Bruce Springsteen’s newest album, Wrecking Ball, has been called his most politically direct album yet. But to comment on last month’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Springsteen, currently touring in support of Wrecking Ball, reached further back into his catalog, playing his 2000 song “American Skin (41 Shots),” originally written in response to the Amadou Diallo shooting.
While there are obviously many differences between the Diallo and Martin shootings, the chorus of “American Skin” resonates with both incidents:
It ain’t no secret
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living
in your American skin
Pointedly, Springsteen gave the song its Wrecking Ball tour debut in Tampa, Fla., just a couple hours drive from Sanford, where Martin was killed. (In 2000, Springsteen debuted the song right before 10 shows at Madison Square Garden; he played the song there, too, prompting criticism from then Police Commissioner Howard Safir.) In Tampa, Springsteen let the audience grasp the connection themselves (which they seem to do—listen to the swell of cheers when the chorus comes around); last night in Philadelphia, according to David Remnick, Springsteen introduced the song with the words, “This is for Trayvon.”
“Trayvon’s blackness wasn’t something he could hide, so it wouldn’t have mattered whether he’d worn a hoodie or a t-shirt that fateful night. It mattered that he was black, and it mattered that the person who shot him had a vendetta out for black men before Trayvon ever set foot in the neighborhood.
It matters that in 2012, there are more black men in prison today than those who were enslaved in 1850. It matters that blacks, in particular black men, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and underrepresented in colleges. It matters that the black unemployment rate is nearly double that of unemployment for the general population.
It matters that blacks are less likely to be screened, diagnosed, and treated for preventable diseases, less likely to own homes, less likely to receive research grants, and more likely to retire in poverty than their white counterparts. It matters that blacks are less likely than whites to abuse drugs, but more likely to be convicted of drug crimes.
None of these statistics are due to a genetic predisposition to violence, poor health and underachievement, instead as a direct result of the disenfranchisement of blacks that has occurred in this country for more than 200 years at the hands of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, discrimination, and the institutionalized racism in our schools, banks, businesses, courts, and prisons that has torn apart our families and fractured our community. Just like Trayvon Martin, race mattered for Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, James Anderson, James Byrd, Emmett Till, and hundreds more we will never know the name of who died because of their skin color.” — Angela Marie Davis
“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!” – Bob Marley
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.