In this collective writing exercise the authors propose a meditation on attunement and entanglement within the contemporary United States. Writing across three sites, southern Nevada, Chicago, and New Orleans, they consider auto/ethnographically the deep histories of dispossession that shape their relationship to the academy, to the ethnographic field site, and to home. As a rehearsal of an ongoing multimodal project, this essay presents what the authors have been calling their “dark-side mixtape”: a rehearsal of ethnographic theory read through the music that nourishes their souls. The first rehearsal was conceived as an experiment in refusal: to refuse the search for hope or potentiality in the violence of antiblackness, settler colonialism, and predatory capitalism. The next rehearsal sought an orientation within that refusal toward a nonoptimistic articulation of love. In this rehearsal, the authors consider the ethnographic and institutional entanglements that bring them to this project through a playful presentation of “liner notes” to their mixtape for America. In so doing they trace an unromantic love of country—love of the desert, love of the swamp, love of people, and love of the lake—through Indigenous and Black thought. This mixtape considers the conditions of dispossession affectively. It does so by taking seriously hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s claim that “the only hope we kinda have left is music, and vibrations” and tuning the work to dispossession’s rhythms and tempos, harmonies and dissonances, to its unrepeated melodies and its recurring, steady beats.
I was dreaming when i wrote this: A mixtape for America
Kristen L. Simmons is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her work engages toxicity and settler colonialism in the American West. Conducting ethnographic fieldwork in the Mojave Desert, she tracks multiple energy projects in development.Kaya Naomi Williams is currently a college fellow in the Anthropology Department at Harvard University. Her PhD research at the University of Chicago is an ethnographic study of municipal criminal justice reform, following attempts to reform practices of pretrial incarceration in New Orleans, Louisiana, through policy and law.