Race-work, Race-love

To Cerebrate or Celebrate: Music and the Race-Worker

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

This week I have been listening to a lot of music that inspires me to continue doing the work that I do. I believe this sub-genre of music is called “conscious music”. Much of what I listen to comes from hip-hop and rock en español and neo-soul. For today’s post I will provide some examples of music that drives me to continue the path of race-work and the arduous path of dissertating.

There’s something in your heart
and it’s in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don’t say good luck
You say don’t give up
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn

The Fire – The Roots featuring John Legend

I first heard this song on a CD created by a friend who saw me struggling through thinking of a topic for my dissertation. I was numb – enduring a broken relationship – my relationship with myself was starting to break as well. But music, certain music, has the ability to restore a fire that was beginning to burn out. Writing has the ability to keep that fire going.

It is perhaps that reason that I felt I needed to be on a path leading to a doctorate. The act of dissertating – or the process of creating new knowledge, a rebirth of old topics, the twist you give to the topic with your own experiences and your extraction of prior knowledge is an arduous and messy task. As if wading through mud, one attempts to find a way to explain to others what you are doing, why you spend so much time staring into space, and why you seem to disappear although physically you are present.

Sometimes, as you dissertate, you forget why you were doing it in the first place. For some of us race-workers, we dissertate because we were allowed and privileged with the space to think creatively, use academic tools, and discuss ideas among other dissertators. But in our gut, race-workers also do it because we want to know ultimately why some people mistreat others based on their racial background. This question has driven me nuts since I was a kid. And sometimes as you dissertate, you forget that question because of “too many minds” like Bruce Lee said. John Legend sings it well when he says that the fire is in our hearts reaches our eyes and we have to let it burn. Broken relationships, the academic hazing process, and racial battle fatigue are all determined to put that fire out. But we have to finds ways to let that fire burn.

“no tengo por que tener miedo mis palabras son balas
balas de paz, balas de justicia
soy la voz de los que hicieros callar sin razon
por el solo hecho de pensar distinto, ay Dios”

Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

People forget how powerful words can be. Or perhaps we do know – and it is why we have been trained to cower through academic language, through families who have endured political strife in their countries, through the punishment we get at work, school, homes for speaking our minds. But we owe it to our ancestors who have spoken on our unborn behalves to live more peaceful lives than they have to pick up their words where they have left off. Stated in an earlier post regarding Miguel Piñero, these spiritual mentors and ancestors give us one more piece to the puzzle to figure out this crazy maze we call life. Mis palabras son balas – my words are bullets – and they can be used for peace, for racial justice, to recover the Racial Divine. Conservatives have learned this in the most artful manner – they are masters of re-framing political injustice to sound eerily like true Race-Workers like Dr. King and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall. We need to learn the same.

Now this is time to free your mind and your soul
Yo our official story has never been told
Ladies you got to demand what you want
And what we want is respect, right
Come and take a walk with me a closer walk
With thee see what only I can see
Sisters check this, watch this
Freedom – Various Artists – Panther Soundtrack

After we learn to use our words we can then provide a glimpse into other realities (i.e. men of color), other marginalized voices (i.e. women), other politically powerless voices (i.e. undocumented immigrants). To make the puzzle more complete, these stories must be told, change must be asked for and demanded. We must take our brother and sisters who may not agree with us for a ride with us on this journey by any means necessary.

Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong
May all evil stumble as it flies in the world
All the tribes comes and the mighty will crumble
We must brave this night and have faith in love
Cold War – Janelle Monae

And while the words may ultimately hurt us, like bullets, we must also realize that our words can help those – and ourselves – in this Cold War…Some of us are too afraid to speak our minds. Others are so strong that when we speak, our words are misconstrued for hate. Wings and grace is what we must develop and combine to work on the self as the cause and THE CAUSE for all the selves in this world.

Nothing left, he stole the heart beating from my chest
I tried to call the cops, that type of thief you can’t arrest
Pain suppressed, will lead to cardiac arrest
Diamonds deserve diamonds, but he convinced me I was worth less …
I was blessed, but couldn’t feel it like when I was caressed
I’d spend nights clutching my breasts overwhelmed by God’s test
I was God’s best contemplating death with a Gillette
But no man is ever worth the paradise MANIFEST

 Manifest – The Fugees

The fire in your heart, when taken, can seem difficult to recover once you realize who took it in the first place. Lauryn Hill acknowledges this and realizes that who ever took that fire cannot be held accountable. Instead we hold ourselves accountable. We turn to death – spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes physically. Despite knowing that we have a fire that shines bright like diamonds, years of cumulative messages calling your fire crazy, hostile, incendiary, insatiable – you believe these messages and begin to shut that fire down. You pray. You act. And the hope is that you come to a realization that you have to seek your own redemption. Think – why are you God’s best? Why are you like a diamond? How can this be manifested through your work?

One love, one game, one desire
One flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher
I never show signs of fatigue or turn tired
cause I’m the definition of tragedy turned triumph
It’s David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of
the storm, feeling torn like they fed me to the lions
Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show ’em how I got the grind down like a science
It sounds like a riot on hush, it’s so quiet
The only thing I hear is my heart, I’m inspired
by the challenge that I find myself standing eye to eye with
Then move like a wise warrior and not a coward
You can’t escape the history that you was meant to make
That’s why the highest victory is what I’m meant to take
You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate…
The Fire – The Roots

That is what the fire sounds like – a riot on hush – the sound of your heart – and inspiration comes. Broken relationships, colorblind people, crazy-makers, abusive partners, institutional racism – all of that becomes challenges that inspire you to act and not get you down. And in that your paradise becomes manifest – in that you hold yourself accountable for the history you were meant to make.

And then we join others who understand this – and we “cere-brate” not just celebrate our redemption. In this cerebration – our fires together – we make Race-Work. We make Race-Love.


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