Sekou Sundiata on “the skin you’re livin’ in”

Sekou Sundiata was a poet I became interested in when teaching poetry at F&M College. We were trying to get him to come and perform but unfortunately it never happened. I did get to hear him live in New York once. He was a mesmerizing performer in the Spoken Word tradition, emphasizing a changing rhythm and the intensity of key syllables, singing as much as reciting his words.

Below is one of his most remarkable poems, from his album “The Blue Oneness Of Dreams,” which includes many great poems. I can still hear him hissing out a lengthened sibilant in “skin” and pushing the rhyme between “skin” and “in” in the refrain that recurs several times:

All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

Driving while Black… jogging while Black… bird-watching while Black… it’s all in the news, with consequences for the individual and, as we periodically realize, for a society that has never recovered form its days peddling the fiction that one human being can own another.

And there is the sheer unpredictability of disaster striking from within that world of injustice:

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change

The poem (from genius.com) is well worth reading and even studying. Its apparent simplicity hides a lot of lessons.

Blink Your Eyes

by Sekou Sundiata (1948-2007)

I was on my way to see my woman
but the Law said I was on my way
thru a red light red light red light
and if you saw my woman
you could understand,
I was just being a man.
It wasn’t about no light
it was about my ride
and if you saw my ride
you could dig that too, you dig?
Sunroof stereo radio black leather
bucket seats sit low you know,
the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.
Ride when the hard time come, ride
when they’re gone, in other words
the light was green.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

Up to the window comes the Law
with his hand on his gun
what’s up? what’s happening?
I said I guess
that’s when I really broke the law.
He said a routine, step out the car
a routine, assume the position.
Put your hands up in the air
you know the routine, like you just don’t care.
License and registration.
Deep was the night and the light
from the North Star on the car door, deja vu
we’ve been through this before,
why did you stop me?
Somebody had to stop you.
I watch the news, you always lose.
You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.
This is serious, you could be dangerous.

I could wake up in the morning
without a warning
and my world could change:
blink your eyes.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in

New York City, they got laws
can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,
in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets
near and around certain types of people.
They got laws.
All depends, all depends on the skin,
all depends on the skin you’re living in.

About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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