Unless you've been living under a rock that's been living under a rock that's 300 feet underground and cut off from all electricity, you're aware that America is in the midst of some form of social upheaval and much of it is centered on race. Ferguson. Baltimore. Charleston. Those cities have become symbols of racial tension, fostering a nationwide discussion of its insidious and sometimes fatal nature. Even McKinney isn't immune. Racism is alive and well everywhere in America.
That's where Buffalo Black comes in. He's one of the most politically minded rappers in Dallas. 2014's REDPILLwonderland was a claustrophobic record that dealt unflinchingly with the realities of life as an African American in this country. Another one of his songs, "Enter the Void," was picked up by Spike Lee for his film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. And he's made his intentions clearer still with his latest single, "1984." It's no light listening either. It isn't inspired by the Olympic games in Los Angeles, nor by Beverly Hills Cop or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It finds inspiration in George Orwell's grim, dystopian novel from 1949.
"When I look at the issues that we see today, I feel like they’re all linked," Black says. "Surveillance. Police brutality. The ethics in our foreign policy." His conception of Orwell's novel isn't meant to represent a strictly African American point of view, but with that said, it's hard to argue that these systems of oppression are colorblind. "As a black man, one can say we’re already living in 1984. You can already say that it’s a place and time where opportunity is limited, where media propaganda is in abundance. "
"1984" sees Black recontextualizing Big Brother's sloganeering — WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY — in these real life, modern-day systems. It even shows up in the rewriting of history in school textbooks, some of which marginalize the work of the Civil Rights movement. "You see it in Texas. You see it in other states too," says Black. "This isn’t just relegated to race. It’s an all-around system organized mainly through the GOP — and also in other political affiliations — but mostly conservatives where they try to use revisionist history to explain different eras. I don’t really see how that’s beneficial to getting over white privilege."
The idea of white privilege has been tossed around often lately, with many people getting upset about the term's use while its actual meaning remains vague. "I feel like white privilege is a benign sort of mentality that whites have and have inherently carried through society," Black says. "It's a system which has largely benefited them, garnered them more opportunities, more freedom of expression without being persecuted, without the same anxieties that minorities have to deal with on a daily basis."
More and more, though, the causes of those anxieties have been brought into the public view. The incident involving McKinney police officer Eric Casebolt was a perfect example of the sort of racial profiling that garners broad attention when it's captured on video. "Police brutality is largely disproportionate to blacks. A lot of those cases have involved black, unarmed individuals," Black says. "Through the past few years, with large-scale protests and public demonstrations for Occupy Wall Street or any labor movement, it has [been] shown that police forces have no issue using excessive force to dispel large crowds, whether it be unconstitutionally or on campus grounds. It shows that the authorities apply force arbitrarily and justify it after the fact."
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This isn't just a matter of individual officers acting out but a function of a larger system of oppression, he says. "There are more incarcerated people now than there were slaves in 1864," Black says. "It goes to show the lineage of privilege that these people have been granted through time, [and] that they’ll stop at nothing to continue to perpetuate it."
Some signs of hope exist; the increasing push to remove the Confederate flag from state buildings and Confederate statues from public spaces is "all symbolism," Black says, but it shows progress. "I think it shows that society is willing to move at the will of mass movements. The tension that’s been pervading our culture for however many years, I think now we’re showing that we’re ready to move on. At least in a visual way. I think that there’s more to deal with and more to discuss."
In the meantime, artists such as Black will be there, pushing listeners to question the propaganda they're given and not give in to the systems that threaten them. "Subconsciously, when you have the specter of 5-0, somebody who might not give you the benefit of the doubt when you’re walking late at night, I think it does linger in the back of your head," Black says. "You may not be totally safe, even when individuals are supposed to be protecting you — at times they are profiling you and attempting to find a reason to add you to the system. I feel like that’s something I personally don’t feel like I’ll ever get over."