Come Get Your President (And Your Senator, Too, TBH)

I’m not shocked by President Agent Orange’s antics anymore. Ever crass and uncouth, the Commander-in-Cheeto’s most recent affront was directed at Native people via Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren.

Though not surprising, this was a cringe-worthy scene: Jackson’s portrait leering over a ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers…during which Donald disrespects them (?). We all know the backstory: the orange one has a track record of anti-Native racism, and since the election, he’s taken to referring to Senator Warren as “Pocahontas” because of her unproven claims to Indigenous ancestry.

First of all, waumpeshau (white people) always get the story of this young girl wrong. Her real name was Matoaka, and she was a child kidnapped by English colonists. Donald Wig’s flippant use of her name as a pejorative – and specifically, a racial slur – trivializes the short and tragic life of this young girl. It trivalizes, too, the long history of sexual violence to which white men not unlike the predator president have subjected Indigenous womxn.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge the violence of Elizabeth Warren claiming to be Native to benefit her career, because in so doing, she objectifies Native identity. Warren could very well be Indigenous. I don’t know her family, and I’m not here to play gatekeeper. So my issue is not with the veracity of her selective claims, but rather, that they demonstrate colonial understandings of Indigeneity all too common among non-Native folks: that Indigenous identities are costumes one can put on and take off at will. Like we don’t live in a society that has brutalized us for being Indigenous since white people first got here.

And, not for nothing, I’m yet to see Warren show up for our people in Massachusetts – or anywhere, for that matter. Correct me if I’m wrong, but sis has never had anything to say about the Washington Redsk*ns. Where was she when shit was getting real at Standing Rock? Why was she quiet as a church mouse when Donald approved both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Piplelines? And yet I’m supposed to be inspired by the “nevertheless she persisted” white feminist crap.

So, yes, the “president” needs to be checked on using racial slurs. But can we take the critique a step further and engage with the violence against Native people from which both Donald Dump and Elizabeth Warren benefit? My people continue to be the butt of the joke of a political beef between these two. And at every opportunity, we don’t advance the conversation to face the reality of anti-Native racism in this country. SMDH.

White Capitalism, Settler Politics, and The Dakota Access Pipeline

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(James MacPherson/AP)

I woke up this morning feeling very moved to write about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). All I’ve been able to do is smudge for my brothers and sisters protesting its construction; because, rather than being at a loss for words, I’ve had too many.

For the most part, I can’t even begin to sort through my thoughts and feelings towards the DAPL logically. I start with rage, the historical rage of an East Coast Native whose relationship to her land has been subverted by white capitalism and settler identity politics for nearly five hundred years. If you haven’t heard, the Dakota Access Pipeline would transport as much as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota across the Missouri River to Illinois through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Needless to say, its proponents in Washington and in corporate board rooms could not be less bothered that the DAPL would contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water, and that it would cross sacred land, including burial sites.

Part of the reason I have been unable to write about DAPL is because it hits so close to home. When I first heard about it, I immediately thought of Mashapaug, an ancestral Narragansett freshwater pond on the southern edge of my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. Essentially, Mashapaug has become a dumping ground for urban waste, including the industrial waste of the factories that line its western banks. The pond is now (in)famously polluted, flanked also by signs reading, “Mashapaug is sick.” The last time I visited last fall, I cried there, and for days afterwards. I don’t think I’ll ever have the words to describe what it’s like to go to an ancestral site that has been so blatantly disrespected.

And that’s why my heart breaks for the Standing Rock Sioux. At the same time, though, I can’t imagine what my sisters and brothers are going through having to fight for their right to clean water, for the protection of the earth and their ancestors’ burial grounds. In 2016. In an unprecedented age of information, in the most “civilized” country on earthy, human beings have to fight for basic human rights.

It’s mind-blowing. But at the same time, the DAPL is very much in line with white capitalism. In other words, it is fundamentally about whiteness, because whiteness has always treated nature as a commodity and indigenous people as disposable. I’ll be the first to attest to this, as my people have been colonized and our land disrespected since the 1600s. The idea that resources are limited is a tenet of neoclassical economics; it’s at the core of white capitalism. Was this not one of the basic principles of resource-poor Europe’s age of (dique) “exploration”? Is this not why indigenous people from Africa to Asia to Turtle Island have been displaced, our lands disrespected, our livelihoods and lives deemed secondary to white people being able to make a profit?

And to that end, we would be amiss not to acknowledge the global dimensions of the DAPL. One of the purposes of the pipeline is to encourage the United States’ “energy independence.” This is another facet of maintaining the world order with white capitalist America on top. The pipeline’s proponents are (unsurprisingly) touting economic development along the pipeline—essentially, some tired trickle-down economics. But when in American history have communities of color truly benefited from American economic hegemony? If trickle-down economics work for us, why are reservations and ghettoes plagued by horrible and oftentimes Third World poverty? Am I supposed to think that it’s a coincidence that the Standing Rock reservation has a staggering poverty rate (43.2%)?

The Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest chapter in a long history of white capitalism brutalizing Native Americans. This has been going on for hundreds of years, but it is no less disrespectful and no less painful. I mentioned Mashapaug earlier, but I’m also thinking the Shinnecock fighting for access to their ancestral beaches against structural, racialized economic discrimination in Southampton, New York, and of National Grid’s proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project in my hometown of Providence. This is not to draw a one-to-one correlation between these struggles, because I do think what’s going on at Standing Rock poses real and immediate danger. My point is that white capitalism seeks not only to exploit our lands, but also, to continue the dislocation of indigenous people from our lands, and thereby our identities. The Dakota Access Pipeline is the child of white capitalism and settler politics. Its work is not only to make money at the expense of the Standing Rock Sioux, but also to subvert their relationship to the land. Because, as settlers learned early on in the East, if you can disrupt that relationship, you can begin to subvert Native identity. This is about further exploitation. This is about white supremacy.

And this is also a moment I will speak on behalf of my communities in the East. From Mashpee to Mashantucket, Pokanoket to Seaconcke, Mohegan to Narragansett, we oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. We stand with you, Standing Rock.

Bernie and the Finch

Don’t think this blog is strictly about politics: it’s not. But since we’re in the middle of a particularly crappy election, and since it’s Thursday, let’s do a throwback.

If we’re being real, I rolled my eyes the first time I saw this video. No matter what you feel about the election, you have to admit it: that moment between Bernie and the finch was divinely timed. Across the country in Portland, a crowd of twentysomethings ate it up, and I can’t exactly blame them: they are a cross section of rightfully disgruntled American millennials looking for a sign, any sign.

And it came on wings, in the form of a curious little bird that perched on the podium while Bernie Sanders spoke. The crowd went crazy. Apparently that moment had something to do with some TV show I don’t watch: but if you ask any Native Bernie supporter, they’ll tell you it was a sign. Bernie raised his hands and his eyebrows, surrendered to the moment, and let Kawtontawitt work. It was pure genius. One of my friends back in Rhode Island sent me the video on Facebook, and when the crowd stood up and cheered, I understood why, but I shook my head. “You’d think it was the second coming of Black Jesus,” I typed, not even bothering to follow it with an emoji to mitigate the sincerity of my “Really, yall?” whatthefuckness.

That little brown finch was a sign, all right; a gift from the electoral gods. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but that bird is really a dove asking us for world peace,” Bernie echoed into our fractured American consciousness. “No more wars!” It was a force, but I wonder what Tara Houska thought. I wonder if Zellie hit “retweet” or kept scrolling on his timeline. Were they amused by the irony, or did they roll their eyes, too?

I’m not trying to project. After all, Bernie deserves much more credit than being branded simply as the lesser of evils in this election. Yet for all the hashtags, reposts and retweets, I am often left to wonder if feeling the Bern precipitates structural change. I like Bernie and I appreciate his honesty, but his campaign in and of itself did not mean this country was ready to reconcile with its history. The depths of racism and sexism, steeped as they are in white capitalism, cannot and will not be undone by one well-informed, well-meaning, friendly senator from Vermont. So while I’m here for Bernie, I want more from his supporters, the white ones in particular. The undoing of this American calamity requires more. The work of confronting whiteness is not Bernie’s alone.

Ultimately, that curious moment between Bernie and the finch is not about world peace: it’s about the work, and above all, responsibility. I realized this as I watched the soundbite through the optic of glossy American political pageantry. It’s not that I wasn’t feeling the Bern per se; I just know better than to subscribe to election year idealism.

One of my professors last semester described Bernie as unusually honest. Also as a curmudgeon who wears the free glasses from LensCrafters and dresses in ill-fitting suits from Costco. Everyone else in the class laughed at the latter comment, and I smiled, even though I’ve never been to a Costco and haven’t yet sorted through all the nuances. I’m no politician, no particularly qualified commentator on this election nor the incomplete work of unpacking America.

But the work is incomplete, and it’s dangerous for us to think otherwise. Which is why I thought the Birdie Sanders thing was stupid. As has been the case throughout this election, millennials were reaching. They were forcing that odd moment with the finch into the canon of Bernie fan culture. The man was asking white people to confront whiteness, and for that alone, we should have known he would never be president.

I was never here for Bernie fan culture, obviously. But he had a lot of good things to say. I appreciate how he showed Indian Country love, how he stepped aside when Black Lives Matter activists interrupted his speech earlier in the year. I don’t know if it was a sign, but he was definitely about the business.

Maybe the electoral gods sent the finch to let us know our time was up in the election madness. Who knows? It was over before the heavens opened above Portland; it was over before it began. And while it was kind of cheesy, I appreciate you, Bernie, for asking us to believe.

Why I Can’t and Won’t with the DNC

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Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland addresses the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016 (Photo by K. Ray-Riek/DNCC)

Let’s get this out of the way from jump: for the last week and a half, I have had an attitude. It’s been consistently in the mid-nineties in New York for the last week, and my weird roommate used up all the toilet paper and then shadily left a Charmin coupon on the refrigerator. (I wish I was making this up). So I definitely have an attitude, and a shorter fuse than normal for foolery.

Which is why I feel obligated to address mainstream politics and call it for what it is: bullshiterous.

The Democratic National Convention began today in Philadelphia, the latest development in the shit show of this presidential election. Millennials like to say it got this bad this fast because Americans are stupid, but I think Americans aren’t ready to confront whiteness. That’s why Bernie was never going to be the nominee, much less president. That’s why for our next president, we now have to choose between the real-life, white feminist version of Frank Underwood and a talking cheeto in an unfortunate lace front.

But what else should we expect from American political pageantry, filtered as it is through the prisms of mass media, white supremacy, consumerism, and vanity? After a string of highly publicized, state-sanctioned deaths of Black men following the Fourth of July holiday, the Democratic Party is convening in Philadelphia. And somehow, I am supposed to think that convening is for me.

After all, Katy Perry is showing up; it’s featured on Snapchat. But the fact is that if you’re not white, cisgendered, heteronormative and wealthy, the DNC is not for or about you, either. It goes back to Audre Lorde’s proverbial  question of the master’s tools dismantling the master’s house, and to what extent you are willing to negotiate with the master when it comes to getting free.

I don’t necessarily think we should refuse to participate in the political system altogether. I do, however, think we ought to be very critical about buying into it wholesale. Is that not what these conventions ask Americans to do? Take a selfie with one of the many celebrities in attendance. Swipe through the day’s Snapchat filters. Tweet about it. Use the geotag on Instagram. Feel like you belong and you have a place at the table of American election year idealism.

Don’t get me wrong: I can’t really come at anyone’s neck about buying into political celebrity culture because, in my own ways, I absolutely eat that shit up. I’m living for end-of-the-Obama-era Barack and Michelle, and I love a good Joe Biden meme. I share all the videos on Facebook and watch them more times than I’d like to admit.

But I know the glittery image of the well-educated, well-moisturized Obamas can’t and won’t save me from the realities of being Black and Native in this country. The lofty promises of American democracy have always evaded my people, and they were constructed on our destruction. So I can’t help but be skeptical towards egregious displays of faith in an exclusive and violent political system.

Not to harp on plantation metaphors, but if we’re being real, the DNC is a metaphorical big house. Amorphous “political revolution” notwithstanding, the reality is that dominant political discourses in this country have not fundamentally changed. They continually fail to engage with whiteness as a pervasive social, political, and economic construct that brutalizes people of color.

We know this because, in mainstream politics,  “Native Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” are still incendiary statements and regarded as terrorist organizations by some Americans. We know this because it was a big deal when Bernie Sanders visited Pine Ridge and acknowledged the enormous suffering of Native people (which I personally thought was a little bit of poverty porn). We know the conversation hasn’t changed because Hillary Clinton shut down young Black activists challenging her. And above all, we know this because the darling cheeto of the GOP has run a wildly successful on no credentials, xenophobia, and anti-facts.

Ultimately, I’m not willing to be idealistic with this much at stake. The DNC is a cog in the American political machine that has always excluded my communities. Call me a hater or a naysayer; that’s cool. But until America confronts whiteness, nothing will fundamentally change.

2016 Dem Convention: Day 1
Just because these folks aren’t here for the cheeto doesn’t mean I’m here for Hillary, the Democratic Party, the DNC, or white liberalism (Photo by Erin Schaff/DNCC via Flickr)