Reflections on Paul Robeson and the Timing of Uprising

Marina Kittaka
3 min readMay 29, 2020


The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.
―Paul Robeson

Been listening to Paul Robeson’s music lately and starting to learn more about his life. What strikes me was that he was a lifelong learner, able to grow and change, able to take risks in the pursuit of justice. Also, this passage from his Wikipedia page stuck out:

After the mass lynching of four African Americans on July 25, 1946, Robeson met with President Truman and admonished Truman by stating that if he did not enact legislation to end lynching,[187] “the Negroes will defend themselves”.[187][188] Truman immediately terminated the meeting and declared that the time was not right to propose anti-lynching legislation.[187] Subsequently, Robeson publicly called upon all Americans to demand that Congress pass civil rights legislation.[189]

To those the system serves, it never seems like the right time. To make a kinda tangential point (context: the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, May 2020): Thursday afternoon, Mike Freeman said, “We’re going to investigate [Floyd’s death] as expeditiously, as thoroughly and completely as justice demands. Sometimes, that takes a little time and we ask people to be patient. We have to do this right.” With the implication that if we rush into filing charges against the killer cops then justice might fail to be served in court, and it would be the fault of the hotheaded protestors not wanting to “do this right”.

I felt a twinge of admonishment. It *would* be awful if they got off the hook. And yet. There are so many double standards, so much passing the buck.

Cops arrested a Black CNN reporter this morning in Minneapolis and released him later. Cops are legally authorized to assault our communities. They’ve been shooting shit at people’s heads, macing indiscriminately, tear gassing peaceful demonstrators. It’s not enough for those in power to say to the uprising “okay calm down and then we can fix things”. People were already calm and talking and were ignored. Right now, you have to do actively do something about your pig friends. They’re the ones playing their fucking games, escalating, coming out to cause real harm to human lives.

If the ludicrous scenario in which the killers are arrested “too fast” and thus escape justice were to play out — it’d be because the system is already fucked, because police have — from the start — legally and enthusiastically devastated Black and Indigenous communities. Not because of those darn protests making them get arrested too fast. I’m sick of hearing this finger wagging from leaders and community members who just want to go back to the peace and comfort of a world where target stores are safe but cops are free to murder. Somehow everyone’s hands are tied from do anything substantial.

Everyone’s hands are tied but the cops when they shoot rubber bullets and toss explosives at people. Everyone’s hands are tied except for when the mayor writes a budget to expand the police department or picks up the phone to call in the National Guard. Well, if everyone’s hands are so tied — that speaks to the need for an uprising. It’s not a reason that quells it.