Review of Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection

Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection. Fernando Orejuela and Stephanie Shonekan. Indiana University Press, 2018. 144 pp. ISBN: 978-0253038418.

Over the past couple years, the Black Lives Matter movement has emerged. Gaining lots of media attention, the movement is led by African Americans who are tired of the murder of innocent blacks and the general racial inequality that still occurs in the United States. As a result of this movement, there has been an influx of music made by African Americans artists. Ethnomusicology professors Fernando Orejuela and Stephanie Shonekan have crafted a book, Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection, about the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. As both authors work at college campuses, there is a great deal of time spent on how the movement has impacted universities. Throughout the rest of the book, there are explanations of certain staples in black culture; the authors also address criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first chapter discusses one of the more prominent colleges in the Black Lives Matter movement, the University of Missouri, or Mizzou. Shonekan explains that the “young black student activists finally grew tired of the racist environment in which they had to study” (16). For the past few years, African American students have dealt with subtle microaggressions and being called the n-word when walking to class. Shonekan described how students protested by doing peaceful marches, sit-ins, the football team sitting out on practices and games, and even going to extreme lengths, such as Jonathan Butler going on a hunger strike until the requests were met (17). The chapter shows just how serious the students were and the lengths they were willing to go to get equal treatment. Because of all the protests, Mizzou’s president was forced to resign after downplaying the racism on campus, showing that the young members of the Black Lives Matter movement have the power to make serious change in the world. The first chapter also makes it evident that the students are supporting this cause, and sometimes leading it, because they have their entire future ahead of them.

The book then delves into how hip-hop and other African American styles can be taught in the classroom to help connect racial issues. Orejuela teaches classes about hip-hop and African American culture. He describes how “students are introduced to an ethnomusicological methodology to assess the emergence of hip-hop as part of African American and African diasporic expressive cultures” (37). Hip-hop gives insight into issues in the black community. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Angel Haze sing about these issues. Orejuela provides many examples of songs, such as Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and The Game’s “Don’t Shoot (Mike Brown Tribute),” that he teaches in his class. Orejuela shows how black issues are being taught in the university setting and how they can also promote discussion between readers of the book.

The next few chapters discuss certain aspects of African American culture and other insights into the Black Lives Matter movement. Chapter three goes into a great deal about SLABs, which are “a vernacular vehicle culture that developed among working-class African Americans” (55), which are then connected to music and African American folklore. After this brief chapter, there is a spot that highlights what Black Lives Matter hopes to achieve. Historian Robin D.G. Kelley mentions how Black Lives Matter works to end “structural racism, saving the planet, and transforming the entire nation” (73). There is a discussion of how African American culture throughout the decades has shaped where the community is today is terms of music and protests, allowing the reader to connect the dots between all these issues, rather than dealing with them separately.

The fifth chapter, which centers on Detroit, explains the violence that goes on in the city and answers the criticisms around the Black Lives Matter movement. It details the lack of oversight by a corrupt government, which results in poverty and a lack of basic necessities (90). There is then a discussion of the violence within in the black community, mainly the “black on black violence” statistic that conservatives like to throw around, explaining why the logic is faulty. Even though Detroit does have a lot of violence and poverty, the end of the book describes how it is the perfect place for African Americans to make music, as there is a lot of black history there, and shows the struggles of the community.

Overall, Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection provides a great glimpse into the African American community. It provides history of what blacks have been going through for the past ten years and provides a gateway to discussing this material in the classroom setting. While the book might be short, there is plenty of information that spreads across different cultures from high-ranking universities to impoverished cities. There is input from other scholars and there is a works cited section at the end of every chapter, making everything that Orejuela and Shonekan write more credible. The easy reading and discussion of popular culture in modern times mixed with the academic research makes this book great for both leisure reading and academic discussion and research purposes.

 

Shelby Humphreys
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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