Diff’rent Strokes – Theme Song

Race relations in America were lightly addressed from 1978-1985, in this TV sitcom. Two African American orphans are adopted by a rich Park Avenue, widower/single Dad, who is white. An early episode has a social worker not believing that a white man should be raising African Americans.

Can popular culture, even through the “boob tube,” lead and shape public opinion? Another question could be this: is a comedy show that is meant to entertain, the right or best forum for such issues to be addressed.


Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is

Does passing a law change people’s thoughts and behaviors?

Bruce Hornsby was skeptical in 1986 – “the law don’t change another’s mind” – thinking back to the US 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This law banned discrimination based on skin color and religion at private establishments like lodging and restaurants, and public places at the state and local government level. Employers were forbidden to discriminate on these grounds and gender, too. The law eased restrictions on voting for African Americans, though did not end qualification requirements. It started the progress toward desegregation of public schools.


Charles Mingus – Fables Of Faubus

In 1957, Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus used the National Guard to prevent some African American teenagers from attending a high school populated by white students.

Bassist Charles Mingus had some lyrics for this jazz tune, but the record label, Columbia, only permitted an instrumental version. At least, according to some reports and Wikipedia. It could also be the case that the lyrics came later.

All the same, the song toots and sings against racism and for the integration of schools, which jived with Supreme Court rulings at the time.

With the words:

Related: John Coltrane, Alabama

Moses “Clear Rock” Platt – Run, Nigger, Run

Yes, this song is today unfortunately named.

Around the middle of the 19th Century, black slaves needed passes to leave plantations. “Sneaking off” occurred, though with fear of being whipped if captured or found out later by a patrolman.

Moses Platt, imprisoned in Texas, was recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax. His nickname may have came from killing men with rocks.

The song was used in the 2013 movie, 12 Years A Slave.

Junior Reed – One Blood

Jamaican reggae artist also sang for Black Uhuru. This is perhaps his most well-known song.

Soldiers, police, mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, people of different tribes and those with different skin color: Reid sings we all share one blood. Instead of behaving like vampires hunting each other, let’s acknowledge we share commonalities.

This is hopeful and true, if simplistic, when it comes to reducing conflict in cities, countries and the world.

Michael Jackson – They Don’t Care About Us

Are there more sensitive international political topics beyond Israel? Michael Jackson sure found out in 1996,  with this song that was considered by many to be antisemitic.

Antisemitism is the term referring to attitudes and actions deemed hostile and prejudicial toward those of the Jewish faith.

The lyrics included this:

“Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.”

Jackson claimed he was singing universally about hate. But he did alter these lyrics.

A second video shifted the focus to African Americans, China, war crimes and other political topics, perhaps to try to highlight the more general nature of the song’s message:

Temptations – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

With so many challenges in the world, perhaps it’s best just to let the band play on. Not taking a political stance, the Temptations list ills such as racism, war, drugs, gun violence, government spending and taxes… even local government with a reference to city inspectors. Yet it is not a song of apathy or giving up, but perhaps realistic for not attempting to predict where things are headed. The chaotic, pyschedelic arrangement may attest to this. Or, that Motown was not interested in protest records despite the times.