If We Must Die: A Playlist
Last week just before President Obama presented his fourth State of the Union address, authorities in California set fire to the cabin they believed Christopher Dorner had barricaded himself in. Dorner had avoided the LAPD for several days, using his military and police training to kill members or associates of LAPD or the county sheriff’s office before apparently killed himself inside the fiery cabin.
As most of us know, just before Dorner acted he posted a manifesto claiming that racism and mistreatment by the LAPD is what, essentially, compelled him to make the decision to respond violently. As the LAPD looked for Dorner, several other former LAPD officers–all black–agreed with Dorner’s claims of rampant corruption within the LAPD.
Now, as someone who believes in the possibility of peace despite everything around me, I cannot say I advocate Dorner’s method. But I don’t have to have been an LAPD officer to say that I understand. Oppression is real. And if I learned anything from reading The Bluest Eye (happy birthday, Ms. Morrison), it’s that the experience of racism can affect one’s mentality in the most detrimental ways. Nonetheless, without hesitation, the LAPD called Dorner a domestic terrorist and somehow managed to castigate him for killing innocent people, as if that’s not what the LAPD, other police departments, and representatives from the very state whose thermometer was being checked the night Dorner took his own life have done for decades.
When news broke that Dorner was that cabin, I immediately thought of the Claude McKay piece I reference in the title. My second thought was the myriad musical examples we have about what it means to deal with modern-day racism, brutality from the police, and the feeling that you just can’t take it anymore. As we take a day off to honor the heads of a state that creates environments for Dorner’s decision, may we remember that the government only seemingly protects the “chosen” few of us.
Katt Williams, “Tiger in a Zoo” — White people understand this, if you cannot understand what it’s like to be a tiger in a zoo; I don’t know how you ever gon’ understand what it’s like to be a nigga in America.
The genius of Katt Williams, inspired/reminded by a friend’s FB post.
Goodie Mob, “Free” — Many are blind and cannot find/The truth cause no one seems to really know/But I won’t accept that this is how it’s gon’ be/Devil you gotta let me and my people go.
Remember this Cee-Lo?
The Pharcye, “Runnin'” — I’m not tryin’ to show no macho is shown/But when it’s on, if it’s on, then it’s on
The left coast figures prominently on this list, and we begin with #Dilla beats.
Cypress Hill, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” — Here is something you can’t understand…
Indeed, most were appalled by what Cypress Hill was saying when this song was released, and most will just say that Dorner was crazy and move on.
DMX, “Party Up (Up in Here)” — If I gotsta bring it to you cowards then it’s gonna be quick, aight
You know how when young white men shoot up buildings and schools the news gets all into their biographies and seeminly inevitably describes them as brilliant and stuff? Yeah, well, that won’t happen with Dorner. The master narrative will more than likely just call him crazy and move on.
NWA, “Fuck tha Police” — A young nigga on a warpath/And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath/Of cops, dyin in LA
Instead of honing in the harassment NWA was expressing, most were appalled by the venom NWA spit at authorities who didn’t bother to respect them.
Boogie Down Productions, “My Philosophy” — Let’s begin/What, where, why, or when/Will all be explained/Why destruction is a game/See I’m not insane/In fact, I’m kind of rational
Dorner used his words first. Remember that.
Public Enemy, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” — I got a letter from the government/The other day/I opened and read it/It said they were suckers/They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me given’ a damn – I said never/here is a land that never gave a damn/About a brother like me and myself/Because they never did
I tweeted that Chris Dorner is what happens when “people stop being polite and start getting real.” He’s also what happens when people believe a narrative about this country, only to be rudely awakened. If only Dorner had also said never.
Ice-T, “Cop Killer” — I got my black shirt on/I got my black gloves on/I got my ski mask on./This shit’s been too long.
Before Ice-T played a cop, he wrote a song about someone absolutely fed up with police brutality of the LAPD.
Notorious B.I.G., “What’s Beef” — What’s beef?
The music has long conveyed the anger about racial oppression. Maybe one day folks will learn to listen.