Music video review – Really, racism is over?

2014-07-15 13:45

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US hip-hop heavyweight The-Dream recently came to Langa to shoot his latest video, in which he proposes that classism is the new racism. We’re not buying it, writes Gugulethu Mhlungu

The-Dream, who has co-written smash hits like Single Ladies for Beyoncé and Baby for Justin Bieber, headed to Langa in Cape Town (where Solange Knowles shot her 2012 video Losing You) to shoot a video for hisnew single, Black.

It opens with an image of a shirtless black boy with the word ‘Africa’ painted across his chest, and then goes into a collage of marchers from ­contemporary sociopolitical movements – Occupy Nigeria, Femen, Ukrainian and Venezuelan protesters, Occupy Wall Street, LGBTI ­activists – standing up to an ­unnamed military force.

Although shot in the streets of Langa, where the violence of poverty and inequality is hard to miss, it is interesting that the video doesn’t feature the people of the area. They are background noise lining the streets.

The video in essence imports movements and groups of the ­oppressed, and uses the people of Langa as props. The-Dream name-drops Nelson Mandela (“I’ll never be Mr Madiba / I’m gonna thank you next time I see you”) and the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Marvin Gaye.

Part of the lyrics are “everywhere there’s a Chicago”, which I’m assuming refers to the gun violence over the US Independence Day weekend that saw more than 60 people shot and nine dead.

One of the banners carried in the video reads: “Classism is the new racism”, which is pretty strange for an artist from a country with ­enduring structural and institutionalised racism decades after the end of ­legalised segregation. Also, when did racism end for classism to be the “new” version of it? So many questions.

Again, he is in Langa, where class and race ­intersect in the most brutal and obvious way. How did that banner seem like a good idea?

What the video does feature are sweeping shots of Langa from the sky at dusk with a golden hue of sunlight on the shacks. But not the people who live there. Sigh.

It ends with the unnamed military force kneeling and bowing their heads before cutting to the phrase: “Black is not just a colour any more. Black is not just a race any more. It’s a feeling and a place from which one feels isolated by the world of the governing elite.”

The-Dream went ahead and made black a universal experience of ­oppression, not a lived experience unique to people identified and/or classified as black – but for anyone who feels isolated by the governing elite. He should keep his post-racial “We are all black” new blackness way over there.

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