Black History Month 2020 is five days away… at 13 I was very hopeful and optimistic about where I would be and where the world would be when we reached this point in time. Mostly, I was very forward looking… seeing time as a unit of growth. I know I have grown… the world is another story.
Even at 13 I was rooting for everybody Black. I was also rooting for women. I recall having a substitute, who didn’t know that I was the curve in my elementary school class, call a young man to the board to do a math problem. When he got it wrong, I raised my hand as well as another young man, and the substitute said to me, “we don’t have a lot of time to spend on this so let’s let him answer because he’ll probably get it correct.” I responded, “I’m the only one here who will get it correct!” I was very aware of my Blackness AND my femaleness and how both were seen as limiting by others. But I was very aware of my own abilities. Even as a child, after Harriet led slaves to freedom thousands of miles away, Shirley had ran for President, and Toni had written countless books and won a Pulitzer, I still had to stand in their shoes and proclaim our skills, talents, God given abilities to a naysayer.
So when I thought about what 2020 would look like, 30 years later, I thought certainly the world would have grown past prejudice and racism and sexism, focused more on advancing technology and less on tearing down other humans and our art, creativity, intelligence. Yet… in 2020 we are still being judged by people who don’t recognize, realize, or even research our genius. So we need to change the narrative. It’s time. Our children in 2050 should look back on the essays they write today, and see a more inclusive, not just physically and spacially, but creatively and intellectually, space to thrive, hustle, and dream.
At the Pre-Grammy’s reception, Sean “Diddy” Combs took the stage and started this sojourn into taking back our power. He stated…
“… for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now. …You’ve got to understand. We’ve seen Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson; Michael Jackson’s holding eight Grammys and he was dropping the Grammys. But you know why he was dropping the Grammys and why he got eight Grammys? Because they never nominated him for Off the Wall. So Thriller was his revenge. It wasn’t his honest work. It was his revenge. He’s like, all right, you all want to fuck with me? I’m going to take your souls. And then we had Thriller. …My goal used to be about making hit records. Now it’s about ensuring that the culture moves forward. My culture. Our culture. The black culture.”
You see, when you are about the culture, and that culture is being used, sampled, borrowed, but simultaneously ignored, you sometimes have to slide your credentials across the table to let them know who tf you are. We live in a musical time where EVERY genre samples and borrows from hip hop the same way they sampled and borrowed from jazz and blues. Jazz, Blues, and Hip Hop, the three most American forms of music and the most disrespected. All three created by Black people from African influence.
When Michael Jackson, my absolute favorite artist of all time, created the very R&B themed Off the Wall, it was “too Black” and “too urban” for musical purists of the time. But Thriller was more palatable because it was more rock-n-roll mixed with adult contemporary. And while I love Off the Wall sonically, I was always more drawn to Thriller. I was drawn to its boldness. I was drawn to the fact that as palatable as it was to those White music executives, it was still very Black. He danced harder. His style was more in your face, the lyrics more haunting.
“They will possess you, unless you change that number on your dial…”
It was most definitely a “fuck with me, you know I got it moment”… and he solidified his place in music with that album. It may not have been his “most honest work” but it was definitely his “most honest statement”. And because he was a consummate professional, he bucked the system without them knowing it. The music industry was forever changed by that album, from a Black boy from Gary, Indiana. Who knew…
So let’s use these next five days to harness that energy. Get real clear about who you are, what you are here to do, and start doing it. We can do it for awards and accolades if we want, that’s cool, but if those don’t float your boat, do it for the culture. If there was EVER a time for it, that time is now. We are worthy of celebration and respect for our advances to the world. They eat our peanut butter, stop and go at our traffic lights, use our heated hair straighteners, recite and sample our hip hop, sing our blues like they wrote it, and admire our Blackness with the Jackson Five nostrils. Being Black is an act of revolution and a moment in history, no matter when it’s happening… yesterday, today, or tomorrow. I for one plan to do some shit this #BHM that means someone’s baby, maybe even my own, won’t have to justify his greatness in 2050!