Idris Lawal

Richard Ashman

When I was a kid, a pen and a pad were all I needed to feel safe, secure, and welcome. Alone with these tools, I would write words, draw pictures, and create universes populated with characters that couldn’t — wouldn’t — bully and taunt me. As an adult, I grew out of that stage of vulnerability and the fear of being outed as “other” and hadn’t really given it much thought before hearing Idris Lawal’s thought-provoking new single, “Wallflowers.”

“Wallflowers” further demonstrates to me personally just how deeply ingrained white privilege is in our lives; that for Black people and people of colour, there is no “growing out of” vulnerability and fear of racism and injustice. Lawal’s tender tune, “dedicated to all brothers and girls who fell victim to senseless police brutality in 2020,” poetically and pointedly documents the lived reality of so many racialized minorities who live in constant fear of altercations and interactions with police and authority. Even as he sings about discovering his voice and calling, Lawal emphasizes for those who never have to question the safety and sanctity of home that even though he and other “wallflowers” try to stay out of police sightlines, the reality is that not even home is a safe place for Black people and people of colour:

Hello your honour / We want justice for Breonna [Taylor] /
How long do you need to bring the court to order /
Why not just arrest the cops who murdered her /
Ahmaud [Arbery], running black / Came home in a body bag /
Or stay home like
Stephon Clarke / Shot up in his mother’s yard /
Atatiana [Jefferson] through the porch / They put they knees to George [Floyd] /
They put
[Elijah] Mcclain in a hold /
Wallflowers, but we still been waiting to bloom /
Roses are red but we still been wading the blues.

White people (and I include myself in this indictment) have this tendency of framing new music, videos, and movies that speak to BlPOC lived experiences as “prescient” and “timely”, especially when they’re released at or around the same time as events like Breonna Taylor’s killing or the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It’s easy to say “Wallflowers” (released on December 30, 2020) is “timely” given its proximity to the Capitol Hill riots that put the disparity between how MAGA insurgents and BLM protesters are treated on full display. That lens is just more of our white privilege showing: “Wallflowers” isn’t timely because of random scheduling and chance; it’s because these acts of oppression and injustice are constantly happening. There is real danger every time a Black person or person of colour sets foot on the street. That danger gets magnified ten-fold if they’re engaging in any kind of peaceful protest. And though being at home may not be much safer, it’s one place where Lawal and other “wallflowers” like him can find ways of being heard out loud while taking to the streets is not a viable and safe option.