Of course all lives matter, which is why black lives should. This question: “shouldn’t all lives matter?” – often given in response to an affirmation of the #blacklivesmatter movement leaves me a bit incredulous and slack-jawed in its absurdity – perhaps people are purposefully deflecting or perhaps it is genuine ignorance, but it is disturbing. Its as if I’ve had my arm nearly severed by a chainsaw and as I scream and lament about my severed limb, someone says to me in disdain that I shouldn’t just care about my limb since my whole body should matter.
I’m convinced that this is symptom of a greater illness that plagues our society. I look at the thousands of young black men and women killed in extrajudicial ways by law enforcement in the last five years throughout this country and I see many more victims. The victims do not just include the dead but the living—even the officer’s are victims of programming that leads them to the extrajudicial act in the heat of an arrest. I hold Hollywood, the mass media and public schools responsible for the programming that has created a black demagogue to be feared—even when he is as young as Tamir Rice, or fast asleep like an angel like Aiyana Jones—may they both rest in peace.
The #blacklivesmovement will not bring these children back and it won’t bring back those killed by black on black crime either—but those killers and the police officers in the former examples have one thing in common, it is programming that associates blackness with the negative.
So I felt duty bound as an artist to speak out on the programming and call into question our narratives of Blackness and flip the paradigm in which we see it. “That Blackness is a seed, it’s a diamond’s ancestor… Blackness is the hope inside Pandora’s package” was a way to use our own imagery and what we value to reconsider blackness—I used the metaphor of the moth, often depicted as fluttering towards the flame, attracted to its light and ask whether the moth is truly headed towards oneness with eternity, a oneness that is shrouded in darkness, in blackness – and reframing it in this way still makes it beautiful.
Blackness is beautiful to me. It is my skin, that of my daughter, and my ancestors before me—and I cannot deny my identity or hate myself any more than you can—but the programming aimed at me has nearly every protagonist be white, every villain be dark and depicts the world in a way that privileges those with white skin. I’m tired of that programming and I’ve decided to change the channel—I hope you like this piece… Blackness performed live with Jazz Horizons with Stephen Herrick at the Terrace Room in Oakland on May Day 2015.
In the spirit of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Ahmadu Diallo, Abner Louima, Oscar Grant & my brother & childhood friend James Cowling – PEACE, in solidarity with #Baltimore & #Ferguson from Oakland, CA– Professor A.L.I.