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The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember, photographed for Common, curated by Khanya Mashabela, 6 May – 26 July 2023. Image courtesy of A4 Arts Foundation.
Title Is It Because I'm Black? Date 1969 (republished 2019) Authors Syl Johnson Type Vinyl record

Sylvester Johnson (Holly Springs, Mississippi, July 1, 1936–February 6, 2022).

Syl Johnson was well-known throughout the 1960s as a pop-soul and R&B crooner. In 1969, Johnson released 'Is it because I'm Black?' in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King. The title track questions the effects of institutional racism through a personal lens. He has described that he did not want to respond to hate with hate, instead choosing to write a "sympathy song". Though the album was critically acclaimed, it did not achieve mainstream success.

In response to the album's reception, Johnson is quoted as saying:

That was a college record. Black college kids. They’re political. But these kind of records tend to hurt you a bit. You’ve got white people, and then you’ve got white liberals. But you’ve got white people who care nothing about you talking about being black. They say ‘Why shouldn’t I sing “Is It Because I’m White”?’ They just don’t care for it. Not that they hate it, but they’re not going to pay five or six dollars to buy an album of it.