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Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution, and Sinking Cynicism

“You will not be able to stay home brother! You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop-out, because the revolution will not be televised.”

When Gilbert Scott-Heron’s poem featured on Volume 1 of “The Soul of the Black Panther Era” I can only imagine the excitement that filled the room in that first live performance. Hearing the drums as a backdrop to words that shake the complacent lives of all who listen. The feeling you get when you are a spectator to a paradigm-shifting event. I can only speculate what it is like to bear witness to history walking towards progress, right before your own eyes.

People would be inspired, zealous, and changed. However, as we now pay respects to the passing of Gil Scott-Heron, I am left with a sinking cynicism. Once things are placed into context all I really learn is that the revolution actually cannot be televised, but this is only true because there has been no revolution. I see more of an evolution of the same systemic, economic, and social barriers that existed when Gil wrote the poem.

You can’t televise something that doesn’t exist. Scott-Herin, (who is known to some as the father of hip-hop and neo-soul or to others as a blues-ologist), spoke about a revolution that was going to happen. He wrote about charges being led, “pigs shooting down brothers,” and “black people being in the street looking for a brighter day. “ Now we are in 2011, which is nearly four decades after he composed that poem and we still live in the same reality. This reality centers on stories like Sean Bell getting shot down by “pigs” and black people still looking for a brighter day (only now bright days continue to be “not found” in the shadow of a black president).

Gil’s own life represents the problematic nature within the fight for progress. And in light of all his accomplishments, I fell the need to stop and wonder how will he be remembered? And how many more people will hear about him upon his death? The iconography of his life cannot be contested, but I believe we live in a culture that gives more praise to individuals after they die, than when they were actually alive.

How much more will we hear his poetry, and his music, and the title of his books, than we have heard before? I think it is important to take a look back and understand why we saw no revolution on television or anywhere else in this country. But we should also look around us in the constantly moving present, and make sure we’re appreciating the minds, talents, and words of the individuals we interact with everyday. And be ready, because “the revolution will put you in the driver seat, the revolution will not be a re-run, it will be live.”


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