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When the music stops.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

Music is a part of our lives--instrumentation, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, beat-boxing--all of it! Jazz to clean the kitchen. Gospel on Sunday mornings. It permeates our thoughts and underscores our experiences. So even now, in the year 2020, what is it about Black folks and music that materializes the invisible barrier between what freedoms we may and may not have?

Each day at drop off, Lucas asks for music. His elementary school operates with a conveyor-belt-like efficiency which demands compliance of all parents at drop off such that you become a part of the system early on: pull up to the curb; put the car in park; when waved to the front have the child unbuckle; security guard opens the door and takes the child’s bookbag; child hops out; security guard places bookbag on child; closes the door, and zoom! I had to finagle my besitos, much to the chagrin of the establishment, but this is the system from Monday-Friday.

One morning, at the ripe young age of 6, after having requested Rihanna’s “Unfaithful”(my son’s a sucker for a minor chord just like his mama), Lucas frantically pleaded that I cut the music off as we pulled up to the school.

Don’t get me wrong. When it’s a Joe Budden or a Jay-Z car-thumping kind of vibe, yes, sometimes we need to curb the enthusiasm as we approach folks who enjoy the faculty of hearing. But the volume of this song was low enough that we could converse over it without strain, (and I’m hard of hearing). So to watch panic overtake the young king’s face, my consciousness immediately rejected the notion of pressing pause. 

“Do you like this song?”

“Yes, but they don’t like that here.”

They? Who is they?

That? What is that?!

Developmentally, something had happened of which I wasn’t aware. The schema Lucas had relative to folks who care about me had been split into us. vs. them. “They” was the school - and the ways of being that were acceptable did not match our own. There was no bridging or appreciation being expressed in this exchange. It had even surpassed that of your typical Venn diagram comparing and contrasting. It was the hierarchical defining of mortal enemies-- - us vs. them… and they had won. “We” were at such a loss that music (translated as the enjoyment thereof) had been reduced simply to “that.”


We learn so early that our world is only as big as others allow it to be. The expression of our full selves begins to shrink before our brains are even fully formed. Sure, my knee-jerk reaction was to reject the social incarceration, but I don’t want to blunt his instincts either. There are situations where this unspoken understanding could have been life-saving. 

Music is--has always been-- our heritage as Black folks. What if we lived for our joy rather than for the comfort of others? What if we were free?

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