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Spotlight on Black poets: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott-Heron, an American soul and jazz poet and spoken word artist, is one of the most influential Black poets. Born in Chicago in 1949, he was educated in a prestigious New York high school by way of scholarship and worked all the while as teacher in Creative Writing during his music career. His most famous work is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. (1971).

Scott-Heron weaves a rallying call for change through cultural references, rhythm and lyric. Inspiration was drawn from civil rights rhetoric and television shows, advertising slogans and a number of iconic entertainers.

Scott-Heron lists all the things that the revolution will not be:

            The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because

The revolution will not be televised, brother.

Scott-Heron’s poem is as relevant now as it was in the 70s. The revolution is not a source of commercial revenue. The revolution is not an advertising opportunity. The revolution is not a source of entertainment. The revolution will not and should not be televised.

This poem is so important. It focuses not just on the anger that so many felt then and so many feel now but it is an attack on the inevitable monetising of liberation movements – something that has become an increasing threat to the authenticity of the Black Lives Matter campaign in recent years. The revolution is being made fashionable. Some would argue that this is a good thing, claiming that it results in the spread of knowledge, awareness and support. However, we must be wary of the media, of the commodifying of protest, of the £9.99 “BLACK LIVES MATTER” t-shirts selling out on Amazon. In this era of twenty-four hour news cycles, live updates, social media ‘activism’ and constant virtue signalling/performative bullshit, we should listen to this piece and remember that however helpless or empowered we feel at the moment, our most autonomous assets as individuals are our funds and our attention.

The revolution is for the people, by the people. It is not for sale.

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Elif Soyler

July 2021
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