In times of collective crisis, people turn to music for solace. A resonant message set to melody can capture feelings and offer healing in a way words simply can't. And the special connections that musicians establish with their fans often give their words added weight. When the news broke that a 21-year-old white male murdered nine innocents at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday, musicians and cultural figures saw their sympathies travel the furthest. Yet many of these tweets contained nothing more than prayers and heartbreak emojis.
These sentiments have value, but during tragic and chaotic times, an emoji or a call for prayer can only do so much. We need musicians to lead the conversation.
They did this in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore. Rappers Tef Poe and J. Cole used their platforms to speak to the pain being felt in Ferguson. Beyoncé Instagrammed links to the NAACP, urging fans to donate money to help clean up Baltimore. Facing this new tragedy in Charleston, several artists have again stepped up again to begin the important national conversations surrounding racism, injustice and redemption. "Everyday People are losing their lives w/ the uncertainty of a Russian Roulette game. do any of you care? really care? #BlackLivesMatter," Questlove tweeted last night. It's a question all of us must ask ourselves.
Here are eight musicians that are pushing the conversation about the tragedy in South Carolina forward.
With some deft rhetoric, the Roots drummer tied Charleston into the other big news story of the week: Rachel Dolezal. As Darnell Moore argued for Mic, the way Dolezal has been dominating the conversation has done a disservice to the black community. "The overwhelming focus on the 'complexity' of Dolezal's identity, to use her words, distracts from the real-time, deeply felt impact of structural racism in the lives of black people," he wrote. Questlove is helping recenter the conversation on these inequalities, including the fact that black people accounted for two-thirds of all hate crimes in this country in 2013.
2. Talib Kweli
New York rapper Talib Kweli used his platform to weigh in on the racialized language that often surrounds violence like this. The crime that the Charleston shooter committed was far more of a "thuggish" act than any committed in Baltimore, where the word was being thrown around indiscriminately. "They say pull your pants up, go to church. These people were at church," Talib also tweeted, taking aim at the respectability politics that often attempt to explain black deaths. "It don't get more respectable than that. STILL murdered. Now what?"
3. Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator also weighed in the inequality of the media's reactions to these kinds of violent incidents. The media is far more likely to offer sympathy to white criminals, attempting to explain their motives and the effects of their upbringing. Black criminals and victims, on the other hand, are never "angels."
We should call the man behind this atrocity what he is: a terrorist. The word has long been used to refer to crimes perpetrated by whites against blacks. According to Vox, the first anti-terrorism law passed in the U.S. was passed to protect black victims from Ku Klux Klan aggression. By referring to this act by its proper term, we can link this recent crime to its long, important history. And we can see that while we've made progress, not enough has changed.
5. Black Thought
The Roots' MC Black Thought used his Twitter to highlight the two most important paths forward out of this tragedy: education and empowerment. By educating individuals on the realities of the pervasive racism in this country, more people will hopefully begin supporting these vulnerable communities. And by empowering individuals to become allies and activists, we can create change.
6. Solange Knowles
One's church should be a sanctuary. Unfortunately, black churches have long been targets of racialized aggression throughout American history. "They died between the sacred walls of the church of God. And they were discussing the eternal meaning of love," Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963, responding to the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham. Churches will continue to be vulnerable until racism in this country has been completely dissolved.
7. Alex Medina
Underground hip-hop producer Alex Medina offered his fans a shortcut to help relieve the pain being experienced by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church's congregation. Money obviously will not undo the tragedy or bring back any victims, but it will help the church get back to its mission of spreading peace and hospitality more quickly and effectively than it would without.
8. Josh Groban
Josh Groban made an effort to downplay the villain fascination that frequently accompanies events of this sort. It surrounded the men behind the Boston marathon bombing as well as the man behind the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting with a repulsive mystique. Thankfully, many publications such as BuzzFeed have turned their attention from the murderer to the victims, sharing their names and stories. There is no rhyme or reason to mythologizing a murderer.