Ethnic Cleansing

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Music empowers because it has the ability to be accessible to many people around the world. The messages in its lyrics bring about “social change, of speaking truth to power.”[1] In song writing, music becomes liberating, motivational and powerful, because this is when most artists are free to express their feelings deliberately. Their passion is felt by the audience, and therefore makes a song meaningful.

The song “Strange Fruit[2]” was first sung by Billie Holiday[3]. The story goes that it was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a teacher who was deeply impacted after what he saw in a picture of Southern lynching[4]. Because he couldn’t do much at the time about the crime, he expressed his impotence through this chilling poem. In its simplicity, Meeropol contrasts the “beautiful landscape with the scene of lynching, the smell of magnolias with that of burning flesh,”[5] a product of racial oppression.

Lynching was a form of murder. It was torture led by a mob that didn’t allow formal trial for its victims. It is important to point out that lynching had no restrictions, because the justice system that could potentially place limitations was dominated by white people. And so, it was a dehumanizing way to show who ruled. It was often geared towards African-Americans to emphasize that they were “not truly human beings or, if human, certainly not equal or endowed with any right to life or liberty.”[6] The mobs demonstrated their superiority by punishing these people any way they pleased. Lynching went from a form of murder to a sort of “ritual of interracial social control” encouraged by the community.

The subtleness of the song empowered awareness about discrimination, “ethnic cleansing”[7] and injustice. I believe the song was ahead of its time because its protest message was unusual for the 1930s, but one that was later expressed in the Civil Rights movement.

 

Estefania Wujkiw


[1] Intersections of Media and Communications.  Pg.80

[3] Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9FZMHNhJ80

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