege.
Masc of center peoples will shield themselves in the relationships they build with womn and femmes. Abusers will shield themselves in the relationships they build with others. This is because it is that much easier to isolate and alienate womn and femmes, or targets of abuse generally, from movement spaces than it is to have constructive accountability processes with abusers about their behavior and its consequences.
Non-binary & Transfemme Erasure
We can’t exclude examining the specific ways in which trans femmes and nonbinary folks have their existence, labor and resistance both erased and fetishized at the same time. Gender policing and fetishization of gender itself creates barriers in movement spaces, especially spaces that lack facilitators who are themselves non binary or trans. This often results in non binary or trans femmes being ignored or not warmly approached or appreciated for their brilliance or contributions.
Trans women of color particularly have spent much of their lives fighting for their survival only to have that struggle slurped up by the mainstream LGBTQ movement, distorted and whitewashed. With hyper visibility (including resistance) comes increased violence for trans womn of color. Still now, our transfemme comrades seem to be appreciated for their disruption only when it doesn’t effect the agenda setters and gate keepers of mainstream movement organizing. Fetishization disproportionately affects trans women of color and non binary or gnc femme of center peoples. Probably in all the ways previously outlined, but also in more ways that I myself can define, and with an increased threat of violence.
To some degree, despite the variability of our skills and struggles, womn are positioned outside the labor models that wage us (unpaid labor), but still within hierarchical relationships that exploit us (home care, house work, domestic violence). For womn of color there is not just one career, a trade, a routine that fits neatly into capitalism, both because of adaptability but also because of lack of stability (particularly affecting TWOC). Our intuition cannot be neatly categorized within the economy. Similarly, neither can our resistance, and womn have been burned for this (literally). We are givers- this is often both burden and strength which seems to characterize most of our resisting life, and we are still resented for it. And because we already do a lot of “voluntary” situational labor, we fit right into the self organizing labor that comes with practicing/coordinating/sharing in collective resistance and movement spaces.
I recently saw a meme that reminded me about how we treat femininity without transformation of social racial political economic proportions. Resistance does not mean less labor for womn, and really it might mean more for everyone. Still, we can create towards a restructuring of how we approach our relationships and the spaces we inhabit with ableism and accessibility in mind- going beyond the idea of ‘equal’ mandatory labor and toward a vision of ‘shared’ labor. Really challenging the usability of each other, going beyond the value systems of worth we’ve internalized via hierarchist misogynist models of power.
But the meme reads: lover, sister, healer, housekeeper, cook, coach, doctor, therapist, storyteller, taxi driver, nanny, mother, teacher, organizer, friend… none of which can be reduced just to an individual job, but an entire care economy that demands womn and fem of center folx to do all of the above at any time, at the same time, upon request, or even without request, to fill in, pull the slack, even read minds. How exhausting! As a recovering workaholic myself, I have to be extremely aware of how my propensity to take on more and more responsibility reproduces itself in resistance. This practice can be extremely alienating to people who are already made to feel marginalized and excluded by the work models of capitalist white supremacist patriarchy. But often the people fielding the most pain and trauma are also the ones made responsible for the labor of healing not just themselves, but others. Of mediating not just their own conflicts, but those of the people they care about and so on.
Care work seems to be even multiplied almost exponentially in spaces where worth is measured in radical vulnerability. The care we share is for our survival, within and in spite of capitalist white supremacist hetero-patriarchy. And often we want to do this care work because we desire it to be mutual, interwoven into our collective struggle, as a model of liberation. We might even want it to cease to be work- but that’s just not the case now. The challenge is that because care work is so feminized, it has been undervalued and unrecognized and others have yet to recognize it and adopt it themselves.
All people benefit from care work, including the emotional labor required to process our environment and conditions. Deconstruction is a practice that can be just as much internal as it is communal. But sometimes people transpose that responsibility into labor required of others in movement spaces. Especially since men are being demanded to decenter masculinity in movement spaces and to center the voices and perspectives of womn, particularly queer and trans womnn of color, there is a significant amount of effort needed to process and apply these constantly repeated principles into practice. This labor time and time again gets displaced onto femme of center people.
At the same time I have seen and known men friends who have worked really hard to give lip service and at times, actually practice, solidarity with femmes and womn while also working on themselves. I’ve done emotional labor listening and offering perspective to these men- almost as a form of mutual aid. As with all situations and dynamics of structural power, regarding masculinity, recognizing and undermining how those power dynamics show up in our interpersonal dynamics and spaces needs to be constant vigilance- emotional labor. For masculine folx who are committed to this practice, I have found that even if they are good at it, if they go through some shit, or a multiplicity of challenges come up in their life that shake them, this commitment will falter and the power to float by on misogyny (resistance is supplemental, misogyny is default) will slip through. Know this.
Take the time to care for yourself, so it’s not all on us. So we don’t have to do both- care for ourselves in your wake, and care for you. We have our own deconstruction to do too. Entire networks of womn and femmes should not form in order to support each other in coping with your ish.
Just remember it isn’t just the state responding to our resistance that makes targets of us, but the way established power dynamics and hierarchies reproduced keep femme of center movers, shakers and agitators on the outs, tokenized, or our resistance harvested for relevance and social capital while we stay fetishized ourselves.
Many thanks to the compa who read over this and has both gone through some of this stuff with me and talked with me about it repeatedly. Also please listen to this audio discussion via On Resistance on the Fetishization of Radical Womn.
In Los Angeles the police have been publicizing their new body camera program rolling out what will amount to 7,000 police body cams in the next coming years. Those of us who have been around cops with body cameras the last few years are not only not impressed, but critical of fanfare over the measure even though we haven’t seen any evidence it prevents police harassment real time. In fact, the opposite is true. Police harassment is increased with the use of body cameras. In 2015 alone “1138 people were killed by police in the US. That’s every 7hrs and 48 minutes someone was killed by cops. LAPD led the country. Here’s the link to these stats as published by Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-map-us-police-killings
Instead of much demanded police accountability, the quick to band-aid body camera programs called “reform” actually work to expand the power of the police and further alienate and objectify the people they police.
1. Where did the idea for body cams come from?
You might be familiar with the term and the tactic of Copwatch. It is most likely that body cams have been adapted by the state in order to neutralize and counteract the tactics of copwatch, people deliberately observing, filming and documenting police harassment in their neighborhoods. This has been done for years with roots of intervening in police harassment going back to the black panther struggle, through purposeful counter patrols from LA to NY, and by decentralizing the tactic and encouraging everyone to FILM THE POLICE.
Filming the police has been helpful for numerous reasons, but still falls short from providing accountability or preventing police violence as most copwatchers will tell you. Some of the reasons it is helpful are 1) it can provide evidence in case of a trial to exonerate someone wrongfully charged or 2) can demonstrate evidence of police brutality or 3) immediately challenges the power dynamics of the police when you do it. But the reasoning remains, people film the police because they can’t trust what the police will do. The police are the watchers, so who watches the watchers? Not the body cams, that’s for sure.
2. When did it become branded “reform”?
The police began to wear body cams and eyeglass cams on a widespread scale after the suppression of the middle class leaning “occupy” movement in 2011, though recording has always been a method of infiltration. In some cases footage has helped center public outrage on an officer involved murder. Calls for body cams became popularized as reform after the Mike Brown uprising in Ferguson, MO. City representatives were quick to roll with the idea because in many places police were already using body cams to better surveill the public, gather intelligence and profile political agitators.
It’s important to remember that body cams were a repression tactic before they were branded “reform”.
3. More Funding and Tech for Cops, a For-Profit “Reform”
“The LAPD’s first wave of 800 cameras – costing $1.5 million – has been financed by 22 private donors, including director Steven Spielberg and the LA Dodgers organization, Tech Dirt reported. While traditional public funding would likely have been available, this one-time fundraiser has allowed the process to move much faster than it would have running through the usual city channels. ”
When the city, private investors and law enforcement want something done it always seems to happen quickly. Despite about a hundred suggestions to get to the root cause of over-policing, over-incarcerations, and profiling or harassment of black and brown people that can result in death or execution-by-cop, somehow community sourced solutions don’t get the support that for-profit reforms do.
Who is funding the police is important, it shows who is interested in helping the police maintain their position in society as enforcers despite the death toll against black and poor communities. The police are losing legitimacy as an institution that uses violence under the guise of “keeping order”. An “order” that has shown itself to be at the expense or incarceration of people from resource deprived communities, even to the point of arbitrarily enforced death penalties by the police.
I guess there just isn’t a market for preventing policing, or making communities healthy, resourced and safe(r) without incubating racism through violent intervention and prisons. Predictive policing? Yeah there are security firms for that. Private prisons? There’s a market for that too, with customers like Whole Foods and Victoria’s Secret.
Don’t believe me? Check out New York where NYPD wanted to require a $36,000 copy fee for access to body cam footage.
Body cameras for officers to film the communities they police is a venture in capitalism. An investment in policing, to make sure policing can regain legitimacy, with more tech to suppress community revolt long term. What better surveillance technology than the one communities think will bring them police accountability?
4. Not Accountability
The police as an organization are unaccountable to the public for their behavior as an intentional group of well funded armed enforcers. If you’ve studied the organization of the police, they have a very firm hierarchy and control the region we live in through districting and injunctions more directly than any other governing agency.
Sure, they have a Police Commission but everyone knows the commission is there to provide an outlet and quell the outrage to keep people from disrupting capital in more direct ways. There are literally no checks to real time police violence, once police are in conflict with a person that person is immediately criminalized. There is no basic trial and prosecution for executions by police, this is up to the discretion of the District Attorney who often is more interested in maintaining their relationship with law enforcement to prosecute the people they police.
Simply put, body cams are a data gathering tool. Do they gather data on police? Or on the people who are being policed? Who controls them? Who reviews the footage? Is it the same organization that is in need of the accountability to begin with? Next.
5. What is the problem? Racism, Policing and Executions.
The body cam debate mis-frames the concern that people have with the police, racism and the government in general.
Instead of addressing the uprising in LA after officer Darren Wilson was not charged for the murder of Mike Brown late 2014 and thousands of people took streets days in a row, ultimately with over 400 arrests, to show solidarity and demonstrate that racism and deadly policing are a problem from LA to Ferguson, Garcetti quickly got on the loud and in-public police body cam bandwagon. He wasn’t the only one and it was a very clear evasive tactic.
The problem is absolutely not whether we have enough police brutality caught on film of deadly executions by police. The problem is the actual, practical effects of policing as it has been constructed rooted in legacies of colonialism, anti-blackness, racism and property protection at the expense of black, brown and non white lives. No matter how many reforms are made, and body cams are absolutely not a reform, if this is ignored, then policing stays in tact.
Instead of recognizing structural racism in policing and social structural white supremacy as deeply rooted concerns that resonate with many people in many different ways, representatives like to hone in on one thing they can quite literally sell to the public at large and deflect. And that’s what body cams did, they deflected from a deeper conversation on racism and the logic and effects of policing. The state utilized how drawn people are to camera footage of police assault and executions, to evade from the larger questions of prevention of police terrorism.
6. Without Input or Feedback from the Public it would Impact
If you are not likely to be policed or harassed I am not interested in your intimate perspective in favor of body cameras for cops. This social structure creates an entire field in “advocacy” work on behalf of impacted people, while neglecting to actually hear from or empower the voices of people that experience oppression directly.
When LAPD was announcing body cams as if they were “new” and not just re-marketed to put down uprising, they were pressured to open up two town halls on the issue. Despite these two town halls, neither was about whether this new technology should or shouldn’t be used on the public. The decision had already been made and the town halls were mostly to answer questions about how the technology worked as a public relations event to make the LAPD appear open to feedback when that wasn’t the case.
“I was there at their call for a “community forum” and regardless of outrage and pushback by well researched organizers and activists, the LAPD had the forum rigged. Police Chief Beck explained that they didn’t call a forum for consent to purchase and acquire these cameras with thousands of dollars of tax payer money, but that they had called this meeting to inform the public of how they would be used!!” said a local community agitator X.
This wasn’t approved by communities in L.A. and no local areas were surveyed for input in the policy.
Despite reports from grassroots community organizations, these body cam policies continue to result in contracts with private manufacturers with new products marketed for policing with everything from data collection to facial recognition tech.
The relationship between public sector organizations like the police and private manufacturers from Taser Inc. to SpaceX continues to be one of accumulation when it comes to weapons and surveillance. One funds the other and drives the market, which in turn reflects and changes the policies that are used on the ground adapting new tech marketed towards policing.
We can see now that these policy changes are not a result of people lobbying their state for changes in policing, they are a response to a growing market of mass surveillance, including domestic drone use. In order to successfully adapt and integrate the tech in a time of heightened criticism of police, the state seems to be marketing these new technologies as “reform” even though no such thing can be proven.
8. Not Reform, but Repression
Even if you want the police to be recording (as opposed to recorded) and trust that their organization can do that responsibly, there is a strong likelihood that footage gathered will be used to increase profiling and criminalization of people of color for even engaging in ‘legal’ behaviors.
The police will be able to choose to store footage they have and decide whether they want to criminalize someone after the fact. They will be able to use footage to justify more surveillance or warrants based on presumptions on someone’s character or how they act in the presence of law enforcement. The footage will likely provide first person shooter video of violent police encounters rather than capture police behavior on camera.
The footage will allow them to scrutinize the behavior of people targeted by police to justify use of force, when originally, use of force is precisely the problem. In cases of police execution this can result in more victim blaming by police organizations and the media who often choose to focus on a person’s last moments rather than the decisions of the police to escalate or use deadly force.
9. Why Give More Tools to Killer Cops?
This is not a world in which we need police to better get their story straight before lying on the witness stand. That is the current reality in which we live, and Hollywood movies glamorize and normalize these cover ups on the regular. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the police will be allowed to review the footage before writing their official reports.
Unfortunately, police obtained footage via body cam is more likely to be used in court against someone arrested by the police than it is to be used against the police in court. This is because police are very rarely charged or put on trial for their misdeeds, which is up to biased prosecutors, so any evidence or body cam footage is still just as unlikely to be used against them in a court of law.
The result? Body cam footage will just be another tool for prosecution in criminal cases while police who often evade any charges or civil suits will be much less likely to have it used against them.
10. No Standards for Body Cam Use
There are little to no policies for footage when it comes to police use of force cases. Will footage be automatically submitted to court? Why do police have access to review the footage before writing their report if it was a measure to ensure checks and balances? Why would we allow that if it can be used as yet another tool for the police to cover up their abuse of power?
Despite major legal activism institutions and civil rights organizations calling for police body cams, there are no measures to minimize bias in reports. In fact large institutions, like the ACLU have just paved the way for police agencies to better manipulate the public while increasing mass surveillance and doing nothing to address police terrorism.
Some people just don’t want to recognize let alone validate that communities do not trust the police for good reason. And those same people tend to auto affirm the measures taken by state legislature and city leaders to validate and re-empower the police despite the cost. Not to mention glamorizing the police while they test out their new BMW and Tesla brand name vehicles, or trailblaze onto the crime scene with a new autonomous vehicle. If you care more about police public relations than the deadly cost of policing you might be exactly who i am talking about.
I don’t have any doubt there will be legislation after legislation to seemingly address the movement against police terrorism. What I fear is these new laws regarding the police are likely to say more about regulating our behavior around police than to address over policing, racist criminalization, mass incarceration or police executions of black life. Police reform is unlikely to create any consequences that might prevent police use of force real time on patrol instead focusing minimally on how police behave after someone has been murdered.
Discrediting and delegitimizing police narratives is necessary to the project of creating alternatives to the police and the abolition of modern day policing altogether. Together, communities are more qualified to determine how to keep their neighborhoods and blocks safe without the violent occupying force of police. People who know the state is violent and not helpful have always had to look outside of police for problem solving. Together we can decentralize deescalation practices and tactics, and if needed, create direct response teams for crisis situations. More still, we can push back on the narrative that we need to replicate policing ourselves instead of crafting other ways of self organization and intervention. Policing relies on violence, and without reimagining “public safety” we will continue to have deadly outcomes of police involvement in communities.
this is a message about practicing resistance, trying to imagine it as an ever evolving practice that will defy all attempts at pacification, repression, recuperation and sabotage. That will rise and combine all elements of our selves, lost and found again. Even though tactics are old, new, and forgotten they are our efforts and attempts, in temporary sustainability, losses and mistakes, and in failure to assimilate into the harmful structures we want to abolish. Even in how efforts are co-opted, infuriating and motivating us like no other, slowly taken from seed, from our fingers and dreams, and grown into mainstream sadness, reflected back at us almost as if they use our own organizing against us.
this is about rejecting success, losing faith, and choosing to try again. Sometimes because it is a choice, other times because we do not have choice, consent or consensus here. Sometimes because we have learned, and also because there are things we have yet to understand. Energies and experiences we do not know, cannot know, but must see transformed and supported.
this is about all those damn political labels, attached to ideologies, to rules and regulations of the political sphere, the sphere of governance and patriarchy and social war, a realm of hierarchy that we can reject. And the pain, the pain of learning, naming, recognizing how we have been produced- racism, anti-blackness, colonization, white supremacy, ableism, misogyny, transmisogyny, heteropatriarchy…The practice of self-criticism, which can benefit all including ourselves. The practice of self-care, which is so deeply personal, but also interpersonal, communal and collective.
i am living in a dystopia. A rotten filthy production they call fiction that reflects back the truth of the situation. parade protests escorted by cops. stolen land. oppressed people. settlers. migration. borders. rigid gender systems. rape culture. government. poverty. pain. production. everywhere i look, daily individual coping and reactions to a structure that thrives on this pain. and an endless display of shitty movies that somehow seem to take out efforts, recuperate them, and cheapen them into performance or spectacle.
the scenes play out and white amerika has always pretended to create fictions just to illuminate the present in the truths they do not want to address. These fictional representations meant to appear ridiculous and extreme, to contrast our present, mirror daily life. dystopia is no longer an exercise in imagining the worst version of our society. it is not simply a film or literary genre, but a way of looking at how our present and political reality has been crafted through the tolerance of oppression and foundational violence. is a western movie not dystopic? with its representation of racism and genocide, does it not consistently re-legitimize the false reality of colonial law and order? is that not terrifying?
dystopia is drones flying in darkwing duck, a 1991 children’s action comic adventure series that focuses on a duck acting like a vigilante working with the cops, now normalized for use by police, used to mass murder people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia with a 90% casualty rate of non-enemy-combatants or civilians and a 100% terror rate. the minority report, where thought crime and preemptive policing were romanticized as a Hollywood movie, has been used to describe LAPD technologies currently in development, in mutual collaboration with Israel in their occupation of Palestine. People have said that private industries and governments have co-opted methods of surveillance and control first modeled in dystopian series. In almost every film now we see justified torture, police centered narratives, military operations and CIA infiltration normalized as common entertainment. 1984, equilibrium, elysium, aeon flux, terminator, star wars, brave new world, snow piercer, divergent/insurgent, mockingjay, mostly white savior imaginings of resistance that keep it locked in and out of reach.
and some decent films, like Dreamsleepers which is about drone warfare, globalization, migration, racism and capitalism. Cloud Atlas, which tells us that resistance and the struggle against hierarchy is universal, the energy of it still whispers through us and perhaps, we have been here before. Born in Flames, which centers black queer women and imagines the limitations of a socialist revolution that addresses getting jobs but does not address hierarchy fully in society, and it’s sad. Women of color authors that are hard to find but they are there along with the other worlds they help create.
when discussing dystopia, other words come up in our limited commodified imagination. for example, utopia, which i think was more of a justification for the white colonial authoritarian project of states, borders and fascism (seeking the ultimate order) than a representation of an unattainable perfect world meant to keep us satisfied with what is. utopia cannot be the goal because in the search of that fiction, supremacy takes root.
i’ve written this with the hope that we can recognize how fictional-dystopia has minimized and at times erased lived oppression, especially as a white imaginary. It also has framed how we respond to living in oppressive conditions, by making extreme representations that possibly intentionally or unintentionally confuse our responsibility to address their lived counterparts (to those representations). Instead of creating a multitude of ways to respond to a problematized society, as we can, Hollywood has focused on saviors, heroes, leaders and top down structures that mimic the system of governance being fought in the first place. It has failed and filtered our creative response to imbalances of power by offering nothing different in return. #HollywoodIndustrialComplex
Dystopia (as fiction) may have been an outlet to imagine what resistance can be, but it can also be a way of avoiding taking concrete steps to prevent the outcome that fiction foresees.
don’t misunderstand, my curiosity is always caught when i hear of a new dystopic alter reality in film or fiction because I too hope it might convey an urgency that pulls some of us into the streets to care about the present. If I had to choose a favorite genre, this might be it. But time after time the representations presented lack honesty about white supremacy and hierarchy in general, whitewash struggle, romanticize resistance culture, or just plain pacify.
glorious alternatives exist, as people of color have been left wondering if they will ever survive some of these imagined dystopias or since they are left out of alternate realities completely. So we’ve begun to imagine and write and create them, and that is great because in these imaginings we can communicate methods and tactics of resistance that could have us imprisoned and killed without much needed intentional preparation and planning. Another example of alternatives includes afro futurism, described by a friend in the Invisible Future in Our Present as “both a practice of liberation and a means of discarding aspirations, possessions, and entitlements that encode the terms of our oppression in prescribed identities”.
now i consider dystopia a spectrum from fiction to fascism, the difference only being the learning curve, where we are in our process. it’s a helpful way of acknowledging that we are at war; it allows me to see the crisis and not turn my face from it in fear or in search of fiction (though I’m still on netflix).
dystopia is the present, this is how i cope with the constant gas lighting and dismissal of urgency for resistance, not reform, in this constantly self-stabilizing society that says conditions are not yet “extreme” enough to warrant direct intervention or destabalization. Too often resistance, the rejection of tolerance and/or pacifism resulting in defense or revolt, is actually represented as dystopia. But this society is the dystopia, the catalyst, the reason that resistance is necessary. And resistance has never been a fiction for oppressed people.