“Who Will Survive In America” is a spoken word from Gil Scott-Heron. The metaphorical lashings at the Anglo concept of “free-doom” are indicative of a tradition of separatist language most reminiscent of the days of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey.
The theory of many vocal activists of that time was that America was a place invented for people who are not of Afrikan decent. We were brought to the land to cultivate it, but not to reap from it. We were freed not to participate with the nation, but to refute claims that they were the villain. We remain not because we are welcome, but because we have no place else to go.
Scott-Heron’s words in the work “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” speak of how when we change this, it will come without warning, without spectation, and without hesitation. LaBelle supported this ideal by performing a cover that was mixed very blissfully with their “come together” song “There’s Something In The Air”.
“We were forbidden to sing the truth. Just like what’s happening now in our world, that’s what was happening then. A lot of people were afraid. Certain shows asked us not to sing certain songs. They asked us not to perform “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” because it was about what was happening in the world, the revolution. All of the heartache and stuff with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and everything else. It was too political. It was kind of hard for them to see three black women singing about the truth. Some people are afraid of the truth. It might set them free but they’re afraid of it.” – Patti LaBelle
George Clinton took this to mean that America was not a place for us to be. While many found the Funk movement to be indicative of musical revolution, they missed the active metaphor through which Clinton advocated a cultural revolution. Many of his songs alluded to the unification of a nation, that would be taken away by the Mothership; “Swing down sweet chariot, stop and let me ride.” This was his way of saying, that we don’t belong here (Malcolm X’s message retold).
Dr. Dre, an emerging artist of a new generation, communicated the sample by showing that maybe “The Hood” is the only place we’ll ever have to call our own. A place with infinite culture and history, yet regarded as undesirable because it doesn’t fit the bill of economic success (The measure of all success in America). What standard are we following to define our accomplishments? Whose standard is it? Will we settle for what place we are offered, or shall we make demands for the things that matter most to us? Or have we been cultivated and our understanding of identity deracinated to the point that we have no pragmatic understanding of what it means to build a engaged community, raise a healthy family, or to seek education that will eventually bear fruit for all as opposed to self?
For Kanye, it’s a matter of “place vs space”. His “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is his escape from the society he can’t escape. We don’t to choose how or where we are born. We only get to choose what we do once we get here. For the large majority of our society’s history, the choices of many have been limited by the few, with the justification of their lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness.
Understanding the theory behind the music, understanding the music, and understanding the movement… I’m left to wonder myself… Who will survive in America? And how do we define survival? Are we all just striving to live another day? Or are we striving to fill what days we have with happiness? Is that happiness defined by America’s history of exclusionary behavior, or is it defined by the illusion of accomplishment that our assets provide? What are we really working for? Where are we really going?
Maybe we’re just standing still, surviving just to wait for our deaths. Can we get much higher?
Where is the revolution of our generation?