Tonight I flipped through the channels to find something to eat my supper to (I don’t say “dinner” because of my working class Irish/Polish roots) and to my delight, “Dangerous Minds” was playing on Showtime. In this film, a white former Marine teaches high school to economically disadvantaged and mostly non-white students where violence is everyday commonplace. The students navigate many impossible situations, such as getting kicked out of school for being pregnant, dealing drugs to have enough money to eat, not having enough to eat, growing up in poor schools which did not foster literacy, and living under the threat of death. Coolio, a rapper whose career peaked in the 1990s, wrote the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” which is featured in the movie. The song samples Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” and is a beautiful piece of music for both the sound and the clear, eloquent message and delivery.
This song starts out with the lyrics “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I take a look at my life/and realize there’s nothing left”. This line is obviously powerful as it invokes one of the most significant Biblical passages and shows the sadness of a life lived where so many limits impose “nothing left” but self-destruction. The song continues to outline why he has chosen the life of a gangsta, “Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk/I really hate to trip but I gotta loc/As they croak, I see myself in the pistol smoke”. According to RapGenius this passage means that while he does not like to “trip” or become angry/violent, he only sees his only death unless he is preeminently violent, “loc” being a reference to the gun he must carry on his person to prevent his own life from being taken. He also empathizes with his victims, but unfortunately cannot bring that to a positive fruition because “I see myself in the pistol smoke”. In my previous post, I explored a little bit what constitutes a violent act when physical harm is absent. This song demonstrated that for people the American society has relegated unimportant, people who are economically disadvantaged, people of color and the intersection of the two, there are few options giving a person liberal agency to choose the course of their lives. For many, the choices are the prison system, the cemetery, or for those youths who want out, the military which could equally result in their death. Is this a violence perpetrated by a society? Yes. How can a society, a non-agent actor, perpetrate a violence against people without decreed actions of physical violence? As with my previous post, a violence does not have to be physical. The American society has a history of enacting policies, such as Redlining disproportionate drug sentencing laws (longer sentences for crack cocaine possession over powdered cocaine to which crack cocaine use is the more chosen form of the drug for low income peoples because of the low street cost), and perpetually broken school systems in areas of prominently non-white racial demographics. In “Gangsta’s Paradise”, Coolio demonstrates the apathy, despair, anger, and ultimate choice of acting in a physically aggressive and violent way as a means of survival. For anyone who has seen “The Wire”, Omar is another embodiment of this phenomenon, himself living in a Gangsta’s Paradise of heroin ridden inner city Baltimore.
Recently, we learned that this country is an Oligarchy with democratic features, not a classic Democratic Republic To us common folk, this is not really news or surprising but it is nice that there is finally firm political science evidence for our long held suspicions. Between the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance, corporate personhood and welfare, and complete and total reign of the banking elite to steal from the common folk, the Oligarch’s Paradise goes far beyond what Coolio discusses in his song. Drafting wars, financing private prisons, buying congressmen, and no fear of prosecution for white collar economic crimes, the Oligarchy really got it made. Unlike Coolio, they do not live in fear for their lives nor do not they live fearfully of repercussions from the people they do violence against nor do they have any empathy for the people they chose to commit crimes against. American violence at its finest and most powerful, the last line of “Gangsta’s Paradise” “Tell me why are we/So blind to see/That the ones we hurt/Are you and me” is simply not applicable to them. At least Coolio’s character in the song could recognize what he was doing was morally objectionable.