The time has come again to Fight The Power
It’s been exactly 30 years since Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet album came out. I was in Senior High, but not in the United States. I was in Europe, but not even in Western Europe. I was in a small country at the edge of the continent, Greece, in a leafy suburb of a small town 500 miles from Athens, literally one of the last places on Earth where you could see a black person. In fact, at that point in my life, aged 17, I still had never met a black person in real life.
Yet me and my friends connected very deeply with the album. To some extent it fed our “teen angst”, our need to resist and to rebel, as much as we had no idea what it feels like to be black in America, and the types of things we were rebelling about were less important. But putting the fascination with the risky, almost glamourised life of the gangsta rapper aside, what the album did for me and my friends was to expand our idea of what social justice is, and to learn that sometimes societies are not constructed equally for all people. In fact, different groups of people can experience a completely different version of the same exact society, especially when the archetypes and ideas of this society have been constructed by a single powerful group. Somehow the music and the lyrics were able to convey much of this message to us, all the way from the Bronx. This is the magic of art, connecting people across continents.
The music, if you can call it that, was not music. It was a fire drill. It was an alarm. It was an attack on the senses, a panic button. It immediately put you on edge, laced with a heavy overdose of adrenaline: not the good type of adrenaline, no, this was not heavy metal. This is the adrenaline of fear, of being chased. Of having the NYPD on your back. What Public Enemy were doing, masterfully, was taking all that fear, panic, adrenaline, and throwing it back, releasing it, making it their own. Their signature sound became a symbol of defiance and resistance against any authority or supremacy. If anything, this music was a call to arms. But under all this edginess, all this anger, the music also conveyed a seriousness and a deep, deep sadness and frustration with the system.
This was more evident in the lyrics, which had an equal weighting to the music. Within just a few verses, the artists were able to deconstruct and forever destroy the rosy picture of America that many whites had constructed, and replace it with what many black people see instead: a country where you are told to “act white”. A country where some of the most venerated and beloved heros were actually “straight up racists”. A country where “911 is a joke”, a song that was referencing how ambulances don’t respond to 911 calls if the caller is from “the ghetto”.
I cannot pretend that I know what being black feels like in America. But I do know one thing: this time is different. As in the days of Martin Luther King, this is not about black people only. This time it is about everyone who is sick and tired of the police state, of a police force infested by racist, psychopathic homicidal cops that use their tazer, their knee or their fist completely unprovoked, when they see a black face. This time it is for those who do not have healthcare to survive the COVID-19 crisis. Who are either one of the 40 million who have been made unemployed, or being told to go to work while risking their life without personal protective equipment. This time white silence is absent, because even the white version of America is not good enough. In fact, it sucks. We need a new country. We need police to turn in their guns and tazers right now. We need proper healthcare right now. We need better working conditions and workers rights, now. And we demand, right now, a government that listens to us.
It’s time to Fight The Power, but this time, all of us together. Because this time it’s not about the Fear of a Black Planet, but also the Fear of the Roasting Planet. Climate Change is still at large, and much larger than all of this. The more we squabble amongst us the less we are able to see the much bigger picture that this Planet is perilously close to coming to an end, whether it is Black, White, or any colour of your choosing.
to be continued…(or not)