In perspective, living in a republic that is openly hostile to minorities and women is no new thing. It may be almost a cliché to say so by now, but we have been through worse, and we will get through this, also. Perhaps not unscathed, but we will.
The arts in America are a direct result of our continuous processing of this relationship. Gospel, blues, folk, jazz, soul, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, hip hop, disco, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, trap, go-go, house, the list will go on and on. Our creativity is, if not directly inspired, then at least indirectly molded by our experience here as Africans in America. We heal with our poetry, music, and dance.
This weekend I went to see Jill Scott in concert (for the eighty billionth time), and the timing could not have been better. I was surrounded by folks who reflected the many skin tones and hair styles that make me feel at home. Even on the hottest day ever, the bees kept flying among us, looking for nectar among the shea-butter and cocoa-butter scented crowd. We glistened at dusk. We sang along to the music, we danced in the heat, and we clapped on the two and the four, together.
I’m a major fan of Jill Scott because she is a consummate performer, and I call what she does on stage sorcery. By the time she took the stage after her preceding acts, the moon was up, the breezes started to provide intermittent respite from the heat, and we were left to be held spellbound by the beautiful set, her beautiful outfit, and her beautiful voice. We journeyed together through her catalog, the hits and the b-sides, full of poetic inspiration, lamentations, and celebrations. It was a welcome respite from social media and the news. Like in a church service, the crowd sang back and hollered back. It was a safe space. I don’t know her personally,(though I’d love to join her for lunch one day.) But her stage persona is an intelligent, confident woman who completely understands that she is still on a journey of becoming herself, who has a sense of humor about her own weaknesses and mistakes, and who cares about whether her audience gets what they’ve come for. She is my big sister in my head. She shares what she has to give.
This is how we have gotten through. I am six generations away from one of the freed slaves to whom I’ve traced my ancestry. I have no idea how many generations of her ancestors were here between here and Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Congo. But what I do know is that all these generations shared what they had to give in church services, on guitars, with tambourines, on dance floors, in skillets, in ovens, in sermons, in paragraphs, with needle and thread, with hot combs and hair grease, with salve, with oils. We anoint each other with what we have to give. It creates culture. Culture gives us comfort and rest, confidence and strength. It ties us to our ancestors and evolves to meet the needs of our young people. Come through, Black Twitter. I say these things not to fetishize our culture as the answer to our political problems, but to remind us that we are not out here struggling against oppression empty handed. We have resources to help us enjoy life even as we stay informed about the news and even as we take action to right the wrongs around us. I say these things to encourage the talented among us to understand the value of your gifts to others. Share what you have to give. Warriors need energy to stand and fight.