I am in a place that reminds me of who I am. The wooden geometric accents, high ceilings, dragging escalators and lines outlined by shelves with delicate stationary are reminiscent of my late adolescence. This place is Barnes and Noble. Now a dying franchise, but in high school a place where my best friends and I would entertain ourselves for hours. Free admission. This was also a time in my life that I dreamed boundlessly. I went to school in Center City Philadelphia so I had plenty of visual indulgences in between giggles and high school reflections. I saw bike messengers with cut off shorts and uncombed hair , sharp looking young professionals dancing in between awkward and coy exchanges during dates and other naive and fresh faced high school students. I imagined that one day, I would be snuggled in B&N’s cafe, with my feet tucked in the folds of a plush chair and my laptop resting on my bent knees, fulfilling a deadline of my lucrative writing career.
Now here I am ten years later, a decade later, in the same place that was a background to my dreams. But only now I feel that familiar feeling of something deep inside deflating. A half disappointment because I am not doing what I dreamed I would be. But the more I reflect in my special place, the more I realize that there are things that happened in between my high school days and post college adulthood. In the space between my dreams and the unmet expectations.
I learned how to fly. Then fail. I learned that I’m not so gracious with myself when I fail. I learned that I don’t know how to sit down. Even when faced with grief, I can’t be still. I learned that I’m not invincible. I learned that I can bleed. I learned to be gentle with myself. I learned that I am worthy of being gentle with myself. I learned my patterns. I learned how to become a student of myself. I learned how to say no. I learned how to sit down. I learned that I need to oil my scalp and take vitamins. That I carry things that should be left in the past. I learned that I want to walk light. I learned that being a wife is work, I learned that being a friend is work and they are both worth it. I learned that after four years of running, I am called to be an educator. I learned that being a writer and educator isn’t mutually exclusive. I learned how to fly in a different way.
What I’ve learned may not seem like much to you. But I know that this beautiful spiral of life, is a precursor to contentment. Loving myself is a precursor to contentment. And what are fulfilled dreams without contentment?
I also know that the space between now and my dreams narrow as I submit to the less glorious work of building. The dirty work of consistency. I am working on it and being gentle with myself as I do.
But as for now, I am here in my special place…writing. And it is offering me all of the assurance I need.
When I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a child, I admired his discipline and restraint and marveled at how much his character was like Christ’s. I wanted to be like him. He was good, he was noble. He touched millions in the name for justice. As I grew older, I continued to admire Dr. King and the more I matured, his life’s actions inspired me to look at my own life and society.
My friends and I began asking ourselves, what the civil rights movement of our day was. We would stumble to find the answer. We settled on saying it is hard to tell because racism in our time is covert.
Now as I think and pray about Baltimore, I am wondering how true this statement is. Is racism covert because I didn’t then recognize racial micro aggressions? Was it covert because as a biracial woman, I am not always perceived as black and so do not elicit the same treatment as those that are ? Is it because I was able to attend good schools and live in a safe neighborhood? I am beginning to realize that my privilege made racism covert in my eyes.
However, the most marginalized of our country have had to live with it overtly, blaring in their faces. Our nation’s lowest performing schools serve children both black and poor. There is despotism in these school system’s school boards, administration and hiring managers (some of who are not white). There is red tape that cannot be crossed in terms of resource allocation and hiring best practices. There are black and poor students who do not recieve a quality education because of systematic injustice.
There are predatory lending agencies deceiving elders and causing them to lose their equity or homes, gentrification that raises property taxes and developers forcing residents to move from their homes to build new stadiums. Black and poor residents are seen as collateral damage.
There are black and poor communities that have been in existence for generations that have waste and toxins dumped in their backyards by factories and plants. The community is then infected with disease. They call these communities cancer islands. There are black and poor communities that are not safe, nor stable for its residents. This racism has always been overt and systematic. There is nothing hidden about it.
There are media outlets who will not cover peaceful protests as extensively as they do “riots”. They do not broadcast how Baltimore residents marched peacefully through the streets of their city and had beer thrown at them and were called n**gers by white residents.
This is the same system that decided to demean the humanity of a murdered unarmed black child buying skittles and ice-tea (who was killed by a man who disobeyed police and acted from his own unfound suspicions) then to bring justice to him. Even in my generation, racism has never been covert.
And then of course the most virulent of systematically racist systems; our criminal justice system. The system that will imprison black youth for petty crimes. But will sentence white-collar criminals to complete however many community service hours.
This is the same system that is charged to protect and serve but instead stops and frisks. This same system is now becoming frequently fatal.The injustice at it’s hands has never been hidden but is only becoming louder.
So now we see a swelling. A swelling of what we thought were covert tensions and nation-old realties as another murdered man is denied his humanity . This week that swelling has finally burst at the seams. As our youth who face very present racism everyday, in their schools, in their communities and with the police have finally exploded from the pressure.
This explosion has not only caused unrest but revealed the disconcerting beliefs of some Americans. The heart landscape of America has not changed much since Dr. King’s era. There are many people who still do not see the humanity in black and brown people, and who do not seek to understand.
This is not an excuse for our youth stealing or damaging property , nor is it condemning them. But more so, it is an examination of the cause and effect relationship of what is happening.
Freddie Gray died after being in police custody. There are no answers as to why or how. This recent death happened in the helms of countless others that have been killed by excessive force. This force seems to be reserved for black men and women regardless of class.
These officers are overwhelmingly acquitted. This glaring reality along with the daily and very present realities of systematic racism is the cause.
The effect is unrest. Some unrest sparks peaceful protest, other unrest sparks rage.
This rage is what is getting most of the media attention.
But if this rage did not happen, would our President call on our nation to conduct “some soul searching”?
It is a human effect to an inhumane cause.
Windows were shattered; items were stolen, but there were no causalities reported at the hands of these “rioters” other than people’s pockets. I am not saying it is right, I am not saying it is good.
I am definitely not saying it is just… because the dozens of black lives that were killed at the hands of police officers are worth more than damaged property.
I am saying it is an understandable effect of a violent system.
It woke America up.
It woke me up.
And I will search for solutions, personal responsibility and action in the shattered glass.
I’m an artist. Let me start by making that clear. I am not an artist in terms that you may be familiar with (I am a spoken word artist) but I am an artist nonetheless. I am releasing a project this summer. Some of my project will be released free of charge and some of my project will be released for purchase. But in the back of my mind, I fear that only my friends, family and a handful of admirers will purchase my work. Because when videos are released on Youtube most of the music/poetry enthusiasts will use a video to MP3 converter or other illegal means of obtaining the tracks. It’s just how my generation gets down.
This kind of sucks. Not because I am disheartened by my likely loss of profit but because of today’s reality juxtaposed to my memories. I remember buying new CDs and staring at the album art for hours. It was the only right thing to do, considering that I wrestled with the plastic, bonus track stickers and weird sticky peely thing for what seemed like hours to even get to the case. It was a precious and sacred tradition of mine to read every word of the lyrics, acknowledgements and credits before I even put the CD in the player. I wondered about the artists’ creative process, how they wrote, what they thought about when they sang. I studied their portraits very closely, made sure I didn’t miss any opportunity to interpret the slightest smile or message in their eyes. This is when I chose my favorite group member from Destiny’s Child (The Writings on the Wall era) or marveled at Ms. Hill’s beauty even if engraved on a wooden desk for the Miseducation cover. Then when I pressed play, the real magic happened. I became consumed by the complete experience, the complete story. The bass thumping from my boom box’s speaker fused with every emotion that my new music elicited.
But I live in an era where music is stolen or given for free. Where I can buy a single instead of listen to a complete body of work (for the few that are still created). I live in the era of the iTunes shuffle. That is why Tidal was born. It is an answer to the rapid monetary devaluation of music. This is the age where the number one record does not mean millions of albums sold but a mere couple hundred thousand, or where records rarely go platinum but instead are made into videos that can then be certified on Vevo for 100 million views. But that is only if you can afford to create a video. Today, being an artist is expensive because the value is not found in the art anymore. Again, this sucks.
It sucks like not being able to find a transparent game boy color in stores , or like Blockbuster going out of business or like being distracted by social media. These things are at its best unfortunate. And so is our shift in music. So that is why I do not understand why there is such a delusion of importance surrounding the release of Tidal. Let’s be real. It is an artist owned platform that puts money into the artists’ hands in exchange for their music. I understand why that is a solution to a problem, but I do not understand why people of influence are using the word revolutionary when describing it, not at this time in our country. It just doesn’t make sense.
During the press conference on Monday, it was hard enough to watch the awkward body language of celebrities lined up on a stage in front of a few jeering fans, trying to comprehend why Mrs. Keys is comparing this moment to a graduation (girl..what?). But then to hear the cheap attempts to justify the inflated prices of the subscription with words such as “expertly curated editorials” was unbearable (again..what?) . It seemed like more of a benefit to the artists’ pockets than the fans’ ears. Which is fine. I get it. But why now?
Why spend time and energy on planning a social media campaign, hiring branding experts, graphic artists, marketing directors, camera crews, event planners, etc. for a streaming music service? Why during a time when our country is at war with itself. When prejudice ideologies are surfacing and it seems like black men are being killed every week. The heart of racism has resurfaced (just peruse social media) and we have the opportunity to confront it in new and innovative ways. Why launch Tidal in a climate where our first lady has to defend her choice to attend an event called “Black Girls Rock”? It seems so inappropriate considering our context.
You’ve shown that you can mobilize some powerful people to achieve something. I know it is not just your celebrity peers, but there are lawyers and music executives negotiating deals behind the scenes. You’ve proven that you can stop time so that people will hear what you have to say. But why for a cause that fills your own pockets? People listen to you, you have influence.
Why not mobilize together and hold press conferences to address police brutality? Why not sign a declaration to use your influence for something greater?
Watching the press conference and hearing some of you use words such as movement, seemed so strikingly inauthentic when that same word is used by foot soldiers and activists, who listen to your music and are actually trying to build one.
I am not asking you all to be saviors, I am simply asking you to steward your influence in a way that honors this moment in our country’s history. We do not need any more distractions.