The history of racism in America may be vastly complex, but the crux of it is so simple that it evades a lot of adults. Kids, however, always know how to simplify the straightforward truths lying at the bottom of prejudice.
“Please respect all races because this racism is not okay,” says the caption on an Instagram video made by 9-year-old Liyana Dunn, which ends with a photo of the child holding up a fist with the words “Black Lives Matter” on the screen.
Liyana lives in Duncanville with her family. Her grandfather is Tracy "The D.O.C" Curry, NWA rapper and one of the original founders of Death Row Records. Her aunt is Puma Curry, Erykah Badu’s daughter. Liyana doesn’t know much about her “grandpa” and “auntie’s” extraordinary lives. Yet she knows about racism.
On May 20, “Grandpa” shared the video with his thousands of followers. With a mashup of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and Post Malone’s “Congratulations,” the video shows the child responding to a series of captions such as “Take out your ID” and “She’s got a weapon” by holding her hands up while wearing a pink Bratz doll T-shirt.
The D.O.C tells the Observer that his granddaughter is a “really intelligent” young woman and “budding visual artist.”
“From the mouths of babies,” he says of Liyana, whom he adds is “very smart and sensitive” and a “good kid.”
The video features montages of photos of notable black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, whom Liyana says she chose because she “knew that they were a part of American history and they were very important,” she tells the Observer.
The hip-hop icon says he’s not sure where his granddaughter gets her sense of activism.
“I have no clue where it came from. We never talk about those things,” he says of subjects like racism. “It must be her own world view.”
Children like Liyana must be observing these issues outside of their households, The D.O.C says.
“So that pain is real and probably a true look into how our babies see us today,” he says.
He explains that he first received the video from his sister.
“I was so blown away I immediately posted it and sent it to most my friends including Dre, who were all as touched, ” he says of his longtime collaborator Dr. Dre.
Liyana doesn’t know who “Dre” is either. She says she was inspired to make the video after a recent incident in which she was playing video games with her friends and strangers began making racist comments on the game’s forum. She also is adamant about giving credit to her friend Jayla Ioyana, who made a BLM video first using the same music, though with different visuals.
Besides making videos with her friends that call for equality, Liyana is spending her quarantine time like many of us.
“I’ve been eating a lot of food and playing games and watching Netflix,” she says. She reads news articles “if it’s something that’s really interesting to me.”
She's not sure why it’s so difficult for people to understand such a simple premise — that black lives matter.
“Some people don’t think that black people deserve anything,” she says. “I don’t know why, but that’s just their opinion.”
Protests across major U.S. cities have intensified after the shocking killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, leading to rioting there this week. Floyd's case comes at a time of building racial tension by the shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men while he was jogging. The two men had not been arrested in the months that passed, not until a video of the shooting was leaked to social media. Then there was the shooting in Kentucky of Breonna Taylor, who was asleep in her home when police shot her after raiding the wrong house.
Dallas artists are responding with their own calls to end racism and police brutality.
On May 8, pianist Kwinton Gray commented online about Arbery’s death:
“As a kid I always dreamed of playing piano all over the world and becoming ‘somebody.’ I thought that if I was a well known ‘somebody’ musician… 1. Cops would think twice about killing me 2. Cops would have a harder time killing me and getting away with it because ppl would be outraged. I wish being human was enough. #BlackLivesMatter”
On Tuesday, Dallas pop artist Dezi 5, who now lives in New York, wrote, “I will continue to take a knee, and I will NEVER ... EVER sing the ‘national anthem.”’
On the same day, jazz singer Ashleigh Smith shared the news about the “Central Park Karen” Amy Cooper, who called the police to say she was being threatened by an African-American man who had only asked her to put a leash on her dog.
“This is why Emmett Till was killed,” Smith wrote. “Do you know his white accuser never even set foot in prison for what she did, for LYING on a young black boy and watching him HANG for her lie. This is no different. This is what Amy was TRYING to do.”
Trumpet player Terence Bradford made a Facebook post on Wednesday:
“What’s to be done when you are regularly hated, killed, exploited, targeted, etc. just for being black? ... This shit happens so often to black men, women, and children and has been happening to us for hundreds of years.”
“We say Black Lives Matter, which in retrospect is a pretty basic statement. I mean seriously we are just saying our lives matter, but the reality is they don’t.”
Bradford raises a point that can’t be hammered enough. “Black lives matter” is a strikingly basic statement. It’s not “black lives are superior” or a call for retribution. It's a plea for a modicum of consideration for the most basic human right: to live.
Badu shared a recent tweet by writer Quinta Brunson:
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“Being black is having a good day and then seeing another black person was killed for no reason. then you have to think about/talk about that all day. or don't and numb yourself. It's a constant emotional war.”
The singer added her own caption to the tweet: “This is America. Privilege is an illness.”