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  • Writer's pictureMicah French

It’s not new, it might just be new to you…

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

"Black people have been calling out racism for generations. We said it calmly. We shouted it in the streets. We put it in writing. We put it in our music, in our movies, and our shows. We put it on stages, in our art. And you danced. You laughed. You clapped. But you never heard." - Wyatt Cenac, Comedian

A non-comprehensive list of clips from artists expressing their reaction to state sanctioned violence against Black people throughout American history.

SLAVERY ERA (1619 - Juneteenth 1865)

"Negro Spirituals" were the songs that slaves would sing. They were inspired by the Christian gospel, and are all an expression of the hardship of slavery and desire for freedom.

Negro Spirituals include; Deep River, The Lonesome Valley, I'm a-Traveling to the Grave, Steal Away, Jesus on the Waterside, Wrestle On Jacob, Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child, Listen to the Lambs, Go Down Moses, My Way's Cloudy, Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel, Oh Peter Go Ring Dem Bells, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Hard Trials, Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Had, I've been in the Storm so Long.

JIM CROW ERA (~1870 - 1965)

1927: “Georgia Stockade Blues” – Sara Martin

Sara Martin sings about being imprisoned for the crime of being Black and poor, and having to endure forced labor for years under threat of death.

“They found me guilty without one dime. Guards all around me with their guns, shoot me down like a rabbit if I start to run.”

1933: “Supper Time” – Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters sings about a wife having to break the news that her husband was lynched by local authorities, telling the children during dinner that night.

“While I keep explaining, When they ask me where he's gone, While I keep from crying, When I bring the supper on.”

1939: “Strange Fruit” – Billie Holliday

Billie Holliday sings about the local lynching tree.

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

1949: “Saturday Night Fish Fry” – Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan sings about the police breaking up a party, beating people, and taking everyone to jail on “suspicion."

“We headed for jail in a dazed condition, They booked each one of us on suspicion, Now my chick came down and went for my bail, And finally got me out of that rotten jail.”

1961: During a Radio Interview - James Baldwin

James Baldwin... just... James Baldwin. Go read James Baldwin stuff. Go YouTube James Baldwin. Get more James Baldwin in your life.

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one's work. And part of the rage is this: It isn't only what is happening to you. But it's what's happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance."

LAW & ORDER / WAR ON DRUGS ERA (~1970 - Present)

1972: “No Knock” – Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron sings about Police executing “no knock” warrants like the one that killed Breonna Taylor.

“No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton, Bullet holes all over the place, No knocked on my brother Michael Harris, And jammed a shotgun against his skull, For my protection?, Who's gonna protect me from you?, The likes of you?, The nerve of you?”

1979: "Live in Concert" - Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor talking about Police killing black people via choke holds and white people not being aware that's a thing that happens.

"Police got a choke hold they use out here, though, man, they choke niggers to death. I mean, you be dead when they through, right, did you know that? Audience: Yeah. Richard Pryor: The nigger’s are going, yeah, we know. The whites are going, no, I had no idea. Yeah, two grab your legs, one grab your head, and snap. Oh, shit, he broke. Can you break a nigger, is it okay? Let’s check the manual. Yup, page 8, you can break a nigger, right there, see."

1981: “Mr. Policeman” – Rick James

Rick James sings about a police officer regularly killing people in a Black neighborhood.

“Hey Mr. Policeman, I've seen you in my neighborhood, You look to me up you'll do no good, I've seen you with your gun in your hand, Hey Mr. Policeman, I saw you shoot my good friend down, He was just havin' fun, Checkin' out a one and one.”

“It's a shame, it's a disgrace, Why every time you show your face, Somebody dies, man; somebody dies, man.”

1988: “Fuck tha Police” – NWA

One of the most well-known songs related to the friction between law enforcement and the black community. It’s a valid argument (that I agree with) that the lyrics advocating for violence go too far and solve for nothing, but there’s no argument that the anger they’re expressing comes from real world experience.

“A young nigga got it bad 'cause I'm brown, And not the other color so police think, They have the authority to kill a minority.”

“Fuckin' with me 'cause I'm a teenager, With a little bit of gold and a pager, Searchin' my car, lookin' for the product, Thinkin' every nigga is sellin' narcotics.”

“Lights start flashin' behind me, But they're scared of a nigga so they mace me to blind me.”

1991: “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball” – Main Source

Main Source on the ease with which law enforcement kills black people.

“Cause to the cops, shootin brothers is like playin baseball, And they're never in a slump, I guess when they shoot up a crew, it's a grand slam, And when it's one, it's a home run.”

1996: "Bring the Pain" - Chris Rock

Chris Rock on mass incarceration.

"That’s right! Now we’ve got the war on drugs. Bullshit! The war on drugs is bullshit, it is the way to get more motherfuckers in jail, that’s all it is … yes! That’s all it is!"

1998: “HBO Comedy Half-Hour” – Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle on the fear of being profiled.

"I don’t deal with them man, I had to bail a friend of mine out of jail one time, you know, that was horrible. I was scared. I had to walk right into the belly of the beast. I tried to look as non-threatening as possible.

[High pitched voice] “Hi… I’m here to bail out my buddy.”

“Oh, okay… Well, while you’re here, you do fit a description. If you walk this way we can process you.”

It’s how they always get us. It’s fittin’ those damn descriptions."

1999: "Bigger and Blacker" - Chris Rock

Chris Rock on being terrified by the Police.

"What the fuck is up with the police? My God! l am scared. l didn’t get rid of no guns. Fuck that shit. And I had a cop pull me over the other day, scared me so bad… made me think l stole my own car. ”Get out the car, get out the fucking car! You stole this car!” I’m like, ”Damn, maybe I did. ”Oh, Lord, I done stole a car.”"

2000: “Police State” - Dead Prez

Dead Prez on being stuck in a seemingly hopeless situation punctuated by the increased chances that black men will spend a significant portion of their life in jail.

“The average Black male, Live a third of his life in a jail cell, 'Cause the world is controlled by the white male, And the people don't never get justice, And the women don't never get respected, And the problems don't never get solved, And the jobs don't never pay enough, So the rent always be late, can you relate?, We livin' in a police state.”

2004: “For What It’s Worth” – Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle on being terrified of the police.

"I’m scared to death of these police. I am. I got a police scanner. First money I got, that’s the first shit I went out and bought. I just listen to these motherfuckers before I go out. Just to make sure everything’s cool. You hear shit on it. ”Calling all cars. ”Be on the lookout for a black male between 4’7” and 6’8”. Staying in the crib tonight. Fuck that. Gotta work on that alibi for a minute. Every black person needs an alibi."

2012: “Don’t Die” – Killer Mike

Killer Mike on being assaulted in his own home by law enforcement.

“I woke up this morning to a cop with a gun, Who told me that he looking for a nigga on the run, I thought for a second and I screwed my face, And asked the dirty pig "Why the fuck you in my place?", He said "Chill or we kill, this is a warning", Then I told him "fuck you, Where is the warrant?", Then they got to punchin' and kickin' and macin'”

2012 sees the death of Trayvon Martin spur the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the culmination of centuries of unheard cries for help exploding into activism.

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