On the right to breathe…

Hi readers, I really feel the need to write a little something off script, right up front on the blog today. Yesterday I sat at the table and wrote, and wrote and wrote. First I began sketching out the final blog in this short rock and roll series (I will probably do a few more of these, just as everyday tales, just in the mix). I had something in mind where I wanted to talk about Sam Phillips and the roster of mostly white Rockabilly acts he produced – and to touch on some of his views on race and music, and how ridiculously condescending they look now – but I think his heart was in the right place. Well, I think the thuggish murder of an African American man by a white police officer – and eruption of righteous anger across America gives a pretty good indication as to why that is a terrible idea. I dread to think of the emails stating “WTF Simone, are you trying to tell a fairy tale of faux progressive race relations while our country is burning?”. Ditto any tales of the white rock and roll impresario, civil rights activist, and all round good guy the reverend Johnny Otis. Definitely not a good time to be telling stories of how the dustbowl played in to the rise of Oakies, Arkies and various other displaced folk creating the Hillbilly Boogie which blared out of many a roadhouse in the pre rock and roll era.

I also penned, and binned a piece discussing just why Edouard de Laboulaye proposed the construction of the Statue of Liberty – spoiler alert, he was an abolitionist who was proud the USA had finally outlawed slavery. He probably believed the USA would adopt something like ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’. This piece quickly escalated, America you let Mr Laboulaye down horribly. I walked through many, many, many examples of this – from the 1892 lynching of Tom Moss, a black grocer in Memphis who dared to open a store when a white man was also a grocer; to Robert Charles – a black man minding his own business in a mostly white suburb of New Orleans, which escalated into a desperate gun fight against a white mob. To the ‘red summer’ spate of lynchings across the USA in 1919, which cost over 250 black lives because black men dared to step up in formerly white job and keep the economy going during World War One; and racists everywhere saw that as theft. On to the 1919 Haynes report, which noted the lynchings of over 3,000 black Americans between 1889 and 1918, and that local authorities were often compliant, even occasionally involved in these actions. On I went, discussing the early years of the ‘great migration’ where well to do black residents were bullied out of nice, middle class homes, while the police stood by. When one recent arrival to Detroit, the doctor Ossian Sweet, received constant threats and intimidation police did nothing. When Dr Sweet fired in self defence on a violent mob encircling his Garland Street home, they were very quick to act then – charging the poor man with murder.

I went further, discussing murdered voting organizers like the Rev. George Lee and Lamar Smith – to young boys and men who dared speak to white girls like Emmett Till, or Willie Edwards Jr- Edwards, by the way was mistaken by four Clansmen for another black guy who was dating a white girl in Montgomery, Alabama back in 1957. I talked of the assassination Medgar Evars, the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four young girls- Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley – who were little older than my niece ….. and on, and on, and on. Paragraphs of horror after horror. USA there are too many atrocities, too much blood on your hands, too many black lives lost, and families left grieving.

Look, dear reader; if you are an American reader of mine I presume you are not some racist with a hankering for lynchings – you’re probably a caring, intelligent progressive who is appalled by the murder of George Floyd. Hell, some of you may be caring, intelligent conservatives, equally horrified by the murder? Any invective by me is like a teacher yelling at the kids in front because the kid at the back is behaving like an asshole. Just know that I, like most decent people the world over, am horrified at the actions of Derek Chauvin, yet again infuriated with the tweets from the orange fascist ruining your nation, fully in support of the protestors (though worried as hell for you with all that tear gas, rubber bullets, and a killer pandemic out there).

Mostly, I am at a loss as to how I, halfway across the world, can do any little thing to show my support. The writer and activist Eldridge Cleaver once stated if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Who doesn’t feel that just a little right now?

Back to the rock and roll series, this Thursday I’ll put together a Spotify playlist covering a load of songs that predate what we traditionally consider rock and roll, with a brief explanation on why I think they important landmarks.

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