Soundtracks For The Soul: Gil Scott-Heron | “Paint It Black”

I told y’all you’d be seeing a lot more of Gil Scott-Heron on TGA.

Only this time instead of popping up in another Timeless Teaching feature, I’ll be bringing one of my favorite poems from Gil Scott to the ongoing Soundtracks For The Soul series!

When I first started this ongoing series I said I didn’t just want to just focus on albums, but instead, I’d focus on anything black artist/musicians put out to help advance the culture.

So unlike the past pieces in this series, I want to focus on a poem Gil Scott-Heron released on his album titled, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.”

The poem itself is pretty short, but the message behind it is extremely powerful…

Gil Scott-Heron
Cover art for Gil Scott-Heron’s Small Talk at 125th and Lenox

Paint It Black

Track #12 from “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox” (1970)

“Picture a man of nearly thirty
Who seems twice as old, with clothes, torn and dirty
Give him a job, shining shoes
Or cleaning out toilets with bus station crews
Give him six children with nothing to eat
Expose them to life, on a ghetto street
Tie an old rag to his wife’s head
And have her pregnant and lying in bed
Stuff them all in a Harlem house
And then tell them how bad things are down South”

Black Life in America

The poem speaks for itself, but for those who missed the message, I’ll try my best to break things down as simple as I can.

What Gil is highlighting in this poem is life in America as a black man.

James Baldwin once said something a while back that still rings true today. And in all honesty, his words reflect Gil’s thoughts in this poem much better than I can, so I’ll let James take it from here…

“North and South, because it’s one country, and for a Negro, there’s no difference between the North and South. There’s just a difference in the way they castrate you. But the fact of the castration is the American fact.”

– James Baldwin | The Negro and the American Promise

For some reason, a lot of people truly believe racism only lives in the south. Of course, that’s complete bull shit, but then again that’s what America’s education system serves students nowadays…

Bull Shit…

For those interested in learning more about racism in America and how it manifests itself throughout this nation check out these pieces:


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