“LOVING YOU IS COMPLICATED”: CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN ACTIVISM AND ART
EDITED BY JACKIE PEDOTA
The date is April 19, 2021. A police officer, and murderer, is on trial for the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Days earlier, video footage was released showing a police officer killing Adam Toledo, an unarmed thirteen-year-old Latino boy in Chicago, Illinois. These murders, tragic yet common moments of police brutality, spurred outrage and social movements within their respective communities at the same time they produced opportunities for folks to rehearse the ineffectual rhetoric that one group is more targeted or oppressed than the other. This tension among groups serves the status quo well; it hinders our ability to build liberatory coalitions with one another while simultaneously evading the necessity of tackling state surveillance and state-sanctioned violence. This violence is deeply rooted in white supremacy, meaning that the systems and structures that oppress marginalized communities are inextricably interconnected. In other words, white hegemony similarly serves to oppress the BIPOC community, undocumented immigrants, trans women, indigenous communities, people with intellectual disabilities, and other historically disenfranchised groups.
Though social movements and activism across these various groups can differ, many share a common end goal: abolition. For reasons shared in the reviews in this section, reform is not the answer, and solutions within existing systems only serve to reproduce social hierarchies and white supremacist and imperialist structures. Rather, abolition is the only viable answer to achieve justice, dignity, liberation, and healing. As a whole, these reviews celebrate the “everyday anarchy” of authors and artists who imagine and rationalize a future that is anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist. They elucidate how the abolition of systemically unjust systems provides an opportunity for marginalized communities to lead in rebuilding and reinventing political and social institutions that prioritize their liberation. All five reviews present social movements as nuanced, multi-faceted, and intersectional. These texts are bound by space and place, and they employ an interdisciplinary approach to invoke deeper, more complex conversations around social identities and the intersections of these social identities. The reviewers draw on historical, social, political, geographical, and global context to complicate the texts and highlight the multiplicities of identity. Ultimately, these reviews together justify the need for a decolonial and post-structural approach to art, writing, theory, and knowledge production. The five reviews are divided into three sections highlighting Black mourning, disability activism, and decolonization across the Latinx diaspora.
The section opens with both present Black lived realities and dreams of Black futures. In Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (2020) by Tiffany Austin, Sequoia Maner, Emily Ruth Rutter, and darlene anita scott, this collection of prose and essays offers the reader an exploration of the elegy through the lens of Black death by the state. Xuan An Ho writes that the authors draw on Black Lives Matter to situate this collection within the present context to build urgency while also making space for past, present, and future Black grief. Similarly, in What To Send Up When It Goes Down (2019), Aleshea Harris uses performance art to invite the greater community to reflect on white privilege and violence against Black bodies, yet notably at the end of the performance, Harris creates an isolated space for Black audience members to experience what a future free from white supremacy might feel like. In this way, Zachariah Ezer writes that Harris enacts a summoning of a possible future for Black people to just be.
The next review builds upon these interrogations of state-sanctioned violence and demands for abolition by examining Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition by Liat Ben-Moshe. Decarcerating Disability provides readers with the parallels between prisons, psychiatric institutions, and institutions for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities to defend social movements specifically advocating for deinstitutionalization and those broadly advocating for prison abolition. Brie Winnega reviews how Ben-Moshe centers disability activists to create a compelling argument as to why reforming the system is not enough to change what is historically rooted in neoliberalism.
Lastly, the section closes with a call for a Latinx existence devoid of colonialism. Alhelí Harvey in her review describes how Johana Londoñoin Abstract Barrios: The Crises of Latinx Visibility in Cities uses geography, architecture, design, and aesthetic to illuminate historically embedded colonial ideas that perpetuate forced migration, stereotypes, and criminalization of immigrants. Latinx Environmentalisms: Race, Justice, and the Decolonial by Sarah D. Wald, David J. Vázquez, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, and Sarah Jaquette Ray complements Londoño’s text as Bryanna Barrera in her review digs deeper into the broader impacts of colonization to problematize environmentalism as a call for popularized social movements to reckon with the exclusion and erasure of Latinx communities (inclusive of their intersection with Black and indigenous communities) past and present.