Legacy and liberation: an ode to the Greats

Saturday, September 5, 2020 - 1:18am

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Photo courtesy of Gabrijela Skoko

It is difficult to chalk up truth, emotion and productive analysis into a piece of literature — worthy of publishing or being seen by others — when talking about a body of people you consider your world, your light, your kin and your spirit; it is difficult to know what to say to a group of people, looking at you to produce “content”, when you want to say nothing and you feel you know nothing. 

 

What I know is this: American society, along with the large majority of the world, runs off of indoctrinated thought. This is not to condemn any individual or to suggest that this societal functioning or any group is inferior — it is not to place judgement on anyone or anything in any way. It is to say that we as a large body of people, who are inherently good willed, have a responsibility to start living with compassion as a principal of life — that we must see one another as extensions of ourselves and guide one another in compassion to a greater way of being. 

 

In the beginning of the summer, I felt a responsibility to respond somehow to the uproar of anti-racist activism spreading the globe. I felt a responsibility to say something on behalf of the newspaper. I wrote editorials with my co-managing editor Cheryn Hong and the editorial page editor Brittany Bowman, who are two boldly intelligent beings, capable of more than even they have begun to imagine. The three of us took on this project for the summer, which has now extended into the school year and will probably go on for longer than any of us ever expected. I am proud of it and of them, and of our writers, editors, our photo team,  graphic designers, our video team and our web designers who all made it happen. With that being said, it does not satisfy much. This is not to say the work is not incredible, that it is not powerful or significant — it just means we have done the minimum, we have begun and we have enormous ways to go; a lifetime. 

 

There is a lot to be said about racism in America and in the world. There has been a lot of conversation about revolution in recent months, a passionate response to a sort of “awakened” society following the killing of George Floyd — mind you this societal awakening alone is a sort of unfortunate and symbolic truth about America reminding Black people that these last two hundred years of civil right efforts have fallen upon broken ears. I want to help, but in all of my small efforts — like our Miseducation project here at The Daily and sporadic protests across spring and summer months — I end in a sort of unsatisfied hopelessness. I believe it is rooted in an understanding that I have only done so much, or so little. I feel this persistent and inexplicable passion to pursue ‘freedom’ for society, but for so long I looked at the word as some ominous future, intangible. What was essential for me was to instead pursue intellectual, spiritual and psychological development — and ultimately, to pursue everything with compassion. 

 

I have spent a large majority of my time honoring the Greats, to name a few: Bob Marley, Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Tupac, Talib Kweli and Nas. They have taught me about the world through myself and most importantly, my mind. I want to share some of their words with you all. 

 

A song that has at some times engulfed me, by Nas, titled “You Can’t Stop Us Now” celebrates our power, our truth and our passion while confronting numerous mediums and systems through which the Black and Indigenous communities have been exploited and oppressed. The first verse following into the chorus goes like this: “I know your hunger, kid. I know they hung your dad, burnt your mama crib. I know that hurt you bad. Minstrel shows, from gold to shackles and back to gold. We act like we home, matter fact, we are home. Bad attitudes, octoroon skin tone. Slave food turned to soul food, collards and neck bones. Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, but she had a n**** with her to help her old ass. As James Baldwin says ‘You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world considers a n*****. No matter how hard you try, you can't stop us now. No matter how hard you try, you can't stop us now. Can't be stopped.” 

 

Whether speaking literally or metaphorically, Nas first pays homage to the reality of being a Black kid in America and travels through history spanning oppressive abuse, exploitation, rape. He circles back, reminds us this is indoctrinated thought, that no matter how much effort has been put into neutralizing our mentalities or ridding us of our identities — our histories — we will prevail. 

 

Mos Def pays these injustices a similar respect in his song “Mathematics”: “Killing fields need blood to graze the cash cow. It’s a numbers game, but shit don’t add up somehow. Like I got sixteen to thirty-two bars to rock it, but only 15% of profits, ever see my pockets like, sixty-nine billion in the last twenty years spent on national defense but folks still live in fear like nearly half of America's largest cities is one-quarter black. That’s why they gave Ricky Ross all the crack. Sixteen ounces to a pound, twenty more to a ki, A five minute sentence hearing and you no longer free. 40% of Americans own a cell phone, so they can hear everything that you say when you ain't home. I guess Michael Jackson was right, ‘You Are Not Alone’...Young teens and prison greens facing life numbers. Crack mothers, crack babies and AIDS patients. Youngbloods can’t spell but they could rock you in PlayStation. This new math is whipping motherfuckers ass. You wanna know how to rhyme, you better learn how to add, it’s mathematics.” 

 

He closes with an ode to the struggle of being a Black body and a warning, “Young soldiers trying to earn their next stripe. When the average minimum wage is $5.15, you best believe you gotta find a new ground to get cream. The white unemployment rate is nearly more than triple for black, so front liners got their gun in your back. Bubbling crack, jewel theft and robbery to combat poverty and end up in the global jail economy. Stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence, budget cutbacks but increased police presence and even if you get out of prison still living, join the other five million under state supervision. This is business, no faces just lines and statistics. From your phone, your zip code, to S-S-I digits. The system break man, child and women into figures; Two columns for who is, and who ain't n****s. Numbers are hardly real and they never have feelings, but you push too hard, even numbers got limits. Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here’s the secret: The million other straws underneath it, it’s all mathematics.”

 

Though Nas and Mos Def both sow a certain sorrow into their lyricism, there is also a bold conclusion coming from their work — they have both come to understand that this senile history, the consequential modern institutions of slavery and the racism that has pervaded society exists separate from our existence. The sentiment of Black inferiority is a sort of world or mindset, it is not a truth to be burdened with. The physical manifestations of pain and strife that have confronted Black and Indigenous communities because of this are what we seek a solution to, and we must continue to do so until we resolve a greater problem, but it is the humanity itself that is in dire need of resolution. 

 

Ms. Lauryn Hill has put out invaluable work in her lifetime, my favorite being her work from “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0”. This album is a tribute to spirit and a complete understanding of self. It serves as a rejection to our social systems and to our way of life; it serves as an acceptance of the truth, which you must pursue on your own with diligence and great curiosity. I want to share excerpts from three different songs. 

 

First, “Mr. Intentional”, speaking to the individual and community ego that prohibits us from true progress:  “We give rise to ego by being insecure. The advice that we go desperately searching for. The subconscious effort to support our paramour. To engage in denial, to admit we’re immature. Validating lies, Mr. Intentional. Open up your eyes, Mr. Intentional. Stuck in a system that seeks to suck your blood. Held emotionally hostage by what everybody does. Counting all the money that you give them just because. Exploiting ignorance in the name of love…”

 

In “Adam Lives in Theory”, the same analysis continues: “Masquerading like he got it figured out. Cut off from the sunshine, only smart in his own head, leaving his descendants to hope and doubt. Left to his devices, those worthless sacrifices, praying to the altar of himself. Making pilgrimages, thinking he’s religious, like he’s got all the light and no one else. He takes the unsuspected, cause he knows they’re not connected, and he shows them how to be just as he is. Virtually real, and commercially appealed, 

to the lust of all the people where he lives.” She closes the song with this, “Now if we can agree with who created us to be, who says we’re guilty everyone before his eyes. Making no exceptions, since the day of our conception, predisposed to hating truth and loving lies. Stop walking in pride, let the thief be crucified. Unlearn everything you know and let Him teach you; Line upon line, and precept upon precept, say goodbye to this decaying social system.”

 

When you pursue the development of yourself, you pursue the world, because once you understand completely who you are, once you accept change as a principle of life and you live in complete empathy, you will have the ability to give everything to the world. With this however, is a responsibility to pursue an ever-evolving education in order to maintain a solid conscience regarding self and the world throughout continuously challenging social systems.

 

Damian “Jr Gong” Marley and Nas share an album that should be treated like classic literature, to be pursued continuously throughout life, called “Distant Relatives” — in which they confront the aforementioned social systems while also confronting the personality that comes from living within the system, challenging their audience to begin with deconstructing this illusive “self” they have created. In their track “Patience”, Marley begins, “Pay no mind to the youths ‘cause it’s not like the future depends on it, but save the animals in the zoo ‘cause the chimpanzee them make big money; This is how the media pillages, on TV the picture is savages in villages, and the scientist still can’t explain the pyramids. Evangelists making a living on the videos of ribs of the little kids; stereotyping the image of the images and this is what the image is.” He continues, “Some of the worst paparazzi’s I’ve ever seen and I’ve ever known put the worst on display so the world can see and that's all they will ever show. So the ones in the west will never move east and feel they could be at home, get tricked by the Beast but where they gon’ flee when the monster is fully grown? Solomonic lineage where they can’t defeat and they could never clone my spiritual DNA that prints in my soul and I will forever own, Lord.” 

 

In the next verse, Marley asks for introspection:, “Are we growing wiser, or are we just growing taller?

Can you read thoughts? Can you read palms? Can you predict the future? Can you see storms coming?

The Earth was flat, if you went too far, you would fall off. Now the Earth is round, if the shape changes again, everybody would start laughing. The average man can't prove most of the things that he chooses to speak of. And still won't research and find out the root of the truth that you speak of. Scholars teach in universities and claim that they're smart and cunning. Tell them to find a cure when we sneeze and that's when their nose starts running.” 

 

The more one pursues themselves and the world, the more one understands within these excerpts. All of these prophets have shared one recurring and ever present thought which is that these oppressive institutions and the thought that inspires them are not the way of life, but rather a social system that we have all succumbed to and lived within. 

 

Bob Marley is the foundation of revolution music. He is a foundation of revolution, a well of compassion and a prophet of sorts. I want to offer this sermon from “War”: “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war, Me say war. That until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, me say war.”  He continues, “That until that day the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained, now everywhere is war. War. And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique, South Africa, Sub-human bondage, have been toppled, utterly destroyed, well, everywhere is war. Me say war.” 

 

I promise to put my entire being into working toward a world and society beyond anything we can imagine in our current indoctrinated state — a world where what I’m saying doesn’t sound painfully radical, but rather a long overdue understanding that to call notions of equality, peace, equity, love and compassion should be principles of life. 

 

I want to end with the third excerpt from Ms. Lauryn Hill. This is from one of my favorite songs of all time. The song is “I Get Out”. In it, she preaches this: 

 

I won’t be compromised no more. I can’t be victimised no more. I just don’t sympathize no more ‘cause now I understand. You just want to use me. You say “love” then abuse me. You never thought you’d lose me, but how quickly we forget that nothin’ is for certain. You thought I’d stay here hurtin’. Your guilt trip’s just not workin’. Repressin’ me to death.’Cause now I’m choosin’ life, yo. I’ll take the sacrifice, yo. If everything must go, then go, that’s how I choose to live... No more compromises. I see past your disguises. Blindin’ through mind control. Stealin’ my eternal soul. Appealin’ through material. To keep me as your slave. But I get out… Knowin’ my condition, oh, is the reason I must change...I’ve just accepted what you said, keepin’ me among the dead. The only way to know is to walk then learn and grow. But faith is not your speed, oh, you’ve had everyone believe that you're the sole authority. Just follow the majority. Afraid to face reality. The system is a joke.``