I could not record a covers album in 2020 without directly addressing racism. This year has been so hard in part because of the blinding spotlight that’s been thrown on our country’s systemic and endemic racism.
I grew up in Alabama. Racism is nothing new to me. I saw it on display daily in my school and city. Once I moved out of Alabama, I found myself in circles where race really and truly didn’t make any difference. It became a nearly invisible factor in relationships and I, like many folks my age, forgot the fact that, for people we love, their race has an outsized impact on their safety, wellbeing, and opportunities.
That naivety was shattered by this past year. As a generation–as a country–we sat at our computers or stared at our phones as a black man was murdered in public by someone who was sworn to serve and protect while other authority figures looked on and even defended his actions. We read story after story about people who look just like people we love being singled out, mistreated, and killed. In many cases because of how they looked and, even when that wasn’t the primary factor, it was a factor.
As a kid from Alabama it was like waking up to a nightmare. One thing about growing up in the heart of Dixie: we didn’t get the option of ignoring the horrors of systemic racism. It’s in our history books. We learn about it in school. We know people who wear the scars of it. To see it alive and snarling from the screen of my phone was horrifying.
I chose this song for two reasons. First, it’s a song of absolutes. If we’re not all free, none of us are. If we can’t all walk down the street assured of our safety, none of us can. If we’re not all safe from police brutality, none of us are. I believe this. But this song is also dripping with hope and optimism. It calls out from a position of belief that people are rational and good. That they can see the truth of things, wake up, and make things better. I believe that, too. I see it in the lives of those I love trying to make a difference. I see it in the way my daughter interacts with her friends. I believe that this doesn’t have to be the way things are.