As the state continues to selectively nurture and kill, BRUJAS asserts from the border to our local skatepark the need for young people to work together across difference, against oppression. At the forefront of BRUJAS’s praxis is cultural production. Working with nightlife curators, female rappers, other skate gangs, art institutions and museums alike, has taught us what kind of DIY collaboration is possible when everything is illegal and on surveillance tape in this city and most others. With virtually no sponsors or “professional” hierarchy, BRUJAS has managed to bridge worlds nobody else can. Our proximity to active creative communities is our first and most prominent advantage; our unwillingness to compromise with ugly, sad, and imposter lifestyle brands our second. You can Google BRUJAS to engage in what we have accomplished. However, what is rarely publicly acknowledged for fear of alienation is the intolerable cyber-fueled infighting, which is, to me, emerging as the top obstacle in our movement against the current state leadership.
What has surfaced to our knowledge over the last four years of programming, activations, and interventions by BRUJAS is a haunting awareness of the boot the high cost of living has placed on the necks of young organizers in and from New York City. Gentrification has severely hindered NYC youth’s ability and willingness to work with one another. Instead, competition, scarcity, and survival have an overbearing presence on our psyches, poisoning our movement and our friendships. While unemployment, criminalization, and substance abuse have been widely discussed issues concerning the impact of gentrification on low-income youth of color from NYC, “negativity” and “haterism” have been somewhat uninterrogated, especially as they have evolved with the cyber communication.
While the internet gave BRUJAS tools for navigating the spaces between our local skatepark in the Bronx, the feminist movement in major cities from LA to Paris, and the international reach of streetwear delivered worldwide by the USPS, it is simultaneously the same reason we have yet to build the next and very necessary civil rights movement for our generation. Unravelling coalitions and hindering political movements have been part of the state agenda since its inception. The digital public forum for surveilling each other’s personal lives and work, both of which have been so important for formulating a relevant and active politics, has resulted in a dynamic where the “woke” police the “woke.” “Negativity” or “haterism” in the form of the “exposé” or “cancellation” of people and groups by “accounts,” is made public with the hope that something will change as a result. The person under scrutiny will feel bad, or will maybe lose support, or the person firing shots will gain support and feel better. Catharsis takes place. Perhaps a lesson was taught? When we put our desire for change into the internet by cyberstalking others we become the police and we lose. We must be careful when making public displays of internal surveillance. Tiqqun, my favorite theorist collective, open their text “Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl” with the claim that the “new police are imperceptible because they’re omnipresent.”1 However, if you are looking to publicly punish an individual for the purpose of changing the way people are seen, that is quite perceptibly within the realm policing, and rarely if ever produces the desired change. This is also true of the traditional police, who have (under the guise of discipline) maintained a racialized hierarchy for over 300 years. We need to start leaving other people the fuck alone on the internet in 2019, especially if they are just trying to skate.
Hundreds of iterations of “these girls suck” plague the comments section of the New York Times video featuring BRUJAS skating published in the summer of 2016. Whether they were white males in the suburbs commenting from their toilet bowls or gatekeepers to the various art and culture related industries standing in tandem to skateboarding, “haters” proceed to follow, imitate, cyberstalk, and harass us online as we struggle to stay together, vocalize our dreams for the future, and produce complex, publicly engaged mixed media art projects that articulate our personal and collective anger with institutions like prisons, schools, and hospitals. While it is true that BRUJAS is trying to do more than skate, our political projects have also come under attack on the internet, especially for using merchandise as a distribution strategy. Why is BRUJAS trying to profit? The answer to these critiques, many of which come from people who have merchandising strategies themselves (even if they don’t look like ours) or people who collaborate with brands, is that BRUJAS is a youth-owned company working to connect the cultural producer to their value. The structural relationship “haters” have to the workplace helps further explain the toxicity of this dynamic for politically and commercially influential groups attempting to build solidarity.
Becoming commercially influential is not necessarily a choice. In fact, many subcultures are unknowingly mined through the internet for aesthetic and generationally situated cultural information. From the vantage point of organizers on the ground, infighting amongst politically active cultural influencers is particularly advantageous for vultures who use competition among groups to low-ball fees for commercial participation while ignoring (from resourced and powerful positions) the presence of their most dire needs to create, articulate their truths, and materially survive in a brutal city. Apart from competition for “creative work,”like skate modelling or hosting, the slander and straight up hatred that circulates cybernetically works to delegitimize marginal groups, further wage-suppression, shrink coalitions, and slow momentum for small businesses and grassroots efforts. A union representing youth cultural producers is not something BRUJAS wants to see form, its something all of the active youth in NYC NEED.
Cybernetic encryptions of pain have shaped social relations under neoliberalism, making organizing unbearably difficult for young people still attempting to emotionally mature, or “adjust,” to apocalyptic futures. How a materially situated phenomenon like gentrification has extended into young people’s social lives is no mystery. Poverty and unemployment are an integral part of the design of capitalism. Competition for jobs and opportunities keep wages low. Ultimately, as the effort to materialize individuality (i.e the personal brand) re-packages both consumption and labor alienation through the illusion that if one works hard enough one can “do what they love,” BRUJAS is itself adapting to and agitating within gentrification and neoliberalism. BRUJAS is aware that the margins maintain the center—nothing, and we mean nothing, can sell without integrating the voices of those most vulnerable, discarded and uncared for by capitalism. BRUJAS is aware that this is part of racial capitalism. Exposing this market function while holding our communities intact is of paramount importance. The representation of the margins in popular and commercial spheres creates an almost foggy vision of progress that gives the consumer faith in the empire. Despite the massive effort of the marketplace to integrate the aesthetics of women of color skateboarders into the mainstream, we are still, by design, the underground, and we still need significantly more power than we have to win. This victory will be contingent on our attempt to organize across difference, outside of the internet. OKAYYY !
- Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (Semiotext(e)/Intervention Series, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999/2012).