Archive for August 3rd, 2020

Wynton Marsalis on race: “the solution can only be found outside of the game itself”

Monday, August 3rd, 2020
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Portrait of the artist, from the artist. (Photo courtesy Wynton Marsalis)

Jazz virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, a trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, discusses racial injustice in the current July/August issue of Stanford Live. An excerpt from his essay, “All Rise: Wynton Marsalis’s Response to Racial Injustice”:

Just yesterday, I was walking with my 11-year-old daughter, and she asked me, “Did you see the video of the man in Minneapolis?” “Yes,” I said. I always talk to her about history and slavery and all kinds of stuff that she is not interested in—and probably overdo it for that reason.

She asked, “Why did the man just kneel on him and kill him like that in front of everybody?” Instead of answering, I asked her a question back. “If I went out of my way to squash something that was harmless to me, and stomped on it repeatedly and deliberately to make sure I had killed every drop of life in it, and then looked defiantly at you, as if triumphant, why would I do that?”

She said, “You hate bugs.” I laughed and said, “Let’s say it’s not necessarily a bug, just whatever I go out of my way to utterly destroy. Why would I?” She said, “Because you can.” “Yes,” and I further asked, “Why else?”

“Because you want to.” And then I said, “Yes, but can you think of another more basic reason?” She thought for a while and just couldn’t come up with it. I kept it going, saying and aggravating her, “It’s one of the most important ones.”

After a few minutes, she rolled her eyes and said, “Just tell me.” I debated with myself about telling her this last reason since it’s almost always left out of the national discussions when these types of repeated crimes by our peace officers are committed, but I figured, it’s never too early to consider the obvious. So I said, “Because he enjoyed it. For him, and for many others, that type of thing is fun. Like them good ole boys in Georgia chasing that brother through the neighborhood to defend themselves.” It’s no more complex than that.

She said, “Hmmmmm…,” unconvinced. And I said, “This type of fun is much older even than America itself.” I considered how different her understanding is of these things, if only just because of time, place, and experience.

During my childhood, raw racism and pure absolute ignorance was just a fact, but so was enlightened protest and determined resistance. It was the times, the 1960s going into the 1970s. With our Afros and the consciousness music of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, younger brothers were determined not to put up with any bullshit at all, unlike our ancestors, who we felt had willfully endured and accepted disrespect. And it was so easy to believe they were acquiescent in their own degradation because we didn’t know anything about the deep, deep sorrow and pains of their lives because they bore it all in silence and disquieting shame. Now, those old folks are long gone, and each passing day reveals the naïveté of our underestimation of the power and stubbornness of our opponent. Now, our ancestors loom much larger albeit as shadowy premonitions in the background of a blinding mirror that is exposing us all, Black and white.

He continues: “The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway. It is a labyrinth of bullshit designed to keep you lost and running around and around in search of a solution that can only be found outside of the game itself. Our form of democracy affords us the opportunity to mine a collective intelligence, a collective creativity, and a collective human heritage. But the game keeps us focused on beating people we should be helping. And the more helpless the target, the more vicious the beating. Like I was trying to explain to my daughter, something just feels good about abusing another person when you feel bad about yourself.”

Read the whole thing here.