Protest Songs

It has been a long time since I have had the time or energy to write another blog post and a lot has happened since then. There have been a lot of positive changes in my work and personal life and I’m really enjoying performing regularly and teaching music for Hopewell Music Cooperative North. Accessibility is so important. It is fulfilling to be part of an organization working to break down the barriers that too many people face when seeking out education in music. Having access to music and music-making is vital because it gives people hope, especially in these dark and turbulent times.

Although there has been a lot of growth in my life and I finally feel a sense of purpose, the darkening political climate has made the last couple of years difficult. There are many more who have been struggling to have their rights recognized and lives valued for far longer than that. If you live in the US, I am sure you have probably heard about the recent shootings at Kroger Grocery in Louisville and at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. 13 people were shot dead over the course of just a few days because they were not white enough to fit into a white supremacist’s idea of what American society should look like. Judging from stories I have seen since then, this pattern does not seem like it will change any time soon and the toxicity continues to spread to other places around the world.

Last week’s events hit really close to home for me. As a Jew, especially one that is visibly semitic, I exist in an in-between space. Anti-Semitism is an orientalizing form of racism that effects not just Jews, but also Arabs and other ethnic groups of Middle Eastern origin precisely because we don’t neatly fit into western categories of race. On the one hand, I’m considered “too white” to truly be a person of color and on the other, I’m still “not white enough” to be fully accepted into mainstream American society or be safe from white supremacist violence. While I recognize this is a privileged position to be in, these shootings have highlighted how false and conditional my community’s safety is (and this is not even touching on the racism Black Jews and other JOC face both outside AND within the Jewish community). It also emphasizes how important it is for me and my fellow Jews to stand in solidarity with fellow oppressed communities, including those whose voices are more marginalized than ours. The people killed in Louisville and Pittsburgh were part of communities facing the same danger. They could have been my family, my friends, my co-workers, or me. With all of this going on, it is hard to feel like making music. Even so, I think some songs are meant to be played in the darkest of times because that is when we need the power of music the most.

Music does not exist in a vacuum. It is the product of the environments and political landscapes from which it comes. Fascists, white supremacists, and other folks whose hearts are filled with hate often suppress the artists, writers, and music makers first because we are the most persuasive and powerful messengers of solidarity and social change. The further away a musician is from whiteness and the more their music criticizes systems of oppression, the truer this becomes. It is paramount for us as musicians and lovers of the arts to use the skills, perspectives, and knowledge we possess to respond to what is going on around us and help build societies that are more fair, safe, and loving. The world needs it. Find your outlet, and keep at it until there are no more protest songs left to write.

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