With the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” resonates just as deeply as it did 75 years ago.
Kanye West is an artistic agitator that inspires social commentary. He is an artist who is unafraid to speak his opinion, free from judgment of right or wrong, especially in his music. Music is the soundtrack of my life, it’s how I define pivotal moments, therefore, it’s no surprise that Kanye’s song, “Blood on the Leaves,” is on heavy rotation as I reflect on the legacy of Mike Brown and unpack what the grand jury’s decision means for America; Black America. The sampled voice of Nina Simone begins: [Intro: Nina Simone] Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees Blood on the leaves This is a sample of the original song, “Strange Fruit,” a metaphor for the black lynchings that were occurring in the South, which was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. An artist in her own regard who didn’t shy away from controversy, she boldly performed this song in front of white audiences to protest the lynchings of Black men, inspiring social commentary free from judgment of right of wrong.
[Billie Holiday] Southern trees bear a strange fruit Blood on the leaves and blood at the root Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees It’s troubling to think that in 2014 we would have strange fruit, not hanging from trees, but lying in the street for 4.5 hrs. Its troubling to think that in 2012 we would have strange fruit, not hanging from a tree, but laying on the ground for carrying a fruit-flavored beverage and fruit-flavored candy. It’s troubling to think that today we find ourselves in similar positions as our ancestors from 1882 to 1968, who lobbied the government to pass anti-lynching laws, just as we lobby our current government to implement better law enforcement practices to prevent the killing of black men (boys). Lobbying, pleading, marching, and rioting to fight a justice system that has been too quick to pull the trigger on black men (boys), just as the mob mentality of the early 20th century. [Verse 1: Kanye] I just need to clear my mind now It’s been racin’ since the summertime Since Mike Brown was murdered on August 9, 2014, Black America’s mind has been racing on how do we protect our black boys? How do we raise our sons to be liberated in the 21st century while living with an early 20th century fear of a mob mentality? How do we explain to our sons that no matter the street corner you hang out on, the stoop you raise your voices at, the sidewalk you walk down, or the college graduation stage you walk across, you are still not invincible from the tensing of the muscles when a blue uniform is approaching in the distance? How do we have an open dialogue with the rest of society and get them to understand our concerns so that we can be solution-oriented and focused on repairing the distrust between law enforcement and our community?
[Kanye West] Now I’m holdin’ down the summer now Kanye released an album titled, Cruel Summer, in 2012. And sadly what would follow is: Trayvon Martin’s killer acquitted July 13, 2013; Mike Brown murdered August 9 2014. There is a cruelty of the justice system putting these deceased victims on trial as if they deserved to die. There is a cruelty of the justice system that gives empty prosecutorial effort in search for the truth. There is a cruelty in watching a press conference by the District Attorney in Ferguson and being unable to tell whether he is a defense attorney or a prosecutor in search of the truth. That is cruel and unusual punishment for the deceased.
There is a cruelty in watching a press conference by the District Attorney in Ferguson and being unable to tell whether he is a defense attorney or a prosecutor in search of the truth. That is cruel and unusual punishment for the deceased.
[Kanye West] And all I want is what I can’t buy now Cause I ain’t got the money on me right now And I told you to wait Yeah I told you to wait So I’mma need a little more time now Cause I ain’t got the money on me right now In looking at the social media response, I couldn’t help but notice a common thread of comments when it came to next steps in fighting the injustice: 1) to fight with economic power of boycotting business, or 2) a resolve to give up on the fight because lack of personal funds to fight the injustice. Well, I challenge that narrative as a cop out, an excuse, an easy way out. Yes, money is power, but so is your voice. So is your vote. So is your tweet. So is your hashtag. So is your conversation at brunch. So is your conversation at the club. So is your choice of T-shirt. So is your Greek-lettered chapter. So is your steppers club. So is your bikers club. So is your dinner party. It all sparks conversation, which leads to collaboration, which leads to action 365 days of the year that never lets these black boys life be in vain. The poetry doesn’t get lost on me that Billie Holiday began the Strange Fruit movement in 1939, then by Nina Simone picking up the torch in 1965 with her own stylized rendition, followed by Kanye West putting it back in the conversation in 2013. Civil rights are a constant. They just take on different styles and remixes. We must wake up and speak up every day. We must keep the conversation going. When we show that we won’t let up, they have no choice but to sit at the table. When we speak up, politicians, municipalities and law enforcement have no choice but become solution-oriented. It’s only when we walk around asleep that the Poplar Tree begins to take root and grow strong limbs for: [Billie Holiday] Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop Here is a strange and bitter crop Stop pushing snooze in between the harvest. #WakeUp