Jarika Recommends: “What’s Goin On” by Marvin Gaye


Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Atatiana Jefferson. Rayshard Brooks.

The list, unfortunately, runs long, and it begs the question, “What’s going on?” For America, the answer is past due.

When I first heard the Marvin Gaye hit, “What’s Going On,” I was around eight years old and unaware of the atrocities this world would offer me—but as I grew older, I came to know the way Black bodies are brutalized. Before live-streaming technology made it possible to view racism on a global scale, I witnessed many micro-aggressions and instances of outright racism and police brutality in my childhood neighborhood.

I trembled when the police pulled me over for the first time. I still tremble. I place my identification on the dashboard and my hands on the steering wheel. I roll the window down before they arrive at my door. I do not jerk away from the blinding lights that they flash into my eyes. I remain calm when they call for three squad cars for my one broken taillight.

I stay alive.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying

I understood this song’s sentiment with a familiarity that a non-Black passerby might not possess. I am a student of the art form that has no classification, the one in which marginalized people create frameworks that shimmer and glow so they can place the truths of our realities in the center of them. The contrast is stark, but the message eventually gets across.

Maybe it has taken this landscape, wherein we are all stuck at home, wherein a global pandemic threatens all of our lives, wherein there is no football or basketball to distract us, wherein there is nobody to say, “It’s okay to look away now,” for us to come together and ask, “What’s going on?”

If so, we should also come together to strive for the B-side of that verse:

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some loving here today

We are all responsible for answering Marvin’s question, “What’s going on?” If our answer is not love, respect, and mercy, then we’ve utterly failed each other. We may tremble while we move toward justice, but we must not stop moving.

 

(Editor’s note: Please enjoy this bonus live version of “What’s Goin On.”)

BIO

Jarika Tucker is pursuing her MS in Computer Science. She develops apps during the day, writes at night, and directs a short film once every blue moon. She spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on and traveling as far as her family’s budget will go. She is a member of the AWP and was a Mentee in their Writer to Writer Mentorship program. Jarika recently read an excerpt of her speculative manuscript about magical Black mermaids, The Drowning Crown, at AWP’s 2020 conference; she is seeking representation for this and other speculative fiction works. Visit her website jarikatucker.com for updates on writing and film. She is also on Twitter @jarikatucker and IG @lovejarika.

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A donation has been made to: The Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.


Rosey Recommends: “Young, Gifted and Black” by Aretha Franklin

When I was a kid, “Young, Gifted and Black” was a community-wide anthem of Black pride. Every time I heard the song, it was like she was singing directly to me, reminding me of my worth and potential. Although I’m older now, the lyrics still encourage me to succeed against the odds and work to instill the same confidence in the generations that follow me.

Although the original version released by Nina Simone touches me profoundly, Aretha Franklin’s interpretation speaks to me in a different way. The opening music and harmony have an ethereal quality, balancing sorrow and joy. Even as a child, the music reminded me of the ups and downs of life. There was a heaviness in the song, and it ran deep. But somehow the melody still projected inescapable hope at the same time.

In this whole world, you know
There are millions of boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and Black

That verse told me that I wasn’t alone and that there were lots of other kids just like me who were destined for greatness. And the song said that we could all achieve it.

When you feelin’ real low
Here’s a great truth you should remember and know
That you’re young, gifted, and Black
You got your soul intact, oh, and that’s a fact

In childhood, there shouldn’t be so many days when you feel “real low.” But the reality is that life is complicated for lots of Black children, particularly for those whose lives are steeped in the manifestations of structural racism. “Young, Gifted and Black” validated my feelings. It didn’t lie to me and suggest that I didn’t have a reason for reacting to the injustices I saw in my community, most of which were direct and indirect results of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Oh, it’s a mighty sweet thing, yes, it is now

Throughout my life, this uplifting three and a half minute pep talk has told me to remember that I am special, that I can use my gifts to make a difference in my community, and that my gifts will allow me to create a life that will bring joy and abundance.

You got the future, don’t you know it’s a fact?

When I hear Aretha Franklin sing “Young, Gifted and Black,” she’s telling me that my life matters. And she nurtures my hope for the future.

BIO

Rosey Lee is a New Orleans native who lives in Atlanta. She is the author of Beautiful, Complicated Family, a collection of uplifting flash fiction stories. Her stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Turnpike Magazine, and elsewhere. Her work has also been nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net anthology. Subscribe to her website for updates and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

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A donation has been made to: The Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.

David Recommends: “Playing Possum” by Earl Sweatshirt (feat. Cheryl Harris & Keorapetse Kgositsile)

To my mentors and comrades in arms

“Playing Possum” is a track from Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs that contains no hooks, or even any rapping from Earl himself. Instead, Earl samples recordings of his parents and splices the two together to create a conversation. Cheryl Harris, his mother, gives her thanks in an awards speech; Keorapetse “Bra Willie” Kgositsile, his father, recites his poem “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow.” Under this he layers vintage horns that sound like they were sampled from an “In Memoriam” VHS tape.

Earl’s choice to sample his parents brings to mind a storied tradition of voice messages in hip-hop: Kendrick’s cousin Carl’s brief homily on “FEAR.”; Ms. Rosie Watson speaking her piece on Frank Ocean’s “Be Yourself”; Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” So while “Playing Possum” may be unconventional in its construction, it still speaks to a precedent of oral storytelling in Black music that verges on memorializing.

Notably, “Playing Possum” samples a Thank You speech and a poem, not direct messages. In a Vulture interview, Earl said he wanted to incorporate his father’s audio to make amends and to bring them closer. Kgositsile passed away before he could hear it.

To my son Thebe (Words like)
Cultural worker and student of life (Home)
Whose growth and insights inspire me, a thousand kisses (Could not carry any possible meaning)

How do you show love to a voice message? How do you make amends and show solidarity with no words? Recently, I’ve been trying to find an answer to that question that doesn’t involve death.

The premature daily death of their dreams

Days after watching another Black man have his life snuffed out on camera, my mom – who lives across the country – called me to ask how I was holding up. Anger immediately came to mind. That anger gave way to sadness, which still sits in me shoulder-to-shoulder with exhaustion. Friends and allies shared that video relentlessly as a call to action. As something to point to to encapsulate the complex injustices Black people are facing.

But it shouldn’t take a video of a Black man being murdered for nonblack people to care about racial relations.

Thank you to my family
(Can you see them now?)

In his final moments, George Floyd called out to his late mother. We later found out he touched mothers all over America. His cry was heard by Kadiatou Diallo – the mother of Amadou Diallo, who was murdered by police officers in 1999. Wanda Cooper Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, attended George Floyd’s funeral.

“Every mother heard him,” Diallo said in a CBS interview.

(Consider what staggering memories frighten and abort
The hope that should have been)

“Playing Possum” sounds like love to me. Earl stepped back and created a space to let his parents talk and echo over each other. It speaks to the unspoken pain, love, grief, desire for change, desire for love, desire to action, desire to be held – the complicated and powerful feelings of the Black experience in America.

(Perhaps I should just borrow
The rememberer’s voice again
While I can)

This track hits harder now, as Black Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are constantly being dehumanized by a broken mass incarceration system. The former makes it hard to hear a family member’s voice; the latter can make it impossible.

You know the real deal
(To have a home is not a favor.)

In the same way you know breathing is not a “favor.” In the same way you know hearing your son’s voice is not a “favor.” In the same way you know the freedom to wear a hoodie, eat skittles, jog, cosplay, and exist is not a “favor.”

In the future, I hope that it is joy rather than grief that is shared between the black mothers like Ms. Diallo, Ms. Cooper Jones, Ms. Harris, and my own.

BIO

David recently graduated with a degree in sociology and a minor in creative writing. He likes writing short stories and occasionally making mash-ups.

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A donation has been made to COVID Bailout NYC

COVID Bailout NYC is an all-volunteer, grassroots initiative that posts bail for medically vulnerable inmates and ensures that they are released into their communities safely.

Lysz Flo Recommends: “Freedom” by Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

Sybrina Fulton, Lezley McSpadden, and Gwen Carr in Lemonade

 

I have heard the echo of all of us being exhausted on all levels. We fall into despair when thinking about changing a whole system rooted in racism and hatred. It feels too big for a people who are already suffering from micro-aggressions, mental health disparities, financial gatekeeping, and our complex, generational healing journey through life. We are overwhelmed, afraid, outraged, and TIRED of yelling into a void. 

Before becoming complacent or completely detaching, I think “Freedom” can bring Black people back to ourselves. It allows us our weaknesses, it humanizes us with our flaws, and pushes us to rise up again. It’s the second wind, when our breath continues to be taken from our loved ones.

When I hear his song, it holds my heart and gives me space to be angry, frustrated, determined, and understood. Kendrick’s part is the struggle of our day to day with the end reminding us– Freedom is where we find peace. There is rage and a message to keep moving forward towards freedom. I find my way out of the hopelessness that the re-traumatizing grief of continual murder and dehumanization in America wears on me. 

I recommend watching this video in Lemonade. It reverberates through my skin as I can feel the energetic intention through Beyoncé’s grimaces and facial expressions.

This, to me, is the Black superhero music we all need when fighting for our lives against systemic oppression and injustice, and for reform. 

Lysz Flo is a, trilingual spoken word artist, author of fiction and poetry, member of The Estuary Collective, and a podcast host of Creatively Exposed. Read her poetry novel “Soliloquy of an Ice Queen.” www.lyszflo.com

A donation has been made to: Miami Dream Defenders 

Miami Dream Defenders is a local organization founded after the murder of  Trayvon Martin. It has been consistently working towards advocating for the safety, security and well-being of marginalized communities.

Danielle Motley Recommends: “Strange Fruit” performed by Nina Simone

 

“Strange Fruit” has become a protest song over the years because it pulls no punches.

The referenced “fruit” are Black men and women who have been lynched in this country.

I imagine there was a time when you couldn’t drive through the South without seeing Black bodies casually hanging from trees in the distance.

According to the Tuskegee Institute, over 4,000[i] human beings were murdered by lynching between 1883 and 1941 in the United States. “Strange Fruit” details the brutality and horror of this widely accepted and practiced act of mob murder during slavery and beyond.

Nina Simone’s delivery adds a layer of heartbreak to an already gut-wrenching song. The music is sparse, allowing Nina’s voice to be the prevalent instrument. You can feel the pain and disgust in every syllable.

I can see their distorted faces when she croons:

Them big bulging eyes, and twisted mouth

Can you smell the bodies in the Southern heat?

For the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop

I can.

Sadly, this song is as relevant in 2020 as it was when it was originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. While public lynchings have fallen out of favor as a way to end a Black life, we’re still very much in the fight to prove our value and right to live. This is why we say Black Lives Matter.

 

(Editor’s note: The video below contains images of lynchings)

Danielle Motley is a writer who focuses on the medium of film and television. She’s known for creating stories that center around flawed, nuanced Black female protagonists with myriad experiences not unlike her own. Her most recent feature film screenplay focuses on what the world today would look like had Africans taken Europeans as slaves and used them to build America. Danielle is from San Diego and is a married mother of three.

A donation has been made to: Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.


[i] Seguin and Rigby, National Crimes: A New National Data Set of Lynchings in the United States, 1883 to 1941 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2378023119841780

DW Recommends: “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

 

Alls my life I has to fight, n*gga
Alls my life I

I couldn’t tell you which Black death — murder, really — caused me to first play Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” But I know I played it in the minutes after I stood behind my closed office door to mourn Terence Crutcher. That “big bad dude” shot dead in the road reminded me of my big bad father. I wept. My head throbbed with a fierce heat with every wail I swallowed. Then I shuffled to my desk and put on my headphones. I played “Alright” so loud my eardrums ached. I worried my coworkers, mostly white, could hear it and would report me. But I refused to turn it down. I needed the words to knock the pain out of me. After the second replay, I opened my office door.

Wouldn’t you know
We been hurt, been down before

They kept shooting. We kept dying. Our pain, our pleas, our concern wasn’t enough to sway the 2016 presidential election. I knew before I saw the election results. I knew the country had slid further into shadow because it was nothing new to me. The morning after, I queued up the song. I sat on the floor and wept. Then I played it again as I got ready for work. The show must go on.

I can see the evil, I can tell it, I know it’s illegal
I don’t think about it, I deposit every other zero

I come to this song often. Not after every shooting, murder, bombing, or act of violence against Black folks. If that were the case, I’d be a dazed devotee forever at the altar of my musical god. But I play it once for my grief. The spoken word, the horns, and the drums catch my sorrow. The song is upbeat, but I still weep, my singing guttural. Kendrick raps what so many of us Black folks live and endure. Every word extracts my pain like a Sunday hymn until I am cleansed. Then I listen to it again. On the second go ‘round, I snap and bite the words. I shout and dance as the words that once helped me mourn, build me back up and empower me. Then I’m ready to move forward.

N*gga, we gon’ be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

There’s a reason Black people sing “Alright” on street corners with raised fists. There’s a reason we bump it till our cars shake as we cruise down the street. There’s a reason we shout it at rallies. It is the spirit of us. It’s only fitting that “Alright” became and continues to be an anthem of sorts for Black Lives Matter.

DW McKinney is a writer and reviewer living in Las Vegas. You can find her on Twitter (@thedwmckinney) or say hello at dwmckinney.com.

A donation has been made to: Black Visions Collective  a Black, trans, and queer-led organization in Minnesota that seeks liberation for all members of the Black community.