a thousand words

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I used to know what Soul was. It was a spirit, a movement that arose from the history of this nation. Black people were, excuse the imagery, the shadow of America, its conscious and living soul.

Our suffering, our struggle and our victory over oppression gave us an almost spiritual power to understand the heart of man. As the Jews were defined by slavery and exodus and Jesus was defined by his temptation and passion, so were black people by their enslavement and triumph in America.

So, whenever America got too big for its britches, black people were always there to remind everyone of the truth. In our faces was the sin of the past and the debt owed on the contract of humanity. When America became the only nuclear power in the world, the country was brought to its knees by the Civil Rights Movement-- powered by Motown.

Then there was an explosion of black culture. When people wanted to know what was cool, they looked to us. When truth was needed, we were there to tell it. Ali thrilled, Pryor cracked you up and Stevie raised your consciousness. The best of us, the strength, the artistry and most of all, the nobility became quintessentially American.

We had Soul and we were superbad.

Forty years later, we’d lost it.

The lowest level of achievement and behavior now represents the essence of culture. Education levels have fallen, male/female relationships have soured and the black family has been broken into desolate fragments of its former vitality. Artists now sing and rap about sex, getting high and wealth obtained by any means necessary.

Is this the death of Soul?

And if it is, what was the cause? Lets see, persistent and invidious racism, an unaddressed intra-cultural conflict based on color and class, self-hatred, misogyny, homophobia, unattended psychological damage and old-fashioned capitalist materialism. I could go on but really all I would be doing is telling you what I think is wrong and that will prove nothing.

But I do know this: America has changed and not for the better. And the minorities in any country always get the worst of it. But what came first? Did America change us or did we change America? Chicken or the egg? Bush or imperialist stupidity? Now, this is the place where I always have to ask myself: Am I just old? Perhaps I just can’t see the depth in Flo-rida or accept a crumbling family structure as fate, maybe Love and Hip Hop is brilliant and those bikini models on Fox News are goddamned geniuses.

Alas, I am not an old man nor have I lost touch. I’m afraid we fought and struggled and we got the monkey off our backs but maybe we didn’t know how to live without a monkey and so we created new burdens, defined ourselves by them and slipped into the arms of self-destruction.

And before you throw Obama at this issue I will say that I think the First Family has plenty of soul but their mere presence was not enough to save us or lead us back to a path of recovery. We eight years of them as a symbol of something that we may never have again.

So black people killed Soul. Maybe the thing that defines us is no longer connected to culture; perhaps we have fully assimilated and are now just a part of the current decline of America. Or maybe the steroids in Popeye’s Chicken did us all in.

In the end, Soul was too demanding. It set the bar too high because ultimately, the legacies of Washington, DuBois, Malcolm X and Dr. King, asked us to accept the atrocities committed against us as just obstacles and not impenetrable barriers to ascension.

Those great men would have wanted us to go on without guilty ex-masters, without fear, powered only by a love of self, strength of mind and faith in God. But we didn’t and now “L’il Yacty is blasting on your son’s iPhone and he wants to be on a reality show.

So where does that leave us? I like to think that my perception of looming destruction is my lack of understanding a changing society and my fear of the unknown. I sure hope so, because the biggest price may well be paid by our country, which cannot exist without its living Soul.

copyright 2009