On Being Black

“On Being Black”

Tatjana Lightbourn

“What did I do to be so black and blue?” sings Louis Armstrong in my earphones as I sit on the stoop of my Brooklyn apartment. I recently read a Race and America segment from The New York Times entitled, “What We Know About Breonna Taylor’s Case and Murder.” It made me contemplate what it means to have a Black body in this world, how young children will identify seeing violence and injustice occur right in front of their eyes. Louis’ trumpet and orchestra still whistling in my headphones, I questioned myself. “What did I do to be so black and blue?”

For the generation today growing up in a world where the use of technology and media is their norm, I personally believe it has its advantages and disadvantages. Although most youth are not spending the same amount of time reading books or playing outside, they are learning skills to find their own voice and exist in a fast paced environment that is becoming increasingly run by the media. I have found that there are boundless uses for new technology as it develops and in recent years even more as it’s ease of use has leveled the playing field of truth vs. lie. The takeover of media has offered a heightening of awareness on issues that otherwise have been ignored or just pacified, such as racial inequalities and injustices.

Postcard collected from around the world. Louis Armstrong Collection

Racial inequalities and injustices are not a new revelation to the United States of America, and since the inception of the “new world,” musicians and artists, predominantly of color, have been addressing the world as they see it in their work. Usually, as a form of liberation to those living through the circumstances. The song “Black and Blue.” was written by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf in 1929 for a musical entitled Hot Chocolates, its lyrics were later chopped and screwed in an arrangement by Louis Armstrong to formulate what I now see as a protest song. Ironically Louis created this work of liberation art almost 90 years ago and still today I find the same uncanny resemblance of Louis’ world as I do in mine.

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Homer Hobson (tp), Fred Robinson (tb), Jimmy Strong (ts, cl), Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as), Gene Anderson (p, celeste), Mancy Carr (bj), Pete Briggs (tu), Zutty Singleton (d), Carroll Dickerson (cond, vln).
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY July 22, 1929

As I continue to contemplate the life of a young Black woman that was taken by police force in her Louisville home… I’m unsure if the words to this song are more impactful now or decades ago when police brutally attacked civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama as they attempted to stop discrimination against voters registration. That was 1965 and Black men, women and children were broadcasted for over 50 million American’s to see the abuse of their Black bodies over the media. It’s conflicting because I know what it feels like to identify as a person in a Black body living today with the fear that your life is unsafe simply because you walk in this body. I question how does one consider the perspective of the world when history seems to be on an opposing side. During a 1965 press conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Louis was quoted saying “They would beat Jesus if he was black…”, in response to the events that occurred in Selma. Leaving me to wonder, when does being black and blue mean now – when does alive or dead equate to being human? What did Breonna Taylor do to be so black and blue?

1965 News Clipping. Jack Bradley Collection

“I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case

‘Cause I can’t hide what is in my face

How would it end? Ain’t got a friend

My only sin is in my skin

What did I do to be so black and blue?”

–  Louis Armstrong, Black and Blue

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