Today, A White Woman Sang To Me About My Demoralized Black Life.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” sang Janis Joplin as I ran by Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no…
Today, I heard Janis Joplin sing “Me And Bobby McGee” in my earbuds as a hazy sunset cast a filtered haze over Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC.
Also, today, in one verse, a white woman sang multitudes to me about the demoralizing nature of my Black life.
The yellow letters cautioning against ill-tempered fascism’s literal and metaphorical march into the heart of America’s capital city finally appeared less vibrant and proud and more forlorn and foreboding in their muted, under-lit tones. At present, fist-shaking activism feels like the most tired and empty way to prove the physical validity of my Black existence. Thus, seeing a mural as a testament to the whole body, whole mind, and entire soul exhaustion, I feel about the matter smacks of a level of visceral exasperation that only Janis Joplin’s uniquely sonorous tones can calm.
When cast in the context of the 1969-released single being a part of Pearl — Joplin’s last studio album before her untimely demise in 1970 — her raspy mezzo-soprano’s devil may care qualities shine through most profoundly when soulfully extolling the virtues of relieving one’s self of existential anxiety. It’s as if the hippie icon’s acutely aware of the spiraling hold of alcoholism, heroin addiction, hyper-exhaustion, and manic depression having a perilous grip on her existence.
When cast upon my own life as I regard the words “Black Lives Matter” in low light at the height of anxious times where the difference between Black life and death is thinner even than that of a blue line on a t-shirt celebrating the essential nature of police forces, Joplin’s voice is profound. It melts and muddies the viscous, sludge-like anger that viciously churns in the pit of my stomach when I nervously contemplate the idea of celebrating the appearance of a minimal notion of Black freedom’s existence in America.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, right? If that’s the case, Daunte Wright being buried after being shot by a white police officer in a Minneapolis suburb two days after a Minneapolis jury found George Floyd’s murderer — police officer Derek Chauvin — guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter proves that because Black people, indeed had more to lose, we are not actually free.
330 days have elapsed since the two-block-long section of 16th Street NW, south of K St NW that extends through I St, and north of H Street NW was commissioned for painting by Washington, DC’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, as either a masterful trolling of Donald Trump or more formally, as the elected leader stated in a press conference, “There are people who are craving to be heard and to be seen and to have their humanity recognized. We had the opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our city.”
The area’s premiere weekend saw thousands of Black people and those sympathetic to the cause of civil rights partake in celebratory revelry in the space. Nearly a year later, I ran by the area, at dusk, and it felt like the most ironic and damning of monuments to the inconsequential nature of performative activism.
In the era where Barack Obama served as our 44th United States President, I used to tell people that “the opposite of post-racial is racial.” Thus, when presented with the idea that Donald Trump was running for President in 2016, my statement about what opposed the semblance of “racial justice” many wrongheadedly believed was achievable during the Obama Administration manifested itself in the turning scales of reparational injustice.
The impact of those scales turning is manifold. Foremost, national divisions thought to have been resolved with civil conflict have been rekindled without a Mason-Dixion dividing line. Also, militant, militaristic community policing has been deemed necessary to quell the racial elements at play in an uncivil society. Furthermore, quantifying the impact of the incalculable heartbreak of Black people — like myself — realizing that, indeed, Black people have much more losing left to do and less freedom left to gain is actually an unimaginably emotionally defeating task.
I was today years old when I finally saw a two-block area of what George Clinton once regarded enough of an African-American mecca to call it “Chocolate City” for what it really was. Instead of a permanent monument to Black freedom in modern times, it was instead the appearance of street knowledge being repurposed as a tiresome representation of failed discursive pedagogy.
Indeed nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no…