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CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH | They Don’t Care About Us
“They Don’t Care About Us" is one of the most powerful protest songs to come out of the 1990s. In the midst of the intense racial and political turmoil of the time (Rodney King, race riots, O.J. Simpson, James Byrd Jr.), it delivers a targeted blow against an abusive, corrupt and oppressive apparatus of power. Interestingly while the song became a Top Ten hit in countries around the world, it failed to make it past #30 in the United States. In spite of being dismissed (and stigmatized) in the United States, however, "They Don’t Care About Us" stands as one of the strongest tracks in Jackson’s entire catalog.
The lyrics throughout the song are some of Jackson’s most compelling and provocative. “Tell me what has become of my rights”, he sings. “Am I invisible because you ignore me? Your proclamation promised me free liberty”. He later speaks of those who are victims of hate, shame, and police brutality. “You’re raping me of my pride”, he sings from the prospective of the oppressed. “I can’t believe this is the land from which I came”.
Jackson worked with renowned filmmaker Spike Lee for the songs’s two excellent music videos. The first was set in an impoverished favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Initially, local government officials attempted to block the video from being shot, fearing it would draw attention to the city’s poverty. “I don’t see why we should have to facilitate films that will contribute nothing to all our efforts to rehabilitate Rio’s image”, said State Secretary for Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ronaldo Cezar Coelho.
Yet many residents felt differently. “Everybody’s suddenly paying attention to Santa Marta, talking about social, sanitary and other conditions here”, Mr. de Souza, a local resident, told the New York Times. “It’s a poor world surrounded by a rich world, an island of misery surrounded by wealth”. Courts eventually ruled in favor of allowing Jackson and Spike Lee to film the video, which featured the singer in casual jeans and local shirts, dancing and engaging with the people in various locations throughout the city. In a crowded cobbled street, he dances alongside two hundred-member Afro-Brazilian percussion group Olodum, who bring raw energy and immediacy to the track.
While the video didn’t receive much attention in the United States, it had an international appeal and made a political statement that used Rio de Janeiro as a microcosm for poverty around the globe. Yet it also showed the vitality and energy of the people. Through music and dance, the video suggests, comes a joyful solidarity that might potentially combat oppressive barriers. - taken from Man In The Music by Joseph Vogel