The Wiz | “You can’t win”

[December 4, 2015]

When I was live texting about The Wiz with my friend last night (I have Twitter — I just don’t know how to use it. Don’t judge.), every flash of my childhood came streaming back to me. You couldn’t stop my singing, dancing, and precipitation in my eyeball region for the solid performance by some amazing talent.

But then I remembered that, earlier in the day, some folks were tweeting about the lack of “diversity” in an all-Black cast and noted a riot would ensue if an all-White version of The Wiz came out.

You mean — like — The Wizard of Oz? Like, the production that The Wiz was based on that first aired in 1939 (the same year, ironically, Hattie McDaniel would play “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind *pops bubblegum*)?

Every person who scrunched her face at the plethora of nonsensical tweets had that knowledge in mind, that The Wiz was a response to the way things were and often still are in the American landscape.

And that got me to thinking.

As I was belting out my best, “You can’t win,” I started listening to the lyrics. And I realized: this song is DEEP.

“You can’t win/You can’t get even/And you can’t get out of the game”

Dang. Are they talking about how even having a Black president doesn’t erase racism? Or how when Black folks strive for equitable treatment, they are ridiculed and told that they are complaining? Or that institutions or communities that serve primarily Black folks have disparities bigger than I have the time to outline here?

The song written in the 70s (and interestingly removed from later versions because it was “not relevant” — #staywoke) shines a wonderful light on the frustration and tension evident in today’s times.

Indeed, the ahistorical lens from which the irate tweeters crafted their argument is a perfect display of “post-racial” ideology. If you have not experienced racial problems for yourself, it can be understandable that you would not know the daily pangs of discrimination. However, if you don’t bother to even take the time to explore the “past”, your naiveté is no longer ignorance, rather borne out of a resistance to accept a living, breathing, manifesting history in this country.

The Wiz portrays the two worlds that Black Americans navigate: one in which language, culture, and traditions are our own, and another, full of confusion, shifting environments, and changing rules. Didn’t The Great Wiz tell Dorothy to go kill The Wicked Witch of the West? And when she did, The Wiz gonna act all brand new? But I did what you told me to do! I killed her for you.

I graduated high school. I pulled up my pants. I got the job. And yet — the difference between my reality and that of America’s is vast. My wealth is a fraction of yours. My community is in shambles. My college dorm has racist epithets scrawled on the walls. Wasn’t I supposed to win if I followed the script?

I guess I can’t win. It doesn’t seem like I can get even — responses to The Wiz were clear on that. And yet, I still have to play the game. Where are those shiny heels to clap when I need them?

Well, we know one thing for sure: teaching our young ones their history will go a long way to equip them for the nonsense they will experience in their lives. A cultural legacy is important not only for keeping our history known but to also battle the “post-racial” rhetoric that is waged against them on the daily. A great next step is giving them the skills to inform others about their history — please believe those Twitter users got DRAGGED (aka educated) for their lack of historical awareness. Finally, communicating with youth that while easing on down the road may feel like they’re often carrying a load, there is a community to support them who will stay committed to easing their burdens (thanks TinMan, Scarecrow, and Lion).

I’m thankful that The Wiz gave was able to transport me back in time, but am also hopeful that it was able to advance our young ones to a space of cultural appreciation and action.