Stakes and Mistakes

Stakes and Mistakes


This issue of Paprika! takes issue with identity. Gathering contributions from people across the western hemisphere, we draw a constellation of struggles, media, and intellectual projects that reject identity as a set of stable categories to divvy up and categorize human experience and, conversely, use the messiness of lived identity to underpin emancipatory struggle against the world as it exists. Some of the contributors are published academics but most are not. The credentials of writers aren’t what is important; what matters is their incisive analysis of the general misuse of identity in contemporary discourse and a productive exploration of how identity could be recast as tools for resistance. To contextualize the depoliticization of identity, Asad Haider runs through a history of identity’s depoliticization in an interview entitled What’s at Stake in Mistaken Identity.

In this issue, we seek to set out an idea and set of examples of identity practices situated within emancipatory struggles against the current social structure. These examples will stake out a position for liberatory struggles concerned with identity (those that understand the present “stakes”), suggesting a positive position distinct from uses of identity that reproduce existing social relationships (“the mistakes”). While we are clearly opposed to identity practices without a wider liberatory vision, we equally loathe those who would say that there is a single correct position or way of organizing. The speculative project of liberation, entangled with identity, is necessarily polyvalent in its resistance.

This collection of articles, by escaping the poverty of capitalist conceptions of identity, use it instead as a starting point to discover new forms of life within and beyond the city. In Santiago, Chile, Nikola Brown’s A Thousand Hands Built These Walls contrasts an indigenous urban land project, to the infrastructure of the city–the former, self-built and communally maintained, the latter, imposed from without and expelled by the community it claimed to serve.

Elsewhere, these struggles find themselves centered around land and resources. Nazshonii Brown describes the work of The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in the so-called San Francisco Bay (unceded Ohlone territory) working to indigenize urban land in solidarity with people facing displacement.

A member of Mexicali Resiste talks about the ongoing resistance to a beer plant that would further stress an already-depleted aquifer. The beer produced at this plant, brands such as Modelo and Corona, will be marketed in the US as quintessentially Mexican, using this association with mexican identity to disguise the violence it’s doing to people and the land in Mexicali.

This use of identity politics to gloss over exploitation is also the subject of Mayra Mundo’s Pour Vida. Here, she describes the way that the STARZ show Vida appropriated images of anti-gentrification struggles in Boyle Heights to give legitimacy to people implicated in the very same displacement.

In both Mexicali and Boyle Heights, research projects organized outside the academy worked to uncover and expose these uses of identity. Instead of thinking, wishfully, that exposing a misuse of identity politics was sufficient to correcting it, people in Los Angeles and Mexicali paired their research with direct action against those who sought to neuter identity to make it more amenable to capitalist logic. Indeed, all of our contributors illustrate activities, ways of seeing, and ways of living that suggest a relationship to identity that uses it as a starting point for a more expansive struggle against the world as it exists.

Across these cases, identity is neither a market segment nor an end in itself; instead, it is a starting point for understanding and attacking the material and social forces flattening the differences between us into an “equality” that can be meted out or rescinded by judges, politicians, and the police. Rather than letting identity function as a shortcut to constrain a certain subjectivity, Tadeo Cervantes’ Notes towards a Cuir Territoriality shows how a deeper relationship to identity could shape a relationship to the space of the city from the inside out to open the “other possible world.”

Yasmina Brown looks at carceral architecture and the limits of representation in her exegesis of Haile Gerima’s 1972 film Child of Resistance. Here, the wall is both the tectonic of incarceration and the bearer of a message of liberation. This dual function parallels our thesis about identity where identity, though it often functions to enclose experience within a market logic, is also a point from which a line of flight can be drawn. Between Tadeo and Yasmina, we see a way of understanding identity as a social force capable of, in Asad Haider’s words “expanding the limits of the possible” beyond the confines of the current order.

These articles were gathered to sketch out a position on identity distinct from the idea of identity as a static descriptor of a person or people, the common usage in academic and liberal circles. Instead, we see identity as a force capable of turning the world inside out. It isn’t an accident that all of the projects described here are anti-capitalist in character; As capitalism attempts to flatten heterogeneous experiences into market sectors composed of interchangeable subjects, our project uses the heterogeneous and polyvocal lived experience of identity as a necessary starting point for a project against capitalism.

Notes on the title type:

Pichacao was a heavy metal response to the Brazilian military dictatorship in power from 1964 to 1985. Its form and practice are intended as an attack on the city. While graffiti writers in the United States ‘paint’ or ‘tag,’ Pichadores ‘crush’ and ‘destroy.’ In the United States, graffiti is mostly just a stepping stone to a career in gallery art anyway. Basquiat, Haring, KAWS … if the tedium of their art (with a few exceptions granted) wasn’t bad enough, their social climbing is a pedestrian analogue to the heedless pichador above: climbing the exterior of a high-rise tower to deface, degrade, and reclaim the urban fabric.