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Surviving America: Music As Therapy

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

In the 1960s the great American writer and activist James Baldwin wrote these words, words that have been shared across social media platforms, gaining new life in this modern day race struggle that many black people living in America now find themselves.

I have been living back in America, officially, for the last nine months. I watched the news surrounding the murders of Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones and countless others from abroad, not quite feeling the pulse on the ground. While hearing that their killers would face no punishment it tugged at me, but I was largely unaffected by the reality of the impact it had on people living in America who were not kin to these victims. I had no idea the impact that such unpunished killings would have on me.

Living abroad comes with many challenges that, for me, are outweighed by opportunities for growth and life experiences that will change you forever. Many people question me about racism that I have felt abroad and press me as to why I am so outwardly and unabashedly critical of American racism.

I was born in the United States of America, albeit to Ugandan immigrants. This is the country that I was raised in, a country whose culture I know most about because I’ve lived in it for so many years. Further, black people have been in this country for more than 400 years, yet still, in many ways, are not treated as equal citizens. Yes, progress has been made since 1868 when black people were acknowledged as “whole persons” as opposed to the original three-fifths, but the fact is, and I challenge anyone that disputes it, black citizens of the United States do not enjoy equal privileges as their white counterparts.

Moving back to my so-called “home country” and being treated as a second-class citizen and watching other people that look like me being told that our lives are so worthless that even when someone is captured on video using an illegal move against one of us, it is not even worthy of discussing in court, has been challenging, to say the least. The constant psychological trauma that we are being subjected to is trauma that I did not anticipate. I know many people, black people, that do not suffer as badly as I have been, but that goes back to what James Baldwin stated, “to be conscious”. This consciousness leads to frustration, anger, trauma and emotional exhaustion.

What I can say about black people throughout the diaspora is that we are a resilient people and we know how to cope with emotional trauma. Through our long history of music which is rooted in Africa, we have relied on drums and our words to get us through the most trying of times. I find myself constantly looking to music to comfort my soul when I am overwhelmed by the emotions that living in a white supremacist system wells up in me.

Below I am sharing the songs which resonate the most with me right now. I am including the years they were first released and lyrics on some to put a spotlight on why I selected them. What songs do you listen to when you’re trying to get through these tough times?

  1. “Be Free” – J. Cole (2014)
  2. “Lean on Me” – Bill Withers (1972)
  3. “Someday We’ll All Be Free” – Donny Hathaway (1973)
  4. “Imagine” – Emeli Sande (2012)
  5. “Drama” – Erykah Badu (1997)
  6. “Strange Fruit” – Billie Holiday (1939), I prefer Nina Simone’s 1965 cover
  7. “A Change is Gonna Come” – Same Cooke (1964)
  8. “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1980)
  9. “Safa Saphel’ Isizwe” – S’busiso Ngema (1992)
    • The Black nation is dying // African nation is dying // Who will lead us to the day of freedom?
  10. “Get Up, Stand Up” – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1973)
  11. “Police State” – Dead Prez (2000)
    • The average Black male // Live a third of his life in a jail cell // Cause the world is controlled by the white male // And the people don’t never get justice // And the women don’t never get respected // And the problems don’t never get solved // And the jobs don’t never pay enough // So the rent always be late; can you relate? // We livin in a police state
  12. “Wolves” – Dead Prez (2000)
  13. “The Proud” – Talib Kweli (2002)
  14. “Don’t Shoot” – The Game (2014)
  15. “Amerika” – Trick Daddy (2001)
  16. “Get Up” – Dead Prez (2002)
    • You got to get up right now // Turn the system upside down // Your ‘sposed to be fed up right now // Turn the system upside down // Get up!
  17. “Fuck the Law” – Dead Prez (2003)
  18. “Blak Iz Blak” – Mau Maus (2000)
  19. “Can U C the Pride in the Panther (Female Version) – Mos Def (2000)
  20. “Beautiful Struggle” – Talib Kweli (2004)
  21. “Nkonane Kandaba” – S’busiso Ngema (1992)
    • you can wound us // but you can’t stop us // we are coming (nkonyane kandaba) // you can kill us // but we will live again // we are coming (nkonyane kandaba) // sharpen your spears // the war is at your door // we are coming (nkonyane kandaba)
  22. “Soulja Life Mentality” – Dead Prez (2002)
    • Black man kill a black man, it’s cool they lovin dat // Black man kill a white man & the sentencin’ him to death // White man kill a black man then scream about self-defense // Break it down to manslaughter wit all of the evidence
  23. “The Government” – Talib Kweli (2005)
  24. “Fuck the Law” – Dead Prez (2003)
  25. “Dem Crazy” – Dead Prez (2000)
  26. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye (1971)
  27. “Afrika” – Dead Prez (2003)
  28. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” – Tracy Chapman (1988)
  29. “Freedom” – Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton (2012)

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