If you know me, you know I believe deeply in the power of popular culture to shape our cultural, political and social landscape. It is the reason why I devote part of my life to writing. I believe narrative matters, that the stories we tell give shape and meaning to the facts and experiences from which we manufacture our world. I believe that narrative makes our world, that, as the American poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser put it, “the universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
And so when someone who occupies space in the popular imagination — because of their ability to act or sculpt or erect a meaningful building or manufacture a story from thin air — uses their voice to tell a story that needs to be told, in just this way, at this particular moment in humanity’s great march, I stop and I listen and I let it wash over me. I listen as they speak in all of their tongues, tongues that may be alien to me or familiar, like unto or unlike my own. I listen as they speak in their human tongues, tongues which, the Tower of Babel notwithstanding, are meant for my ears, and my heart, and for our shared, deepened understanding of what it is to be human in all of its guises, and what it means to embrace the other as our own.
Frank Ocean spoke today (or perhaps it was yesterday, though it tumbled through the press today). Frank Ocean, who brought bisexuality and homosexuality to hip hop, to black culture (a place that has always been both home to and enemy to its own multiply-disenfranchised — from black women, who have played both a central and a marginal place in African-American culture, to the black gay men and lesbian women and transgender men and women and all who defy easy categorization, who have been welcome in our church choirs and our families, even as we have cast them out).
Today he spoke in his one voice, the voice of multitudes. He stood for himself, and for our brothers and sisters who died in Orlando this past week. And they are our brothers and sisters, whatever our race or gender or sexuality or nationality or religion. There is one human race, one human family, and today Frank Ocean spoke on our behalf. He spoke, as we all must do. He used the platform he has, as we all are called to do. He spoke in his one true voice, reminding me, yet again, that popular culture, like politics, like business, like all of our human institutions, matters deeply. It’s one of the many places where we are up to the business of constructing a world. May we make it a better one.
And now I leave you with Frank Ocean, in his own words. You can read them below or here on his Tumblr.
PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.