Music Mood Board: The Sound of Pained Black Voices Seeking Justice

I haven't seen the video of Jacob Blake's shooting. I don't want to see it, and I don't need to see it, because I'm already far too familiar with how those situations unfold. I can't bear to watch another person who looks like me be degraded, metamorphosing from a human being to just another body slain by white aggression and bias sentiments. Sadly, Blake's three sons — one of whom was celebrating his birthday the day of the incident — don't get to quickly scroll past the video of him being shot seven times. They witnessed it, and they're going to have to live with that trauma for the rest of their lives. And I can't tell you how much that shatters my heart.

I can assure you that somewhere underneath my pain is hope, and I firmly believe in ceaseless prayer and action. But, currently, I'm deeply hurting for my people and my country.

I also haven't sought out any videos that show Kyle Rittenhouse — the 17-year-old charged with murdering two protestors — at the demonstrations. The mere thought of him and what he did makes me sick to my stomach because I know that there are more people just like him — people who believe that anyone who simply affirms the value of Black lives and Black existence should be executed. And the fact that he was able to openly and illegally carry a rifle, walk right past officers after shooting three people, and travel 30 miles before being arrested infuriates me in a way I can't even begin to describe. Because Blake, who didn't have a full-blown rifle, couldn't even make it to his car without getting seven bullets in the back. Because Ahmaud Arbery couldn't go for a jog without being hunted. Because Breonna Taylor couldn't sleep in her own home without being wrongfully killed by the police. Because an alleged use of counterfeit money led to George Floyd taking his last breath. But Rittenhouse can break several laws and slip by law enforcement — a loose term at this point — like it's nothing. If that's not a reflection of the US's vile, defective system and social structure, I don't know what is.

This is a heavy, heartbreaking reality that I, along with so many other Black Americans, must face. And when I say it's one of the most agonizing truths that we have to live in, I mean it. I can assure you that somewhere underneath my pain is hope, and I firmly believe in ceaseless prayer and action. But, currently, I'm deeply hurting for my people and my country. I have to be honest, I can't bring myself to listen to Black celebratory songs right now. At the moment, I just need to process my frustrations and sit in my exasperation. For this week's Music Mood Board, I'm sharing four songs — and their standout lyrics — that I've been playing to quietly ruminate on the issues that are convulsing our social consciousness.

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"I Can't Breathe" by H.E.R.

In June, H.E.R. released this track in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths at the hands of police brutality. The words powerfully reflect the all-too-real disheartenment rooted in social injustice.

  • "Starting a war, screaming 'Peace' at the same time / All the corruption, injustice, the same crimes / Always a problem if we do or don't fight / And we die, we don't have the same right / What is a gun to a man that surrenders? / What's it gonna take for someone to defend her? / If we all agree that we're equal as people / Then why can't we see what is evil?"
  • "Trying times all the time / Destruction of minds, bodies, and human rights / Stripped of bloodlines, whipped and confined / This is the American pride / It's justifying a genocide / Romanticizing the theft and bloodshed / That made America the land of the free / To take a black life, land of the free / To bring a gun to a peaceful fight for civil rights / You are desensitized to pulling triggers on innocent lives / Because that's how we got here in the first place / These wounds sink deeper than the bullet / Your entitled hands could ever reach / Generations and generations of pain, fear, and anxiety / Equality is walking without intuition / Saying the protector and the killer is wearing the same uniform."
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"Mississippi Godd*m" by Nina Simone

Simone wrote this song in 1963 after four Black children were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL — a horrendous act akin to convicted murderer Dylann Roof unrepentantly killing nine people at a predominantly Black church in Charleston, SC, in 2015. Nearly 60 years after Simone penned and performed "Mississippi Godd*m," her words still resonate with the anxieties that Black Americans feel every day.

  • "Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day's gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time."
  • "Picket lines, school boycotts / They try to say it's a communist plot / All I want is equality / For my sister, my brother, my people, and me / Yes, you lied to me all these years / You told me to wash and clean my ears / And talk real fine just like a lady / And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie / Oh but this whole country is full of lies / You're all gonna die and die like flies."
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"By Any Means" by Jorja Smith

Smith created this song with cowriter and producer Ezrah Roberts-Grey after attending a social-justice demonstration. "The inspiration behind 'By Any Means' really came from going to the Black Lives Matter protest and leaving thinking, 'What can I do to keep this conversation going?'" she said in a statement. "It's not just a post on social media, it's life." The track will be a part of Roc Nation's upcoming protest-song compilation project titled Reprise, which will benefit The Gathering for Justice, the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice, the Equal Justice Initiative, and the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project.

  • "Too much time tryna figure out why / Too much time to be patient /
    All this time you be feeding us lies / Ain't no truth in your statements / Too much pain in these little white lies / You left here / All this time tryna figure out how / We still here / I take pride in the things that we've done / Side by side in the revolution / Won't stay silent for things that I love."
  • "I've spent too many days in my head now / Did you think we would forget, how? / Too many destinies, too many sentences / Read now, read now / See all this pain in the headlines / But I have cried for the last time / But know what happens, see / You would be blind if it was just an eye for an eye."
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"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday

Holiday's "Strange Fruit" became an emblematic protest anthem in the mid-1900s. The lyrics, which depict the lynchings of Black people, shook the country's ethos so strongly that it was named the song of the century by Time magazine in 1999. Sadly, Holiday's powerful track made her targeted by the government — specifically Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger, who was a known racist. Anslinger's persistent efforts to thwart Holiday's platform and career eventually led to her untimely death in 1959, but her indestructible legacy has continued to live on.

  • "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."
  • "Pastoral scene of the gallant south / The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth / Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh / Then the sudden smell of burning flesh."