Keeping the ‘human’ in humanity
Assistant Managing Editor
“Given the following song lyric, provide the year the song was released:
“‘Can a brother get a little peace? \ There’s war on the streets and a war in the Middle East. \ Instead of a war on poverty, \ they’ve got a War on Drugs so the police can bother me.’”
Know the answer? Give up? No worries either way – it’s not for a grade.
But the answer is 1998. Hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur recorded “Changes” in 1992 before its release on Pac’s posthumously “Greatest Hits” album. The song addresses issues prevalent over 20 years ago, notably racism, police brutality, drugs and gang violence.
This concept sounds familiar.
Another pop quiz:
“Given the following lyric, provide the song’s year of release.
“‘Got no money to move out – \ I guess I got no choice. \ Rats in the front room, roaches in the back, \ junkies in the alley with a baseball bat; \ I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far \ ’cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car.”
Solved it? Stumped? Also not for a grade, so no big deal either way.
The answer: 1982. “The Message” was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s biggest hit, known mostly for the lyric “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head,” which evoked social issues of the era, especially life in the projects.
Things are starting to ring a bell.
Okay, let’s do one more to prove a point:
“There I go, trapped in the Kit-Kat again, \ back through the system with the riff-raff again. \ Fiends on the floor, scratching again \ … D.A. try to give a [person] shaft again. \ Half a mil’ for bail ‘cause I’m African.”
This one may seem a bit more familiar because it was recent, but no worries for drawing a blank if you do.
This cut comes from Jay-Z’s 2004 song “99 Problems.” The song sparked up a lot of buzz upon release, whether for the video or for the deeper lyrical content hidden behind a superficial hook. The above lyric is one of many that exhibited some of the overt or covert prejudice toward black people imbedded within the legal system.
To avoid sounding like a broken record, here is the point: racism is still a problem, people. No matter where you look or how you justify it, it exists. Just ask the people of Ferguson, the family of Eric Garner – really, black people anywhere.
Now, I’m not anti-cop. Far from it. The policemen are not the problem. The problem is the inherent systemic racism blended into the legal system.
It didn’t happen overnight. It was there before the days of Dred Scott. It grew rampant in the Jim Crow South. It still happens in modern-day Ferguson and Staten Island.
Yet, there are some who, innocently or maliciously, accidentally or intentionally, downplay or shift attention from the systemic racism.
For example, there are those who proclaim, “All lives matter,” in response to the “Black lives matter” mantra. While this statement is true because all lives do, in fact, matter, there are two reasons this thinking is problematic.
First of all, it invalidates the experiences many black people are living right now in the same way telling a depressed person, “Everyone gets depressed sometimes,” invalidates their feelings. Intentional or otherwise, that’s how it can sound.
Second, and most importantly, all lives matter – but not all lives are victims of systemic oppression.
Some will argue this second point with a citation of reverse racism in the Caucasian community. It’s true – Caucasian people do experience prejudice because of their race, too. Prejudice, as a whole, sucks.
But racism involves a power struggle, defined roles of oppressor and oppressed. Racism takes discrimination and adds an air of inferiority and superiority that bleeds onto a systemic level, literally and figuratively.
I’m really not trying to “White bash.” But just think about oppression and where certain races have fit into the oppressed/oppressor dyad.
More importantly, remember: white people aren’t the problem. The inherent societal racism is.
So, what do we do about it?
Educate yourself. Stay woke. Do not try to invalidate any group with universal statements that erase any oppressed group identity. Please do not get into a competition of which group is more oppressed – oppression is a malady, not a competition.
Most importantly, remember this quote from John Green: “There is no Them, only facets of Us.” Because we are all people – that’s for sure. But it’s our differences – our various “facets of Us” – that make us truly human.
So let’s celebrate humanity – not oppress it.
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