In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron outlined, in pristine and deeply personal prose, the obscene nature of taxpayers funding the government’s exploration of space when terrestrial life was rigged against so many. Released on Scott-Heron’s debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, the poem “Whitey On The Moon,” has become one of the artist’s most distinguishable and profound works, right up there with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which opens the album’s percussive spoken word assault on Nixon’s America.
Now, as Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, becomes the second insanely wealthy person in just this month to barely reach space on a privately-funded craft, Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon” is getting new life as a wealth gap anthem every bit as resonant as it was upon initial release. So resonant, in fact, that the Chicago-born, New York-raised artist’s resitation of the poem is having a viral moment on social media, perfectly incapsulating the long-stewing and increasingly vocal resentment of a tech tyrant, using his unstoppable cashflow to solely enrich himself. According to reports, Bezos spent $5.5 billion to spend about five minutes above the Earth’s atmosphere with his brother, Wally Funk, and the 18-year-old son of a Dutch millionaire. That comes down to about $1.38 billion per minute of “flight.”
Bezos, who in recent years came under fire for doing nothing to improve Amazon’s notoriously poor working conditions, unironically thanked his workers and customers at a press event held Tuesday morning after his New Shepard craft returned to Earth. “You guys paid for all of this,” Bezos said with a self-satisfied smile shadowed by an ill-fit cowboy hat as news broke of a pregnant Amazon worker having a miscarriage in a Bay Area fulfillment center after the company’s HR department reportedly denied her lighter work, even when presented a note from her doctor.
Stepping into a sixth decade in rotation, “Whitey On The Moon,” is somehow only growing in accuracy. And we all know damn-well where Bezos would have us believe he’s going next.
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