Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)
My social media feeds have become a worldwide wake, elegy, and repast for poet-author-musician-activist Gil Scott-Heron. I didn’t know much about him. So it feels like I’m viewing the body of an elder lying in state. You go to pay your respects, to hear the twenty-one gun salute, to observe the significance of the loss–but it doesn’t touch you as deeply as it does many of those around you, who have where-were-you-when stories about the first time they listened to an album or read a page or prayed for his recovery.
So rather than making this something more intimate than I have any right to make it, I’ll leave you with the (edited and revised) comments I left on Twitter yesterday, after learning of his passing:
I’ve lost a lot of beloved black men in the past few years–great uncles, a grandfather…. Gil Scott-Heron could’ve been any one of them.
There’s a kind of universality to the perils that plague black men and the ills that hasten their mortality.
Jessie Fauset once wrote, “I am no better than you. You are no worse than I. Whatever I am, you in your children may be. Whatever you are, I in my father have been.”
And it speaks to the connectedness of us all, of how there is no real moral superiority. We are all susceptible to self-destructive behavior.
When someone dies as a result of said self-destruction, our response should be to turn inward, to remove the beam from our own eye, and then extend our hand to others.
… Or maybe I’m reachin’.
God rest Uncle Billy. God rest Uncle Warren. God rest Uncle Hosie. God rest Uncle George. God rest Grandpa Mitch.