Recorded on Jun 6th (me in Minnesota), July 24th (the ever-brilliant Tara Hanish in Vermont), and mixed in Ohio by my brother Brian, this socially-distanced duet of “Light The Dark” is the first in what I hope will be a series of virtual band performances.
I was just getting back in the habit of singing and sharing songs. Memorial Day weekend, I posted my second performance in five years. Of course, something much more significant happened on that day as well. After seeing George Floyd killed by Minneapolis police, I didn't know what to do or say. So I listened. I read. I started learning a history I hadn't previously troubled myself to seek out.
When first releasing this song and the album that shares its name, I called it “a mission statement” and an attempt to “take an unflinching look at my own culpability.” I meant this in a variety of ways at the time, but today I mean it very specifically to represent a commitment of moving beyond just an awareness of racism and increasing my engagement in anti-racist work.
I wrote the line “I will not give in / or take part,” in early 2008 to remind myself not to be complicit in the systems of oppression I was still only beginning to recognize and identify in the world around—and within—me. Of course, I have been complicit since and continue to be every time I don’t call out a racist comment for what it is, engage in difficult conversations, or advocate for systemic change—even when I don’t feel confident about my knowledge or approach. I’m also guilty of “taking part” by exercising my greatest privilege: checking out when I get emotionally or intellectually overwhelmed.
Singing now about my “anger burning quietly,” I think of it differently now than I did then. I’ve come to realize—only recently—my anger is meaningful only to the extent to which it motivates me to take positive action. Educate myself about the creation and perpetuation of racial inequality in American law and institutions. Participate in direct-action protests. Vote for the demilitarization of law enforcement. Continue to confront and correct my conscious and unconscious biases.
At the center of "Light The Dark" is a love letter to the woman whose steadfast attempts at allyship inspire me every day. Her dedication to the dismantling of systems of oppression through teaching, advocacy, and personal accountability is a constant reminder I can be-and-do better.
Two months ago, I thought I had a sufficient understanding of systemic racism in America. I did not and still don’t. Like a lot of folks, I'm getting familiar with the words of Ijeoma Oluo and Ibram X. Kendi. I'm engaging in direct actions. I'm having some difficult dialogues.
I still find it hard to know what to say or do, but the one thing I know for sure is that saying nothing is no longer an option.