One of the few positives of a global crisis is that the oneness of humankind is emphasised more than ever. A universal recognition of the fragility of life can help to bring humanity closer like little else. However, the cruel flip-side is that it can also have the opposite effect. The fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to related attacks towards particular minority communities. Undoubtedly this has been fuelled by the continuously reckless speech and anti-immigrant line spewed by our so-called ‘world leaders’ and the irresponsible rhetoric of large sections of our media. Small gestures of goodwill to migrants, who, for years have dedicated their lives to serving a national health service or transport system without recognition, are sometimes too little, too late.
Some will say that to discuss race related issues at such a time is not appropriate but I beg to differ. The fallout from this unprecedented global crisis will bring about many repercussions, one of which could be the deepening of racial divides across the world. This a danger that we should not be complacent about. If we are, then we risk reversing decades of hard work fighting for equality for all. More than ever, the basic need for people to support one another, regardless of colour, faith or sexual orientation, is clear for all to see. We should capitalise on the positive stories of people of all backgrounds and communities working together to fight for a common cause and use this unique opportunity to remember that there is more that unites us than divides us.
To rouse the spirits and help inspire the battle against all injustice, below, I have included 20 of my favourite anti-racist songs which I hope will be of some solace for the predictably hard months ahead.
1. "Racists" by Anti-Flag
Album: American Fall (2017)
Dedicated supporters of the anti-racist movement, veteran Pittsburgh punks, Anti-Flag, don’t hold back on this rousing anthem calling out bigotry and hatred.
"I know you weren’t alive at the time of slavery, but that’s no excuse to ignore its legacy"
2. "American Skin (41 Shots)" by Bruce Springsteen
Album: High Hopes (Originally recorded in 2001. Studio version on High Hopes released in 2016)
Written in the aftermath of the murder of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 23 year old Guinean migrant who was shot dead by 4 NYPD officers in 1999, this sombre reflection on hatred and loss unveils the powers of Springsteen’s storytelling and the sheer horror of police brutality and racial profiling.
“If an officer stops you, promise me you'll always be polite And that you'll never ever run away Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"
3. "Black White" by Asian Dub Foundation
Album: Rafi’s Revenge (1998)
Taken from their Mercury Music Prize nominated debut, the London outlet celebrate the union of different cultures fittingly accompanied by a melting pot of sounds from both East and West.
“Black and white here has united We're here to show you how we've been delighted Black and white here has united Building this community of sound”
4. "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" by The Clash
Album: The Clash (1977)
Key pioneers of the punk rock movement, The Clash, stamped the genre’s message of inclusivity and tolerance over, somewhat ironically, reggae influenced rhythms on this track taken from their eponymous debut.
“All over people changing their votes Along with their overcoats If Adolf Hitler flew in today They'd send a limousine anyway”
5. "The Blacker The Berry" by Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Taken from his Grammy winning third album, this is a no holds barred lyrical assault on racists past, present and future. However, like much of Kendrick’s work, there are complexities – whilst denouncing discrimination he also questions his own behaviour referencing the self-hatred experienced by minority groups who have been negatively racially stereotyped.
“Church me with your fake prophesizing that I'ma be just another slave in my head, Institutionalized manipulation and lies”
6. "Taxi Driver" by The King Blues
Album: Off With Their Heads (2016)
Laden with anger, wit and a healthy dose of irony, Taxi Driver makes a mockery of bigotry in, exactly, 2 minutes of razor sharp punk rock.
The lyrics have to be heard to be understood. Written here without the context of the song would only cause confusion!
7. "America" by Tracy Chapman
Album: Where You Live (2005)
Taken from one of her lesser known albums this low-key offering sees the singer-songwriter take on colonisers and oppressors, both historic and modern.
“You found bodies to serve Submit and degrade While you were conquering America Made us soldiers and junkies Prisoners and slaves”
8. "Avenues & Alleyways" by Rancid
Album: …And Out Come the Wolves (1995)
Stirring call to arms for unity delivered in characteristically raucous fashion by the punk legends.
“Actions could erase all the fear that we suffer People segregated, no one understands each other He's a different color but we're the same kin I'll treat him like my brother, he'll treat me like his”
9. "Europe is Lost" by Kate Tempest
Album: Let Them Chaos (2016)
Often on songs with such depth, context is key. Here, bleak accounts of the mundanity of modern British life are expertly used to highlight the apathy and ignorance of many towards matters of importance such as climate change, poverty and racism.
“The wrongs of our past have resurfaced Despite all we did to vanquish the traces My very language is tainted With all that we stole to replace it with this”
10. "Capture Land" by Chronnix
Album: Dread & Terrible (2014)
Reggae superstar Chronnix dissects the racial motivation underlying the colonisation of countless nations in typically swaggering style.
“Yuh tink me nuh memba King Ferdinand And teifing Columbus have a Golden plan Dem make a wrong turn and end up in the Caribbean One rass genocide kill nuff Indian”
11. "SYM" by Kano
Album: Hoodies All Summer (2019)
Taken from my favourite album of last year– a vital soundtrack for our times which will speak volumes to anyone who has felt marginalised or ostracised from mainstream society. Kano produced a searing social commentary on what it is to be Black in Britain today over a soulful melting pot of genre spanning sounds ranging from hip hop to dancehall, garage to grime. This anthemic closer signs off the album with the poise and panache we have come to expect from the East London Grime legend.
“They want throw banana skins at John Barnsey's
They tell us to go fuckin' back to our own country
But they won't even give us back our own countries
Every entrance to a door, has a footprint left by the ones that came before”
12. "Slave Driver" by Bob Marley
Album: Catch a Fire (1973)
Widely considered to be one of the greatest reggae albums of all time, Catch a Fire is undoubtedly an album of protest. The lyrics to ‘Slave Driver’ covey this clearly with Marley connecting the past and present to shine light on injustices suffered by countless generations.
“Every time I hear the crack of a whip My blood runs cold I remember on the slave ship How they brutalize the very souls”
13. "Black " by Dave
Album: Psychodrama (2019)
Released as the first single of his critically acclaimed debut, Psychodrama, South London rapper, Dave, addresses themes of racial and social inequality.
“Our heritage been severed, you never got to experiment with family trees, 'cause they teach you 'bout famine and greed and show you pictures of our fam on their knees”
14. "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan
Album: Desire (1976)
Written in response to the wrongful imprisonment of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Dylan describes the racism and profiling which led to a false trial and conviction in 1960s America.
"In Paterson that's just the way things go If you're black you might as well not show up on the street 'Less you wanna draw the heat"
15. "Harder Than You Think" by Public Enemy
Album: How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul (2007)
Hip-Hop heroes, Public Enemy, call out apathetic contemporaries and predecessors for failing to address racism and other injustices over an uncharacteristically upbeat instrumental.
"Check the facts, expose those cats Who pose as heroes and take advantage of blacks Your government's gangster, so cut the crap A war going on so where y'all at?"
16. "For the Kids of the Multiculture" by Sonic Boom Six
Album: Sonic Boom Six (2012)
An unapologetic celebration of diversity and the benefits it brings complemented perfectly by the vocals of frontwoman Laila Khan on a joyous chorus.
“I feel lucky to be living in a town that's mixed there's European Caribbean every flavour in between From the shops to the mosque to the cuisine Reggae posters in Polish grocers Getting on together like chips and samosas”
17. "All You Fascists" by Billy Bragg and Wilco
Album: Mermaid Avenue Vol.II (2000)
Modern day folk hero, Billy Bragg, reworks his own hero Woody Guthrie’s classic with the help of Americana band Wilco.
“Race hatred cannot stop us, this one thing I know Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go You're bound to lose”
18. "Maangamizi" by Akala
Album: The Thieves Banquet (2013)
Rapper, author and activist, Akala, showcases his lyrical prowess with historical knowledge to match on what is a painful yet vital exploration of Africa’s past.
“What awaited was not just enslavement But a genocidal impulse craving They committed unspeakable abuses To make a nigger from an African human”
19. "Old Rock n Roll" by Young Fathers
Album: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015)
The Edinburgh trio question the validity of labels on this track taken from their superb follow up album to the Mercury Music Prize winning debut, Dead.
“I said I'm tired of playing the good black I'm tired of having to hold back I'm tired of wearing this hallmark for some evils that happened way back”
20. "White Man’s World" by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Album: The Nashville Sound (2017)
Four time Grammy Award winner, Jason Isbell, discusses his perspective on race and gender on this moving plea for equality.
“I'm a white man looking in a black man's eyes Wishing I'd never been one of the guys Who pretended not to hear another white man's joke Oh, times aint forgotten”