Home > Big Picture > Lyrically Speaking…Trayvon’s Song

Lyrically Speaking…Trayvon’s Song

This is a social observation and commentary using song lyrics as a rhetorical touchstone.

“Young man, coming out of the liquor store,
 With three pieces of black licorice in his hand;
Mr. Policeman thought it was gun,
Thought he was the one,
Shot him down, y’all;
That ain’t right…”

What politicians and media mongers have been working tirelessly to convey to the country for the past four years is that we now live in a “post-radical” era since the beginning of the Obama Administration.  Once again, more clever, calculated rhetoric is used to mislead the public away from the real truth: Racism is as strong and prevalent as EVER!  If anything, Obama’s presence in the White House has exposed more bigots and ignorant behavior from the white upper crust than any water hoses and polices dogs ever could today.  However, sometimes, an event happens that reminds all of us just have far we HAVE NOT come after all.

In the 21st century, media will single out a handful of countless unfortunate occurences in which lives of innocent young Black men have been destroyed or lost.  The shooting of Sean Bell was one, the Jena 6 case was another.  Both inspired outpourings of outrage and demands for justice…for a time.  Within weeks, the story died down on the news, and the names of the victims were removed from our minds, as the everyday bustle of living once again took precedent over someone we didn’t know.  This month, Black teenager Trayvon Martin was killed by a white neighborhood watch captain in Florida, as he was walking to his dad’s house after buying snacks from a nearby store.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, more calculated rhetoric was used to justify his killing: suspicious character, self defense.  In Gregory Porter’s 2010 song, “1960 What,” he ties in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a random killing of a young man gunned down because a cop believed the black candy in his hand was a pistol (see lyrics above).  While both events happened decades apart in the composition, and the former was a high profile event, Porter indicates that each murder were of equal merit, using the same refrain on both verses:

“Ain’t no need for sunlight,
Ain’t no need for moonlight,
Ain’t no need for streetlight,
‘Cause it’s burning real bright;
Some folks say ‘we gon’ fight,
‘Cause this thing here just ain’t right…”

No amount of media coverage, whether objective or spun, could possibly make any such tragedy as loud as the tragedy itself, and moreso, the reasoning behind it: BLACKNESS killed a man.  It doesn’t matter whether it was a Civil Rights leader trying to change the world or a ordinary student trying to watch a basketball game with his family.  Porter’s message is that the only thing that has changed about racism in America is the the light bulb that illuminates it; it shines bright for a time, then flickers and dims for a longer duration.  We must keep the light burning of these issues; we must not allow the “powers that be” convince us that things are better, because the next time your son goes to the corner store for some candy, he might not come back…lyrically speaking, that is.

My interpretation of the Media:

When a leader killed for uplifting Blackness, it’s a tragedy; When a kid is killed for possessing Blackness, it’s a shame.”  READ BETWEEN THE LINES!

Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only make up 10 percent of the population, but that 10th is talented.

Categories: Big Picture
  1. March 28, 2012 at 9:39 am

    WEll done Matthew. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, and articulating how important it is to “keep the light burning” on these issues
    Similar to what I shared with you, about the time II wrote a poem awhile ago about a similar case “Remember Clifford Glover.”

  2. jusjackie
    April 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Peace Matthew,

    Thanks for inviting me into your world. It is one that I shall defer to frequently, considering the array of information disseminated. I enjoyed the congruency between Mr. Porter’s lyrics and also the parallelism in your final quote. I immediately thought of DuBois’ “Double Conciousness”, not even after reading your mentioning of the “10th”. Superbly refreshing and clearly insighful.


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