Trying Times Call For Solidarity In Our Struggle Within The Diaspora

portrait of mature woman of African descent with thoughtful expression
portrait of mature woman of African descent with thoughtful expression

This morning I felt really down about the latest rash of police murders to take place. But before I could finish my thoughts I had a stream of consciousness that led me to write it out and share with you all how my brain works. I remembered an Ethiopian songbird by the name of Wayna who wrote Billie Club about the plight of us Africans in this country. I immediately turned it on my stereo. I remembered that her soprano was as clear as the oldest and youngest Clark Sisters. I remembered that Twinkie Clark wrote You Brought the Sunshine after being moved by Stevie Wonder's Blast Master Jammin. Stevie wrote that song as tribute to Bob Marley upon his death. Stevie said he thought of Bob's Them Belly Full when he was writing it. The basslines in all three songs are deliberately similar and eerily (or not) African. We all know that Bob Marley was a Rastafari but Ethiopia's Haile Selassie's story isn't as well known. Suffice it to say that Wayna (who was also the opening act for Stevie's last tour AND who was arrested in Texas for performing her aforementioned song) wouldn't be able to write the lyrics below if it wasn't for Haile Selassie's efforts to fight the same imperial racism that we face right now. Wayna comes from a long line of African musicians who are/were influenced by the African music created in the USA.

Mulatu Astatke is known as the father of Ethio-Jazz which is basically American and Latin jazz with some extra Ethiopian rhythms fused together into one beautifully perfect art form. Mulatu was trained in the USA and got to play his newly created art form with The Duke before he passed. It reminded me of Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life which was a piece Ellington did with Billie Holliday. Holliday, of course was the seminal figure in protest songs in the 20th century. Which led me to think of not only Strange Fruit, but Fats Waller's What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue and Ledbelly's The Bourgeois Blues. All of these songs from all corners of the Diaspora are reminders that we aren't crazy, we aren't alone, this persecution isn't new, and we don't need to validate our fear or anger. We don't have to because every place with children of Africa has the same story. It's not a coincidence.

After I got out of my car I walked into an amazing conversation with a Congolese lady that started with the three police lynchings over the last week here in the USA, which drifted into the continued injustices at the hands of a dictator in Congo, then led to a discussion around how Mugabe has lost his way but was to be expected when you sign up to fight imperial racism for your whole life.

We discussed ranking our top five African leaders of all time. She mentioned she was a member of Delta Sigma Theta. I mentioned I was named after my #1 ranked African leader; she submitted Michael Sata. I agreed he should be ranked high but contested that Zambia is pretty small. We talked about how Gadhafi had a "nigger wakeup call" as Paul Mooney calls it playing with the Arabs; that's why he went so hard for Africa afterwards until his demise.

She was shocked I was able to have this conversation with her about The Continent; I was equally shocked that she would be fully emerged into black culture here in America. We both agreed that if Congo, Brazil, or USA black folk ever got their life, the entire Diaspora would be much better off than where it is now.

By the end of the conversation I felt a bit of pride and optimism that these conversations help to make sense out of the nonsense of our very un-American lives. The shock and flabbergast of these acts of terror on our people are largely due to the fact that we are confused about who we are. How could they do this to us? How can they not speak up for us? How can they act like they don't see our pain? We are African for so many reasons but the most obvious is because of the fight we have always been forced into is the same everywhere in the Diaspora. Yet when you only connect to a small portion of the people (therefore the power) you represent, you think that this fight you were born into and this pain you bare is unique. Unfortunately, it isn't. Fortunately, two African women helped provide a salve to a hard-to-heal wound for me today.

Billie, Billie, Billie
See how you beat me so
Billie, Billie, Billie

Promise to protect me though
Love don't leave no bruise
And your power you abuse
Tell me why can't we just get along

I see you in my rear view, I get chills all up my spine
I'm not supposed to feel you, but you're not the friendly kind
You asked me where I'm headed from where it is I've been
You seemed to be offended, it's a constant mood you're in
The way you standing over know that you're up to no good
And there you go out from the holster, cleaning up the hood
But justice isn't blind
You'll get yours in due time
Until the tables turn
Your soul, it silently will burn

Tended to call services, that's what you're supposed to do
But how can I address it if the services are you
The way it came to us, it's clearly not the natural way
But time's supposed to change
It seems like the same way they stay
You feel the quality use to keep the commendations met
But point to other lies, it's such a hard thing to forget
Justice isn't blind
You'll get yours in due time
Until the tables turn
Your soul, it silently will burn

Promise to protect me though
Love don't leave no bruise
And your power you abuse
Tell me why can't we just get along

Billie Club by Wayna

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