Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the US, I want to share a song and a story.

I’m a white guy. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi. We were a squarely upper middle class family. While there’s technically no segregation in Mississippi, it’s still a very segregated culture. White people live in this part of town. Black people live in that part of town.

Growing up, I remember feeling a distance between me and any black friends I would make. It was almost as if we were looking over our shoulders, waiting for someone to tell us we weren’t supposed to talk to each other.

Fast forward to a few years ago, and I met Donté.

Donté and I met because we’re both musicians. He’s a ridiculously talented rapper and writer, and he loves to play music with a full band instead of just rapping to a beat. We’ll probably do a full-band project sometime this year.

Anyway, we were out shooting pool one night (I am a horrific pool player), and we started talking about how we grew up, focusing mostly on Donté’s childhood. The differences were stark. It became evident to me that if I grew up in the same environment, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.

Having run in conservative Christian circles for most of my life, I’ve heard the rhetoric. I’ve heard the rich white guy on the radio rant about how people need to take responsibility for themselves, how welfare rewards and enables laziness, how anyone born in this great land of ours has the same opportunities as everyone else.

It’s just not true.

Yes, some people take advantage of welfare. Yes, some people are lazy. Yes, some people don’t pursue opportunities…but imagine you grew up in a world where normal things like a good education and going to college and getting a decent job seemed impossibly out of reach. Do some people make it to the top against all odds? Yeah, sure. But I can tell you I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had grown up in a different part of town. I’m a very impressionable person. I was especially so as a kid. I would have bought into the idea that all those good things were out of my reach.

All this got me thinking about slavery…how a few hundred years ago my people (white business owners) brought an entire race of people to this country. They didn’t introduce them to great new opportunities. They forced them here, seeing them as property. A couple hundred years later slavery doesn’t exist, or does it?

Yeah, we abolished slavery (great job, white dudes!), but then what? We displaced an entire nation of people, then told them to figure it out. The land of the free became the home of the slave. Sure, they’re free, but they’re not treated equally.

I know I’m touching on a sore subject. And I know there are no simple solutions. The people in politics like to wrap things up nicely with a bow, explaining everything in black and white (ha) terms.

But this stuff isn’t black and white. It’s a sea of gray.

All I’m trying to say is I feel a responsibility to lean in and engage the problem, to ask hard questions and start difficult conversations.

To my black friends, I’m sorry. Just like PTSD affects people long after the traumatic events have ended, the effects of slavery run deep, even a couple hundred years later. While I didn’t personally buy and sell slaves, that doesn’t mean I don’t own some of the responsibility for working towards rectifying this thing.

The day after I played pool with Donté, I wrote a song called “Free.” Then I asked Donté to write a verse for it. The result was awesome. See the video above.

I know a song won’t change the world, but maybe it will start some conversations, conversations that lead to small changes that lead to bigger changes.

Who knows?

If you connect with this, leave a comment below and share this?

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. You can download the song for free over at www.joegildermusic.com.

P.P.S. Here are the lyrics to the song:

“FREE” by Joe Gilder and Low Pro

You might think it’s better
Than it was a couple hundred years ago
I think you better take a look
You don’t think you’d ever
Do something to ever get yourself that low
You’ve lived forever by the book
Where are you from?
What were you born into?
Things that have nothing to do with you

Free, land of the free, home of the brave
At least that’s what they say
But if we cross the tracks and see we can’t really be
Land of the free, home of the slave

You like an easy answer,
So do I, but like has never been that way
I think you known that all along
The problem is much bigger than you think
Not something you can vote away
We need to sing a different song
Stop pointing fingers
Start reaching out our hands
Into the mess that we have made

Free, land of the free, home of the brave
At least that’s what they say
But if we cross the tracks and see we can’t really be
Land of the free, home of the slave

Can’t take away from all the men and women who gave they’re lives
on the battlefield where the battles real but America’s a battle still
Built off the backs of Black Brutus, blood-thirsty opportunists bid us to the
highest consumer
Monthly trips on slave ships, bodies shackled to the docks.
Fast forward to present day they try to tell me it’s done stopped
When they throw us in the slums, miseducate all our young, and they flood us
with these drugs and these guns then judge what we become (I’m just saying)
Let’s be specific if you want statistics. One out of fifteen is imprisoned
Coincidence is nonsense.
I see the same pattern #blacklivesmatter
I scream for my people until we’re treated equal

Free, land of the free, home of the brave
At least that’s what they say
But if we cross the tracks and see we can’t really be
Land of the free, home of the slave

  • That’s awesome. I just revisited this page after some time away. Will definitely be buying some of your course-ware Joe (next couple of paydays away) … I always new you were a great home studio sound guy and now I know you have a great heart, People like you are rare … respect (from Australia where we have similar issues with slightly different details).

  • Jason Moss

    Much respect Joe, and a great track. We desperately need more commentary like this. As music-makers, it’s important for us to speak up.

    Jason

    PS — you’ve got a fantastic voice!