On the evening of August 14th, I was playing a gig at The Middle East Downstairs club in Cambridge, MA. As per usual, I was in a pretty selfish mode. I was rushing from work, to home, to the gig, where I was going to perform for friends and concert-goers. At some point that afternoon, my partner texted me to ask if during our set I could acknowledge the gathering happening that same evening on the Boston Common. Hundreds of people assembled to honor a national moment of silence, recognizing the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, MO. I had heard rumblings that something would be happening, but I wasn’t quite sure what or where. It was easy enough to quickly check my facts before I made remarks on stage that night during our set. Mostly, I just felt embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I was unaware of actions happening in my own community, and I was embarrassed that in light of these tragic events–and a situation that has only gotten worse–I was hanging out at a music venue.
You might argue that it was a welcome distraction. My news and social media feeds have been packed with commentary, news, and thinkpieces covering the ongoing abuses taking place in Missouri. But, I think that’s the challenge. We’re always looking for distractions from that which makes us uncomfortable. There are those that would argue that going about one’s life and not giving into the terrorists (you know, police in military gear shooting down Ferguson residents), but I’d say that’s a pretty privileged stance to take.
I played the gig, I had a great time, and the audience cheered when I awkwardly gave a shout out to those at the Boston Common. I tried my best to say it in such a way that I wasn’t giving a guilt trip (I sort of wanted to) and give some unity to the moment. I couldn’t tell you whether or not I succeeded.
Press Pass TV was on the ground and has captured the response from the community in the video above. It’s powerful and worth two minutes of your time.
I think the first step is listening and believing. We live in a nation where supposedly you are innocent until proven guilty. Rarely has this been the case for people of color in this country. In a recent blog post, Thom Dunn takes a deep look at the situation and asks us to take a look at our own internalized racism. That’s another great next step. You might also read this report on from Nathan Leigh on, a Boston native, who was on the ground in Ferguson. If you read nothing else, check out The Root’s list of 12 Ways to be a White Ally to Black People. None of these things will undo what has happened, and damned if I know what’s going to end the madness taking place right now. But, these things will help us to understand and fight systemic racism that plagues our nation and conversations around these events.
Should I have canceled the gig and gone to the vigil? I’m not sure that would have been fair to my bandmates, the venue, the promoters, or the audience. I think had I made that decision, people would have understood. The goal is to make sure I’m speaking up and showing up when the opportunity presents itself and not just tweeting and blogging about it.