This submissions was part of the #PurpleReigns: A Tribute to Prince event hosted at the New School, Friday, September 23rd.
“When Doves Cry,” was the first Prince song I ever heard. It introduced me to his persona, his fearlessness, his unapologetic blackness, and his refusal to have what all of that meant proscribed in anyway. I come here tonight as no great fan of Prince’s music. I like it very much, but during his life, I merely enjoyed his work, I didn’t make a study of it.
What moved me about Prince from the first time I heard “When Doves Cry” and saw the art for the movie Purple Rain, was that he seemed so free. This freedom wasn’t care-free. It was the kind of freedom that for me, is analogous to the political freedom that I hope for in a plural society. It is the freedom of the situated individual. Of one who appreciates and seeks to understand their context, but who also believes in their ability, indeed, believes that their birthright as a human being, is to do something new.
The kind of freedom Prince embodies is that of a person who isn’t trying to purify or exclude or run away from anything, but instead trying to capture what is magical and useful about everything.
Prince’s freedom wasn’t transcendence, or hybridity, or crossing over, or post-racialism — Prince was unabashedly, politically black, having supported black artists and movements throughout his career, including BLM (let’s not forget his entrance on the 2015 Grammys when he said “Like books, and Black Lives, albums still matter”) — but of claiming and embracing every part of himself and inventing something new from that material.
He wasn’t post anything, he embraced everything.
Not once, but all the time.
And yet, none of this embracing caused him to lose himself.
As a black girl growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta in the 90s — one who wasn’t the kind of black that one saw much in popular culture at the time, who loved Tori Amos and Arrested Development, Pearl Jam and Ella Fitzgerald — Prince was a reminder that the horizon of possibility is constructed. And that blackness is made of a billion different colors and points of light, that it can take anything into its becoming.
So, what I love about Prince is that he loved black music, black politics, black churches, black masculinity, black femininity, and black lives, in addition to whatever else he wanted to love.
Yet, none of it was too sacred to change, to interrupt, to experiment with, to transform.
Prince moved me, still moves me, because he wasn’t afraid to dream himself, and then, become a manifestation of that dream. That’s a distinctly democratic kind of royalty. One I’m proud to hail.