I was listening today to a session at work where my Black colleagues spoke about their experiences with discrimination. It was moving in so many ways. Their courage to share with their colleagues. The profound and troubling stories they told. The empathy they helped me better develop.
Yet I’m interested to work through a dilemma. How can racism and bias exist, when our American culture is so enriched by the contributions of Black artists?
Consider the extraordinary gifts we’ve been given:
Jazz, the greatest American art form, wouldn’t exist without Black artists.
Ella Fitzgerald’s sweet and pure voice.
Billie Holiday courageously singing Strange Fruit in an era where addressing the topic of lynching might have gotten her killed.
John Coltrane’s saxophone; torrents of notes mixed with sustained wails that convey so much emotion and spirituality.
Art Blakey’s drumming. And his mentorship of young musicians, like Wynton Marsalis.
Charlie Parker. Sarah Vaughan. Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington. Dizzy Gillespie. Miles Davis. Charles Mingus. Wayne Shorter. Herbie Hancock. Thelonius Monk. Joshua Redman. And so many more.
Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk
Otis Redding. Marvin Gaye. Every Motown artist. Stevie Wonder. Alicia Keys. Erykah Badu. Aretha Franklin. Diana Ross. John Lee Hooker. Howlin’ Wolf. Muddy Waters. Curtis Mayfield. James Brown. Tina Turner. George Clinton. Gary Clark Jr. Janelle Monae. Koko Taylor. Luther Vandross. Prince. Ray Charles. Sam & Dave. And so many more.
TV and movies
Jordan Peele. Sidney Poitier. Alfre Woodard. Viola Davis. Octavia Spencer. Denzel Washington. Morgan Freeman. Halle Berry. Angela Bassett. Forest Whitaker. Taraji P. Henson. Don Cheadle. Mahershala Ali. And so many more.
Ed Bradley. Ta-Nehesi Coates. Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Gwen Ifill. Oprah Winfrey. Frederick Douglass. And so many more.
Richard Pryor. Dave Chappelle. Chris Rock. Eddie Murphy. Wanda Sykes. The Wayans brothers. Flip Wilson. Dick Gregory. And so many more.
This is just a sampling. These names are not Black artists. They are American artists. They have helped create the very fabric of our culture and society.
And so I keep asking myself; if these artists have contributed so much, why do we have racism in the face of their brilliance? I don’t have the answers. But I will keep asking the question.