By Mark E. Smith
In preparation of my daughter leaving for college, we cleaned out closets. To my daughter’s delight, we found a stash of 20-year-old newspaper stories on me. One was titled, “Limbaugh of cripple guys.” No, it wasn’t because I was a right-wing conservative – far from it – but because I had a pretty popular voice in mainstream columns and articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and alike that intertwined disability culture with all sorts of topics. When Ghirardelli Square was being pressured by those around the newly-enacted ADA to spend $2 million dollars to build a ramp right around the corner from an existing up-to-code ramp, I was the only one with a disability to write that such money should go toward more rational causes like addressing the city’s homeless problem. Those with disabilities were outraged at me; the general readership applauded me. I, however, didn’t care what anyone thought. I was simply a writer who had my own sense of social justice, and wasn’t afraid to voice it – with a little youthful rebellion mixed in.
I recently took my daughter to see “Straight Outta Compton,,” the bio-pic about N.W.A, the pioneering rap group that was truly misunderstood – and took both a page from the Civil Rights movement decades before and foreshadowed 21st-century race relations. I remember hearing N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” album in 1988 – and have listened to it ever since – thinking, This is a brilliant, brave, rebellious protest album above all else.
F@ckin with me ’cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics
Those lyrics placed in context of what we’re seeing today – the incredibly painful, strained relations between the police and, namely but not exclusively, the black community – prove historically accurate and eerily prophetic.
The next eve, I was with my fiancée at a jazz festival, where so many were of my generation and older, some having lived during the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and everyone sat neatly in rows of folding chairs, the bands cordially playing. And, I thought, Where’s the rebellion, where’s the social commentary from the diverse stage that black lives matter, especially given the events of recent, not to mention history? Even my daughter’s pep band at George Mason University has taken to playing a very political Rage Against the Machine song. Come on, Spyro Gyra, pound out an instrumental of N.W.A.
Then, as I sat there pondering all this, it happened. I saw a breathtaking example of the truest form of rebellion, about not being constrained by the social conformity of sitting in perfectly-formed chairs, listening to politically-correct musicians, following the other sheep, but about being true to what you stand for, who you are, what compels your soul.
In the row in front of us, a young lady with a progeriod syndrome – bald, aged facial features, frail stature – walked out to the aisle with who I presume was her father, and they began getting down, dancing. I bet many at the event would love the self-freedom, the rebellion to just follow their soul and dance in front of hundreds of composed strangers in perfectly-aligned folding chairs. But, she was the only one who did.
I understood at that moment that the spirit of true rebellion comes from one simple truth: no matter if you’re N.W.A or that dancing young lady, true rebellion is when you have the courage and the confidence to just be yourself.