Last week I was invited to speak on a panel with fellow hip-hop DJs and promoters to address issues of racial discrimination in the Indianapolis nightlife scene. The event was created as a response to media reports that linked hip-hop music to a recent shooting in Broad Ripple that left seven innocent victims wounded.
The discussion happened to coincide with the unfolding saga in Ferguson. In case you've been living under a rock, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a white Ferguson police officer. The ensuing clashes between the police and protesters have turned the streets of Ferguson into a veritable battleground.
Emotions were running high over the course of our two-hour panel conversation, as the capacity crowd challenged us to address a variety of important topics. The dialogue turned personal when an audience member asked us to identify what we were doing individually in our work to resolve problematic issues of race.
Like I've mentioned in previous columns, my goal as a DJ is to celebrate the cultural heritage of marginalized communities in Indianapolis. For some that might seem like a frivolous response to a complex social problem. But I believe strongly in a concept put forward by writer Audre Lorde that "it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences." This has become something of a mission statement for me, and I've adapted it to fit the celebratory cultural dance parties I create by referencing another important Lorde quote that suggests that the "sharing of joy" forms a connection between "the sharers, which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference."
After explaining my thoughts on the question I had to excuse myself from the dialogue early, as I found myself running late to a Latin music gig in Broad Ripple. Despite the festive vibe at the Latin party that night, I couldn't shake off the heavy feeling from the conversation I participated in earlier that evening. So I texted a sympathetic friend and we agreed to meet up later to continue the discussion from the panel.
As I made my way to a late-night fast food spot to meet my friend, I encountered a strange scene on the corner of Guilford and Broad Ripple Ave. A trio of figures engaged in a stand-off — two young black women, one sobbing and one shouting at a third figure, a middle-aged white man with an incredulous smirk on his face. As I made my way toward the group, he muttered a few rude words and walked away. I approached the two women and asked what had happened.
"You wouldn't understand," the sobbing woman replied. Her friend jumped in to explain that they'd been discussing the murder of Michael Brown when the man interrupted and told them they were overreacting. "They just shot him dead on the street," the sobbing woman kept repeating to herself.
So, how can we start the healing process? I think, now, more than ever, we need to summon Audre Lorde's message of cultural reconciliation wherever we can find it – a panel, a dance party, a conversation with a friend.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.