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VOICES

Memorializing Black Life Through Music

Alan Scott uses music to heal and recover from the trauma of black death.

CREDIT: "You Only See Me When I'm Gone"

Some turn to private therapy, some lean on their community and loved ones, and some immerse themselves in their work. For singer-songwriter Alan Scott, the process of healing and recovering from the trauma of black death began with doing what he does best: music.

Having grown up in a church and settled into a career as a music teacher, Scott turned to music and art as a way of channeling his own sorrow for the collective loss of the black community over the repeated shootings of unarmed black people in America. In his song, “You Only See Me When I’m Gone,” Scott reminds us that the people who we’ve memorialized in our movement were people—loved and cared for—before they were hashtags.

With the rise of social media, images and videos of police violence and brutality can spread like wildfire across mediums, mobilizing whole movements and protests overnight. Unfortunately, this type of rapid sharing has resulted in a sensationalizing of black death—one in which the violent final moments of black lives may be videotaped and shared as a final memory.

While he is hopeful that having video evidence may help hold law enforcement officials accountable for these deaths, Scott is wary of the message that these videos might send. “The frequency of these images has the effect of propaganda. Even if it wasn’t intended, it says to black youth that this is what they can expect,” he said. These videos are often triggering for those who watch it and see themselves in it, whether as the unarmed black man shot for playing loud music, or as the unarmed black woman shot for talking too loudly. But avoiding these videos is almost impossible.

In an effort to memorialize the victims of police brutality and gun violence through art and music, rather than through traumatic imagery, Scott wrote and produced the song “You Only See Me When I’m Gone” as a eulogy to the black people who lost their lives to hate and ignorance. It is a eulogy that seeks to capture who they were to their loved ones, prior to their death. Above all, Scott sings to remind the world that people like Eric Garner and Mike Brown weren’t just martyrs for the movement or hashtags on a poster, they were so much more to their families and their communities.

When asked about his own connection to music and art, Scott notes that “the power of art has a unique ability to allow people to lower their inhibitions and hear another person, and see another world through another paradigm.” Art is able to translate and express emotions and feelings that words simply cannot and, for Scott, writing and singing this song was the best way for him to reach out and share the collective grief of the communities closest to him.

Scott’s song and video follows a long tradition of black artists using music and art as a way of working through their experiences of being black in America. Most recently, Scott adds to a growing number of musicians who have used their platform as a way to bring light to issues of police brutality and gun violence. Scott has no concern for fame and popularity because, he says: “What I want to do is encourage people. Not just musicians, but all artists, whatever your talent is: this is a call to action to use your talent to bridge this divide.”

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