sagging pants and moose hats

Bans on sagged pants and other racializations of adornment are a way of forging distinctions that enable indirect attacks against people on the basis of race, class, age, gender or other identities… These matters range from anti-queerness, and racist and classist surveillance, to policing desire, and imposing normative gender and sexual identities and expressions upon people… An analysis of clothing politics shows that we can and must build coalitions of interconnected justice against entities that persist in criminalizing fashion choices, and indeed public displays and observances of religious and spiritual identity and expression.

– Eric Darnell Pritchard, “Sagging Pants: Criminalization and Racialized Adornment,” The Funambulist 3 (January-February 2016)

It’s hard to hear that even efforts to overthrow bans on sagging pants by the very communities that are being criminalized still view sagging in a negative way. Whether its neighborhood policing or state policing, it’s still policing, and it’s the policing – not the sag – that we need to rid ourselves of.

Recently, in my own personal experience, I fell victim to these policing forces. What was I thinking walking into a Harvard career fair with sweatpants, sneakers, a wrinkled plaid shirt, and a moose hat – antlers, nose, and all – to boot?

I was kindly asked in multiple, “polite” ways to remove my hat “as a courtesy to my colleagues” before entering the room full of employers. While this instance is very mild compared to the fines and imprisonment for sagging pants, it is a significant everyday barrier for individuals seeking employment. Those who attend or get hired from Harvard, or anywhere for that matter, obviously don’t wear moose hats – they are the paradigm of professionalism – and would never admit to attending an institution where students would dare share their love of cute, plushy animal hats. I can’t believe I failed to realize that a moose hat is clearly an accurate metric of my integrity, skill, intelligence, and human value, and a malicious device for embarrassing my peers. Lesson learned. Thanks Harvard.

“definitely not white”

Asian Americans have still not achieved full equality in American life… they occupy unique and constantly shifting positions between black and white, foreign and American, privilege and poverty.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 2015, 8

Erika Lee cites historian Ellen Wu as she explains how Asians have been, and to this day are, treated as “definitely not white” (7). Even the so called “good Asians” or “model minority” are not exempt from this discrimination. Below are some ways Erika Lee has revealed as part of today’s masked racism (6):

colorblind racism: assumes that race no longer exists and in doing so ignores the pervasive racial discrimination that still infects us today
cultural racism: supplants race with culture and judges people based on oversimplified perceptions of beliefs or behaviors, which are claimed to determine the group’s overall superiority or inferiority.
micro-aggressions: everyday insulting actions towards people of color

I learned the other day, from Joy Buolamwini, a panelist on MIT’s live webcast of Cornel West’s lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power,” that racism even takes place in the coding of our software, specifically in the making of AI recognition technologies. Just how deep do these malicious energies flow? I am grateful knowing that we have people like Joy critiquing and revolutionizing new technologies. I hope, that through my work, I can de-create harmful values and find respectful ways to revolutionize design that are –  accessible, equitable, multiple, and – “definitely not white.”

critically critical

 

responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.


Writing within the context of the recent decade of “attacks” against critical practices in landscape architecture, Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey suggest, through a questioning of the “critical” and analyses of critical practices in the 19th century, that the profession’s proposed alternatives, projective or post-critical practices, may include aspects of criticality, and that all critical practices are in fact, to some degree, projective.

The authors’ main assumptions include those of the origins of “critical practice” and “landscape architecture.” Looking to the emergence of American landscape architecture in the mid-19th century and tradition of 1930s “critical theory” in the Frankfurt School of thinkers from primarily Germany and Austria, they necessarily trace the practices and understandings of the “critical” and “post-critical” from white male dominated Eurocentric ideologies (Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th century American Practices,” 2015, 2). While these assumptions necessarily exclude non-western ideas of criticality and landscape architecture practices, they are made loud and clear in the title and thesis, and serve not to maliciously discriminate, but rather to focus the discussion as a means to express and delve deeper (or “critically”) into their personal western-based ideas of criticality—ideas, I think, that could be built upon and altered by future contribution of non-western thought.

M’Closkey and Berrizbeitia directly address the practice of landscape architecture in the United States, as well as the broader European discourse in their examples. They call for “questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence” as a way to encourage more critical practices in the globalizing world. The way the authors present their ideas is extremely clear in content, yet deceiving in structure. It is a well-told persuasive narrative which leads readers to slowly uncover and realize at the very end what the authors’ main takeaways are: that the critical is actually projective and that we should continue to be critical in our drive towards criticality.

I believe all practices, including critical ones, are projective to certain degree, in the sense that they all start with pre-existing tools, whether or not they are found within the profession or in other disciplines, and are grounded in the memory and preconceptions of the designer. Criticality can be either a layering/constructive/complicit or delaminating/deconstructive/resistive process. A complicit criticality is more projective; it involves working with existing tools and techniques (e.g. CAD, ArcGIS, orthographic projections, mapping) in new ways, but one that accepts current value systems and works “within its frameworks” to reform existing practices (18). A deconstructive or resistive criticality is one that is premised on decolonial and anti-oppressive values, which questions the very tools and techniques themselves. It seeks not to reform, but to abolish or revolutionize existing practices, and involves the imagination and positioning of new frameworks.

While “the critical is activated in specific ways to provoke, define, and structure change found in the bounds imposed by the material and institutional,” I would like to participate in critical practice “by questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence,” and propose that designers must deconstruct the “historically determined” context which Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey claim defines “criticality” (19). I believe that designers must seek to be “critically critical,” and engage criticality as a mission of decolonialization and anti-oppression, as does non-western critical social theory, which is a way to say, “that which was critically critical (that which sought to decolonize and defy oppression) in the past is still critical today and will always be.”

mapmaking

Are we really aiming to make maps?

Today, we had discussions over maps, but it was unclear to me the true criticality, limits, and significance behind making these maps, which are produced in studio, far removed from what we’re mapping. From some brief questioning, I understand that mapping, in its internal, isolated form serves to:

  1. Educate the mappers about the places, relationships, and communities we intend to represent or interact with
  2. Enable communication and give agency to those joined in the discussion of the issues highlighted in the map

I think these are reasonable merits to mapping, but my interest lies in the capacity for maps to communicate. Maps, the medium through which empire expansion, exploitation, and current planning practices are imagined, then executed, are not necessarily the best or “fair” method of communication. They use a particular projection (the plan), language (graphic standards, writing), and presume a degree of objectivity (print, scale, metrics).

So I think the question or problem becomes: how we can rethink the ways we map (the re-presentation) in such a way that it actually communicates equitably and empowers all those in the conversation? And in that representation, whatever form or manifestation it may take, would it still be considered a map?

yank and shove, push and pull

The idea of Asia remained central to the invention of America, and European colonization on both sides of the Pacific Ocean led to the first migrations of Asians to the Americas.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 4

The Spanish and British Empires, and later the United States Empire occupied and extracted people and resources from India, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, East and West Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor, Brunei, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Cocos Islands, and China (5). One could say Asians were subject to the colonial forces of “yank and shove,” to then be exploited and eliminated.

Further movement of Asians to America was “pushed” by violence and social, political, and economic instability in their home countries, and “pulled” by dreams of education, freedom, and peace (4-5). Though I imagine it could be argued that the “yank and shove” still happens today.

 

many stories

Obscured by the broad definition of “Asian” and “Asian American” is a staggering diversity of peoples that represent twenty-four distinct groups… Both the diversity and the shared experiences of Asian Americans reveal the complex story of the making and remaking of Asian America. There is not one single story, but many.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 3

Many stories, but few are told. In my history and social studies education, the only mentions of Asian Americans were of the gold rush and Japanese internment. Of course, my family’s and my own experience have added to that mix – and what vivid stories they are!

belonging

Ceremony is a vehicle for belonging – to a family, to a people, and to the land… the one thing that was not forgotten, that which could not be taken by history: the knowing that we belonged to the land, that we were the people who knew how to say thank you.

…What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself? A homemade ceremony, a ceremony that makes a home.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 37-38

What does it mean to belong? Rather than thinking of belonging as ownership or control over someone or something, we should think of belonging as a state of being in a particular set of relationships. Imagine yourself in a web of forces representing your relationships with other beings: your parents, siblings, friends, trees, water, land. Some are thicker and stronger than others, pulling in one direction, while others are thin, long, and in tension, representing the strength and nature of your ties.

You are a terrain, a landscape which allows for different flows of relationships. Steep, jagged cliffs represent difficulties and disconnection, while open valleys might mean flexible, public relations. In any case, the landscape thrives not as a single mountain from which everything flows outward, nor a chasm which sucks everything in. It is a complex, diverse field, in which we navigate every day and can find where we really belong.

Ceremony is what can transport us to that world, and enable us to experience the breadth of what connects us all. We should visit this place as often as we can, lest we lose our way.