Monthly Archives: April 2010

Precision Targets and the Militarization of Everyday Life (It’s Relevant, We Promise)

My first and most formative brain-crush, as well as my mentor and model for how to be an ethical scholar and generous colleague, has released an amazing new multimedia digital project with which we both urge you to spend some time. Called Precision Targets, in this piece Caren Kaplan examines the militarization of everyday life via spatializing information technologies:

My study of GPS in this era of seemingly endless war has led me to ask how “duel-use” technologies blur the distinction between military and civilian spheres. What are our expectations and assumptions about information technologies? How can we say “no” to war when we say “yes” to militarization every day? Precision Targets is designed to raise these questions and others as you move through the multimedia piece to engage the animated possibilities of GPS in everyday life.

This is not as far afield as you might think for a blog about the politics of dress and beauty. Both Minh-Ha and I have learned so much from Kaplan’s work over the years (me, since 1994 as an undergraduate women’s studies major) about how to “do” postcolonial studies of space and time, gender and empire. Minh-Ha’s writing on technologies of style and selfhood can trace at least part of its intellectual genealogy to Kaplan’s earlier publications on civilian consumption of military information technologies;  my work on migrant medias and bodies (both corporeal and imaginary) and the politics and conditions of possibility for their movements across borders, owes so much to Kaplan’s generous mentoring over the years.

Minh-Ha and I agree that in this particular moment, during which war is normalized within everyday life under liberal democracy, and increasingly incorporated into the domains of politics and law (as we see with the last few decades’ “wars” on drugs and immigration, recently manifest as Arizona’s passage of SB 1070) as well as economics, art and culture (as we see in the periodic creep of “military chic,” the location of much of the garment manufacturing industries in postcolonial nations and semi-colonial territories, and the coextensive visual imaging of veiled women as criminal and as couture) that a critique of the militarization of everyday life is absolutely vital.

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Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, THEORY TO THINK WITH

Is the Democratization of Fashion Over?

Thanks to a tweet from FashionHistoria (Heather Vaughan of WornThrough), we learned that fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune Suzy Menkes will be talking with Gladys Perint Palmer, executive director of the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University in San Francisco next Thursday (May 6) to explore the question, “If Fashion is for Everyone – is it Fashion?”

It’s clear from the description of the talk that Menkes is going to be hitting all the keynotes of  “democratization”: the accessibility of fashion, the future of newspapers and magazines, blogging, luxury, sustainability, and young designers wanting to set up their own brands. (By the way, our take on each of these issues can be found in numerous posts – search the category, “Democratization of Fashion” for a start.)

I don’t know much about Menkes’ work – but what I do know is that she’s generally supportive of bloggers. (I don’t know why WordPress isn’t accepting Vimeo videos but until I can fix this glitch, here’s the link to the video of Menkes and others talking about fashion blogs.) Anyway, I’m really hoping the title of her talk is nothing more than provocative copy. The recent era of fashion’s democratization has already shifted from the halcyon moments post-9/11 when everyone, and I mean everyone (from Anna Wintour to Rudy Giuliani), was proclaiming fashion as a right to which every free person was entitled in a liberal society. The recent backlash against fashion bloggers, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, indicates that the pendulum may be swinging back towards exclusivity – which has profound implications for how we understand, among other things, economic democracy. Is Menkes’ talk going to issue the death knell of democratization? I don’t know but I’m (sort of) looking forward to finding out.

[Vimeo 8882910]

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Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, IN THE CLASSROOM

Feather in Your “Native” Cap, Redux (in the time of SB1070)

A blog post from the O’odham Newswire, an indigenous youth collective, has been making the rounds on the Internet so you may have already read it. Still, I wanted to re-post it anyway since it speaks directly to a couple of Mimi’s previous posts on hipster appropriations of Native fashion and the institutionalization of racial-sartorial profiling in Arizona.

Reading this post on the indigenous perspective about Arizona’s legislation of state terror reminded me of a couple of points that have been discussed recently on Threadbared. In The Feather in Your “Native” Cap, Mimi referenced Thea Lim’s Racialicious post in which she offers some helpful rebuttal arguments against the appropriation of Native fashions in particular. To the response that it’s time to “get over” racism and colonialism, Lim counters:

The “get over it” defense is not hard to take down as soon as you realise that by “it” the commenter is referring to colonisation and genocide, the legacy of which continues to beset Native communities in the form of poverty, environmental racism, and health disparities (to recap some of the things Jessica mentioned in the original post).

The whole “but that happened 100 years ago!” defense is similarly dense: a brief look at who is poor and who is marginalised in the richest countries in the world should quiet that one down…though it often doesn’t.

The O’odham Solidarity post about the impact of SB1070 on non-immigrant groups – here, specifically indigenous peoples – reiterates and expands Lim’s point in important ways. For me, this post is a compelling reminder that anti-immigrant laws and logics produce effects that go beyond immigrant communities – and we should remember that Mexicans and Chicanos are not the only immigrant groups in Arizona or the Southwest; Central Americans as well as Southeast Asian Americans have substantial communities in these regions as well. Secondly, the post reminds us that state terror targeting indigenous peoples is both deeply historical and on-going. Here’s an excerpt but it’s really worthwhile to read the entire post.

The current push for immigration reform by politicians and by reformist activists includes the push to secure ‘their’ borders which would be the forced removal and relocations of all indigenous tribes that live in the border region (Yaqui, Lipan Apache, Mohawk to name a few). This dismissal not just shows the colonial attitude that both reformist activists and politicians have, but also the settler privilege that they evoke when constructing border policies.

Fun fact on the topic of immigrants and the Southwest: did you know that today is the 35th anniversary of the fall of SaiGon or what Vietnamese immigrants who live all over the U.S. but have large numbers in the Southwest including Mesa, Arizona call “Black April”? It was also 35 years ago today that Mimi and I may have crossed paths for the first time in a San Diego refugee camp called Camp Pendleton!

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Filed under FASHIONING THE HUMAN, LINKAGE

I See Pyramids in Your Eyes

I’m slammed this week, and though I do have some real posts around here somewhere, I’m going with this amazing eBay auction for an original copy (smilingly well aware of all the tensions holding those two terms together) of Madonna’s amazing jacket from 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan, still her best performance on film to date. Liz from No Good For Me had been shaking her digital fist at the fates that robbed her of the opportunity to purchase this replica –the limited-time offer discovered while “flipping” through back issues of Spin, for just $54.95! — when a reader offered to sell it to her for five million, and then put it on eBay instead.

Tragically, it’s a size L, which is too big for me. But this does make think that perhaps if I want it enough, the Internetz will offer up to me another sartorial miracle. In the meanwhile, those of you who’ve been desperately searching for this jacket, the bidding war is on!

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Filed under OUR JUNK DRAWER, SARTORIAL INDULGENCES

Wired For Wednesday: Chuck D Edition

A few days ago I posted about the draconian new anti-immigration law in Arizona that formally (because let’s face it, informally it had already been operational) criminalizes what one legal reporter calls “breathing while undocumented.” (This post was also syndicated to Jezebel, by the way.) In response, everyone’s been circulating Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” their 1991 protest against Arizona’s refusal to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But Chuck D’s been busy! Earlier this month he released the single “Tear Down That Wall,” which responds in part to the anti-immigrant fervor and the deaths of migrants crossing the Mexico-United States border, and is as such amazingly timely. (Davey D posts about it here, and the track is available for download here.) Here’s what Chuck D and his wife Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson have to say:

Jan Brewer’s decision to sign the Arizona immigration bill into law is racist, deceitful, and reflects some of the most mean-spirited politics against immigrants that the country has ever seen. The power that this law gives to police, to detain people that they suspect to be undocumented, brings racial profiling to a new low. Brewer’s actions and those of Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, the Arizona State Senate are despicable, inexcusable, and endorse the all-out hate campaign that Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and others have perpetrated upon immigrants for years. The people of Arizona who voted for this bill, as well as those who crafted it, demonstrate no regard for the humanity or contributions of Latino people. And for all of those who have chosen not to speak up, shame on you for silently endorsing this legislated hate.

In 1991 I wrote a song criticizing Arizona officials (including John McCain and Fife Symington) for rejecting the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The same politics I wrote about in “By the Time I Get to Arizona” are alive and well in Arizona today, but this time the target is Brown people.

These actions must stop. I am issuing a call to action, urging my fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants. This should include the NBA playoffs, revisiting the actions of the NFL in 1993, when they moved the Superbowl to Pasadena in protest against Arizona’s refusal to recognize Dr. King. We all need to speak up in defense of our brothers and sisters being victimized in Arizona, because things are only getting worse. What they’re doing to immigrants is appalling, but it will be even more damning if we remain silent.”

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Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, WIRED FOR THE WEEKEND

Time Travel Through A Magic Box with the Fake Sartorialist

The Fake Sartorialist put Minh-Ha and I into his Magic Box and voila — we are Fake Sartorialized, complete with a small story about our time-traveling research forays! Minh-Ha of course wrote about the dust-up between the Sartorialist and the Fake Sartorialist some weeks ago (as she brilliantly points out, “the ‘fake’ in the Fake Sartorialist stands for ‘the little guy’ against the cultural and social giants that the Sartorialist aligns himself with and represents. Fakeness sets right and secures the democratic socioeconomic relations the Internet is supposed to foment”). Having enjoyed his work, I jumped at the chance to be rendered otherwise when I noticed that he’s inviting submissions. (You can send a photograph to get transformed too!)

I’m sure Minh-Ha will have smart things to say about the “democraticization of fashion” here (gushing on the phone about the story’s setting –hanging out with Alexander Graham Bell– Minh-Ha says, “It’s great that we’re hanging out with someone who invented a communication technology!”), but I’m still at the “Yippeee!” phase (in real life I would totally wear that outfit, with the brocade and the tweed and the mushroom-turned-inside-out hat all at once).  Thank you, Eduardo!

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Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, FASHION 2.0, OUR JUNK DRAWER, SARTORIAL INDULGENCES

Clothes Epidermalized, as Republican Representative Targets “Illegals”

In his 1974-1975 lectures at the College de France collected in the volume Abnormal, Michel Foucault discusses the creation of new technologies in modern “criminal justice” that categorize individuals who “resemble their crime before they commit it.” He’s specifically inquiring into the emergence of criminal psychiatry, but as we know so well, sartorial-racial profiling has become another such “rational” method of categorization (based on interpretations of signs as “symptoms”) and criminalization. (See sagging pants on young black men, turbans on “Muslim-looking” men —even if they are Sikhs— and some forms of hijab on Muslim women in Canada and France, for the most relevant contemporary examples.) Now, in the midst of a hostile anti-immigrant movement, Representative Bill Bilbray (R-Calif) claims that “trained professionals,” presumably experts in scientific methods of observation and evaluation, will be able to identify “illegals” by their clothes. As the Huffington Post reports:

Discussing Arizona’s pending profiling bill on “Hardball,” Chris Matthews challenged Bilbray to cite a “non-ethnic aspect” by which law enforcement agents could identify illegal immigrants. “They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of — right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes,” Bilbray replied.

Arizona’s draconian new immigration law has now legislated what has been an informal policy of racial surveillance, what we might call “being public while brown.” (Or as the New York Times‘ legal reporter Linda Greenhouse puts it, “breathing while undocumented.”)  SB1070 makes it a state misdemeanor to lack immigration documents (and more, to fail to carry such paperwork at all times) and compels police officers to determine immigration status if they form a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the U.S. illegally. Those who cannot immediately prove their legal residency may be arrested. (For more analysis of the law and its implications, see the Immigration Law Professors Blog, which dubs the law “The Latino Racial Profiling Act of 2010,” the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the National Immigration Law Center.) A New York Times editorial observes, “Opponents say it verges on a police state, which sounds overblown until you read it.”

Rep. Bilbray’s disingenuous efforts to deflect from the state’s racisms by locating the “trained” apprehension of “illegality” on clothes, on behaviors –rather than skin– do not constitute any sort of departure from race discourses that target the body as a continuous surface of legible information about pathology, capacity, and so forth. The cognition of race has never been a simple matter of skin or bones. Especially for racialized others, their clothes are often epidermalized — that is, they are understood as contiguous with the body that wears them, a sort of second skin, as we see with hijab or turbans. The normalization and regulation of dress codes as pathways for racialized others to achieve liberal selfhood and signal cultural competency (another example being the sartorial disdain encapsulated in the declaration “You look like a FOB (fresh off the boat)!”)  are absolutely integral to racial taxonomies and their histories.

Watch the video, if you have the stomach for it. Then wash out the bad taste in your mouth with the Colbert Report segment on the new immigration law.

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Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN