Why Brexit Matters To Hip-Hop, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile


For many of us here stateside, what happens across the pond stays there when it comes to Britain and their surprising decision to leave the EU.

However, considering the anti-immigration and separatist issues that have been widely reported as the fuel and cause of the June 23rd, 2016 vote of 52% to 47% to leave, the result deserves all of our rapt attention – no matter where we call home.

To quote the fiercely wise Angela Davis on the subject of turning a blind eye to the possibility of zenophobia or anything else that could be rooted in political philosophies rooted in separatism: “if they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”

With America’s fraught history of slavery, Japanese internment camps, and more recent issues such as the us versus them slant of much of the debate around immigration reform, the American-Muslim community, and the unfortunate deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the equally unfortunate deaths of the five Dallas Police officers at a peaceful Black Lives Matter Protest over the deaths of Sterling and Castile, as a nation all of us are familiar with being part of a group that has been unfairly pegged for expulsion, punishment and under the worst circumstances, death.

In uttering her famous words in the 1970s, Angela Davis was in fact reusing imagery from the 1945 protest poem “First They Came…” written by German Pastor Martin Niemoller to disparage and denigrate the actions of the numerous German intellectuals who looked away and did nothing as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power.

Like any great rhyme, the message and lyricism of that poem still hits home today:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Certainly, it is premature and egregiously unfair to liken anyone on today’s political scene – either conservative or radical – to the likes of terrible political demagogues like Germany’s Hitler, Italy’s Benito Mussolini or Haiti’s Francois Duvalier, aka Papa Doc.

However, it must not be forgotten that all of these men thrived early and ultimately remained too long due to an unerring ability to create a cult of personality that eventually obliterated any reasonable political view or viable political platform.

These men were made stronger and more intractable every day by the inaction of those who might have looked towards the growing fire rather than away from it.

Thankfully Hip Hop doesn’t come from a tradition of looking away and staying silent when things are getting out of hand.

On the contrary, it comes from a need to shed a bright light on what’s happening to us and around us – whether it’s beautiful or frightening.

Donald Trump, intentionally or unintentionally has energized a certain separatist and highly volatile sector of the American landscape.

He has done it by leaning on old ideas of nativism, defined by decidedly strict economic and social separation from other countries and within America itself as based on race and religion – as explicitly chronicled in the New York Times.

He has explained this domestic and international modus operandi as a means towards recapturing America’s “good old days,” while refusing to nail down exactly what that terminology means or whom it serves best in our ethnically and religiously diverse nation.

This is dangerous if it stays hidden – no matter what the political endgame.

As Trump seems to wink at certain “better than” displeased sectors of the American populace all while giving them other “less worthy” sectors on which to vent their anger, so potentially goes Britain.

In polls taken by  The Atlantic, as well as CNN’s piece on How Britons Feel about Brexit, the Britons who voted to leave the EU have tended to belong to a specific part of the less educated, financially frustrated working class or the more financially removed upper class  – with very little in between those two groups.

This would seem to echo those in America who have most vociferously fallen in line behind Donald Trump’s message.

America is historically familiar with this classic yet seemingly odd pairing, as noted by President Barack Obama in an extended interview with NPR post Brexit:

“This has been an ongoing theme in American History,” stated our current President, adding:  ” You can go back and during Jim Crow and segregation and you’ve got black sharecroppers who have nothing and alongside them, poor white farmers who don’t have that much more except for the fact that they’re white. And the degree to which a lot of politics in the South were specifically designed to make sure that that sharecropper and that white farmer didn’t get together to question how the economy was structured and how they could benefit, that’s  – that’s one of the oldest stories in American politics.”

Donald Trump, upon landing in Scotland the day after Britain voted to leave the EU, had this to say about Brexit and what it might mean for the UK and the global world economy: “The pound is going down,” said the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, continuing: ” This will bring more American tourists to my golf course and hotel in Turnberry.”

Never mind that the people of Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and London, voted by 62% to remain within the EU.

Never mind that someone who is looking to lead a nation might, at the very least feign the appearance of having more on their minds than how their own personal business holdings will fare in the face of a major global shift.

Slick Rick, one of Hip Hop’s greatest from when he revolutionized New York’s rap scene with “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick” has been working to get the word out regarding the troubling anti-immigration sentiment behind Brexit and within certain political factions involved in America’s 2016 Presidential race.

Slick Rick, who was born in England in 1965, knows only so well how hard immigration can be.

Rick moved to the United States in 1976, but only a few months ago, after a lengthy 23 year battle has he been able to call U.S. citizenship his own.

While Rick had the significant immigration complication of a 1991 plea of guilty to the charge of attempted murder, the MC would seem to be on the right page when it comes to the importance of seeing how the separatist politics of Brexit can both affect and mirror the future of American foreign and domestic policy.

To that end, as reported first in April of this year by Rolling Stone, Rick is backing Hilary Clinton. ”

You make educated choices, you check their longevity,” said Rick on Clinton before she was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, adding: “You know their heart, their passion, their soul – you know they’re good people.  You make an educated guess, and you go with what you think the United States wants.”

The implication here would be that one would like to believe that America is more about inclusion versus separation.

Making some noise, such as Slick Rick has been trying to do vis a vis  immigration reform and a message of more inclusion versus exclusion, could have a real positive effect on the way the world is turning.

While it seems unlikely that the Brexit vote will be reversed, how it might ultimately take effect is still up for grabs.

For Brexit to actually take full effect, Britain needs to invoke Article 50, which Britain’s former Prime Minister David Cameron left to his successor Theresa May, Britain’s new Prime Minister as of July 13, 2016.

Cameron, who resigned hours after the Brexit vote as a direct show of dissent to leaving the EU, theoretically gave Britain time and breathing room to rethink the vote by refusing to enact Article 50 himself.

While that has yet to happen, May was also for remaining in the EU before the pro Brexit vote came in.

On the whole matter of reversing Brexit, May has been clear that this is a no go, stating that “Brexit means Brexit.”

However, given her misgivings pre-Brexit, it would seem that in looking to make a “success” of Brexit she is open to identifying and blunting the force of some of the more divisive and harmfully exclusionary passions that might have pushed it through.

Whatever happens, whether it is here or abroad, whether it involves the 2016 presidential race or Brexit, it is our job as citizens of the world to stay aware and refuse to be silent.

To be silent is to suffer the fractious hand that you are dealt.  To give a voice to what you see is to change it and make it more than just the sum of it’s parts.