Bill Banfield

Bill Banfield

Bill Banfield is a professor of Africana Studies/ Music and Society and director of the Center for Africana Studies and programs at Berklee. An award-winning composer, jazz guitarist /recording artist, and public radio show host, he has authored five books for Scarecrow Press on music, arts, cultural criticism, and history.



. . . Social movements generate new knowledge, new theories, new questions. . . concrete intellectual engagement. . . for confronting systems of oppression. . . Progressive social movements. . . the best ones do what great poetry does, transport us to another place, compel us to relive horrors, and more importantly, enable us to imagine a new society .

From Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D.G. Kelley

We’ve all been seeing in our country a televised, necessary convulsion of consciousness over the unjust killing of young black men, and talking more and more about why it’s happening at a senseless, visible rate.

Over and over we’ve seen now film images of gangs of police officers singly and together pounding, choking, enforcing brutal suppression, and more killing. And then there are the never-ending global conflicts in which murder and mangling of bodies is the tactic of terror that justifies a group’s positions of political dissatisfaction or engrained hatred. This all contributes we are sure, to a heavy feeling of human loss and doom.

What strikes my chords is that we must do things now to change the direction of our actions forward on many sides. In a conversation with a friend, I admitted my frustrations and said I believe we need a systematic reboot of our codes of social commitment. That is, how we redefine and refine how we must be in the world we live in today and beyond.


The facts are irreversible: white officers with guns shoot with the intent to kill, at a much higher rate of action, black men. Black and brown people are feeling and seeing their lives continuously disrupted and disproportionally “advocated for not”  in this current cultural system, as if these lives are not valued and are, in fact, less than human. This is backwards and counter to our best efforts to improve the human condition.

The sores are most raw to rub in places where economics, law, and social dynamics are tense. So the Ferguson, New York, and other visible and recent accounts of police brutality, murder, force stand out as pathologies of normalcy that bleed out and over us all. But how shall we now commit to a sustained vigilance of order that respects our rights to live, protects our freedoms, and inspires us to do the work necessary to bring order back to balance?

I think dialogues in many directions demand that we actually change our ways across many areas that touch and affect lives. I have often said our dialogues are too concentrated on acquisition of access to getting over on someone or having more stuff we want. We live in a society that rewards the action of stupidity and vanity. And we see today so many problematic pathologies that press us into cold, broken, soiled behaviors. This is why even beyond our already human tendencies to “act out.” We have less higher standards held up today. We are a culture who has lost yet again its good tone and timing, and is skipping too many beats.

Could there be a nationwide discourse on our civic culture change?

What if the law enforcement agencies trained officers to engage in not just patrol but participate, fix and build, be a presence that represented concern and compassion by being there not in combat with people in communities but walking, living, and working in them?

What if we had town-talks held in our churches, mosques, and synagogues that engaged folks in rebooted sustained discussions on how our faith and cultural rituals and rites underscore how we treat one another?

What if the legislative branches shook up their legal standards and took a deeper look at restrictive measures, went after businesses that practice improper profit practices, and legalities that lock people into unnecessary systemic chains?

What if entertainment Hollywood culture refused to produce more cop and kill and thrill shows, and writers used a different story model and created images, content that moved in different dramatic directions?

What if our artists raised the bar in expression and creative arts in song?

What if the media, news channels highlighted more human interests stories that lift us, than focused on promoting the chaos we are left with?

What if our schools taught young people how to read literature positioned on principled stories, then to think, write essays, and participate in plays that act out our moral and human betterment?

The response easily here is that this is all rhetorical, simplified utopianism, and “what if” will
never be. But I believe every notch on the reboot dial from different directions can create an awareness and action ratio that moves the dial and could reverse the direction of this current cultural negative spiral.

People, leaders, parents, company owners, writers, and teachers have to be willing to push the stop button, address some critical questions aroused in their consciousness, make commitments to changes, then commence to walk in the new rebooted area, until changes are made.

Younger people are equally accountable in this reboot. As a matter of fact, we don’t know of a history page without the youth making the bigger transformative changes. We’ve seen this positive cultural shift happen before in our society.

What’s missing is meaningful and sustained efforts in communities about real human change and engagement. There are few commitments seen that hold up civic responsibility and accountability. Most of what we hear again and again is about punitive action not causes, care, and good change.

A critical social cultural consciousness is what we must do to change the direction of our actions forward.

Let’s keep the eye on the cracking floor on which we walk, dig deeper wells of care, build better and stronger sustaining bridges toward each other, demand and vote to be guided by principled leadership and take more time to stop what we’ve done that destroys us, and change directions and consciousness that ensures we get to live in a world we built together.

Lesley Mahoney
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