• Bidisha Bhattacharya

Blackbird: the Beatles song that meant so much more than just words!

The 25th of July, this year, gave us all an incredulous gasp when we had to painfully witness the terribly unsettling picture of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, the 46-year-old African-American for nearly eight minutes while the other three officers looked on. 

The following day witnessed the return of the decentralized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience that had originated in July 2013, named, BLACK LIVES MATTER. An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the protests held at the heart of the United States, making it one of the largest movements in U.S. History.

To be precise, it wasn’t solely the United States that raised voice but citizens from all over the world took to unabashedly disconcert the in-human (yet committed by a human) crime. However, just like the very many by-gone incidents of racial discrimination, this movement somewhere took a back seat.

This very incident did instigate the zeal in me to rewind the engine and halt at the 60’s station. The station that gifted us one of the most powerful compositions, “Blackbird”. A song inspired by the racial tensions that exploded in the US in spring 1968 as a symbolic way to support the civil rights movement. 

Shortly after returning from India where he was learning the art of Transcendental Meditation with the other Beatles, Paul McCartney wrote "Blackbird" while at High Park Farm in Kintyre, Scotland in April of 1968. Both the melody and the lyrics have the specific inspiration behind them. 

Blackbird singing in the dead of night Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

The word “bird” here is also a British slang used for “girl” which would make “blackbird” become “black girl”. This lexical jugglery, combined with the events of the 1960s seems to refer to Rosa Parks, a black woman who while riding the bus, had refused to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger after the white section was filled.

The words, undoubtedly, does draw significant inspiration from the Little Rock Nine: a group of nine black students who faced discrimination and the lasting impact of segregation after enrolling in the all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957, following the Supreme Court’s historic Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.

The lyrics metaphorically signify that even if you’re not free, if you live in darkness, if your wings are broken and your eyes sunken, you should always try to arise, fly and follow the light that even in the darkest night shines. 

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly Into the light of the dark black night.

The band deliberately introduces bird sounds instead of any additional instrument towards the end of the number, signifying its the voices that matter. It’s the outcry, the continuum of defensive reciprocity that matters. 

The movement that advocated to defund the police and invest directly into black communities and alternative emergency response models, should not stop there in itself. We have a long way to go. We have a long way to fight in order to make sure that not another Trayvon Martin (February 2012), Michael Brown, Erin Garner (2014), or the most recent, George Floyd (2020) experience what can only be best defined as a Blackbird with broken wings. 

Its time to pluck the very seed of discrimination from every possible direction. Its time to stand up against the fairness ads, against the very concept that poverty implies darker skin and that you deserve to be condemned without any whatsoever justification because you are of a certain color. "Black Lives Matter" shouldn't be remembered as just another protest where people crowded the streets, fought for a cause, and went back to their living room on achieving nothing out of it.

Despite the racism and police brutality in the United States, it is our time to shine for what is right, for what is Justice. Let this song be a constant on our playlist to remind us day in and day out that the stigma needs to be uprooted from the very core and only we can make that happen.

This article was first published in bidisha.scrollstack.com

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