In May 1971, Marvin Gaye released the concept album “What’s Going On.” The nine songs that comprise the album are sung from the perspective of a Vietnam combat veteran who returns to America only to find just as much hatred, struggle and chaos as when he left. The album’s title song opens as the first track, calling on mother, brother and father to talk and find out what’s going on in the country he thought he knew.
The album is a manifesto of inspiration to possibility and love. It seeks to understand before judging, consider humanity over prejudice, love before hating. Every person who calls Case Western Reserve University home needs to listen to it straight through.
What’s going on, everybody? Why do we have blatant racism on campus? Why do some students need to feel unwelcome here? Why did President Snyder have to send out an email on Oct. 23 2014, at almost 11 p.m., addressing these very questions?
I meet regularly with Student Affairs staff members. Last Friday, I met with one of the associate Vice Presidents in that office. We were talking about President Snyder’s letter and other campus issues, and I kept referring to students as kids. Each time I did I was reminded, “Students, not kids.”
That VP couldn’t be more right; we are not children here. In the real world, racism, harassment and any other kind of improper or offensive behavior is not tolerated in public or work spaces. In fact, at the company I work for, making comments like the ones that have been appearing on Yik-Yak over the past few weeks will get you fired.
There should be no need for a #webelonghere movement on campus; such belonging should be an absolute given. So I ask again, what’s going on? Despite its original Vietnam War context, Marvin Gaye’s question was in response to the very negative values CWRU is facing today.
If you do not believe wholeheartedly that every student at CWRU—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or any other benchmark for discrimination—belongs here, then I don’t want you here.
Unless you are willing to entertain a viewpoint different from your own, I don’t want you here, because you are not willing to learn. Your ignorance, closed-mindedness and lack of empathy are what aren’t welcome on campus. The students in the #webelonghere movement unquestionably belong here. The question is, do you?
Marvin Gaye’s album seems to flow from one song to the next. The closing track loops back to the opening in theme, suggesting that it could be listened to on repeat without the listener’s awareness that he or she was back at the start. I’ve always thought this perhaps symbolized (among other things) the cyclical nature of issues like hatred, violence and suffering, that no matter how much positive progress is made, we will still be asking what’s going on.
If we accept this cycle, some might say success is not possible. Yet I think fatalistic thinking is wrong. The key to success is in the answer to my question. When asked, “What’s going on?” I want to be able to answer, “Inspiration, understanding and love.”
Jacob Martin is a weekly opinion columnist with the Observer. “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”—John Steinbeck