The fight for racial justice is everyone's fight.
They taught me. And I listened. Become a warrior for social justice, racial justice, economic justice. A big world served at our dinner table every night. It excited me. It got my blood going.
My father was no man to trifle with. He ran with things. He spoke in big sweeps. My grandfather too. I saw pictures of him at a round table, linen cloth, shirt sleeves, a cigar in his mouth., fighting for the workers.
Remember that fight? Unions and wages and benefits. My father and grandfather were a pain in the ass of corporate fat cats.
The riots in the streets. The marches. The speeches. The assassinations. They set my mind on fire. I wanted in this fight. We could win. We could make a better world.
I got up from my family’s dinning table and went into the world in pursuit of justice. My weapon a guitar. An earnest heart. We could win.
But I see things differently now. I think I was fighting the wrong fight. I marched in the wrong army. All we did was make it worse. With every cutting song. With every puppet burned in effigy, with every rant posted, we made it worse. Trying to convince. Trying to cohere. Trying to rage.
Our tongue got away from us. Our eyes filled with blood. We became addicted to our rage.
I let the demons run my head, but I didn’t put them there. The language of revolution served a darker, silent cause.
We talk past each other now. We miss the obvious thing. Like fighting couples do sometimes. To be heard they repeat the same thing again and again and again.
In relationships a break can come, but this is different. We can’t break up with this. We can’t go to a bar and drink whisky into oblivion. Because this is us. And when we sober up, we’ll still be here. All of us. Every mother and son and daughter. Every father. All of us. Still drawing circles in our patch of dirt.
It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. James Baldwin.
Ask this: Why do we cherish the things that divide us? Religion. Tribes. Tradition. Why carve our wars in stone? Why are we loose with our language, our labels, our captions? Why can’t we see the obvious thing?
After all the wars, all the battles, all the riots, all the killing, the lynching, raping, hating, burning nights, after all that why haven’t we learned the obvious thing?
You can’t fight racism with racism. You can’t fight hate with hate. You can’t go to war with one god against another god.
All you do is stoke the fire. The fire rages on. It grows just like it’s been growing for thousands of years because we keep doing the same stupid thing.
Oh, I had big dreams. I was going to change the world. But the world didn’t change, because the only way to change the world is to change the way we see the world. To strip the filters from our eyes. To leave our tribes.
It takes courage to stop calling yourself by these labels. To strip them from our world. To never call yourself a Jew, or black, or American, or gay, or straight, or whatever.
None of those things.
To simply be human.
I believe if we saw ourselves as human first, we’d end the hate. It’s not Utopian, it’s our story. It’s not that America has the stain of slavery on its soul. It’s humanity that carries that stain. Slavery is humans, oppressing humans. It’s our humanity that’s flawed.
It is necessary to heal the wounds of the past If you are going to build your country and to have unity. Nelson Mandela.
From the beginning, humans played the game. Those guys are different than us. Sometimes the difference was skin. Sometimes gods. Sometimes there was no perceivable difference at all. We just made shit up about each other.
What was important was the difference. We needed an ‘other.’ An outsider to shun. To fight. To dominate.
And so we built ourselves a habit of difference. We stitched it into our DNA. The DNA we all share. Cosmically ironic, right?
Another drip of irony: I published an article saying tribes are the problem. A bunch of people commented it was guys like me that were the problem. And so the merry-go-round spins.
But to see yourself as human. To see the annoying freak across from you as human. He’s annoying, yes, but he’s not annoying because he’s green. Being green doesn’t change the fact he’s human. He’s annoying because some humans are frigging annoying. Now there’s a truth.
Imagine a world where it’s not a German killing a Jew, but a man killing a man. You can say we need the context, we need the motive, but needing all that hasn’t helped so far, and the truth, the stripped down essence, it’s one man killing another.
Without the ‘otherness’ it’s more raw. Difference as motive is an excuse. It lets humans off the hook. It wasn’t ‘me’ doing that, it was ‘them.’
The context is a drug. The history is a ticket to ride. All of it numbs us to the real truth.
Humans are violent. Humans oppress each other. It’s fundament to our humanity. That’s what we need to face. Once we do, change begins.
Until we do, until we strip the differences away, nothing will change. If the headline is white man kills black man, it has more fuel than man kills man. It sells papers. Our bloods rise. Our guns cock. We fan the flames as always and forever.
Any human can kill any human. We are violent. We just need an excuse. We built the excuse right into the middle of things.
I started seeing this when I was a teenager in Africa. I went to Africa straight from the black/white conflicts of America. I saw things strictly in that frame. I was a kid. But the tribes were a revelation.
Tribal identity was paramount. It was inviolate. It was the keystone of identity. There were cultural accoutrements, like you might use to identify a Frenchman or a German, but strip those away and there was nothing to identity the different tribes, except the violence they did to each other.
The powerful amoung us promote the differences for control. That’s an obvious point, I know, but a lesson we apparently never learn. The preacher needs to fill his plate, so he’s got the only way to Heaven. The politician needs to get votes, so those other guys will destroy the world.
The ‘Other’ works. Other creates power. But if you use other, you will not defeat otherness, or racism, you will promote it. You will participate in it. It will destroy you. It separates you from your humanity.
No matter how urgent or angry you feel, deploying a cultural matrix of otherness knits you into a cocoon you may never escape. Succumbing to otherness language to express your hate only creates more hate, as it always has. It’s tethered us for millennia to the same stake in the earth. It’s insanity in its rawest form.
People will fight for their language. And they’ll gut those that suggest maybe it’s time to write a new story. People have built mansions on the historic foundations of otherness. And they don’t want to move.
But the earth is too small now. We live on top of one another. Otherness is a luxury long gone. There’s no future down that road. It doesn’t matter how much you love your walls. They’re breached.
I tried to get a UN passport. I have no interest in nations. I am a global citizen, not as a gesture against something, but as an acknowledgement of our reality. I’ve flown over every part of this planet and I’ve never seen a border from the air. There are no dotted lines etched across the earth. They’re etched across our brains.
The concept of One World doesn’t scare me because that’s all there is. That’s reality. That’s as real as the rocks and trees around us.
We don’t live on a thousand different planets. We live on one planet. A virus knows no borders.
There’s not a thousand different species of humans either. There’s one. 99.9% will disagree with me. People will not let go of their stories. Never. Our conditioning is deep. They stitch filters across their eyes. Precious things those filters.
We define ourselves by our differences. But you can’t eat our differences. They’re only in our head.
We’re set in our ways. Our history is precious. Our traditions are important. Our culture vital.
I respect myself and insist on it from everybody. And because I do it, I then respect everybody as well. Maya Angelou.
A cop kills a man. We don’t put it in that context, though. We don’t see it as a human killing a human, but humans always have, and until we acknowledge what that truth means we’re getting nowhere just like we’ve always gotten nowhere.
Once we strip the tribes away, we can move quicker to justice. Nothing trumps our humanity. No union, no tradition, no culture, no politician.
We are being taught this lesson. Again. A virus unites us. Because a virus sees humans. Equal opportunity for a vicious bug. If we turn from this lesson again, the consequence is lethal. There’s only so many times left for us.
Once you slapped a label on a thing you don’t expose it, you don’t offer insight. Your magnifying glass focuses rage and sets fire to the thing. You empower it. The hate then becomes your responsibility.
There are other, more powerful ways and paths that lead to the place we desperately need to go. But to get there we need to lower the flags, tear down the placards, turn from the seductions of us vs. them. That’s the naïve way. That’s the cop out. Ask this: Has the culture of difference ever united us?
I’m saying let’s stop hiding from the truth of who we really are. Let’s face these flaws in our humanity. Let’s own them. We all have them. Every single one of us. There is no difference.
Please don’t misunderstand me. This is a call for protest. When we witness something truly horrible, we must take to streets. This is a call for all citizens. Don’t leave people of color alone on the streets. Let them lead us, but we must follow them. We must join the fight. It’s the path to victory.
Don’t think I don’t understand I speak from a postion of entitlment. I do. I’m white. I came from a poor family in the Bronx. I worked my up, not through education and access, but though unloading trucks and construction. Access was there for me but I turned from it. Another subtlety of entitlement for sure.
I looked like half the cops in the city growing up. That works for you. But my father was an American diplomat. We traveled as a family. I lived as a teenager in aparthied-era South Africa. Brutality unleashed. I’m still dealing with it.
But that’s also where I learned the courage of protest. The raising of a unified voice. In a nation of enforced separation, you pull togther. You find the common ground, because the common ground is the only way to survive. From my shield of immunity I was regulated to witness, but what I witnessed taught me the value of unity in the face of brutality. Taught me result requires a legion of hands joined together.
Our unstoppable power is to take to the streets together. If we allow those in power to divide us we surrender our power to them.
I’m a composer. I’m a student of harmony, of making overtones ring. But making them silent is possible too. Dissonance is harsh, but harmony strikes deep into the soul. Harmony makes the heart sing.
I’d like to end with someone I once knew. You look into the eyes of a man like this and you see courage and fear mixed together, but leavaned with determination. No matter the fate he saw coming, Steven Biko never turned from justice. We stood together once on an avenue in Johannesburg. He was a young giant born to the times. He reached out his hand to all who stood with him. He lived the power of unity. He paid the price for the triumph to come.
The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Steven Biko
Don’t let them get in your head. That’s their game plan. Don’t let them keep us apart. Our unity is their greatest fear. Plant your feet in the earth and stand for justice. Stand for humanity. We all need to stand together on the Avenue.