Listen To The Way One Long Beach Native Handles The Conflicting Emotions Of Being Black In America Right Now!
Being Black in America has never been easy or straightforward. No matter your ethnicity we’ve all seen the racism at play, systemically, passively, and actively. So in the days of COVID, Black Americans are dying at 3 times the rate of white Americans. In the ongoing aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police, black folks are still crying out for justice. And in the midst of global protests around the fact that Black Lives Matter, many of which are being met with unjust aggression, oppression, and silencing tactics by the police, black people are scared for their freedom and for their lives.
But it’s not just anger. It’s not just fear. It’s not just justice or mercy. It’s all of that and more. It’s fire and it’s ice. Contradiction personified within the hearts and minds of black people all over the nation and, potentially, the world.
It’s out of this that Long Beach Rapper, Poet, and Activist Micah Bournes partners with Vernon Caraway to release two new songs, inextricably linked. The first single is called FIRE and Bournes says, “Fire was inspired by and begins with the earliest known recording of A Negro Spiritual called “If I Had My Way”. Black American Church music has a covert history of resistance. During and after slavery, Black people would slip revolutionary messages and sometimes secret instructions behind metaphors and biblical allusions. On the surface, “If I Had My Way” simply tells the story of Samson from the Bible. The spiritual’s verses contain the narrative of his fascinating and troubled life as a warrior, but the chorus references the way in which Samson died. At the end of his life, Samson was captured by his enemies. He was enslaved, tortured, and had his eyes plucked out. One day, his tormentors were throwing a lavish party and decided to bring him out to mock him. He was placed between two pillars, humiliated, while his enemies celebrated. In that moment, Samson prayed to God for supernatural strength. He pushed the pillars down, collapsing the house, killing his enemies, and dying himself as well. Being raised in Church, I was very familiar with this story, however it was not until recently that I came across this old spiritual, and particularly the chorus, “If I had my way, if I had my way little children, if I had my way, I’D TEAR THE BUILDING DOWN.” As a Black person in America, when I heard those lyrics, I instantly knew my ancestors were not singing about Samson. They were singing about themselves, their rage, their desire to tear down the pillars of racism and greed that enslaved and tortured them. They wanted this so badly, like Samson, they were willing to die for it. Many of them did. Here we are in 2020, and Black Americans are still tormented, still setting things on fire, praying to God that we might push the pillars over, tear the building down, no matter the cost.“
Following on from FIRE is Bourne’s second single called ICE of which Bournes says, “While Fire is more about expressing anger in its fullness, Ice is about reflecting on it. Although I believe anger and rage are justified in the face of vicious, unrelenting injustice, even righteous anger can evolve into something unhelpful for our heart and our cause. After seeing so many people silent, or worse, defending institutions and laws that allow Black people to be murdered for no reason, it is hard not to question the very humanity of our oppressors, but this is something we must never do. We must never dehumanize those who dehumanize us. No matter how evil people act, we must affirm that they too are human beings. We must keep our hearts hopeful that even the grossest racist can change. If we allow ourselves to believe any person or people are monsters, there is nothing left to appeal to. Our cries for justice become hollow. Asking a beast to stop devouring its prey is useless. Affirming the humanity of the oppressed and appealing to the humanity of the oppressor is our only hope. Fighting for justice is a marathon. It is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. We must take care of ourselves holistically before our fatigue gets the best of us. Instead of collapsing, or lashing out, we should rest regularly, we should revive our spirits before our fire burns out. Ice is a prayer for endurance, a rebellion against hopelessness and cynicism. A plea to the heavens, “I’m losing patience Lord…don’t let my enemies win…don’t let my heart become ice.”
What Bournes and Carraway manage to do with these two singles is deliver 8 minutes and 55 seconds of raw visceral rage, pain, sorrow, and more that springs from a deep well of emotion that’s been building for over 400 years. While George Floyd’s murderers spent 8 minutes and 46 seconds showing the nation just how normal and deeply ingrained the evils of racism are in America, please stick with Bournes for just nine seconds longer than that to hear how it feels and to imagine together what a better world might look like. A world in which we don’t need to keep seemingly endless lists of black people killed by the police but rather can track lists of the endless ways in which we show love to the overlooked and oppressed in society. I firmly believe we can get there but it’s going to take all of us doing more than we think we’re able to for much longer than we dare ever dream to do it. So please, take this first step with me and let’s push through both the fire and the ice together.