When Poets Decide Who Counts

an illustration of people in boxes, with a large pencil overhead
Halisia Hubbard for NPR
an illustration of people in boxes, with a large pencil overhead

Halisia Hubbard for NPR

Throughout April, we have been telling tales that coincide with the census — the one time each decade everybody within the U.S. is requested to consider their racial identification—whether or not they prefer it or not. And in every of our episodes, we have led with a query: Who counts in 2020?

For our ultimate episode within the collection, we requested this query to a few of our favourite artist-philosophers of society: poets. After all, April is National Poetry Month, and we needed to convey you some stunning (and difficult) phrases to sink into and savor. We talked to poets of coloration about who we’re and who counts in 2020. Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Kaveh Akbar, Natalie Diaz, and Jesús Ivan Valles every learn us a poem and advised us what it means, for them, to depend and be counted.

The thought for a poetry episode first got here when host Shereen Marisol Meraji learn Natalie Diaz’s poem “American Arithmetic.” It’s a poem about what it means to be counted by the federal government as a Native American—in Diaz’s case, as a Mojave girl and member of the Gila River Indian Tribe.

As Diaz factors out in her poem, Native Americans make up lower than one p.c of the inhabitants of America, however police kill them at higher rates than every other racial or ethnic group, in response to the CDC. In her poem, she writes that Native Americans “do a better job of dying by police than we do existing.”

Listen to Natalie Diaz learn “American Arithmetic”

Shereen requested Natalie Diaz to share her ideas concerning the poem, and what being counted means to her.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

How do you suppose your poem speaks to this query of who we’re and what it means to be counted?

I actually needed to play with with numbers, with statistics. I feel that is one of many few methods Natives are sometimes seen on this nation, particularly contemplating the census. What does it imply to be counted by the census? What are the impacts of it? What does it imply to not be counted by the census?

I feel rather a lot about what visibility and invisibility imply. I feel in some methods, as a result of I’m Native, I’m each. I’m invisible, in that there are particular ways in which America has tried to erase my folks, the Mojave folks, in addition to different nations. And I feel there’s additionally a method that America has made us seen in ways in which have change into prophetic in sure cases, comparable to considering of us as wounded, or solely being victims. What does it imply to be seen and seen in your powerlessness?

How would you need to be seen as an alternative?

One of the troubles with visibility in America is that the Western creativeness, the American creativeness may be very uncomfortable with concepts of multiplicity. And to ensure that me to be absolutely seen, to be seen as absolutely complete, America has to have the ability to see me for all the issues I’m. For all the languages I carry in me, for all the ancestors I carry in me, for all the completely different tales I carry in me.

One of the most important issues with being American is that it desires me to be one factor. It desires to see me because it must outline me, or must pin me down. I have to attempt to bend it and break it, in order that it sees me in all of the completely different ways in which I’m. [And] not simply the ways in which I’ve been and am immediately, however all of the methods I’d but be.

How do you suppose this poem helps bend and break these misconceptions of you?

Race is one thing very fascinating once we’re speaking about Native peoples, as a result of we really do not need to be a race. We are nations inside ourselves; we’re peoples of this land. We are so related to that land that in a method, we’re the land. And once we’re contemplating Indian legislation, or the way in which America has handled Native peoples, for the federal government to cut back us to a race implies that they’re really making an attempt to dislocate us and lower us off from our land.

Every 10 years, Americans are requested to examine a field on the census indicating their race. Are you planning to fill that out?

I do not fill out the census. There are a number of American processes or paperwork trails that I are inclined to keep away from. The census is a type of.

For me, I attempt to be intentional or cautious about how I let myself be counted. I feel there are very robust arguments for why I ought to enable myself to be counted. I feel proper now, with the methods I’m serious about language, physique and land, I’m making an attempt very onerous to to seek out methods to subvert the methods my physique is at all times introduced by this nation.

All the poems featured within the episode:

Danez Smith: “what was said at the bus stop

Franny Choi: “Turing Test_Love”

Kaveh Akbar: “Do You Speak Persian?”

Natalie Diaz: “American Arithmetic”

Jesús Ivan Valles: “(Un)documents”

Leave a Comment

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00