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Nelson George is a novelist, cultural critic, and filmmaker. After receiving his degree from St. John's University in 1982, George first worked for New York's Amsterdam News, later becoming an[…]

We are suspicious of difference and scared of change.

Question: What is human nature?

Nelson George: People basically are suspicious of difference and scared of change. That’s . . . I think to me that’s the basic nature of man. He’s also very curious at the same time and very hopeful. But taken in packs . . . We kind of coalesce in packs, be it . . . We call them parties, or churches, or . . . But we gather together in little packs and groups, and look around and talk amongst ourselves. You know we look out for difference and we’re very afraid of difference. Only, you know, what happens . . . And the great thing about it is usually one or two people in the pack are able to say, “Maybe this idea will help us get somewhere a little different.” And then that happens and you have evolution. I’ll tell you something. Two of the most . . . One of the most profound experiences of my life was going to . . . In 1985 I was writing a book on Motown. And I went to Detroit, and I went into the Motown building – Hitsville USA. It’s a little . . . It’s Hitsville, USA. It’s a building. It’s like a house that they converted into a studio. And I went into the basement, and the basement is, you know, an unfurnished basement. It’s probably a good size bigger, because it’s in the Midwest . . . bigger than a basement in Long Island. It’s probably higher ceiling than a basement might have . . . They don’t have basements in L.A., so there’s no basements. But it’s a big basement in a big, Midwestern city. And out of this place they converted and knocked out a couple of . . . This music from this little room changed the world. I mean Motown is one of the most important sort of cultural forces in the world in terms of like Black culture in America . . . what’s American, and American optimism, and all that stuff comes out of this little room. You go to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr. King came from his grand . . . his father preached there. It’s a church. It’s a little Black church probably bigger than a lot, but not as big as quite a few. And you got to any place like that . . . If you went to . . . If you were . . . If you went to see . . . If you went to Disco Fever in the Bronx, which is where a whole lot of rappers hung out in the ‘70s, and smoke angel dust, and some of the earliest shows where Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash were, it’s a dump. It’s a joint. I don’t even know if the building still exists. And what I’m saying is that profound, world changing events happen in little spaces. They start in little places. And they start with likeminded individuals who gather together for a very simple goal. And out of that community of people in these little spaces, the world can be changed. So that’s my optimistic side, is that I’ve seen . . . I’ve seen things happen from the very beginning. I’ve seen hip hop happen from pretty early on. I’ve seen the effect of independent Black films and Black . . . with Spike in them because he lived around the corner. He lived in a little apartment around the corner from me. So I’m optimistic that people’s ability to transform reality is always present; that opportunity is there. But for the most part we don’t fulfill that destiny often because of what I said earlier – a kind of sense of unwillingness to embrace change. And our . . . sometimes our fear of change and a fear of difference. So it’s a mix of, like I said you know, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.