What’s Going On, Fifty-One Years Later

Anthony Bouyer

By Anthony Bouyer, PhD
Guest Column

Several years ago in 2019, I wrote an op-ed titled Tears of The Village addressing why so many Black males are killing each other. I discussed If you are the parent, grandparent or relative of a young Black male, you live with the constant fear of receiving that call “That your young black male has been killed or has killed another young Black male. At the time of the article Toledo posted 35 to 36 homicides that year with 95 percent of the murdered victims being young Black men.

As noted in that article, guns were the weapon of choice in most of the killings. Since that time conservative law makers have passed bills making it easier to obtain and carry firearms which is a discussion for another time.  There was a sobering statistic published in Feb 18, 2022, indicating that Americans living in the Toledo Black community have a one in 25 “chance” of becoming a victim of either violent or property crimes. This is a troubling statistic not only for Toledo but across America for all communities of color.

Toledo had an astronomical increase in murders in 2021 that not only saw the continual killings of young Black men but started to see are babies becoming victims to gun violence leading to pernicious outcomes for victims’ families and the perpetrators’ families.  The beginning of the new year has continued this troubling trend.

Who are these individuals that unleash such unspeakable horror on the black communities?

Author, Randall Robinson (2004, Quitting America) describes them as the faces of adolescence but too old from unnatural experience, expressionless and quietly menacing. Their eyes empty of light, evidenced by the dissociation of battered souls that have been given up a long time ago. These are man-boys not going anywhere marked “dangerous if not treated.” The people they kill mean no more to them than they manage to mean to themselves. Now they are a menace to society. They know this but not how they became this.

What’s Going On was released 51 years ago. Marvin Gaye released this iconic song in 1971 to much acclaim. Its reputation has survived the test of time: in 2020, Rolling Stone named it the best album of all time.  But it’s hard to deny the musical merit of What’s Going On — or a message as worth listening to 51 years later.

What’s Going On introduces its concept: an examination of contemporary life, particularly of Black Americans. All was hardly well for black America in 1971 which remains unfortunately relevant today and Gaye does not shy away from that.

It would be a mistake to interpret What’s Going On as simply an angry cry from the Black community. It is that, yes, but also much more: a truly heartfelt cry for compassion, for sympathy, for common understanding and, above all, for love. Indeed, it’s all over the album, starting on the title track, where Gaye practically begs, “We have got to find a way/to bring some loving here today.

And it is not merely “love” as a kind of abstract pablum Gaye calls for. It is true understanding, one that renders its opposite powerless, as “only love can conquer hate.” It is a love rooted in biblical exhortation. Fifty-one years later, America is in a hard place, not too dissimilar from where both the nation and Black Americans were just before the release of What’s Going On. And much of our struggles seem to have arisen from the lack of the kind of compassion, sympathy, and understanding that Gaye calls for on What’s Going On. We could use some of those things today to help us get there. With a little luck, and a little love, maybe it could help us get through to better things to come.

I know I’m preaching to the choir because those who should be reading this won’t and don’t care. It is critical that we take steps to ensure messages are heard. Having said something once does not necessarily mean that it was understood. Repeating the same thing over is far less effective than restating the message in a variety of ways. If anyone is offended, please think about the victims of senseless killings.