On Rage and American Romance: An open letter to activists

I’ve been accused all my adult life of having no faith in my generation. It’s true…but there’s more to the cat than that. You must understand that I came of age and currently exist within a generation that believes it is greater than it actually is. I live in a country saturated with Orwellian violence but prides itself as the citadel of progress and protest. I’m a person of color who is trapped between the apathy of my peers and the vanity driven activism from my friends and fellow artists. I am an elderly cultural Puritan who doesn’t give a fuck about my generation. I give a fuck about something below the psyche. It is this deep sea diving of the land and its connection to art and rebellion that has dried up in the New World. We don’t have an artistic Vanguard of any Revolution in the United States. Por ejemplo…
Mr. Lamar and Mr. Coates (to pick two random examples) are constantly cited as an example of the so called anger of the so called youth of Black America. Lamar and Coates have seldom moved me and they do indeed belong to the present. They belong to a present generation of entertainers and cult like “conscious” fans, who are deeply individualistic yet held up as pillars of a disenfranchised community that yearns for real unity.
The present “angry” generation of artists seem to have no tangible connection to the past, unless you count the past 15 years. They are too wiling to pimp their fears and (what could be) their voices to the white establishment for recognition and death paper, all the while, complaining that the white liberal establishment that endorses them – doesn’t “get it”
The mainstream youth of color who look to and cite Kendrick Lamar and his ilk as spokespeople for our present American crisis are the same group who have hope in (and regretfully party with) white people. They are the same youth of color that voted for Obama and defended him until about… six months ago.
They are the same group of street intellectuals and University graduates who haven’t read a word of Ralph Ellison and have a severe, almost sociopathic misunderstanding of the works and lives of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Du Bois, Toni Morrison and yes – Tupac.
They don’t understand the Black tradition of art is a simultaneously
spiritual practice filled with pathos, loaded with otherworldly references and drenched in the discipline of signifying.
In short, what Lamar and the present “angry generation” doesn’t understand is that we had the blues, the spirituals, the limitless weight of jazz – in place of social liberty. It was and remains Sacred. Our struggle cannot be confined to one note.
Our struggle cannot be expressed fully without paying homage to our artistic masters, giving our present and damaged selves in prayer to the suffering of many thousands gone or recognizing the authentic and galvanizing Garvey in the prophetic fire of Bob Marley’s words, “Forward to Africa, not back” or Badu evoking Tubman, “If you think about turning back, I got the shotgun on your back”
The present rage isn’t rage. It’s not even reactionary. We don’t have any lone poetic wolves in the racial wilderness of America (who are embraced) nor any organization intelligent or humane enough to point that sometimes metaphorical, sometimes necessary shotgun.
The youth have graduated to blasting Frank Ocean and BeyoncĂ© on plantation fields lit up with apps by night, for they can’t stand to work in…or for the sun. Stop wondering why our elders shake their heads in shame.
Our elders may still carry flaws within them regarding queer identity, class, gun control, abortion, patriotism and other vital facets of “progress” and violent debate but they see and were subjected to a form of dehumanizing truth that so many of us can’t or won’t admit to ourselves. We need a little lavender with a side of hard bop.
I belong to the future as well and I work toward the abolition of whiteness (the only real slavery) BUT we cannot “make it” in our present state of blind inclusivity nor can we afford to keep dying with noise. A shaman would say that the answer is buried deep in between.
A shaman would say there is no real difference between liberation and enlightenment, prayer and protest, transcendence and rebirth, the spirit and the flesh.
We must be willing to ask ourselves, what kind of work are we putting in for the exploration of our people, as a whole – to reconnect to grace, as opposed to conquest in vogue?

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