As I, like millions and millions of others, waited for the election results to trickle in last week, I came across this video of Trump supporters dancing to a song in Philadelphia as they protested for officials to stop counting votes. The video shows a woman in a MAGA hat, a flag shirt, silver pants, and a blue lives matter flag worn as a cape. The man on the right has similar attire and waves a Trump flag vigorously in the air. The woman raps along with the song, pointing at the gathered crowd around her. As an educator, this video caught my attention, not for the reasons you might expect. It caught my attention because the song that the people are rapping and waving flags to is Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name,” a song that directly runs counter to the imagery and message the protestors want to convey.

Today, I want to look at this video, and some more, discussing the importance of critical thinking, specifically in analyzing the world around us, not buying in blindly to what someone puts in front of us. This is nothing new, I know, but this video really got me thinking about a lot of recent moments where simple critical thinking skills, mainly quick Google searches, would yield the facts. However, many feel that facts exist just to fit their own perspective, and no matter what information arises they deny the facts.

Pointing to the crowd, the woman in the video raps along with Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, “Those who died are justified/ For wearing the badge/ They’re the chosen whites.” Now, on its surface, these lines look like they may support everything the protestors support; however, that’s not the case. The song is a direct condemnation of police brutality, racism, fascism, and more. The band wrote it after LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera, and the opening lyrics draw the line from the KKK to modern day policing: “Some of those who work forces/Are the same that burn crosses.”

The lines that the woman raps in the video are from the perspective of an officer who is “justified” on his actions because he “wears the badge” and he is a “chosen white.” There is a lot going on here, and when you break it down, the protestors do not comprehend the lyrics and what de la Rocha and the band is speaking against. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morrello retweeted the video and stated, “Not exactly what we had in mind.” Now, when this song came out and I was in high school, I wouldn’t have gotten this either. I listened to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and didn’t get any of it. I listened to other bands and didn’t get the true messages being conveyed. I did not have the critical thinking skills and the tools to analyze such works.

These tools are important for everything around us. These tools help us to move forward and to challenge racist, authoritarianism, stereotypes, and more. They help us interrogate rhetoric, especially when that rhetoric works to stoke fears and sow division. It helps us to see where even innocuous movies harbor racism that needs to be unpacked. This latter example occurs in films such as The Binge, a comedy based on a similar premise as The Purge. Rather than one night to commit crimes and kill people though, in The Binge people have one night a year to party and do as many drugs as they want without repercussions.

At its core, The Binge is a late-night comedy, one I’d watch in high school or college, but it deals in subtle moments of racism and stereotypes. One moment really stood out to me when Griffin, the white main character, has a conversation with his Black friend Hags. Throughout the film, Hags wants the reluctant Griffin to partake in The Binge because he feels it is their last opportunity to do something together before the end of their high school careers. Mainly, Hags wants to do this because Griffin is going to go to Brown for college and leave his hometown, and Hags, in the dust.

Hags tells Griffin that he wanted to have this last send off because he wanted to do something special for Griffin. He wanted to do something special because, as he puts it, he knows that he will remain in their hometown, get a job, and will live there until he dies. There are two things at work here. The first is that Hags, for all of the friendship moments he has with Griffin, serves as Griffin’s sidekick, his whole identity forming around Griffin, not himself. As well, Hags’ comment about never going to college and staying in their hometown signals that he has no prospects, that he has peaked in high school. The underlying message here is that the white Griffin can go to college, and an Ivy League college at that, but Hags cannot. What does that say?

This moment is a fleeting moment in the film, framed as a heartfelt moment between two longtime friends coming to the end of their adolescence, but the stream underneath the surface signals that Black youth do not have the capabilities to move beyond their circumstances and that, in film worlds, the exist as nothing more than characters that reaffirm the white characters’ positions. For a good discussion of this in relation to the horror genre, see the documentary Horror Noire.

In the next post, I will dive into how I bring these tools into the classroom and continue to discuss their importance not just within the classroom but within our everyday lives. Our inability to dissect and interrogate leads us to perpetuate inequality and causes us to succumb to those who want to stoke hatred within us through the cultivation of “false hopes” and “false fears.”

What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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1 Comment on “The Need for Critical Thinking and Literacy: Part I

  1. Pingback: The Need for Critical Thinking and Literacy: Part II – Interminable Rambling

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