Cool It, Forget It

What a strange, dark summer it has been.

On-and-off thunderstorms. Scorching sun. Miscommunication. I didn’t sleep one full night last week; I only started eating again this weekend. On Saturday I got a neon, Sasha Yazzie-inspired full set of acrylic nails because I’m more underwhelmed than heartbroken. The Hot Girl Summer, I’ve come to believe, is little more than a function of our collective anxiety—at least in Providence, where we mask our deep insecurities with lots of flowery theory and half-baked ideas that just sound radical. Somehow I don’t think that’s original, but we act like it is. I act like it is. And since self-introspection doesn’t make for interesting Snapchat stories, we just don’t get too attached to anything.

Or we buckle under our own fear of being seen, of being found out. I’ve been told three times in my life that I’m a heartbreaker. I just think these well-intentioned, woke, “radical” types don’t yet understand Narragansett womxn are not to be crossed. It’s all land acknowledgements and hashtags until we start calling them on their machismo.

Not to get too meta. The whole thing was dumb, honestly: he didn’t like when I danced at parties when other guys were around. He liked the fit of my dress and my curls and my cheekbones, but not that I ask pointed questions.

What can I do? Summer comes and summer goes. On Saturday I got my nails done, put on a dress with a deadly fit, and went dancing with my friends. I’ve been here before, and I’ve survived enough heatwaves in enough cities to know when I’m being fetishized. Or overly sensitive.

Somebody tell Sivan I say thank you for helping me to feel seen.

PVDFest Was Lit

Providence showed up and showed out this weekend at PVD Fest! I saw everyone and their mom (like, for real); made some new friends; danced everywhere; and above all, I was amazed by the representation of Black and brown artists (!!! since we know Providence likes to act like we don’t exist). I underestimated my hometown, but I ended up having a blast this weekend. Summer is officially on and poppin’ in the Creative Capital!

I’ll Always Come Back

It’s counterintuitive, but Newport is the only place in Rhode Island where I feel totally comfortable. My great grandmother lived and died here, and while I was growing up, coming to see her and my great auntie was always special. And so now, every time I’m here, it’s like I’m returning back to Nana – and to my true and highest Self. Here’s to this beautiful island that has taught me so much about myself over the last 26 years of my life; and to the less glamorous but infinitely more beautiful Newport on the other side of Bellevue Ave. Like I’ve said before, no matter where life takes me, I’ll always come back.

Historical Rage: An Indictment of Providence

In Indian Country, we talk about historical or inherited trauma. But what about rage?

Black rage. This is what I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks as I’ve burned with resentment towards Providence, this oppressive city I returned to because I wanted to “make a difference” (whatever that means). I scoff when I think about martyring myself for a place built on the erasure, objectification, and exploitation of Native and Black womxn. Of course, the whole of this country is built – and functions – on our oppression. But I grew up in Rhode Island’s capital city and, for better or worse, I know it best.

For the other Providence kids, hear me: this post is not a complaint about “how small” this place is, or how shitty people are. I actually don’t find Providence as small or as shitty as we say. I do, however, know that it is far more racist and classist than most people are willing to admit. I know this because I have a degree in it (thank you, Rhode Island College History Department!), and because it is my experiential reality.

So what this post is, definitively, is an indictment of Providence. Never mind academia and businesses: every single social, religious and cultural space I’ve found myself here makes a regular practice of erasing Black people, objectifying us, and deploying our trauma for white consumption. This is nothing new. It is important, though, because New England anti-Black racism is insidious. It invisibilizes us. And the expectation is that I should be “grateful” for this “milder” racism.

But I’m not. I am enraged.

I am enraged that the Brown family made their fortune off selling my people, yet Brown University – the stepchild of the Ivy League – continually denies local Black students admissions while offering piddling college scholarships to a group of mostly Latinx kids as some half-assed form of reparations. I’m angry that the police terrorize the community where I grew up in South Providence; that the shitty school department staffed by white people from the suburbs doesn’t give a fuck about the Black and brown it supposedly serves; that the opioid crisis in Rhode Island only became a crisis when it started affecting them. I’m furious that traditionally Black institutions like John Hope have gone under while others are grossly underfunded. I’m mad that hipsters flocking to the West End want to talk to me about gentrification when they’re pricing out folks who have lived there long before the city was cool.

And I’m mad that people love to appropriate Black radical traditions around Martin Luther King Day yet project their anti-Blackness onto me. While well-meaning waumpeshau (white folks) in some of the city’s more progressive institutions objectify and deploy Black suffering and death as a way to pantomime activism, these same institutions expect me to stomach my own erasure for the benefit of white folks. This is hardly specific to New England. But the myth that racism does not exist north of the Mason-Dixon line is just that: a myth. After all (as I used to say when I worked at a museum), this state is called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for a reason.

My rage does not function on an interpersynal level. In other words, I’m not mad at individual white people. I’m mad at whiteness, and how whiteness functions here, and how we tell ourselves it doesn’t.

My rage is historical. It is inherited from my parents and their parents and all their parents before them, all of whom this city denied, too. My rage dates back to the first slave ships that docked in New England ports and the Mayflower at so-called Plymouth.

My rage cannot and will not be reconciled so long as waumpeshau aren’t willing to reconcile with their colonial past and present. It’s not just about talking to that overtly racist, Trump-voting uncle; it’s also about taking institutions to task.

And ultimately, though white people love trying to shift the work, I cannot and will not do any additional emotional labor for them. Not ever, and especially not when I am working through the rage of being continually dismissed and denied on an urban plantation built on my land and at my expense.

Solange called it: got a lot to be mad about.

The Swamp

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Technically, the clearing could also be a swamp. It’s less of a metaphor than you think, meaning, the land now called Providence used to be an emerald green, leafy woodland of brush, water, and sky.

Then the English came. They stole my land. They stole my ancestors. And finally, they named this non-island swamp Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

South of my swamp, an (actual) island whitepeople stole named Manhattan, I constantly have to problematize assumptions about place and identity. I’m not trying to get a rise out of anyone or, God forbid, make the wide-eyed, quinoa-loving gentrifiers of Brooklyn think too hard. “Oooooh, I just love Providence,” they say when I tell them where I’m from. “My brother-in-law went to Brown. What is that thing they do downtown—WaterFire? What a charming little city!”

That’s one way to put it. Turns out, “Where are you from?” is one of the most pointed and  political questions someone can ask you in New York. It’s usually not the first, because the assumption is that you came here looking for an identity. So it’s very uncool to claim where you’re from, much less insist on the most concise, decolonial, metaphorical, truthful answer to that question: a swamp.

Blank stares. That it’s a caustic reply goes over most people’s heads. The nuances escape them. But they definitely think it’s lame of me to say that, particularly since I’ve been in New York for almost two years. “You’re a New Yorker now,” insist the gentrifiers, but I’m not. Not every tall, poised woman in this city is aspiring to be a model or an actress. There’s not a lot of poetry to why I’m here: I got into grad school, and the work is important to me.

But the belonging? Not so much. People here will go out of their way to pigeonhole you, particularly if your very existence problematizes their sense of history and identity. In other words, not all Indians are from reservations. Some of us come from plantations called Boston, New Haven, Providence: New England slave ports, post-industrial renaissance ghettos. Anyway, as it were, most Natives live in cities, and the city with the largest Native population is New York.

God bless these hapless five boroughs, this stolen Lenni Lenape land on which Indigenous people from all corners of Turtle Island negotiate belonging. Some days, it really sucks. I don’t see myself in the concrete,the steaming masses at Columbus Circle, the smog, the uppity college students sunbathing in Washington Square Park. The promises of this emerald island called Manhattan are evasive. New York, more than anywhere I’ve ever been on Earth, is a nexus of intense digital voyeurism and collective social anxiety, all against the dizzying backdrop of the sleepless white capitalist beast. Money, competition, alcoholism, vanity, Tinder: it’s exhausting, and I don’t see myself in any of it.

But I’m here. I’m brown and unapologetic, caustic, sometimes funny, always technical. This blog is my digital clearing and New York is my metaphor. It goes over most people’s heads. “Did you come here to model?” ask the gentrifiers eagerly. “To act? To be an Instagram star?”

No: I’m from a swamp, and I came here to work.