This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week now: a little bit of Freddie Mercury, a dash of David Bowie, Michael Brown, Alexander the Great. I couldn’t get my head around it until, just like when I was a kid, Mr. Rogers helped me understand.
We’re big Queen fans in this house (and queen fans, in general, but that’s on a case-by-case basis). I wish I could have seen Queen play a live show–Freddie Mercury commanded arenas with his electric stage presence and four octave voice. A force of nature, he died from complications of AIDS in 1991. He died one day after telling the world that he had the disease.
I know you’ve heard “Under Pressure”…right? It’s been called the greatest bass line in rock and roll history (and this is the part where we spit on the ground and curse the name of Vanilla Ass for sampling it and not giving songwriting credit until he got sued, sued baby).
Anywho…As G and I were clearing the table the other night, I played this video for him of the isolated vocal track of “Under Pressure.” Please take a moment to listen:
I’ve known this song for 30 years but hearing the simple power of their voices apart from the instruments knocked me back into my chair. I sat at the crumb-covered table and listened to the words like I was hearing them for the first time. That echoing call: “Why can’t we give love just one more chance?”
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
I couldn’t help crying, for it had been less than 24 hours since the announcement that there would be no indictment in Ferguson. So many people, crushed by the pressure.
While the noodles boiled for dinner, I had been reading news reports. Vivi lay stretched across the top of the loveseat behind me with her book. She put her chin on my shoulder to look at the headline on my screen. “What’s rack-i-seem?” It took me a second to realize what she was sounding out–“racism.”
It’s the terror of knowingWhat this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!
“Well, race is the way people tend to be grouped by how we look, like the color of our skin. Racism is the idea that one color of skin is better than another. What do you think about that?”
She screwed up her face and shook her head. “Skin’s just skin.”
Oh, honey. True…but. But we’ve added so much to it over centuries and centuries. Now there’s a Gordian knot of history to unravel.
Turned away from it all like a blind manSat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why? Love
So slashed and torn. A Gordian knot is a metaphor for a problem that seems to have no solution, something so tightly entangled that we can’t even find the end to begin pulling the knot apart. It comes from an ancient Greek story of a cart tied by this complicated knot. Whoever could untie the knot would conquer the east. After struggling with the knot, Alexander grew tired of the delay, drew his sword and slashed the knot in two.
Is that what’s happening to our Gordian knot of racism?
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?..
For days, I’ve felt helpless and sad. It’s such a huge problem. Now, #icantbreathe. We’re cracking. How do I explain rack-i-seem to my second grader? She’s lucky enough to be on the side that can choose to learn more. As my friend, Bryndis, put it a while back, whites can choose whether to learn the ways of other races, but people of color have to learn to navigate the white world in order to survive.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? I got some courage back today, thanks to Mr Rogers:
‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
Love dares you to care. How do we care for the people on the edge of the night? The people who are quietly lying down in the street, on bridges, in shopping malls–lying down to become visible. To insist upon being seen and heard. I can listen. I can see. I can add my voice.
Racism has to become OUR problem. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS back when most people thought AIDS was someone else’s problem. Thousands of people fought like hell, lay down in the street, to get America to notice AIDS. Like ebola or climate change or marriage equality–we won’t make any progress on these Gordian knots until we recognize that they aren’t just other people’s problems.
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves