by River Rivers
(edited by Rachel Macklin)
Sometimes all it takes to drown out ignorance and hate is a loud bang–preferably the pyrotechnic kind. And this New Year’s Eve, I’d had a lot of that shit tossed my way thanks to social media. Some days it’s hard being Native, and this was one of them.
Moments ago, I’d muted my Twitter notifications and turned off my phone because earlier today, Elizabeth “I’m 1/1-billionth Native American” Warren decided to throw her hat in the ring for President. Naturally, it brought the trolls out of the woodwork, but these weren’t your run-of-the mill mudslingers. They used Native slurs and offensive jokes to attack her, without thinking of the damage it did to our community. In some twisted part of their hater brains, they thought ‘Injun’ and ‘Chief’ jokes were supporting us. I didn’t like her false claim of heritage, but the backlash from colonizers was a thousand times worse.
Fuck that, and fuck their Fauxahontas bullshit. I had to walk away and find peace or I’d explode.
I stared in silence at the darkened sky as fog rolled over the mountains’ silhouette beyond. A flashlight and lighter rested in my hands while the clock ticked toward midnight. In front of me sat a pyro’s dream of assorted fireworks–all illegal and therefore perfect for the task at hand. When the earth officially completed its lap around the sun, I’d light the fuckers up. Only a dazzling chemical combustion could cleanse me from life and the evening’s chaos.
I tried not to think about how much the trolls really got to me. They’re trolls: spewing hate is what they do and I shouldn’t pay any attention. But I’m Native, so I’m part of a long line of people who spent their lives putting up with ignorance. After centuries of this crap, your bullshit meter wears down until it’s impossible not to take things personally.
One troll showed his true colors with a burst of racist rants against Natives after I asked another colonizer not to say Injun. He tried to wriggle off the hook by white-splaining that his jokes were a jab at ignorant white people and stereotypes. “Of course I didn’t mean any offense to the Indigenous.” This from a guy whose bio read like bumper-sticker bingo for God and country. What a load of garbage. He was a man pretending to stand for something and was really sitting down for nothing. His hypocrisy stunk worse than the scent of sulfur coming from my fireworks display.
Other Natives tried to step in and educate him, but he didn’t care. He kept on white-splaining his excuses to us in the typical manner of someone doubling down on bad behavior. He even wrote a numbered list of Why He Was Right and We Were Wrong, which went something like this:
I don’t give a crap. (Obviously)
You don’t speak for all Native Americans. (No, but I am an actual Native telling you I’m offended)
Injun isn’t inherently offensive. (It’s an anglicized bastardization of Indian used to dehumanize Natives during colonization and enforce lazy white speak, so you tell me)
I didn’t tell anyone how to feel. (No, you threw out hate vomit and got pissed people called you on it)
I hope you feel stupid for posting a stupid comment. (…?)
I wanted to go off on him. I wanted to say he was promoting Pan-Indianism, ignoring tribal distinctions, and tokenizing the Natives who might agree with him. He was a classic example of the white Christian proverb: “How is that racist?”
But like many of my people who have come before me, I was too drained to keep up the fight. I didn’t choose to be the intolerance police and if I’m honest, there’s times when I resent the role. Let someone else educate the ignorant bastard.
So I stepped back and let other voices take the lead, and I wasn’t disappointed. They tore into his false claims with surgical precision, sharing personal experience and historical resources. Suddenly, the troll’s entitlement was on full display in a public forum, and time would make him irrelevant. In that moment, I saw hope. I saw the reflection of years to come and realized our voices would only grow louder, while those like his would fade into silence.
I also realized it was time to unplug and shift to positive things. I had a girl I liked coming over and a boatload of illegal fireworks that required my attention.
I flicked the lighter with my thumb and flame sparked in the night. I bent over and set fire to the first wick–a fine box of gunpowder aptly named Infinite Storm.
As I watched the wick burn, a sense of pride for my people rose inside me. The sky was the limit from here on out. We’re resilient and our souls know no boundary. In 2019, I would devote myself to writing my personal Indigenous experiences. That was my resolution.
With a massive crackle, the firework ignited in a cascade of glittering light and a shiver of excitement crept up my spine. My white friend’s family whooped and shouted as we rang in the new year, and I finally accepted I was exactly where I was meant to be.
When the initial white-hot lights disappeared, I lit another blast to keep them going, then another, until all twelve boxes were nothing but burned-out shells. And somewhere between the reverberating booms and radiant, color-soaked sky, I forgot about the trolls, the hate, and the constant white noise of intolerance. I focused on all the love I had to give the world.
This year was for me. Not for him.
River Rivers, is an emerging writer from Southern Oregon. He is a Modoc and Klamath American Indian. His most recent stories are currently featured in Literally Stories, TallTaleTv, Snow Leopard Publishing, the Drabble Dark Anthology, Paper Trains Literary Journal and Daedalus Magazine.