The Natives Are Restless: A Video Poem

Poet and former professional basketball player Natalie Diaz’s experimental poetic text in video form interrogates the language used in sports commentary.

This video plays with a common phrase, “The Natives Are Restless,” which has been used by Western white men to describe indigenous or natives from Africa, from the islands, from before America. It is used often in sports casting, color commentary, and in articles written about sports. I came across it several times in the last few months while watching or reading news articles pre- and post-contest.

I wanted to press on this text, to find ways to break or bend it, but not react to it. I wanted to play with this ridiculous phrase in a way to show its ridiculousness. It has never been the natives who are restless. It is one of many phrases used in our everyday American language that most Americans would argue IS NOT racist. Nothing is racist in America anymore—instead, everything is a misunderstanding, a mistake, an accident, an offense taken by someone. I wanted to give this phrase a new space where we might see it for what it is, no matter how common or every-day it is. Racism, after all, is an everyday thing, both for the racist body and the body acted upon by that racism.

I also toyed with the idea of how a poem works and moves as a visual sound, as a playful movement in the space between text and image. Can I make a poem move in between the eye and ear without sound? Can I somehow mimic the texture/sound of a basketball game—the ball touching and also sounding in the palm and fingertips, the breath banging through the body, the eyes moving almost in cadence with shoes on the blacktop or hardwood.

I am trying to make text do more than sit statically against a white space—I’m trying to make text play? Can I make the Native body visible without giving you an image that fits what you know a Native to look like? Is this film only text, or is it image, is it soundless or can you hear it? I wish to make you, your eye, your idea of the native, the body, the image and its sounds, restless.

About Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz is a former professional basketball player turned poet and writer. Her debut collection of poetry is When My Brother Was an Aztec.

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