What’s Going On: Black Grief

Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest singers and songwriters our nation has ever known. Fifty years ago, he wrote and performed his masterpiece when he released his album (ask you parents) What’s Going On.

On Sunday, Don Lemon of CNN hosted a retrospective with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Sheila E., Maxwell, and Smokey Robinson. I cried my way through most of the show, watching it along with my dear friend Lyda Phillips who viewed it from her new home in New Mexico. We texted back and forth for the full hour.

Gaye’s brother was sent to Vietnam which is one of the reasons he wrote the songs on the album. The documentary showed harrowing scenes of neglected returning veterans who were chewed up as frontline cannon fodder in the inhumane war against Asians—veterans who self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. I read a piece last week from an Asian American who said part of the reason for attacks on Asian Americans is because of all the wars we have waged in Asia—wars that dehumanized Asians.

The documentary also juxtaposed scenes of protest against police abuse from the 1970s with scenes from just the other day. One of the gut-wrenching lyrics from What’s Going On is “don’t punish me with brutality.”

Many of us have done a lot of crying of late. White supremacy is alive and well and thriving. “Makes me want to holler and throw up both my hands,” is a lyric from Inner City Blues. I remember running into a friend at Market Hall in Oakland with my eyes filled with tears after listening to that song. He told me not to cry.

Yesterday I read a column in The New York Times about the Obamas entitled “The Obamas Are Freed in Their Blackness.” This sentence stuck in my consciousness. “They can finally be just as angry and unsettled as the rest of us.” Unsettled!!!

That resonated with me because I am just not sure if this country can rid itself of racism. Despite the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, I read that three Black people were murdered by police during the jury deliberations. One social media post expressed my fear when it was noted that it appeared to be open season on Black folks and Black bodies.

Voter suppression legislation is being passed all around this country. We ALL know that is meant to blunt the political power of Black folks who are responsible for the outcome in November. Corporations declare their support for us but have not flexed their considerable political muscle to stop this onslaught.

At my core, I am an optimist. I sit with three African masks beside me in my study along with a photo and a biography of Harriet Tubman. I am allowed to grieve but must keep moving forward with other like-minded people such as you dear reader. Yes, your presence gives me hope and strength.

From time to time the current moment “makes me want to holler, throw up both my hands,” but I will persist and we will rise.

Please stop what you are doing and watch this. You will be weeping.


~ Eva

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