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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Black Is’ by The Last Poets

The NFL commissioner and owners of NFL teams are moving at this hour to restrict and clamp down on football players, who are predominantly black, so they do not protest during the national anthem. This is happening as former coaches like Mike Ditka babble on about not knowing of any oppression in the past 100 years, a brazenly flippant and racist display of willful ignorance.

If only these mostly rich white men could be put on a plane and transported to the “Soul Of a Nation” exhibit in London to be exposed to art that depicts the American struggle against racism. If only they were made to listen to music that fueled and was inspired by the civil rights movement.

There actually happens to be an NFL game in London on October 22—the day the exhibit closes. Wouldn’t it be a memorable conclusion if several NFL owners passed through on the final day for a needed education on what it means to be black?

Since the world is unlikely to witness a field trip by NFL owners to an art exhibit celebrating black power, perhaps, we all could encourage them to get a bit of an education from The Last Poets’ political rap, “Black Is” from 1971. It is one of a selection of tracks curators of the exhibit featured.

Written by Umar Bin Hassan, the lyrics are a whirlwind of statements on blackness defined by oppression, a desire for liberation, and the universal spirit at the core of all human beings.

“Black is a thousand black faces writhing and a million white faces asking, ‘Oh my God, what do they want?” may be one of the most appropriate statements for the moment. It is literally what millions of white Americans are doing as they refuse to listen and wrongly insist black players are protesting the flag.

“Black is the beginning and end of white / Black is that which was first / Until white stole it, raped it, and imitated / But it then gained a true self and got blacker / And blacker and blacker and blacked out all whiteness.”

Hassan’s lyrics speak of the aspiration to rise above oppression. “Black is having a goal for your life / Put more meaning into everything you do / More meaning and loving, eating and living / And there will be more meaning in you / Which means everything.”

That is what most of the black players in the NFL ever wanted. Their career in the NFL was a ladder to a life with more meaning, with more love, with more nourishment, and that meant everything. It is what white people, and most importantly, rich white people take for granted each day.

But listen to their words and it becomes clear their expression represents a refusal to abandon and leave behind friends and family, who have not been fortunate enough to win million dollar contracts to play a sport. They feel an obligation to stand up for them because they have the power to capture the public’s attention in ways their communities never can.

“Black is so beautiful, it makes you cry,” The Last Poets declare.

If only the people fueling the controversy around anthem protests would pause for a moment to take notice what is beautiful. It would make them dizzy, but that dizziness could only be good for humanity.

Listen to “Black Is”:

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."