Whitey on the Moon

  I started watching season one of the HBO series Lovecraft Country. Episode 2 was quite a shocker. The protagonist, Atticus, a black man, is used by his white relative who is head of a secret order in a ritual to open the gates of Eden and make him immortal. The plan fails. It failed before when his father before him tried it. In the background while the head of the order is reciting the sacred words to open the gate, you can hear the musician and artist, Gil Scott Heron reciting his spoken word poem, Whitey on the Moon

 I was familiar with Gil Scott Heron. I bumped into him once crossing 125th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam., but I was not aware of this piece at all. In it he laments that his sister was bitten by a rat and is experiencing swelling, but she does not have health insurance and he must pay out of pocket for her care. He does not make enough money to cover the bill, pay rent and buy food. Costs for necessities keep increasing. Taxes are deducted from his pay and some of those tax dollars have been used to land men on the moon. The poem was released on the album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, in 1970.

The lyrics resonate with events of the day. The gap between the rich, and the poor and middle class has grown even wider. In 2017 a tax break was given to the rich and top 1% so that they could keep even more of their earnings. Now, during a pandemic that has killed 192,000 plus Americans, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. There is no replacement plan being offered. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The Senate went on Labor Day break without deciding on an additional bailout plan for the unemployed and small businesses impacted by the Coronavirus. Millions are facing the problem of how best to stay in their homes and put food on the table or how to keep the doors of their businesses open when they do not have the required rent or mortgage payment.

Whitey on the Moon was not just a literal truth in 1969 but is also a metaphor for 2020. It still appears that it is preferable to pretend issues of poverty and racial injustice either do not exist or are not important. The country did not magically move beyond these problems when it managed to put men on the moon. I am not trying to denigrate the significance of that accomplishment, but I question if it was a priority for a nation struggling with poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War. Facing the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the country struggles to get adequate testing done and to find the protective equipment that makes it possible for health care workers to do their jobs safely. So far, we have the largest case load of the virus in the world. Where is all that ingenuity and money that went into beating the Soviets to the moon? We have people in the streets protesting the taking of black lives by non-accountable law enforcement while the country is still sending astronauts in space. There are plans to return to the moon in 2024. We have private enterprise working towards the goal of being able to take paying passengers into space. I know on the one hand that these lofty goals are exciting and inspirational, but it seems like only a few will benefit in any concrete way. These are the kind of endeavors that can be undertake when the basic needs of the majority are met. We are still struggling with the idea of whether it is beneficial for the country to fulfill the basic needs of food, housing, health care, and education. There is a disconnect here. We should meet the basic needs of the citizens first, then explore space.

We cannot get away from these problems by going into space. Wherever you go there you are.

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