We often assign music one task—to move us. We want it to make us sad, make us cry, make us happy, make us dance. In my opinion, the best songs ever written are the ones that give me what my heart wants, but also meet me where my head is.
And where is my head right now?
There’s always someone tryin’ to take someone’s power away.
The history of the world is violent. Will it ever change?
Now we’re livin’ in a time where you just can’t hide
There’s a camera in every hand
It’s not elusive. Even when they treat you like you’re useless,
We know what the truth is.
My head is burdened by thoughts I’m very tired of thinking. It’s almost impossible to understand how a people could deem themselves so superior that they would enslave another. Or how after decades of fights for freedom, we somehow still need to explain that we aren’t yet free and stand aside while the powerful, the wealthy, the white trivialize this perpetual war.
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain…
Gil Scott-Heron, “Winter in America”
In an effort to be kind, I’ll admit it is different now. We don’t walk around with our chains visible. But they’re there. A lot of us are bound by poverty and an inability to sustain ourselves financially, a state rooted in a system of slavery and racism conceived long before we were. Most of us are wondering why, so many years later, we even have to have a conversation about representation. Among these and many others, all of us are wondering why the mandate for an encounter with a black person is to shoot first and ask questions later.
Black human packages tied in subsistence
Having to justify your very existence
Try if you must, but you can’t have my soul
Black rage is made by ungodly control…
Lauryn Hill, “Black Rage”
Grief and remembrance are not sacrificed to the false gods of propriety and decorum but released into the air like primal music, channeled through the congregation in a collective discharge of pain.
~ From The Quiet Game, Greg Iles
I really only have one thought about Greg Iles’ The Quiet Game. It’s a thought I vaguely remember having while reading the Natchez Burning Trilogy. These stories always start with the death of black people, but end with these deaths being little more than a footnote. Sure details of their demise are woven into the twists and turns of the plot, but whiteness remains central. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Maybe Natchez, Mississippi is like most places in this country where the sudden and tragic deaths of black people are background noise to the interests of the majority.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
~ From The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
I want this to be real. Maybe it would be if she had gentle hands. Her hands are calloused, rough, sharp, hard, tough. Her pride is intrusive. Maybe I could believe this if his strong silence had come after I spilled my emotions and not after she hurled ridicule. Maybe if their opinions were set aside to make room for mine, this could finally feel true. Maybe I could live, confidently.
Instead I shudder because I fear the fight. I keep my life sheltered and distant because it’s the only way I have the strength to truly live it my way. I step away when I feel pushed. I walk away injured by opinions and exhausted by the tension between respect and self-respect. I close my eyes and arms to the possibility of progress because I’ve battled too long to hope for different.
Criminality, once it touched black life, was a stain hard to remove.
~ From Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke
Truth isn’t necessary. A suggestion is enough. A picture of an unsmiling face and a narrative rife with descriptors that imply an aggressive nature will suffice. It only has to happen once. It doesn’t take much. And when these narratives are presented, there is often no way to refute them. Alternative narratives don’t matter. Disproving claims of violence or criminal behavior isn’t effective either. And if these humans are ever victimized, know that they will immediately be criminalized.
Control. Passion. Musicianship. Power. RIP Aretha Franklin.
Blood is a hell of a lot thicker than sympathy.
~From The Quiet Game, Greg Iles
Is this what liberalism looks like? Is it a public championing of a cause, but a quiet willingness to retreat if need be? Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’ve often wondered about white people who can so easily explain the struggles of minorities in this country without ever having to experience it themselves. Even when their arguments make sense, I’m left with questions: Are they truly concerned about what justice looks like? How dedicated are they really to the fight against racism and related evils? Does their whiteness automatically grant them distance they will gladly take advantage of when given the chance?
I had questions about Penn Cage when I read the Natchez Burning Trilogy. While his father seemed to consistently risk his life to help his black patients—not that his relationships with black people weren’t complicated—Penn Cage seemed a little less devoted to the cause. He saw problems, maybe even wanted the truth, but if he could save his father without bringing that truth to light, he would. It was only his father’s actions that forced him further into these pursuits that would finally uncover these black Mississippians’ stories.
In The Quiet Game, he made it clear that this unsolved murder of a black man meant nothing to him. If he could liberate his father, that was all that mattered. Now, I certainly don’t expect people to cease being human. I can understand family being your first priority, maybe even your only priority. However, the visual is a little perplexing when, only a few chapters earlier, Penn outlines the reasons Black Americans and Native Americans—although he repeatedly calls them Indians even when challenged—are caught in a never-ending loop of oppression. His argument, with which I vehemently agree is that once you shatter a people’s culture, take them from their land or take their land from them, the process of recovery is virtually impossible. Why then, when faced with the widow and mother of a black man who was murdered and his case buried, is Penn Cage’s almost immediate response to disconnect from any need to pursue justice?
Maybe liberalism isn’t a true lifestyle or philosophy, but simply a public performance that disregards private complications and contradictions. Personally, I’d rather those contradictions take center stage. Maybe if people are honest about what they think and feel, we will have better conversations and finally experience true change.
American pill will wreck and kill.
~ Fantastic Negrito, “Plastic Hamburgers”
I live in a world where everything is potentially harmful and the rules we are taught to follow may very well destroy us; where evolution and technological advancement has left us questioning little, trapped in our own ideas and safe from others; where the violence of yesteryear, once hidden under hope for change, has reared its ugly head holding tiki torches and marching through university streets; where one wrong move leads to death by a badged gunman; where mass gatherings incite anxiety of mass violence. I live in a world I don’t like. I live in a world I don’t understand.
Let’s break out these chains, let’s burn it down.
~ Fantastic Negrito, “Plastic Hamburgers”
If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.
~ From Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
Life is hard. Sometimes it’s important to know what other people think. Not because you don’t have ideas of your own. It’s important because you do. Reading or receiving another’s advise can sometimes be a reminder that your life philosophies are not mere fantasies created to let you wallow in self-absorption. Instead, they are the best ways for you to provide a valuable contribution to humanity.
Don’t throw any of yourself away. Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity–what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. One day, you’ll look back and it will all make sense.
~ From Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon