The Warnings of Past Leaders: Gil Scott-Heron’s Revolution, now our own.

In times of revolution, those in upheaval look to the leaders of their communities for guidance and support. The Black community is no different.

But what happens when many of the great leaders are tampered with, undermined and ultimately left to be martyred? We are left with a void. So much, that instead of legitimate community organizers, the general public looks to what they believe is the next best thing – celebrities. Except, there is one problem: being an authentic leader for any Black rights movement does not correspond with being a part of the one percent. Real activism does not pay, and capitalists are always looking to get paid.

Truthfully, we don’t need them, as told by the late Gil Scott-Heron on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from his 1970 album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

Tampered with, Undermined, Martyred

Recited over congas and bongo drums, Scott-Heron’s generationally transcendent record is one of the very early forms of hip hop. In three-minutes, he details what he believes to be undermining factors in the true black “revolution” – emphatically finishing each stanza with the titular phrase, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” 

The examples he uses all have one simple theme; mainstream approval and awareness, which he believes are there to create a false sense of achievement, thus pacifying those in search of change. He makes many references to late 20thcentury cultural icons, some that are still relevant today, preluding each reference with a reminder that the “revolution” will not be in association with this particular person, brand or company. 

Scott-Heron’s understanding of the media and the ability of major corporations to hijack a movement is as relevant today as it was then. Not only does it speak to his astuteness, but it also tells us that we can still find ways of bettering our future, by heeding the words of past leaders.

Throughout the poem, he gives a rundown of things the “revolution” will not be brought to you by, which includes: Xerox, President Nixon and his Bugle, the Schaefer Award Theatre, the eleven o’clock news, coke (Who can forget this?), and relevant happenings from the late 60’s and early 70’s. 

On the fifth stanza, Scott-Heron gets unapologetically honest: 

 There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay.

There will be no pictures of Whitney Young.

Being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.

There will be no slow motion or still life’s of Roy Wilkins.

Strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit.

That he has been saving for just the proper occasion.

The first two lines are repeated almost simultaneously to cause the effect of an instant replay. Yet they hold a deeper meaning. Police murders of black men, women and children have been televised (now through social media) for decades and in 1970, Scott-Heron believed they were counterproductive, as the bloodshed of Black people tends to gets exploited for ratings and entertainment. Next, he takes a jab at two people who would theoretically serve as his allies. He attacks both Whitey Young – a prominent figure in the rise of the National Urban League who fought for economic empowerment for blacks – and Roy Wilkins – one of the faces of the NAACP – for rubbing elbows and being in the same circles as the true enemy, elitist Whites. 

With those statements, Scott-Heron gets into the crux of what he really means. Being led by those who may not have our best interests at heart may lead to disastrous results. Public figures (black or not) are so far removed socially and economically from the average person that they cannot comprehend the struggle. This is why the public pressures celebrities into speaking out – their statements often sound forced, foolish or generic. Trying to break down systemic issues is idiosyncratic to them. Ties to entertainers or public figures being based on shared values is subjective, but relying on (or demanding) action from them is counterproductive.

While they can be informative, the “revolution” will not happen here.

After all, we have to live in our neighborhoods, not them. Our actions far outweigh their repost, like, share or tweet. We must be our own leaders, take our own action and if any public figure wishes to aide us, the more the merrier, but we must not rely on them, for that would be ignoring the warnings of our past leaders, and as we can see, history always repeats itself.

From the warnings of past leaders, Gil Scott-Heron’s “Revolution,” is now our own.


Gil Scott-Heron: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televisedThe revolution will not be televised


The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre
And will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because
The revolution will not be televised, brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mae
Pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able predict the winner
At 8:32 on report from twenty-nine districts
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young
Being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still lifes of Roy Wilkins
Strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit
That he has been saving for just the proper occasion

“Green Acres”, “Beverly Hillbillies”, and “Hooterville Junction”
Will no longer be so damn relevant
And women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane
On “Search for Tomorrow”
Because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news
And no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists
And Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb or Francis Scott Keys
Nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash
Engelbert Humperdinck, or The Rare Earth
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back
After a message about a white tornado
White lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
The tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat

The revolution will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live

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