As more professional athletes begin to ‘take a knee’ for racial equality and the right to peaceful protest permitted by the American constitution, it seems almost fitting that we are forced to recognize the immortal words of the Screaming Eagle of Soul. For even in passing Charles Bradley arrests the skies with powerful volume:
Is going up in flames
Wanna take the blame
Don’t tell me
How to live my life
Never felt the pain
I can’t turn my head away
Seeing all these things
Is burning up in flames
Wanna take the blame
These lyrics belong to the song ‘The World (Is Going Up In Flames)’ and indeed for much of America’s black community, this soulful lamentation may well go beyond melody. An acknowledgment of even the most recent history forces a confrontation of what is, arguably, racial inequality that has cruelly rendered many black men and women residents of the heavens or overrepresented in prisons. Black athletes, activists, lawyers, educators, politicians, artists and their allies are employing diverse gestures to confront the same struggle as those who precede them. A hard earned equality as of yet unknown. This, often to the detriment of their future employability.
One cannot escape the irony of the cancerous systems crippling the African-American community and the timing of President Trump’s most recent controversial statement delivered a day before Bradley’s passing from cancer. However, one cannot ignore the capacity of the choir conducted by the creators of today’s protest songs. The ones that record a vocal account of the pain people of color have been subjected to, and the necessary quest for accountability, remedy and justice.
This week in particular, a resurrection of celebrated images of Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Peter Norman and Muhammad Ali are being widely shared beside those of Colin Kaepernick, Steph Curry and Bruce Maxwell—to name a few. Additionally, a large number of NFL players on Sunday knelt in peaceful opposition to the divisive words of their president; provoking the expansion of picture frames by claiming a seat among proponents of freedom. In the immortal words of Bradley, they are in fact refusing to turn their heads away. There is real triumph in unity—in accepting responsibility for your fellow human beings’ welfare because it is the right thing to do even when you are granted an alternative existence.
Bradley may no longer grace the musical stage with his physical presence but I like to think he is demonstrating still in his own way. By virtue of this alone, he continues to live boldly.
My soul is bleeding.
Here’s to an American Eagle! My how you soar.