Updated: Aug 19, 2020
You will not be able to stay home, brother/ You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out/ You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip out for beer during commercials, because the revolution will not be televised
Gil Scott Heron’s seminal revolutionary spoken word piece has been essential listening since its release in 1971 as a call to arms for African Americans to make their political voices heard in the streets. There’s so much to unpack in the song and so much to research in terms of all the contemporary pop culture references. The central message of the song is one of action; Gil Scott implores his brothers and sisters not to be passive members of the struggle and watch the fight for racial inequality on the television. The revolution is not something that is corporate sponsored, it will not be carried out by familiar actors, nor will it be appropriated by white soul singers, multinational companies or co-opted by governments; it will be ‘live’.
Perhaps it is premature to call this current movement a revolution but Gil Scott’s words hold particular significance in this moment. The global Covid-19 pandemic has forced many people to remain indoors at a time when police brutality and systems of racial inequality have entered into mass consciousness. Making our voices heard in the streets as Gil Scott would compel us to do has become rather difficult. It is dangerous enough being outside with the risk catching a potentially deadly disease without having to worry about murder and assault at the hands of the police. There are those who have marched and protested and torn down relics of colonialism and their drive and courage should be celebrated. It is those who organise and protest, by any means, who have driven great historical change. However, Gil Scott could not have foreseen what happened to the tech industry throughout the years of his life. The revolution may not be televised but social media has allowed for a completely new space for protest that has been invaluable in these times of quarantine. Hashtag campaigns and the elevation of low-profile cases of police brutality to global consciousness has become instrumental in seeking justice and exposing the moral corruption of law enforcement. These forms of activism are two sides of the same coin and at this present moment both are badly needed to hold state actors and high-profile brands to account.
I think people often misunderstand what Gil Scott meant by ‘the revolution will not be televised’. He isn’t making a comment about the invisibility of black narratives, he is objecting to the portrayal of black death as sport and protest as entertainment.
‘There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay/ There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay’
There are still several issues around the performative aspect of social media protest as well as the appetite for black death in the media but it is proving itself to be a powerful tool in the movement to combat racial inequality.