As I try to become more anti-racist, I’ve been listening to Nina Simone a lot. She’s hard to listen to. But I’ve found it necessary for deeper living to listen to her. She has a clarity of language that makes her message accessible. And she tells her truth.
I’ve noticed lately that when white people talk about racism, we talk in abstractions. It seems that older white people only talk about racism in a way that avoids being called racist. It’s not that being called racist is pleasant. I understand the hurtfulness. But the discourse seems to muddy around what racism is…so as to avoid being guilty of whatever “it” is. Younger white people talk very smartly about racism in systemic terms. It’s about policies, equality, equity, access to education, etc. All that is understandable, too. Younger whites seem increasingly comfortable with these concepts. But we often speak so institutionally that we seem to ignore that damn pain of it all.
Nina Simone sings about the damn pain of it all. Her persona is stout, proud and demanding. Get into the lyrics, and you’ll soon find out that her resoluteness is a pushback on the oppression she lived through. Her art is the art of the beautiful and the devestating. And I think it would behoove us working to become more anti-racist to listen to the heartache. Listen to the heartache and hear the existential crisis that racism has brought to our world. AND THEN…be astounded by the beauty, dignity, pride and even joy that those struggling for their freedom have achieved.