America Was Never Great: Fourth of July Thoughts from Providence Plantations


On the Fourth of July, it’s a special kind of uncomfortable being brown in New England. After all, this the land on which this misadventure called America started. I’m writing this from Providence. Across the bay, on ancestral Wampanoag land now called Bristol, the waumpeshau (white folks) staged a parade and now a display of fireworks for their country. These are the same people who come to powwows wide-eyed, asking me “how much Indian blood” I havea Narragansett grandmother, perhaps? Or maybe Cherokee? But you are 16/16 settler. Your people have more Indian and African blood on your hands than I do in my whole family.

Leave it to settlers to show up uninvited and ask all the wrong questions, I say to myself as the fireworks erupt in the night. Is this what King Philip’s War sounded like? Is this what Gaza sounds like? I didn’t make any plans for the Fourth because I hold this truth to be self-evident: America was never great. It was never intended for me insofar as it was built on my ancestors’ suffering.

But maybe I’m thinking too much. No white people approached me at Mashpee, probably because I wasn’t in regalia, or more likely, because I had resting bitch face after getting stuck in Cape traffic. An hour west and a day later, in Providence, the fireworks are still going strong even though it’s approaching eleven o’clock. I’m sitting in the living room of my childhood home watching TV with my family. When the Celtics game ended, my dad turned the channel to a show about men fixing up old cars.

“This is stupid,” my sister said, wrinkling her nose at the TV. “It’s like a Normal Rockwell painting.” America, America: would Normal Rockwell have painted Ferguson? Are people going to think I was shady for being in Providence and not going to anyone’s cookouts?

Or maybe I’m not asking the right questions. Either way, my legs are still a little sore from yesterday, but I’m glad I came back. My clothes still smell like outdoors, sage and bug spray: after all, sometimes the strongest medicine is just coming home.

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