Masego, a popular Jamaican American funk, fusion and future soul artist, is slated to be a Spring Fling headliner this season. Among his most recognizable pieces is his 2017 titular track, “Navajo,” which tells the story of a love affair he had with a Diné woman his freshman year of college. According to a song backstory video he uploaded to YouTube in April 2020, this girlfriend of Masego’s was “mixed with a lot of things.” She was “Navajo Indian, she was from here, there — it all makes sense.” He goes on to explain, “my ex … was rooted in a certain morale that was representative of her culture.”
But in fact, lines such as “She was my heart / I don’t know the tribe or the fall / But by default she don’t think of me” and “I thought she was an Indian (Navajo) / She be slangin’ thangs like a simian (now I know) / All my life I wanted me an Indian (there she goes)” are not celebrations of the richness of Indigenous Southwestern patrimony. They are lazy allusions and invocations of Indigeneity that ascribe importance to a Native woman only when she pays attention to the speaker or otherwise subjects herself to his fascination.
It is a tired perpetuation of the fetishization of Native women.
And more broadly, the lyrics participate in and contribute to damaging currents of culture that commodify Indigenous bodies. The implications of songs like “Navajo” are not superficial. On the contrary, and especially in light of community efforts to stand in solidarity with Indigenous women and other marginalized genders, these attitudes carry the weight of history. Today, there are nearly 6,000 Native women who are known to be missing in North America. Only 116 cases are under investigation by law enforcement. On some reservations, the death rate for Indigenous women soars to 10 times the national average. And on others, it has been found that 96 percent suffer sexual violence at the hands of non-Natives. There is an epidemic of violence against Indigenous people in the Americas. We must stand together in community with one another against it.
The Spring Fling Committee’s decision to invite Masego comes on the heels of community gatherings like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Vigil earlier this term. The Native and Indigenous Student Association conducted an internal poll of our community earlier this month: 72 percent of respondents felt that it was inappropriate for Masego to sing “Navajo,” come Spring Fling. A sizable portion felt that he should not be welcome at Spring Fling at all. These sentiments indict the Spring Fling Committee for unscrupulous decision making.
As a community, it is not within our authority to revoke Masego’s invitation. As students, we cannot force him to not sing a song he shouldn’t; although, it should be clear to all that he should not. NISAY has released a statement against Masego performing his racist song. We further demand that the committee be more critical and contemplative in future selection processes. It is unacceptable to invite singers who profit from the commodification of Native peoples.
Though we are not surprised. The University sits on unceded land, it has monetarily benefitted from tribal exploitation, it recently hired only its second Indigenous Studies professor and then it plasters our faces on DEI posters. This invitation is just the most recent iteration in a long line of uncritical and haphazard decisions made by this institution with deleterious impacts on our community.
Maybe next time invite Redbone, Mato or Buffy Saint-Marie. And in the meantime, establish a Native Studies Program, too.