When I first started learning Overcome by Laura Mvula, my interpretation of the lyric was on a very singular level. I was thinking about moments where I felt personal failure: jobs that I didn’t get, financial instability, the intimate relationships in my life that never seem to work out. It felt like that moment when your heart is faced with a shocking disappointment, and you have to pause to remind yourself to breathe.
I recently posted an article on Facebook about race and identity in pop music. Risky- I know. But I did it anyway. I thought it was a really important conversation to have and, even if it meant only one person clicked and felt the boundaries of their consciousness had been challenged, it would have been worth the risk. Well, it did, but it landed me in the middle of an ugly and uncomfortable confrontation about race. Right there. On my public Facebook wall.
I had been off Facebook for most of the day, so I was a little late to the party, and the worst of it had already been deleted by the time I signed back on. The only thing I saw were screenshots of their argument over Facebook message that were left on my wall. I ended up writing a 5 paragraph response to the post. I knew it was a bit much, but I couldn’t help but feel an obligation to explain my positioning and the importance of dialogue in dismantling a society of white privilege (at the very least with the people who are willing to listen and challenge their beliefs). And after three freakin’ hours of editing, I finally felt like my response made my point clear without sounding like I was prodding for an emotional response.
The weight of this whole ugly interaction left me feeling heartbroken for several days. So many parts of the situation were disappointing, but I was most upset because an opportunity for meaningful dialogue was completely sabotaged. The heaviness my heart feels over these kind of heartbreaks is so much more consistent and damaging than the romantic ones. Thinking about it for too long made me lose control of my emotions, and I had to pause, close my eyes, and remind myself to breathe. As I opened my eyes, the only thing I could think to do was sing:
When you’re heart is broken down, down down
And your head don’t reach the sky
Take your broken wings and fly
When your head is hanging low, low, low
And the tears they keep on falling
Take your broken feet and run
In an instant, the song became about something bigger than me. It stopped feeling like a sad remembrance of past heartbreaks and started to feel like an anthem. It became the fuel to continue forward in moments of resistance, and a reminder that we are stronger when we come together as a community.
As a person with a pretty decent amount of privilege in this society, I feel an obligation to use my voice where I can be heard. The Facebook debacle was painful because I felt like a great opportunity for dialogue had been thrown away and a chance to share perspectives and experiences turned into a playground fight. Disappointment is part of life, but that moment that we pause to take a breath isn’t about suppressing our emotions. It gives us a moment to decide how to respond and create an opportunity to serve whatever greater purpose calls us. Our passion. For me, that is social justice. I feel driven to use my voice and my privilege to fight for a more equitable society that is driven by humanity rather than prejudice and fear. For you it may be something else- your art, the environment, God- but it is the thing that drives you to continue resisting the injustices you encounter.
I know that I have this fire in my heart, but where there is passion there is also potential for confrontation. In those moments when I am tired of fighting and my fire is on the verge of extinguishing, I think about the community that supports me and I just have to remember to breathe.
With the world upon your shoulders
Nowhere left to hide
Keep your head up, carry on
It ain’t no time to die, die, die
Even though we suffer
Come together, be brave.
Thank you, Laura Mvula, for this beautiful anthem.