By: Matthew C. Stelly
Black songwriters (up until recently) have always been ahead of their time. From Smokey Robinson and Maurice White to Luther Vandross, we are about a “message in the music.” Sometimes life imitates art but in the case of black people, our awareness and soul oftentimes us creating the life force that art extracts from.
Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s “Ball of Confusion” was written 45 years ago and the lyrics still stand up.— especially when applied to the city of Milwaukee and what has taken place for the past three decades.
The reality of “people movin’ out, and people movin’’ in” is as old as Milwaukee itself. Black exodus from the South, especially Mississippi, seeking work in the manufacturing industry led to creation of and white flight to suburbia and the creation of an entirely “new” mini-cities, borrowing from the multiple nuclei form of urban structures.
Now Omaha, in its craving and quest for Federal dollars, wants to expand its population through domination and direction of the east side and takeovers of the black neighborhoods in the name of “development.” Why? As the song made clear, “because of the color of their skin.” But as today’s Milwaukee is making clear, “run, run, run but ya sho’ can’t hide.”
Milwaukee’s political structures is as crooked as the day is long, and with the three decade marker I have chosen, it was at its zenith during the tenure of Mayor John Norquist. Under the guise of and lyrics that state, “Vote for me and I’lll set ya free,” the city’s black consciousness was as high as it has ever been. It was a consciousness that was not so much “responsive” as had been the case under the Commando Project and Father Groppi, but it was iconoclastic and pre-emptive. The New Kemet Planning Bureau, which I created, had a great deal of support and all I did was follow the advice that was offered by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in their book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. They wrote, “Before a group can enter open society, it must first close ranks.”
What New Kemet offered then, was to take Milwaukee’s inner city, bounded by 76th on the west, Horton on the east, the interstate on the south and Florist on the north, and secede, intercept the community development block grant money after electing a “Council of Elders,” and re-name our area “New Kemet.” Kemet, as I explained then in 1989-91, translates to mean “land of the blacks” and at the time, that is what we were. We had three great black newspapers, of which I was the editor of one, two black radio stations and some black people who really seemed to give a damn.
Then, in came a spate of black politicos who started caring more about their own pockets than the people who voted them in. They began switching positions on things like immersion schools and economic development. The city then re-drew the districts to get rid of one Alderman and when that happened another one manipulated CDBG funding while still other went around using threats against inner city merchants. As the political system began to be controlled by outsiders, hired by area institutions and bought off, the voices of confrontation were summarily silenced.
Mine was one of them.
Recall the lyrics: “The only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher. Preachers may be paying lip service to loving your brother, but Sunday still remains the most segregated day of the week in America, and Milwaukee is no exception.
Unfortunately, it was the preachers who came up with large organizations and duped the masses into thinking that they spoke FOR them. Although I commend MICAH on some of what it has done, can there be any doubt that as a group it is nothing more than a therapeutic catharsis aimed at pacification, not empowerment? How can you have “brainstorming” sessions when no one comes up with any solutions except how to go out and find a white man to adopt you?
And as for “Nobody’s interested in learning, but the teacher,” the fact is not even the teachers know a damn thing! Even the megalomaniac Donald Trump, as ignorant and racist as he is, stated while speaking in Milwaukee that it had the worst school system in the nation! As for the teachers learning, OPS could stand some brush-up classes and some training in cultural competency.
Remember the North High School videotape back in the early 1990s that showed teachers chilling out while kids destroyed a high school classroom? Remember the perpetual hiring of school superintendents who would come in, wipe the slate clean, hire their pals and then leave a few years later?
The song asserts that, “The sale of pills is at an all-time high,” and it’s not just the street corner hustlers: you can add, Walgreens, Osco, and CVS to the list, to name but a few. Young folks are surely “walking around with their heads in the sky,” and it shows: pants sagging, golf visors on backwards, sucking on pacifiers, and butchering the English language in the name of “texting.” And let us not forget the obsession with video games.
The lyrics back then explained, “Shooting rockets to the moon” which still persists, in fact they’re now talking about colonizing Mars! The lyrics add, “Kids growing up too soon” may be because of the genetically engineered food that we are ALL consuming, thanks to farmers trying to increase their profits by injecting the livestock and the plants with who-knows-what. The result is 12 year old girls wearing 38 size cup bras, 10 year old boys shooting sky hooks over Kareem, and white teachers and cops so afraid of both that their philosophy is, “Fire, ready, aim”!
That’s what you’re seeing now. Although the ass backwards riot was mis-guided, it was still timely after all the crap that black people in Milwaukee have been put through. Remember the so-called “Black Mafia”? These were self-appointed negroes who had Milwaukee thinking that they were real leaders. And they bilked those poor black people out of millions over the years. Then they stood back and watched Tommy Thompson destroy welfare. Because of that, the black community became “too weak to do anything but wander.”
Forty-five years ago the song said, “Fear in the air, tension everywhere.” Do these words not accurately describe today’s conditions? “Unemployment rising fast, the Beatles new record’s a gas.” The Beatles are now gone, as are far too many of the good bruthas and sistahs who fought during the day. The song concludes with, “People all over the world are shouting end the war/And the band played on.” But the question is, which war are they talking about? The ones overseas or the ones the cops are waging in black communities all over America?
The “ball of confusion” described by Whitfield and Strong in 1970 is still alive and well in America today in 2016. And Milwaukee, as quiet as it’s been kept (until recently), is no exception.