“We who feel lava in our eyes and hearts find it hard not to shake or scream.” —The Transformations Suite
“I can only speak about my own country, because I know this country; I think I know it pretty well. In this country now—and I have to preface everything I'm going to say with this—all terms must be revised.” —James Baldwin
What does patriotism mean in a country that is built on plunder?
What does the law mean when it gives police license to kill the citizens who pay for their salaries?
What does a national awakening of consciousness mean when it requires us to watch videos of people being murdered, over and over again?
I couldn't watch the Terence Crutcher video. I couldn't watch it. As important as it is for people who insist on ignoring the problem of police brutality to see the video, I think the cost might be too great for those of us who see our fathers in those images.
I don't know what to say to my father after he stops our conversation one day while we're in the car because a police car is driving behind us, and we sit in a heavy silence until the cops turn off the road. I don't know how to deal with the fact that even as an important academic and community leader, my dad could be Keith Lamont Scott tomorrow, reading a book while waiting to pick me up at the airport or my concert or my friend's house. I don't know how to reconcile the fact that my father is the kindest and most compassionate man I know, and yet he could be the next black man surveilled from a helicopter with the judgment that "he looks like a bad dude." I don't know how to hold this rage inside me.
All I know is, it hurts. So bad. Worse than almost anything else. Worse than two months ago, when I couldn't stop thinking about Alton Sterling. Worse than five months ago, when I saw the brave hunger strikers’ protest of the San Francisco Police Department’s killing of Alex Nieto get sidelined by the mayor in the most inhumane way. Because every time is the worst time.
The history of policing in this country is a history of decimating and controlling black and brown bodies. You can trace the development of this country's police force through the state's need for quelling black uprisings. The earliest police in American history were used as slave catchers, returning to slavery many men and women who were courageous and lucky enough to embark on and survive the journey from South to North. SWAT was originally created to infiltrate and take out the Black Panthers network. And the day that I saw footage of tanks in Ferguson, Mo., streets was the day I really started to understand what we are up against, now, in our time.
And this is, fundamentally, the reason we can't wait: Every day is urgent because every day—literally, every 28 hours—another person is killed by police. And as this happens, the state is coming up with more and more ways to cover up these murders with excuses, lies and language.
When I say that the time is most urgently now, I don't mean reform. I don't mean asking kindly. To all those hiding behind ideas like "We support your right to protest, but be polite" (shoutouts to all the Colin Kaepernick haters—I see through y'all; I see your cowardice) or "Change will come, but it goes slow; be patient, don't disrupt things!"
We don't have the privilege of “patience.” We are dying. We are being murdered, and then blamed for our own deaths. And we are being thrown in cages for engaging in the same practices that you could find tomorrow in any college dorm in the nation. Business "as usual" is done in this country, and it's not coming back. Best believe we are going to fight harder and stronger.
To every artist, I say: We are needed. Music is one of the sources of fuel for movements. We need to make work that tells the truth. But also, we can't hide behind a song. We have to educate ourselves on who is really doing the on-the-ground core work of lifting up communities and engaging in direct-action protest; and we have to support them with our bodies, our mouths and our pockets.
And on that topic: White artists, your silence in this moment is deafening. They can hear it in Tulsa, Okla.; they can hear it in Ferguson; they can hear it in Chicago. Please understand: White supremacy is actually your problem, not ours. And whether you register it or not, it costs you as well. It costs you a great deal.
As someone who has a black father and also has light skin, I understand what it means to benefit from white supremacy, but also what it means to fear it. I understand, as someone who looks white, that one of my primary jobs must be to confront white people about these issues, and to challenge those people who refuse to acknowledge the realities of our country and its history. I understand now that if you aren't uncomfortable, you're not doing what you should be doing. The time to be comfortable is over because fathers and mothers and sons and daughters are dying.
And so, it is time to revise everything. We must revise the way we speak, the way we work, the way we think and the way we act. We must do better. And we must do it now. We just can't wait any longer.
“I do not believe in the … myth that we are all helpless. It's only out of our hands if we don't want to pick it up.” —James Baldwin
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.
Composer, pianist and director Samora Pinderhughes will debut The Transformations Suite on Oct. 12, 2016. A Juilliard graduate, Pinderhughes has performed at the White House and Carnegie Hall and toured with Branford Marsalis, Emily King and more. A Sundance fellow in composing, he is also the music director of Blackout for Human Rights. Learn more at Transformationssuite.com.