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.”

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?

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.

not belonging

In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity so it could never be bought or sold.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 17

Connection to land is something I’ve rarely experienced. Born and raised in “the big city,” I’ve only visited the land as a guest: foreign camper and hiker surrounded by RVs and flush toilets. One day, I did some weeding in a garden on a 300-acre sheep farm. I was sunburned and my knees were red from kneeling, but there was satisfaction in knowing that the beans could now grow better. I keep a number of house plants but I imagine they are awfully lonely and cramped. If only there was at least a garden of sorts, or even a larger pot for them. These few instances seem like my only connections with the land. These and food. But food, among many other services, are trucked and packaged in such ways that render the land invisible – as mere “capital” or “natural resources” (17).

I try to imagine how a “green” or healthy city might actually exist, and although there are many proposals and ideas, I think we need to stop and first reject “the settler mind” (17). I think it starts with the question of how people might begin a healthy relationship with land – how we might actually start to recognize beings and land as not belonging to anyone but themselves.

Step 1: say “hello” and “thank you” to the land. Introduce yourself. Listen. It’s harder than it sounds. Even if there are patches of soil here and there, they seem outmatched by the miles of concrete, steel, and asphalt strewn across the land, forced into the ground, and raised to the sky. What if electricity and internet worked like fungal networks, through organic material? What if water flowed through streams and marshes, across mountains, and into homes? What if we stopped modeling cities based on how much they can take from the land and instead how much they could give back? We would be thanking and caring for the streams and the mushrooms, our fellow beings, instead of glass fiber and lead pipes.

Step 2: give gifts to the land. Pumps, siphons, pile drivers, and excavators are tools of extraction – of taking from and hurting the land – and our primary tools of construction. What would be tools or devices of giving? Of deconstruction? Is it a matter of the device itself or the way we use it? Maybe it begins with planting a seed, and the tools of gardening and care.

Step X: work together. Relationships are not necessarily step by step, linear processes. Working together requires multiple interactions, unified movement, and nuanced organization. We learn this from ecosystems. There’s constant feedback, and as Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions, reciprocity.

gifts

A gift creates ongoing relationship… [it is] something for nothing, except that certain obligations are attached… That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage… the currency of a gift economy is, at its root reciprocity… from private goods to common wealth.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 24-29

I was just thinking about gifts. Christmas just passed and all the while leading up to it, there were talk of gifts and one of the most awkward questions I hear every year, “what would you like for your gift?” I’ve never easily answered this question – well maybe as a kid I asked for chocolate or stuffed animals – but in my more mature years, I’ve never felt comfortable asking anyone for gifts. It feels too much like some superficial exchange, a thoughtless Secret Santa.

The earth gives to us every moment. My mother gives to me each and every day. What more could I possibly ask of her, especially during a time that has become the prime celebration of commodification?

Still, pushed by the Gregorian calendar, deafening carols, and family wishlists, I give in to the season, tricking myself into thinking I could make someone happy with a dishcloth, when I could be doing the dishes; dumplings, when I could be cooking dinner; books, when we could be making stories worth writing; and money, when we could be building common wealth.

There’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s as if these gifts are slowly cutting off my relationships instead of creating them. It strips away my attention, time, and care into scraps of gift wrap and loose ribbons. Gifts are made every day, but many are received without appreciation. I think if I understand and take time to be thankful for all the gifts I receive, I can truly give back meaningfully. Because I want to give back. To my mom, my partner, the land, the trees, and all the critters in between.