Who is surviving in America?

In 1970, spoken-word poet, musician and “godfather of rap” Gil Scott-Heron wrote the song “Comment #1.”

The song was a fusion of melismatic spoken word and hip hop. It took aim at the idea of predominantly white student groups striving for radical change alongside organizations of color, such as the Black Panthers or Young Lords, that rose to prominence in the mid-1960s.

He attacks the notion of any possibility of a truly meaningful relationship between (what he explains as) the white power, brought by “the white New Left,” and the true revolutionary class of blacks and Puerto Ricans. This is based on his idea that middle and upper-class whites were incapable of truly understanding the struggles of the poor and disadvantaged people of color.

The time is in the street you know
Us living as we do, upside down.

The late 1960s was a very “upside down” time. While many people of color formed and joined movements that allowed them to find and fight for their voice in a newly desegregated society, the political scene saw a good number of privileged whites trying to find ways to become marginalized members of the underclass.

“And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey.”

At this time, Scott-Heron and many others were working through the understanding that the golden, freedom-filled America that history books boast of was not the same as reality: a nation with a continued history of oppressing and depriving its poor and non-white. This realization at any time in U.S. history opens an unforgiving, never-ending, heartbreaking journey for so many conscious and blooming individuals who have experienced this real America firsthand.

At the end of “Comment #1,” Scott-Heron asks repeatedly,

“Who will survive in America?”

Even the most active, unstoppable social justice activists and socially-conscious individuals I know sometimes grow weary at the thought of the actuality of the current state of our nation.

While the idea of an exceptionalist America opens doors of opportunity for all, the actuality of it locks the doors for those born into a certain background, family, skin color or economic situation. For those actively seeking and fighting for a truly inclusive, free, just America, this is far from news.

Ex-police officer Chris Dorner posted an online manifesto last week declaring war against the Los Angeles Police Department for wrongly firing him. Dorner is now on the run after shooting several people. No matter how you feel about Dorner, you cannot ignore the significance of the courses of action taken by police in response and what it means for and says about the current state of America.

In their search for Dorner, police fired “20 to 30 rounds” on innocent people found in vehicles that resemble Dorner’s truck, without warning. Now the search has made way for the use of reportedly unarmed drones to target Dorner on U.S. soil with no due process of law.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not the first time the U.S. has targeted a human with airborne drones on their own soil.

Dorner’s unfortunate killing spree deflects from the fact that he was an officer who continuously recognized and challenged the bountifully corrupt ways of his profession and was ignored or punished for it.

“I am an American by choice,” Dorner said in his manifesto. “I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member, I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered and libeled me.”

Many believe that Dorner should be stopped at all costs. Those who have been in Dorner’s position — actively trying to do the right thing and challenging institutions of unfair standards and practices — understand the magnitude of what he must know from his position as an officer, and just what the U.S. will do in order to keep police corruption quiet.

This is America.

Just one state over, a new bill proposed by Arizona lawmakers would require hospitals to check whether or not uninsured patients are in the country without documentation.

If patients can’t provide authorized documentation, the bill states that hospital staff must contact law enforcement and immigration officials. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, the state representative who introduced the bill says that it is about “what is best” for “citizens” and “taxpayers.”

In reality, it not only continues the same discrimination that the state has seen following bills like Senate Bill 1070 but also highlights the value Smith’s America places on the U.S. dollar over the human life.

According to ABC News, the bill “exempts Canadian citizens and citizens of countries that participate in the visa waiver program,” a program that allows citizens of mostly European countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa. There isn’t a single Latin American country listed.

This is America.

On most days, when these are the kinds of back-to-back headlines I read, I cannot help but to ask the same question Scott-Heron once did.

I cannot help but to be heartbroken for myself and for my fellow humans, as each day the hearts and spirits of certain members of someone’s America are broken in the most unjust of ways. It is an ongoing struggle for so many of us for whom the promises of the nation we’ve been told about are suffocated with the reality of where we are living. There is no literary answer to Scott-Heron’s question, there is only the truth.

“Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?”

 

Reach the columnist at andrea.flores@asu.edu

 

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