Superman Dies

No More Heroes

Jose Vilson Jose 3 Comments

Superman Dies

Last week, the whole world found out that Guru a.k.a. Keith Elam of the world-renown hip-hop duo Gang Starr had (ostensibly) died of a recent heart attack he suffered the day before. Entertainment bloggers reported it. Wikipedia reported it. Celebrities who are usually in the know said it. Then, I typed up a dedication to the man, thinking these three had become relatively credible sources.

Ten minutes later, the news of his demise was squashed.

I was crushed. Hurt. Distraught. A bit angry, especially after my apology and subsequent redaction.

Then, happy the man was still alive.

His music is a big reason I made it through college to begin with. Songs like “Royalty” and “Moment of Truth” infused awesome street symphonies with super-tight poetry in ways no one’s mimicked since. He isn’t superlyrical or completely braggadocious, but his street tales and messages of peace and reflection carried me through some tough times and even some awesome times. I never had the fortune of picking up his albums early in my youth, but as I got older, I recognized Preemo (DJ Premier) and Guru’s melodies from a mile away.

It also made me think of the people I valued as heroes, people whose names sparked chatter in their respective fields, whose work made people quiver with excitement, whose passion put them just a notch above everyone else I looked up to. During college, I met many of these folks and gathered many more heroes along the way, learning more about myself as a person through their works and my reflections upon those. Whether it was education, activism, writing / poetry, or just life as a whole, I sought these figures actively as a source of the proverbial light.

Meeting them in limited spaces gave me and others the impression that they’re somehow on another level of “avatar” than those of us acolytes. In many ways, that still holds true: when one is still learning and finding their guide in life, one needs those role models to help guide their personas and spirits.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become acutely aware of my heroes’ faults. Starting from my extensive research of the long history of Muhammad Ali’s womanizing and Malcolm X before he became we semi-deify now, my ever-expanding knowledge began to deconstruct the images I had of them, and as I got older and saw my more current heroes more regularly, I saw the griminess, the discontent, the shiftiness, and the inexplicable. I also found myself at a loss for words at the indirectness and secret society rules many of them played by.

In a fit of poetic rage, I metaphorically killed every single one from top to bottom, in rhyme and meter. Like those movies where the one guy finds out his boss / government has been deceiving him the whole time and decides to abandon their rules and go guerrilla.

Except that Guru almost died.

And then it took me back to a discussion our African-American Studies department at Syracuse University had about leaders like MLK Jr., wondering whether his less savory acts devalued what he did as one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the world. One of the younger professors in the panel argued that, because he had these blemishes, he was more closely reached. Before, the MLK standard was so hard to reach for him but now, in a backwards sort of logic, he now felt better about getting to that level.

In my current position, I look at those who I consider role models and that I certainly consider myself a fan of, and have to remind myself that, for all their inner divinity, they are human. They’re every bit as emotional, insecure, wavering, and contradictory as I am. That’s what makes them possible.

Why not pray for peace with them while they’re still on Earth and not when they’re six feet under or ashes spread across a plot of land?

Everyone is on a path that’s asymptotic to 100%. That’s why I can’t blame them. They’re somewhere down the road from where I am.

Jose, who shouldn’t be this popular, you’re far too kind …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 3

  1. missincognegro

    Hi, Jose.

    I, too, was angry, especially since Wikipedia is usually one of the first places I go to as well when I learn about the passing of a celebrity. Then again, Wikipedia is user-generated content, and, while it has improved legions since its inception, it needs to be corroborated.

    About heroes: I guess the reason most of us look upon those we’ve so identified is because we don’t want to believe that they have proverbial clay feet and other human flaws. We’ve elevated them to super-human status. We want to believe that heroes aren’t like the rest of us, that they’re endowed with special stuff. Which is why they’re heroes.

    You mentioned Malcolm X. I cannot begin to imagine how utterly devastated he was when he discovered that Elijah Muhammad was not the man be believed him to be. After all, Malcolm was willing to lay down his own life for this man. Imagine…

    Did I feel the same way about Dr. King when I learned that he had had extra-marital affairs? No, I didn’t. I was saddened and disappointed, and was angered by the way he, a man of God, had shamed his wife and family. I was, however, able to separate the man as a human being from his accomplishments. Doing so was much harder with Wagner. A composer of immense talent, he was also an anti-Semite. How could someone with the ability to produce such enduring music be such a creep as a human being? I know that this isn’t the main thrust of your post, Jose, but, there are so many people of status and achievement who are also brutally flawed.

  2. Post
    Author
    Jose

    Thanks for commenting nonetheless. There’s tons of people who are so brutally flawed and that we can’t look at the same way, but I’m also ambivalent about castigating their examples BECAUSE we’ve learned so much from them and they’ve had profound effects on the world. Furthermore, they’re more allegorical to people who’ve had a profound effect on my world.

  3. Gregory Malcolm

    I think you raised a good point. People are people, no matter how we view them. We are all susceptible to failings and low points in life. I think what makes them a hero is how they rose above the situation of their time to push humanity to a new level. I think it was Ghandi that said the beauty of being human is not being able to change that around us but rather to change what lies within ourselves.

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