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Music

The importance of Black History Month perfectly explained by Gil Scott-Heron in under 3 minutes

@TomTaylorFO

When we recently spoke with Gil Scott-Heron collaborator and legendary musician Brian Jackson, he borrowed a Gene McDaniels quote to describe the continued issue of systemic racism and how it even plagues the music industry: “’Still nobody knows who the enemy is ‘cause he never goes in hiding.’ I’d say that’s a fair observation of how things work in music.”

Throughout his career, Gil Scott-Heron tried to illuminate the issues at hand and how we can overcome them. Recognising the issue of systemic racism is vital. All too often an attitude of ‘Well, I’m not a racist’ is espoused and the problem is reduced to something that happens on an individual level alone. 

As Black Lives in Music director, Roger Wilson, recently told us: “Structural racism is about mechanisms and processes. Individuals may be racist but it’s the structures and mechanisms that perpetuate hard racism. These structures and mechanisms exist outside the sector.”

Far Out Meets: Roger Wilson of Black Lives in Music – Addressing the racist realities of the music industry

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This notion was perfectly elucidated by Gil Scott-Heron in his masterful spoken-word piece ‘His Story’. The western view of history comes from a purely white voice; thus, inherent biases exist in the rhetoric and prove problematic in today’s multi-cultural society. This needs to be readdressed if we want a more egalitarian society and that starts with the sort of education that Black History Month can provide. With the artistry of a poet and the knowledge of an anthropologist, Gil Scott-Heron illuminates this point perfectly in under three minutes.

Take, for instance, the current controversy surrounding the taking of a knee at American sporting events. The notion of this being a slight against the flag purely comes from a white position. As the writer and activist James Baldwin once declared: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” In order to have a clear view of the current chapter, the story of the past must be known and not the abridged version of brutes, but the sorry truth. 

Gil Scott-Heron explained this all in 1970. The poem itself has so much rhythm that it rides along on its own melody with butter-cutting ease, and it is a measure of his mastery that the perfect metre and woven wordplay is overshadowed by the overarching meaning itself. Words hold weight, he extols “semantics is always a bitch,” but the flip side is also true and this poem lands like a bludgeoning blow of reality in turning history from a tale to the truth. With unity in mind, Gil Scott-Heron made this message soar with the utmost grace.