Skinning to Whiten: Survival Mechanism
We are all accomplices, complicit, collaborators. We engage in social practice through unchallenged norms and transparent mechanisms that define us, that envelope us. Through an ever-present network of distribution, the institution of “whiteness” exists all over the globe, in spite of local culture, economy, geography, race or ethnicity. Unlike national boundaries that are becoming ever more prevalent and impenetrable in contemporary society, the institution of whiteness is afforded a multi-pass that encounters no such fixed borders, restrictions, and limitations.
As geopolitical boundaries become more contentious/evident, the struggle for individual multiple-identity becomes more challenged. My identity, in contradistinction to what society prescribes, is fluid, multiple, and ever changeable. I sit here as a mutation in a non-place, with a non-identity, sitting atop a fence I question. In a place like Arizona, assimilation is inescapable if one is to survive systematic and visible cultural procedure we (who is we?) are all subjected to. The history of assimilation is ironic, considering that this dirt in the borderlands and the place we are at now, was once indigenous land, before it was Mexico, before it was the United States.
As I skin the brown off of a grain of rice, I remember the historical events that got me to this place. One hundred seventy five miles from this gallery sits a metal fence, fabricated to divide us from them, here from there. A fence meant to keep grasshoppers out, prevent drug mules from crossing, and provide an assertion of power for a nationalistic mind frame. Today, in this gallery space, the border fence serves as a framework, a foundational container for the institution and its global significance.
As I skin the brown off of a grain of rice, I think about rice farmers whose laborious and exacting efforts carefully groomed the land that gives existence to this very rice. I remember that I am a female body of color, on display, performing this obscene act. Women just like me, from “brown” skinned cultures, are hired to do the “dirty” work of the everyday, maintaining the cleanliness of the institution of whiteness. By maintaining, I not only mean keeping things clean and put together, but also by remaining silent participants, assimilating, and conforming, just as I have done.
As I skin the brown off of a grain of rice, the voices coming in through the wires have great power and cause as much suffering as a skinning knife on a slaughtered animal. The presence of these mediated voices, like the presence of the border fence, creates barriers, separation, and despair.
With this piece I hope to render visible the violent/obscene affects that popular media projects onto the body of color and how power in numbers can create change in the Latino community. In doing so, I strive to force a larger conversation about the effects of the institution of whiteness and our own historical involvement.
The border fence parts came from the Douglas, Arizona/Agua Prieta, Sonora border fence.