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Stevie Wonder, you raised brows during a recent interview when you told Oprah Winfrey of your plans to leave America and move to the West African Republic of Ghana.
To paraphrase, you said you’ve had it with this country’s perdurable mistreatment of people of color. Born Stevland Morris in Saginaw, Michigan some 70 years ago, you now want to experience life without the hue of your skin being an issue.
You’re not alone. For centuries, black Americans have gone and continue to leave these shores for the reasons you give. Plenty of us, out of frustration or in tortured jest, have talked about leaving this country.
But Stevie, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.
I say this affectionately, using the same purposefully nonchalant cadence of a grandmother puttering around her kitchen who, upon hearing the oft-repeated plans of one of her braggadocious teenaged grandkids, under her breath declares that she knows better.
Stevie, you ain’t goin’ nowhere. You can’t. If anyone deserves to live in the America this country aspires to be (as opposed to what it continually reveals itself to be), it is you. On behalf of the betterment of this land, no artist has given more.
With your voice and music—in 1980 you wrote a version of “Happy Birthday” in his honor—you helped spearhead a national campaign that in 1983 got Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday declared a federal holiday.
Using your 1970 hit, “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” as his 2008 campaign song, Barack Obama, with your unwavering support, rode that groove all the way to the White House as the nation’s first black president.
Stevie, your valiant crusades representing the underprivileged (your annual Toys For Tots Christmas concert in Los Angeles) and your stand against drunk driving (in 1985 teaming with MADD—Mothers Against Drunk Driving), among other causes, demonstrate your desire to contribute your time and effort toward the furtherance of society.
And not just in America. Stevie, you’ve tirelessly used your station in life to represent human rights globally. Your unyielding fight against South Africa’s wicked apartheid system helped bring an end to that evil regime in 1994.
You’re absolutely right. I have no business–none–suggesting what you do with your life. And as a black American born and raised in this country, I know exactly where you’re coming from about going somewhere else.
One night many years ago, spurred by yet another routine injustice reported on the evening news, it hit me: I am not going to outlive racism in America. That future utopia of peace and love we speak of from podiums and sing about in pop songs is never going to happen.
Racism isn’t merely a by-product of an inequitable American system; it is an indispensable component of the system. And long after I’m gone, I believe racism will persist.
Consider: In 2021, as I write this, states across the country are working to destroy an integral tenet of democracy by introducing rules blatantly designed to hinder election voting by people of color.
In the 21st century, Asians, somehow blamed by the notoriously ignorant for the coronavirus, can’t walk American streets without fear of being physically assaulted or worse. The most surreal part of this lunacy is that some of those doing the assaulting are black. What the hell is wrong with us?
In any case, this is our country, Stevie. For better or worse, it belongs to us as much as it does every other American citizen. I know you know this. You’re simply exhausted with trying to convince a segment of the nation.
And things are changing, Stevie. Granted, at a snail’s pace and at a tremendous cost emotionally, spiritually and physically. But—AND—they are changing. In America’s social and cultural recasting, you’ve played a significant role.
There is another reason I beg you not to leave America, Stevie. It is utterly selfish in nature, and a bit silly, but I don’t mind sounding like a pimply-faced, fanzine-hoarding, album-collecting sixteen-year-old when I say you are my favorite artist.
Early in my life as a music lover, you set for me a wonderfully imaginative standard to which I proudly adhere today. I deserve to live in the same time zone as Stevie Wonder. To breathe the same smoggy Los Angeles air. Can we be in same country, at least? Please don’t make me live somewhere Stevie Wonder is not.
And Stevie, let’s keep it real: with all due respect to fabulous Ghanaian cuisine, what are you going to do when your taste buds crave something distinctly American?
You know–turkey and dressing. Ribs. Peach cobbler. Fried chicken. Stevie, you know damn well not just anybody can fry chicken right.
Dear sir, you are a certified national treasure. I’ve never heard of a country’s national treasure leaving that country to live somewhere else. Maybe it has happened before. But not this time. Nope. Stevie, you’re keeping your black ass right here.
Steven Ivory, journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org