aretha franklin

Find out what it means to me.

Aretha Franklin died a few days ago of pancreatic cancer. She was a world renown music and performance artist and pancreatic cancer only offers a painful and relatively slow death. The media and various personalities, from former US President Barack Obama, to celebrities like Diddy, formerly P Diddy, to ordinary people like me, have been sharing her pictures and music on our social media handles, remembering her and her immense contribution to music worldwide. Accolades well deserved.

I am affected by her death as I was affected by her music. I love her music and I liked her. But I’m not one to offer simple memorials because since I am not a famous personality, I don’t feel that it will have much impact. However, what I have decided to do is write an article on Respect!, or R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and what it means, and in doing so, I shall memorialize Ms. Franklin in my own humble way.

Ms. Franklin was respected. Immensely. She was the first woman to be inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She won countless Grammies, the American award for exemplary music performance, a lifetime achievement award, and other accolades. She was honoured by at least two US Presidents and has been called the greatest voice of all time. She was definitely respected given the immense outpouring of praise and sorrow following her demise.

But not just for the song. The lyrics of the song are more about the respect a woman is demanding from her man. She wants a little respect when he gets home. Just a little bit. After all, his kisses are just as sweet as her money. She promises not to do him wrong when he is gone, because she doesn’t wanna. And if he doesn’t give her respect, she will leave.

I asked family and friends what respect means to them and I got various answers. From, to hold in high regard, to, do unto others, to, should be given and earned. Respect to me means first respecting everyone just because they are. That is, respecting all human beings regardless of who they are so treating each and everyone, one another, with love, kindness and compassion. Then second, giving each and everyone their due respect. So as people present themselves, you respect them. This respect people earn for who they are and what they contribute. Ms. Franklin rightfully earned her respect. In spite of her personal challenges, which we all have, and which are not at all any of our business.

Some people, on the other hand, seem to feel that respect should be given when someone has money. Or seems to have money. Hence, the single minded focus on trying to acquire money by any means and at any cost. But we know because we see it all the time, that this kind of respect does not last. Once the person stops having money or stops appearing to have money, he or she loses that respect almost immediately. No more company, no more invitations, and no more engagements. It’s almost heartbreaking to go through and to observe.

Institutionalised dis-respect, on the other hand, exists. Like racism and discrimination, which led to the civil rights movement, of which Ms Franklin was part, and the #MeToo movement, on which she was silent publicly. This kind of dis-respect is what you receive just because of something you are or that you possess. Most times it is something that you have no control over and most times, it is not something that should attract dis-respect in and of itself. But it does.

This kind of dis-respect comes from having to deal with a bully who feels he, or she, or it, can get one over you, just because they perceive you to to be weaker as a result of this attribute. A lot of times, they have contributed to the collective and deliberate and continued perception, and the resultant actions, to continue to keep a specific group of people down. Sometimes, people are disrespectful because they are trying to get some respect themselves. They bully because they feel weak and are trying to feel strong. But unfortunately, it’s all self defeating.

Sadly, I think some do not even understand the word or realise when and how they are being dis-respectful. A simple check will be to ask yourself if you would like to be treated as the other person is being treated. This is assuming one is not a sociopath or suffering from some other maladjusted social ill.

Ms. Franklin was respected because she had talent and because she worked hard to build on that talent and make something of it. She was respected for her voice, but also for her songs, her skills and her performances. She learnt how to play the piano and was reputed to be able to play any tune after hearing it once. This is why she was respected during her lifetime, and this is why she will be respected for a long time still even in death. This is true respect. This is real respect.

A song means nothing except serving as a reminder, or providing a battle song, a war cry, or an anthem in certain situations. But to get respect, the most valid way is to earn it. And sometimes you will have to fight for it. Simply singing a song, even at the top of your voice, does not necessarily mean you will get it. Even though sometimes, I wish it was.


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