It’s been a historic and troubling year for the Black British community. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of the US law enforcement, saw protests take place around the world. There is more need than ever to approach the systemic issue of racial inequality with fresh eyes.
Make sure this month, and every month thereafter, you shop in Black businesses, buy from Black musicians, donate to Black charities, and use your privilege to support Black people in any way that you can.
This week, we are learning about Tom Morello’s activism through music, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, Angela Davis’s pivotal work and a song that tackles police brutality from Vince Staples.
Best known for his work playing guitar and singing for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Morello is also an actor and songwriter. He is known for his political activism, which is prevalent in the music of both Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He also teamed up with members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill to create supergroup Prophets of Rage.
Morello’s activism spreads beyond his music. He, along with several other musicians, sued the U.S. Government after they declassified documents relating to the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He famously stated: “Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured – from waterboarding to stripping, hooding, and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts, as well as playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine. The fact that the music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me.”
His work in the creation of the non-profit organisation Axis of Justice, co-founded by System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, aims to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots progressivism to collectively fight for social justice. Many musicians are now on board including Iggy Pop, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl and Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash. The group has worked for such causes as migrant rights and death-penalty abolition. Morello was honoured with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for his work with Axis of Justice.
Tarana Burke (@taranajaneen)
Founder of the #MeToo movement, Burke’s work has transcended her home of Harlem to become a worldwide movement. #MeToo aims to aid those who are victims of sexual abuse, specifically helping survivors of sexual violence.
Started on MySpace in 2006, the #MeToo movement has helped millions – particularly people of colour, marginalised groups, young women and girls – providing a safe platform for women to openly discuss their experiences of sexual assault. Tarana has been dubbed ‘The Silence Breaker’ by Time Magazine and her movement has been the focal point in taking down many renowned sexual abusers. She has even inspired and featured on a song called ‘Me Too’, by American Country music duo Haley and Michaels.
Best known for her work as an educator, activist and a prominent figure in the Civil Rights movement, Davis tackled injustice wherever she found it. Growing up in Alabama, Davis was confronted by racial prejudice from an early age. The area that she was brought up in became known as Dynamite Hill due to the large number of bombings carried out by the Ku Klux Klan.
As a young teen, Davis would organise interracial study groups, which were often broken up (for no reason) by the police. She studied in some prestigious universities, including the University of California. She then became associated with several groups, including the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA.
Davis gained her international reputation in the early 1970s, when she was tried for conspiracy, imprisoned, and later fully acquitted, after being implicated in a shootout in front of a California courthouse. Davis focused on exposing racism that is endemic to the US prison system, and exploring new ways to deconstruct oppression and race hatred.
She began to teach at UCLA as an acting assistant professor in Philosophy. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation informed the university that Davis was a member of the Communist Party, they proceeded to terminate her contract.
However, her work as a teacher did not end there. Davis has since continued to lecture at many prestigious universities, discussing issues regarding race, the criminal justice system and women’s rights. In 2017, Davis was a featured speaker and made an honorary co-chair at the Women’s March on Washington after Donald Trump’s inauguration. She is the author of eight books and has lectured throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.
She’s inspired a range of music from influential artists including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Jazz musician Todd Cochran. Being a big fan of jazz herself, Davis has created her own playlist for SFJazz titled Jazz & Social Justice, which has a lovely selection of her favourite jazz cuts that tackle social justice issues. It’s a really beautiful collection of songs with powerful messages.
SONG: Vince Staples – Hands Up!
Vince Staples is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor and member of California-based rap trio, Cutthroat Boyz. He also had an early association with the group Odd Future. Currently, Vince is signed to Motown Records and Blacksmith Records.
Unlike many other rappers and people within the hip hop scene, Staples has claimed to follow a straight edge lifestyle and has never drunk alcohol or used illicit drugs. His track ‘Hands Up!’ tackles police brutality and the mistreatment of Black people, especially in Staples’ birthplace of Long Beach, South LA.
“Just your colour is enough to get you under arrest,
Strong hand of the law got me feelin’ oppressed”