Art Doc of the Week | A Mixtape of Politically Charged YouTube Clips
This past week has seen a groundswell of political activism that portends a new era in American life and politics – a new era defined by both the country’s foundational anti-blackness, and measures of resistance against it that are both old (protest marches) and new (social media as a tool of organization and documentation.) The pushback, of course, comes in the wake of back-to-back-to-back extra-judicial assassinations that merely underscore what a precarious state blackness is for actual black people who inhabit actual black bodies – as opposed to non-black bodies that mimic and mine blackness while ducking the bill on any user fees.
It’s far too early to predict anything except more state sponsored violence as police departments around the country start deploying the same weaponry on U.S. citizens as have been routinely used on civilians around the world. Since the citizenship of African Americans has never been more than conditional, a gaseous item easily evaporated, many non-black Americans don’t see the problem – or the writing on the wall for themselves. Many are in rabid cheerleading mode. As tensions and outrages mount, here are eleven clips of black artists – from singers to poets to comedians – giving history, context and maybe even guideposts to what is happening right now, and how we might survive it.
1. Nina Simone
“To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world, black people, and I mean that in every sense, outside and inside. And to me we have a culture that is surpassed by no other civilization, but we don’t know anything about it.”
2. James Baldwin
“You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children, on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”
3. Sonia Sanchez
“A country like America has never said I’m sorry for slavery, something called enslavement, something called inhumanity… The most important question we must answer in the 21st century is what does it mean to be human?”
4. Amiri Baraka
“But I ain’t come from a foolish tribe. We wants the mule, the land, you can make it three hundred years of blue chip stock in the entire operation… plus we want damages for all the killings and the fraud, the lynchings, the missing justice, the lies and frame-ups, unwarranted jailing… for all the music and dances you stole, the styles, the language…”
5. Lena Horne
“I’m not sure I want to be here and see what happens when the millennium is finished.” – Lena Horne, 1998
6. Essex Hemphill, Wayson Jones, and Michelle Parkerson
“What will be bombed today – a playground full of nappy heads? Do you dread your house will cinder and fireman will stand around watching the block burn to the ground like a Salem witch? Do you see? Do you dread? Do the papers panic you?”
7. Patricia Corbett
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” – Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools”
8. Clint Smith
“Thomas Jefferson, when you told Sally Hemmings that you would free her children if she remained your mistress, did you think there was honor in your ultimatum?”
9. Eartha Kitt
The late icon speaks on being blackballed by the U.S. government after speaking out against the Viet Nam war while attending a White House luncheon. (This was recorded at a low volume, so adjust accordingly.)
10. Richard Pryor
In this 1974 bit, Pryor gives a masterclass in spinning humor from trauma as he outlines how fraught with danger a traffic stop is for Black people – and where the fallout from that trauma might land.
11. Gil Scott Heron
The late soothsayer clarifies exactly what he meant when he said the revolution would not be televised.