Before you read the article, listen to the song. I want you to take in the lyrics and the melody and really let it sink into your brain. Then you can come back and read the argument.
Welcome back. This song started off as a poem of protest. It was written by Abel Meeropol under the name Lewis Allan around the 1930s and the topic, as you may or may not have guessed, was racism and the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States. He and his wife put a melody to it and the song was performed eventually, but the version that shot to fame was that of Miss Billie Holiday’s – possibly the greatest jazz songstress of all time.
I discovered (or rediscovered, because I vaguely remember coming into contact with it at some point) the song on a list that I was going through out of pure boredom. I was going through all the songs and listening to them and when I pressed play on this particular song, there was a sudden heaviness in the air. It was like a heavy weight on my spirit with every word and every haunting and confusing note sung.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
The song goes on and if you’re anything like me you could not turn it off after that first verse. It’s like that scene in “Get Out” – The Sunken Place but in reverse. If you ever want to know what coming out of the sunken place feels like, this song does that for you. It legit feels like you’re paralyzed. You’re absolutely hypnotized after that. And then something snaps. And why not? It is such a beautiful, macabre and real piece of writing that even if you could have escaped, you absolutely wouldn’t want to.
The song is about lynching. The song is about the unfair treatment of a people of a certain ethnicity. The song speaks to a reality that people know exists and still try to ignore and cover with fluff.
And this is why we need songs like it right now.
We need more “Strange Fruit” because the song has not accomplished its purpose. For those of you thinking that it has, you are completely deluded. The lynchings are now on a spiritual level. They are on a mental level. The scariest part of all is that they are begin to manifest. Black people in the United States, and even in other places around the world, are constantly being told that they are thugs, that they are making themselves victims and that all they have to do is work hard and they’ll be successful too. How does that work for them when the system is rigged though? How does that work when they have to ensure that they don’t reach too deep into their jackets when they’re around police officers? When they can’t reach around too fast during a stop search? When they have to think about every step that they make and every place that they go and everything that they say for fear of being outcast or outclassed? When they have to talk to their eight and nine-year olds about what to do if a police officer stops you (and in what mad world should we have to be telling kids to be afraid?!)? When they could get shot for being black? How does that advice work in a system that is geared to ensure that they fail and fail abominably?
If you don’t think that these scenarios are testaments of being dragged through the fire when the noose is already around your neck, then you obviously are a part of the fluff. It’s not the 1930s anymore. It is much, much worse. Everything that makes you starts in your head. If someone can mess that up to any degree, they’ve got you. So, physical lynchings became illegal but it never actually stopped. They continued to be dragged through social and economic fires with these ropes tied firmly around their necks which were initially meant to keep them on the tether. They could always see the carrot but they could never reach it and if they try to chew the rope off then they use it to strangle them. If you don’t think that there is something wrong with that, then you are a part of the problem whether you would like to acknowledge that very ugly truth or not.
And like I mentioned earlier, they are beginning to manifest themselves in the physical once again. Last week, I believe it was, in New Hampshire, an eight-year-old biracial boy had to be airlifted to a hospital to literally save his neck because a group of white children wrapped a rope around it and kicked him off a table. He swung three times from where he was hoisted and was able to free himself while the group watched and did absolutely nothing. And the kicker? Just before that happened they were hurling racist epithets i.e. descriptors, i.e. nicknames, i.e. pretty sure they used the N-word at some point, at him. Even better, the police chief of the town that this incident took place in had the audacity to say that the mistakes , the MISTAKES that they make as CHILDREN (at fourteen???!!!) should not have to follow them for the rest of their lives. He trivialized attempted murder. He made it seem as if they were just playing around and that these were innocent sweet angels that could do no wrong. Screw consequence is what he was basically saying. You can google it. It happened in 2017.
Think about that. An eight-year-old. Versus, I believe the eldest was fourteen years old. Biracial, yes, but he just so happened to be black, not white and Mexican, not white and Chinese, not white and Alien, BLACK and the perpetrators of this attempted murder, because that is what it is, just so happened to be white. Stretch your imagination along the ugly train track that is this scenario. What makes you think that if they had access to some kerosene and a match that they wouldn’t take that final step? What makes you think that they would not go there had the opportunity presented itself? They already got the nickname and the hanging part right. What makes you think that they would not have gone to the final level? Honestly. Think about that and tell me that we don’t need more songs like “Strange Fruit”.
We need more artists to sing songs like this so that people pay attention to the reality of what is going on. It’s not enough to wear a shirt anymore. It’s not enough just to march. You need to snatch these kids by the senses and let them know that something is terribly wrong with the narrative in which we live. Mistreating your fellow man is not normal and we should never normalise it. And don’t try to tell me that it cannot be done because the artists are already doing it. There’s a new dance craze every week. There are nonsense trends going viral every day. People spend millions of dollars per day purchasing songs that just have a very loud beat and all of three lyrics. Kids dance like zombies to it and don’t even think to look around at what is happening. Why? Because just like the ancestors did to their own when they sold their people to the whites for nothing, once they are satisfied and happy, the issues don’t really exist. The problems don’t exist. Those who cry out are playing the victim.
The only song that I saw in recent times, and it is still like comparing lead to gold, that is in any way trying to construct a powerful message is “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z. That is probably the only song in recent times that came anywhere close. You know why it doesn’t matter, though? Cause the rest of the album was fluff. It talked about everything else – his Beyoncé drama, his Kanye drama, his own drama – and the one-off song was just that – one-off. Fluff. Very little substance. And so the problem persists because we pretend it doesn’t exist.
We need more songs like “Strange Fruit” because this generation didn’t get the memo. And we need it badly.
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