The white gaze has governed Madison too long; I’ll change that as District 2 alder

By Benji Ramirez Gomez
As published in the Madison CapTimes

Photo of Benji smiling outdoors

Madison is not a place that is progressing — at least not in the way that it thinks it is. The 2020 uprisings have called into question how Madison is merely continuing to build on an existing unsustainable capitalist-colonialist culture. If we are to move away from the Anthropocene’s expected disasters, we must collectively reconcile with the intersecting systems of oppression in our city.

In her book, “The Extractive Zone,” founding director of the Global South Center Macarena Gómez-Barris explores how “colonial capitalism has been the main catastrophic event that has gobbled up the planet’s resources, discursively constructing racialized bodies within geographies of difference, systematically destroying through dispossession (and) enslavement.”

Extractive capitalism is the ill that haunts our city. It is what rampant white supremacy has enabled. We will not be able to include the perspectives of Black and Brown working-class people without a reconciliation with this violence. The white gaze that has governed this city has consistently overlooked Black and Brown communities in Madison and Dane County. It’s time for new eyes.

I’m a Brown Midwesterner. We exist. Our parents are the immigrants who clean your buildings, milk your cows and build your houses. My experience as a queer, non-binary Latine in Madison inevitably colors the world I see and informs how I dissect my communities’ economic exploitation.

Moving to the James Madison neighborhood has been a bit of a culture shock for me, despite living in Madison for my whole life. The only time I see other Brown people is when I see Latine coming to work in the downtown area.

This is the power of the white gaze. In developing a vision of the area without people of color, Madison has pushed my community to the margins. The labor markets Latine are forced to serve in are often tenuous, low-wage jobs that have zero opportunity for upward mobility. As a result, Madison continues to be complicit in the exploitation of immigrant labor, while simultaneously underfunding the resources necessary to create generational wealth for immigrants.

Undocumented migrant workers form the backbone of the “Dairy State’s” chief market. Yet, due to their status, they often are ineligible for health care, stimulus money, Social Security and other social safety nets extended to other working class residents.

This is the fundamental exploitation of Black and Brown bodies. To the extractive capitalist our bodies are expendable. Our bodies are no more than a tool, a resource to be extracted and be punished for its failure to produce. Dane County will put millions of dollars into building a new jail to cage the unproductive laborer, but it will never address them as human beings worthy of protection.

Gómez-Barris says that amidst the Anthropocene, “scientists and scholars in the last 10 years have written their visions of a planet in crisis, a spate of literature that addresses a ‘no-future’ paradigm and how life on the planet will soon be destroyed.”

Madison can no longer ignore what it means to live at the margin. In order to transform Madison into an equitable city prepared to respond to the urgency of the climate crisis, we need to center environmental justice in our approach; economic justice is climate justice, immigrant justice is climate justice, racial justice is climate justice.

We need leadership right now that will address prevalent injustices, ranging from housing insecurity and police brutality to education and health disparities due to geographic location. We need leadership from outside the white gaze, leadership that is intimate with the traumas the settler-colonial has inflicted across generations of Black and Indigenous peoples.

It’s why I’m running for office. I made the decision to run because I know the current elected officials are missing large swaths of the communities’ lived experiences. Their decisions are uninformed of the immense structural barriers indigenous migrants struggle against daily.

Only through the centering of the liberation of Black and Indigenous peoples will Madison be able to play our part in pivoting from global catastrophe. Join me April 6. Thank you. Gracias.

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