Remembering Loss and Combating Violence in Select Communities: The Development and Activism of “Hell You Talmbout”

* a link to the song critiqued can be found here....

The last few years have been punctuated by fearful sounds and guns, the grim pictures of black men and women, and the tiptoeing in the media of the circumstances of their deaths at the hands of either police officers or overly zealous vigilante citizens in their communities. Each of these deaths, especially when the circumstances are examined, has opened up an opportunity for all American communities to analyze and attempt to understand the pain, racism , privilege, and class issues that are slowly breaking our communities and society. While there are many conversations that need to be had on this subject and the various means that can be used to create more opportunities, less fear, and more lasting change for all, this paper will focus on the activism inherent in the song “Hell You Talmbout” released in August 2015 by artist Janelle Monae.

This protest song was born from the pain and injustice witnessed by Ms. Monae. The day before she released the song, the artist recorded her thoughts and described how the song came to be developed and published those words on Instagram. She states, “This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves... Won't you say their names?” This song is not the first written by this artist to try and illustrate her views on racism and state violence in American society- other songs on similar topics include ‘Cold War’ and ‘Sincerely Jane’.

A few things about this song help make it the powerful commentary that is has become. While some of the lyrics are sung to music, throughout the song a drum roll will start and the artists will shout out the name of one person who was either a victim of police brutality / murder or of violence and/or death primarily due to their race. As the name is shouted out, others join in saying “Say His (Her) Name”, encouraging the individuals surrounding them to join in. It is a moving performance that is intensely powerful whether listened to or visualized and uses catchy music and passion to draw itself into your head. The artists shout out the names of nineteen people through the song. As I listened, I felt drawn into the passion expressed and active interest in the individuals who were named. It was not hard to find information on the unfamiliar names that were mentioned. Another aspect of this song is that it reminds members of the black community that they matter as well as reminding members of the privileged community that their community isn’t whole or realistic without the acknowledgment of its minority members. In a few short minutes, “Hell You Talmbout” forces open a door in each listener’s mind to admit the pain and anger felt by many people and the fear and confusion felt by all. It is a rare work of art that can accomplish this.

There are many ways that individuals can help raise the consciousness of others in their communities to social problems and general need. Whether through campaigning or art, through service or advocacy, like-minded individuals tend to form groups to try and understand the unique problems that they face and how to confront or change them. Communities come in all sizes and many names- family, religious congregations, volunteers at non-profits, workplaces, support groups, social communities, friends, etc… Some of these groups can be voluntarily joined and exited while others may be difficult to fully leave without significant work and possibly a lifetime of difficult consequences. By recognizing not only need but specific desires and motivations in individuals and groups, each individual can carefully recognize the differences both in members and motivations of various groups and also potentially recognize how the actions of one group can affect others. With this song, Janelle Monae is making a few clear statements.

• The Black community at large is scared and angry and tired of being scapegoated and discriminated against.
• As a society, we simply allow too much racial violence to happen unchecked… and complacently accept blaming of the victim to help stabilize the status quo.
• Our society has too many layers of discontent and ignoring them will not make them go away.

I am still unclear – or fairly lazy- about some of the small things that I can do both as an individual and as a part of a group to affect positive social change and justice in the communities I am a member of. I have started by writing a few letters to my congressmen and I am going to attend a local transgender support group next week and see if I can not only learn something, but how I can potential help. I also express that I am an ally on Facebook so that vulnerable individuals will know a person they can talk to or ask for help from. It isn’t enough… but it is a start. As I learn more about how different ideas and social constructs intersect and collide, I learn more about myself and the communities I am a part of. For that I am grateful.

pictures found at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janelle_Mon%C3%A1e,

No comments:

Post a Comment