I think we need to be alert to the historical context in which we speak about violence, including structural violence. Too frequently we take physical harm and/or killing as the only paradigm of violence. But this can blind us to other forms of violence that involve humiliation and suffering.
But what is even more important is that there are forms of behavior that are not considered to be violent at one stage of history that need to be exposed as violent in another.
The thing that got me about Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson was when his mom said that he didn’t think he was going to live, anyway. She said she was always trying to get on him about going to school and doing his homework and graduating and all that. And he didn’t really think he was gonna have a life. […]
I was like, damn. People don’t know how much our kids are worth, and they don’t care. But his friends knew. When you would see those images on the news about what was happening in Ferguson, those were kids. On Twitter and Facebook, they were like, “Meet me at my grandma’s house.” You would see kids talking about getting batteries and keeping their cameras going and getting water. What I remember about Ferguson is that when the police put a curfew in place, the kids went on boycott. They stayed outside, and they were building tents and camps. This was for days. They were streaming what they were doing outside, and they were organizing. They were ordering food and connecting online and communicating with people. They’s kids! Everybody’s connecting communities to give them resources to stay outside. It lasted months. Every time something happened, they had the communication line. It was going through the buzz. Kansas City might’ve just sent water one time, but now Kansas City is a buzzline. If somebody tweets in Ferguson, it’s gonna tweet in St. Louis and tweet in Chicago. Beautiful. That’s what made it go: The kids were pushing it and everybody else couldn’t ignore it because they were calling for help.
There are some words that precede “Black Lives Matter,” and they go something like this: Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular, it is important that we say that… “
This is, of course, far too long to fit on a t-shirt.
Law professor’s response to BLM shirt complaint.
The law professor is Patricia Leary at Whittier Law School (I think it’s okay to share her name as this has been confirmed by the school to Inside Higher Ed.) The full correspondence can be found here, including the anonymous student complaint letter, and the full answer by Prof. Leary is worth a read.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released a new song on Friday called “White Privilege II” along with a new album. It’s less pop radio friendly that his hits, and is a 9 minute reflection by Macklemore on white privilege, white supremacy, the way he benefits from it and how he is somewhat complicit in it. I think Macklemore’s strongest work is when he uses his signature flow for critical self-reflection. This is one of those songs. He wonders how he can engage in Black Lives Matter protests as a privileged white male:
You can join the march, protest, scream and shout
Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you’re down
But they see through it all, people believe you now?
You said publicly, “Rest in peace, Mike Brown”
You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?
Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?
Similar to his other self-interrogating, ally-privilege song “One Love,” this is an okay track that will now be overrated. Nothing he says is radically new. At the same time, I think there is some value in eloquently talking about white privilege as a privilege white male (something I strive to do myself, something I need to get better at.)
The song is also an example of how white privilege works. As mentioned, the song is about 9 minutes long, with 4 long verses about different aspects of white supremacy. Yet, in most posts I’ve seen since the song was released, the discussion mainly revolves around whether or not he dissed fellow white person Iggy Azalea. He does, but not in the way many think he does. He criticizes white appropriation of Black cultural forms, and uses Elvis, Miley, and Iggy as examples, but includes himself in that critique. I think the narrator’s “you” in this passage needs to be read as referring to himself:
You’ve exploited and stolen the music, the moment
The magic, the passion, the fashion, you toy with
The culture was never yours to make better
You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea
Fake and so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic
You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in
You’re branded hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards
That Grandmaster Flash’d go slap it, you bastard
In this reflection about his own problematic position within culture and society, and this pondering over the contradictions included in that, this song is similar to Kendrick Lamar’s great “Blacker the Berry.”
As was the case with One Love, the song has some issues, and as a standalone is terribly presumptuous and self-indulgent (which can’t really be avoided – self-reflection usually is, and that is Macklemore’s style) but could be an introduction for many white people to the concept of white privilege and hopefully influence public conversation. Or it might be just another song by Macklemore that white people love uncritically and that puts him on an undeserved pedestal. (Something he also addresses in verse 3.)
What the outcome and half life of the track will be depends on what Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis) now do with the attention, with the success; who they support now, how they share the limelight. They had the same chance with the success of One Love and The Heist, and I’m rather disappointed what they did with it. They mainly basked in their own glow- One Love did help the great (gay) singer Mary Lambert to a greater audience. I think hite Privilege II is already a better, reflective song than One Love, that makes better arguments. I hope the song helps bring more attention to the great Chicago-based singer and poet Jamlia Woods, who contributes White Privilege II’s coda:
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
What I got for me, it is for me
What we made, we made to set us free
Jamila Woods already released the great song “blck girl soldier” earlier this week – and you should listen to it more often that White Privilege II. It’s better and more important. The Muse also has a really interesting interview with Jamila Woods and Seattle musician Hollis Wong-Wear about the way they were involved in the production of the song and how Macklemore reached out to them to find out how he can help with his voice.
However, I do think there is some value to this new Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song – greatly depending on what happens with it now that it’s out. A good sign is that they launched a website for the song, that includes credits for people involved in making the song,includes links to other groups involved in anti-racism and anti-blackness, and most importantly a promise and suggestion to support Black led organizations, so check that out. I want to additionally suggest TWIB Media, a Black-led and -owned podcast and media network by Elon James White covering all the issues mentioned here – from problematic allies, Black Lives Matter, and Iggy Azalea
Jamila Woods – blk girl soldier
This is so good and so timely. A day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, a day that this year was the stage for #BlackLivesMatter protest action, Jamila Woods, a vocalist and poet from Chicago, released this track. The song connects music to protests, both of the civil rights movement era in the 50s/60s and today, as Woods explains:
“I’m interested in figuring out what freedom songs would sound like in 2016. My hope is that ‘blk girl soldier’ is a freedom song for black women today who are fighting the macro and microagressions of daily life in our city/country/world.”
She also sings about #blackgirlmagic, another concept or movement – the positive highlighting of the great and beautiful things Black girls and women – that is controversial because it is so important and effective.
Plus, it’s a really great song with a fantastic beat.
Intersectionality alone cannot bring invisible bodies into view. Mere words won’t change the way that some people — the less-visible members of political constituencies — must continue to wait for leaders, decision-makers and others to see their struggles. In the context of addressing the racial disparities that still plague our nation, activists and stakeholders must raise awareness about the intersectional dimensions of racial injustice that must be addressed to enhance the lives of all youths of color.
When people die in police custody or are killed by the police, there are always those who wonder what the fallen did to deserve what befell them.
He shouldn’t have been walking down that street.
She should have been more polite to that police officer.
He shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun in a park.
We don’t consider asking such questions of a lion. We don’t speculate as to why Cecil was roaming the savanna.