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.