This one is a thinker guys. Did you already watch it? Go watch it again, I’ll wait. This is one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a ton to unpack here, and I’m going to try, but first let me tell you why I connect with this song so intensely. There are two primary reasons.
- I grew up in the South. Like the real South. Let’s call it a state Trump won with 54%. The South isn’t inherently racist, but it’s hard not to grow up around some racist attitudes, even from people who I consider good people. For example, my parents would claim not to be racist, but I remember some stern warnings to my sister about a black kid named Jovan that was coming around. I don’t think my parents are bad people, and they are not KKK level racist, but I’m using them as an example to explain that even my educated parents, who are charitable and kind, are racist. The last frame of this video that scrolls “wolves don’t exist” after we’ve watched an entire video of a black kid being led around by a wolf is exactly how baffled I’ve felt for most of my life, watching good natured people, stay willfully ignorant to the prejudices they hold, and the damage that does.
- I don’t live in the South anymore, but that doesn’t solve the racism problem the way you might idealize when you’re growing up in a small town dreaming of moving to a liberal utopia. I teach at a private school in the suburbs of Rhode Island where an administrator was removed last year for getting caught using a few racial slurs. I have students sitting behind desks every day who swear Colin Kaepernick is un-American, and Michael Brown deserved to be shot for being a “thug.” I don’t necessarily think these are bad people, mostly because I’ve made it my goal in life to talk through ignorance with people, and if I believe people can’t learn and change, I think I’d become quite depressed. The thing that I most associate with both of these experiences, my past, and my present, is that most of these people just have no idea the amount of privilege they are carrying. It seems somehow offensive to their character to suggest that they are not “self-made” or that someone has it harder than them. Mostly I think this is because we all have our struggles, and it makes us feel bad that we aren’t billionaires either, so how dare people say they have it harder than us? On the other hand, to admit some people are living with a level of prejudice and difference that you can’t fully comprehend somehow seems like a weak thing for these people to admit.
Alright, enough about me. Let’s talk about the video. We can immediately get the sense where it’s going when we read the title, “Born in the Right Country”. The title itself evokes a lot of the immigration struggles we have going on right now, where a person or family is attempting to find a better life in America, despite the risks involved, and is being treated inhuman because of it. But in the video, we see a slightly different angle. We follow the story of a young black male going to high school, with a wolf around his wrist. We also see that his mother, and a girl wearing a hijab also have their own wolves, while the white kids do not. This seems to suggest that even though presumably these characters didn’t immigrate here, they were still born in the “wrong” country. Not in a literal sense, but in the sense that the rules operate differently for them because of generations of social prejudice and oppression. The video shows this clearly with the white father looking disapprovingly at the potential of his daughter being in an interracial relationship, and also with the boy being stopped on the way home by the police, when he was just minding his own business. It obviously clinches up your stomach when you see those blue lights because of the countless ways that’s gone badly over the past several years (Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, etc. etc.).
When we explore the lyrics, we see them dripping with sarcasm from the perspective of Trump, or his followers, or anyone who feels like they are superior purely because they were born white and/or affluent.
“I’ll tell you baby, a secret Manufactured truth is easy to sell When you own the factory And you own the hearts of the clientele But can you really blame me? Built on a system where some must fail So that you can break through If you’ve got the right skin Or you’re born in the right country”
The perspective shifts after this point to directly talk to these people and attempt to wake them out of their ignorance:
“Don’t you know you’re lucky kid You were raised on the right side of town Born rich, now you’re yelling “I’ve seen the inside and you’re out” But can I truly blame you? We’re built on the dreams we feed to the poor So that you can break through If you’ve got the right name Or you’ve got the right god Or you’re born in the right country”
But unfortunately, the system is set up this way. There are people profiting from the lower and middle class fighting amongst themselves. Instead of placing the blame at the top, we are continually told to look at our neighbor with different skin, heritage, religion, and blame them for any short comings or failures. It’s classic scapegoating, and this current regime is not the first to use it. My only hope is that more and more people can try to see through it for what it really is; and the best way to do that is through people using their artistic talents, like River Whyless to try to break through to people in a language they can understand.
We’ve added this to our July TOTD playlist. Check it out here.
We just released a new podcast episode, on the theme of Addiction. You can check that out along with all the others, right here.