A white woman, foreign her accent proclaims, recoils at the prospect of sitting next to me on the plane from Salt Lake, Utah, to Las Vegas, Nevada. Her very affable white male companion reassures her, “it won’t be so bad. You can do it,” before he capitulates to her racist hysteria and sits next to me. In the fantasy version of this scenario, he denounces her racism as the rest of the plane watches; shamed, she weeps and runs off the plane; is arrested for running off the plane and for her racism. Of course, even in this fantasy, the white man garners applause for his courage. My denunciation, had it happened, would simply exemplify black rage. In the real scenario, they sit together, kiss every so often, and she rewards his boldness by touching his dick.
They play Sudoku.
I’m in Vegas for a conference. The hotel is shabby dowdy, full of the middle and lower middle classes—and students—who want to have a Vegas experience on a budget. My people, but not necessarily those I want to claim as mine.
Vegas is a living museum—where careers, and fashions, never die. Vegas excess does not inspire awe. Instead, this accumulation of stuff—objects, sentiments, feelings, art, kitsch—feels too stuff-like to inspire awe.
I protest too much.
Vegas runs on sin and vice, our cabbie tells us.
We are coming from Baltimore.
“Girls Delivered to You,” reads the side of a truck. We wonder whether girls are in the truck. If one can refuse a girl who smells of truck. One ripened by her stay in the truck. It’s difficult not to think of slave ships.
The referent is off. But these are my contexts.
I’m up early enough to see a few workers leave for home. Or the next appointment—their bodies accentuated enough to mark them as special. They are what some fantasies of beauty desire. Hot.
The spaces are disorientatingly familiar.
I lack orientation. I get lost easily. A teacher once told my mother, “he is easily led astray.”
I have the same difficult navigating Vegas as I do Kenyatta Market.
During the day, the buildings look worn—their bedazzled surfaces revealed as stone, paint, bulbs, dust, desert and sun abrasions. It’s possible to see their labor and laborers.
I am at a modernist conference as an unreconstructed postcolonialist and as a mostly reluctant Africanist, asking modernist studies, “what have you done for me lately?”
I wonder, crudely, if modernist internationalism, as studied now, is like Vegas internationalism. A faux, deeply material structure—I walked in fake Venice yesterday, felt the heat from a fake volcano, and gaped at a fake Eiffel Tower. While I enjoyed the fake blue sky at 10 pm, the fantasy could not be sustained.
I protest too much.
“Girls Delivered to You.”