While listening to the R&B classic “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” sung by Donny Hathaway and written by his friend Edward Howard about the dark cloud of paranoid schizophrenia that had engulfed Hathaway and which undoubtedly led to the singer eventually taking his own life, I was once again reminded of the infinite potential and impact that music can have upon the human experience.
The song, released in 1973 with lukewarm response, has since become an anthem of sorts for Black civil rights, retooled and reinterpreted by some of the industry’s best — from Alicia Keys and James Ingram to Bobby Womack and Take 6 — even Aretha Franklin who introduced the tune’s haunting lyrics to an entirely new generation in 1992 in its employ as the footnote to Spike Lee’s powerful biographical film “Malcolm X.”
But other Americans, specifically those living under the LGBTQ umbrella who today face similar struggles for justice and equality that have eluded Blacks since our arrival on these shores in 1619, contend that their quest, while reflective of the albatross that continues to weigh down and hold back African Americans, is often dismissed as a sickness of liberal American society, criticized for being a personal “life choice” instead of many deem to be an inescapable journey of the heart.
What interests me most is how we, flawed men and women, feel so entitled and enlightened that we can determine what is fitting, proper, appropriate and acceptable for mankind. What is it that makes some assert themselves as self-professed arbiters of both whom we should love and how we exhibit that love? And why do some forms of intimacy, while counter to societal norms, matter so much to those who by choice or by nurture acquiesce to the status quo?
Over the past weekend, hundreds of thousands of members and supporters of the LGBTQ community filled the streets of New York and other cities nationwide to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic Stonewall uprising — the police-involved raid in the Big Apple that sparked the modern-day gay rights movement. Fifty years have passed, yet here in the DMV and across the U.S., news of gay bashing, murders of transgender, gays and lesbians, bullying of questioning youth leading to suicide and other related hate crimes and verbal assaults occur with such frequently that they tend to be received more like early morning weather reports than the heinous attacks which they truly are — deeds based solely on the sexual orientation and identification of those unfortunate victims.
I suppose I can understand how generations shaped by firmly-entrenched, legally-supported white privilege has caused white folk in the 21st century to feel justified whenever they accost, demoralize, or initiate the destruction of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters in ways reminiscent to how they have long belittled and oppressed African Americans.
But Blacks — we who can easily recount family histories or documented tales which document thousands of examples of lynching, beatings, murders and rapes suffered by our ancestors for no other reason than the color of our skin, the thickness of our lips or the texture of our hair? We should have a mindset far from that of “Mr. Charlie.” We should have hearts filled with compassion, not overflowing with hatred. We should understand that while we may disapprove of the how gays or lesbians exhibit love, to single them out as justifiable targets simply mimics the atrocities to which our ancestors of yesterday and our brothers and sisters of today, have been and are still forced to bear.
I may be unable to unequivocally tell you what Jesus would say but I know what Jesus would do — or rather, not do or condone as he instructed in one unforgettable parable, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
With that, I return to Hathaway’s serenade and the hope for a brighter and better tomorrow — a new reality for the beloved community. If we do not destroy our world, if we act before it’s too late, maybe, just maybe, “someday we’ll all be free.”