Common and John Legend accepting the 2015 Best Original Song Oscar before their impassioned #BlackLivesMatter speech

We Should Never Forget Our Past. Ever.

Original post (March 20, 2015) on Tumblr blog here

Common has been saying too many words lately that I need to talk about—words that I just don’t agree with. It began with his speech at the Golden Globes, then the Oscars and now his words on the Daily Show? Like damn. All this is making me realize that Common is going down a road that I just. don’t. get.  

What really perked my awareness of the new Common (or has he been like this for a minute?) is that although his speech at the Oscars was moving, it seemed like a pledge for #AllLivesMatter rather than #BlackLivesMatter. It was as if in his mind the only way for anyone to care about Selma and now the #BlackLivesMatter movement was to show that we are all one race of people and have everyone’s struggles relate to one another. Although aesthetically his words seemed earnest and beautiful, they were actually quite harmful.

Whenever the conversation revolves around Black people for more than 2 minutes, I feel like someone derails the dialogue and shifts it to a larger group of people. That is harmful. When people shift a conversation that is initially about a specific group of people, they erase that said conversation about the very SPECIFIC issues that affect a SPECIFIC group of people. And what Common has been doing lately has been just that. Derailment.

When Ava DuVernay makes a movie called ‘Selma’ that highlights a very real struggle that happened predominately to Black people in the United States, and further when this past struggle resonates with the present day #BlackLivesMatter movement, it’s a slap in the face to hear Common equate these past and present-day struggles of an entire people to the that of the “caring White supporter killed on the front lines of freedom.” I understand that Common wants to help initiate some sort of change in people by showing the commonality in everyone’s struggles, but by doing so he uplifts something that happened to a few White people and a few police officers while downplaying what happened and continues to happen to an entire group of people. By equating all of these events with one another, he downplays the specificity with which Black people in the United States are targeted. Why is he doing this? I don’t know. I really don’t.

I caught these sentiments from his words at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes, but it was on a veryyy subtle level, so I didn’t make much fuss about it, but I knew my feels were rooted in something real especially when most people on Tumblr resonated with what John Legend had said at the Oscars rather than what Common had said. Maybe John Legend was more nervous, but he was more on point. I was rolling my eyes at Common, but I honestly didn’t think it would get worse. So. Soon. But it did. The other night on the Daily Show, Common drove all his problematic points home.

If we’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down and we don’t want it anymore. We are not extending a fist and we are not saying, ‘You did us wrong.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m extending my hand in love,’

Why do Black people have to extend a hand in love to White people? When White people are the ones who did wrong initially? I’m lost. Honestly. I really don’t get what he’s saying. Common acknowledges on some level that there is systemic and institutional racism, but then his solution is what now? we gotta move past it? as if racism is primarily a form of prejudice experienced at the more personal level. If Black people extend that hand, then everything will be better? Yep, that is what he said. That definitely happened.

Some people online have said he misspoke. Neaux. I don’t think so. Especially since he said the same thing again one minute later…

Let’s forget about the past as much as we can. Let’s move from where we are now. How can we help each other? Can you try to help us? Because we’re going to help ourselves too…

And seconds after that…

…me as a Black man, I’m not sitting there like ‘Hey White people y’all did us wrong’ I mean we know that that existed. I don’t even have to keep bringing that up. It’s like being in a relationship and continuing to bring up the person’s issues…

I have a problem with Common relating the systemic and institutionalized oppression that Black people have experienced as being similar to the “issues” someone has when in a relationship. He once again is equating racism to something that happens primarily at the personal level; something that becomes evident in our feelings and emotions only. I don’t even know how Common could have jumped so quickly to that line of inane logic, when not two minutes before he did in fact acknowledge that there is institutionalized racism. Like how in the hell is having all Americans gloss over a history of socialized, indoctrinated, systemic prejudice a way to move forward and break down systemic oppression? Sweet mother. I’m literally fighting down laughter, because I don’t know how else to respond to this level of insane stupidity.

We should never forget our past. Ever. You can’t. Unless someone strips that knowledge from your mind or you block it out, you just can’t forget about what has happened in your past. And you shouldn’t. In regards to a larger history, learning about a people’s history should be used as a tool to not only understand, but also to educate our future selves on understanding who we are as people. It should be a way to learn from our mistakes as well as those of othersdone onto us, where we went wrong, where others went wrong, and how we can make sure that doesn’t happen again. Eventually you should learn and grow from the history you learn about yourself and others and hopefully others do the same. Exactly why would you want to forget about the past then?

To have someone as well known and respected as Common say the exact opposite of that on a nationally syndicated show is not only kind of ignorant, it’s also kind of dangerous. I believe he’s been on this type of respectability logic for the past couple years now, but we’re only now hearing about it because of his success with the song he co-wrote for Selma; that success has allowed him a platform to speak his mind on things in his more updated sense of self. And I ain’t having it.

Common misses the point completely on how our country needs to move forward in specific regards to race and class issues, but maybe I’m asking too much of Common. I’m not sure Common ever totally knew how to remedy these problems; his raps often touch on issues of race and class, but it’s not like he ever provided solutions to these problems. No rapper really does and I don’t expect them to either, but still I miss the old Common….at least back then his shit made sense.