“There is no destination,” DJBooth senior writer Yoh said to me while we discuss his recent March trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We’re talking about the current uprisings in America, a response to a since-inception-long history of America’s systematic killing of Black people at the hands of the police state. We’re talking about COVID-19. We’re talking about the idea of “normal,” and how “normal” was not working for the people exploited to make it a reality. We’re talking about how, once we get to the other side of whatever this moment is, we’ll need to figure out what happens next. “We’re on our way,” I tell Yoh, “but we don’t know what our destination is…” And he says to me: “There is no destination.”
Today, I am speaking with Yoh as I often do, and I am thinking of New York poet Kenneth Koch’s 1969 publication, the epic poem, When The Sun Tries To Go On. Yoh sends me some poetry; he shows me a moving Basquiat. I read him some Koch. On page seven of When The Sun Tries To Go On, Koch writes:
“The in-person tunes, drum flossy childhood / Banana-ing the change-murals off winter ... black sobs to your poets.”
I read these lines to Yoh with the preface that they are heady, perhaps needlessly so, but they make perfect sense. There is conflict embedded in these Koch lines; he paints a picture of ignorance turning into awakening. He portrays the death of innocence, and he captures the pain our artists—the voices of our American consciousness—feel. “black sobs to your poets” is no wish, it is an order as made from the perspective of America. The country is making our poets cry real tears.
I explain all of this to Yoh, who tells me he’s been reading a lot of pieces with the sun in them lately. Mavi’s Let The Sun Talk is in both of our rotations. This is not coincidence; this is cosmic. What does the sun mean now? What, exactly, happens when the sun talks, when it tries to go on? Real magic, real change. Real crying out and real hearing. In the poem Yoh shared with me, Etheridge Knight writes, “The sun came, Miss Brooks,— / After all the night years. / He came spitting fire from his lips… The shadows sing: Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm.”
“The shadows sing,” and “black sobs to your poets” both mean to say the sun, the soul of our nation, is screaming.
Outside my window, a toddler is swinging on a kid’s swing, beneath an American flag, with police sirens wailing by. “This is our American moment,” I tell Yoh. This is what Koch was writing about, this is “flossy childhood,” how it gets between the teeth of our American consciousness and pulls out all the disgusting build-up. I see myself against this child, this small white girl—and I am a small white girl. I see myself against the white women who have, since the country’s stealing, been tools and advancers of white supremacy.
In the past few days, I’ve spoken with many people who have all used the same word: Helpless. Artists, producers, friends, ordinary people with no ties to the music industry, they all feel helpless. What is their role in this American moment? We’re all donating to bail funds, all boosting signals, some of us are marching, some of us are making statements. I’m writing a piece with “no destination.” The goal is not to prove, as a white or non-Black person, that you are not racist. The goal is to participate in anti-racism, to educate yourself, to fight back against a system, and use your privilege to protect Black people. I’m not an activist nor an organizer. But I know that I can use my privilege for change.
Helplessness is this American moment. It feels the more we strain against it, the tighter it grips. Yoh tells me this country is traumatized beyond belief—he’s right. The great poet Morgan Parker often remarks reparations for Black folx should come in the form of free mental health services—she’s right. “Trauma I survived done left me planted, ain’t no buckling,” Mavi raps on “Eye/I and I/Nation.” This trauma is the winter Kenneth Koch writes about, how the murals—the monuments of progress—do not exist. Has any progress ever been made, or have we just been placating Black people?
If you are a white reader, I ask you to allow yourself to become uncomfortable. I ask you to bask in the tension of the times, to try and seek out resources and do the work without relying on Black people to educate you. The work requires us white folx to do crucial emotional labor without demanding anything of our Black peers. The work requires us to open our wallets, our minds, our ways of being, up to real change. There are endless resources for us. We cannot be idle; we cannot stop working. Most importantly, we have nothing to lose.
There is no end to this piece. “There is no destination.” As the sun tries to go on, it risks the chance of burning out. But it goes, and it goes, and it goes. It goes, and it goes, and it goes. Eventually, the sun will die, but what a great fire it has cast. Eventually, the little girl goes inside, but what a great impression she has left. Eventually, Yoh gets off the phone, but what an hour we shared. Still, the police sirens wail, and I do everything in my human ability to be part of a better tomorrow.