Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

 I could have hung up a “gone fishing” sign as it feels like an unprecedented three days since I wrote a Blogpost. Where have I been?


Well, on Saturday, we bid farewell to the grandkids with a waffle breakfast and went on to get our second vaccination. Anticipating a severe reaction, just stayed home and tried to catch up with all neglected business set aside during the Zadie and Malik visit. Sunday woke up with a very sore shoulder and a mild fever. Tuned into poet David Whyte’s new class touring us through Western Ireland from a poetic perspective, finished watching the Jazz and Race Panel sponsored by SF JAZZ, listened to one of several-to-be-listened-to podcasts from Michael Meade about the mythological view of the times we’re living through. Got out for a five-mile walk listening to my Audible book, Garrison Keillor’s memoir That Time of Year. Good company all.


And then Monday. Literally eight hours in my desk chair essentially re-reading Miles Davis’ autobiography and re-typing 10 pages of select quotes in preparation for my Jazz History class I was teaching that night. That was quite an adventure and gave me renewed appreciation, understanding, gratitude and forgiveness for this troubled American genius who refreshed the world with his extraordinary art. I suspect I will be sharing some of these quotes and stories in blogposts to come. 


And if you’re white and sat through my 12 Jazz Stories and wish I would stop talking about these things, let me begin with one of his quotes here: 


The Jewish people keep reminding the world of what happened to them in Germany. So black people have to keep reminding the world of what happened in the United States, or as James Baldwin once told me, “these yet-to-be United States.” We’ve got to watch out for those divide-and-conquer techniques that whites have used on us all these years, keeping us apart from our real inner selves and our real inner strength. I know people get tired of hearing it but black people have got to keep saying it, throwing our conditions up into these people’s faces until something is done about the way they have treated us. We’ve just got to keep it in front of their eyes and their ears like the Jews have done. We’ve got to make them know and understand how evil the things are that they did to us over all these years and are still doing to us today. We’ve just got to let them know that we know what they are doing and that we’re not going to lighten up until they stop.


And it rests on white folks’ shoulders to not only hear what the black folks are saying, but to keep talking about it amongst ourselves even when we suspect “people get tired of hearing it.” Especially when we suspect that people get tired of hearing it. We have to speak beyond our comfort level, tell stories like the time Miles was beaten and arrested by police for the crime of escorting a white female friend to a cab and standing outside the club where he was performing, even when he explained to the cop that the name on the marquee was his. That was in 1959, the year his album Kind of Blue was released that became the best-selling jazz album of all time. 


But racism doesn’t bow to fame. For here we are 62 years later and a young black woman just shared how a security guard followed her home and demanded to know if she lived there because she looked “suspicious.” Her name was Amanda Gorman. One wonders if that security guard watched the inauguration. She showed her keys, buzzed herself into the building and he left with—no surprise—no apology. And on one hand, it’s outrageous that extraordinary artists are treated like this without consequence, but as I know they’d agree, such behavior shouldn’t happen to any person of color, shouldn’t happen to any person period. Unless it’s someone dressed like a fake shaman walking up the Capitol Steps inciting insurrection. 


Why keep talking about all this? Robert Frost said it (pronoun changed here) with his unintended double-entendre evoking Miles Davis:


For we have promises to keep. 

And miles to go before we sleep.

And miles to go before we sleep. 


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