Life. Lessons. Lyrics. 

Ahmariah Jackson 

“They Say.”

A retrospective on self-love, self-reflection and self-actualization 

Pronouns are a quirky part of the English language and our personal dialects. For while there is often cohesion in pronouns (gender and number), there is still ambiguity as to whom is being referenced without a previous articulation as to the subject of a statement. Pronouns are even more confusing in conversation. We often assume that the person to whom we are speaking is already aware of the sordid facts of our lives. Therefore, we may refer to a “he” or “she” without identifying that person by name.  A less perceptive listener may assume your rant is directed at someone to whom it is not: which leads to the uncomfortable moment when they respond with support or animosity that betrays their perceived identity of the focus of your rant. That’s when you find out that your best friend hates your boyfriend/girlfriend; when in actuality, you were talking about your boss.


There is a certain pronoun that has always rubbed me the wrong way. The culprit is “They.” The reason is this: all other pronouns offer some clue as to the focus of a statement. Pronouns are divided by first person, second person, third person and gender. This is true for all pronouns except “they” and the secondary “them,” which are used as third person pronoun serving as the plural of he, she, or it or referring to a group of two or more individuals not all of the same sex. This ambiguity makes “they” a very dangerous word; especially if the identity is not defined. Let’s explore.

The ever-present, “they” are always around when an ill-fated proclamation is made concerning a person’s life or actions. For example:

*They said that a certain R&B songstress may have struck her crooning boyfriend before he commenced to put hands on her!
*They said that a certain Black President is ineligible for his position because he was not born in the United States!

They are often the reason for untrue or unnecessary information being revealed about an innocent (or guilty, for that matter) person.  More often, they are the ones who project their hatred and unhappiness on an otherwise bright and shiny disposition. They are the ones who attack what a fashion conscious person wears. They are who hate on the dreams of another. As Kid Cudi explains for Jay-Z on “Already Home,”

They want me to fall, fall from the top,

They want me to drop (They want me to stop)

They want me to go, I’m already gone (The shit that I’m on)

I’m already home.

Jay and Cudi only touch the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Their focus is not always so clear-cut and simple. They often accompany apparent compliments with back-handed hatred. The core text of our study is an empowering ditty by Common and John Legend. The title, “They Say” is the inspiration and impetus for this offering. The chorus summarizes the breadth and scope of the song.

They say “What’s happenin’?”

We say the facts and if, they lie…

We comin’ back for them

They might say… but they don’t know!
(They say, They say…)

They don’t knowwwww!

I was first taken by the final line of the chorus. The resolution “they might say, but they don’t know” is a perfect mantra for life. The reality is that even with taking good-hearted advice from anyone, it is important to know that they do not truly know how you feel. Humans have the ability to empathize and sympathize; however, we are powerless to read the scrolls which constitute another’s spirit and soul. Therefore, the words of others intended to guide the direction of our personal journey must be taken with a grain of salt. Even a mother can be guilty of being selfish in the suggestions she gives to her child.

The crux of the lesson is one of self-preservation and love. As Common wraps up the song, he rides a personal lane about the criticism he has received in his career. The bard spits:

They say Dude think he righteous

I write just to free minds, from Stoney to Rikers

Amongst the lifeless, in a world crazy as Mike is

On my paper, whether its weed or Isis

They say life is a game, so I play hard

Writin for my life cause I’m scared of a day job

They say Sef kept the hood together

I tell the young, We can’t play the hood forever

Play my cards right, they say I went to left

They showed me strange love, like I was Mr. F

Played chess in this game of, pawns and knights

Now I claim King like Don, or Frank White

They say my life is comparable to Christ’s

The way I sacrificed, and resurrected, twice

They say The crochet pants and the sweater was wack

Seen The Corner, now they say That nigga’s back, uh…

Let’s Reminisce over True, My God. The artist formerly known as Common Sense touches on a very hairy point about life when he says, “They say dude think he righteous.” He understands that just as when one says that someone thinks they are better than them; there is a projecting power struggle at play. For the person who projects what another thinks is simply expressing their sub-conscious feelings. In a definitive move, he sums up the wishy-washy ways of “they.” He states, “They say the crochet pants and the sweater was wack. Seen The Corner, now they say that nigga’s back.”

And that is our lesson. Even those who cast the slings and arrows in our direction can be easily swayed by the manifestation of our God-given greatness. Pay no attention to the dirt thrown on your name or the hate given to your progression. Jesus Christ, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Barack Obama all have their detractors. These great figures; however, chose to take the Portia Foxx motto and “Let their haters be their motivators.” This is my wish for you.

They might say, but they don’t know!

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