Martin Luther King Jr. was a Social Justice Warrior: Why Hyperbole is Destroying the Meaning of Words

Martin Luther King Jr. was a social justice warrior.

Yes. That headline is meant to trigger you. Yes, it sucks to live in a world where we can’t even use the word “trigger” in a genuine way because of how our language has been hijacked and politicized.

Here is the definition of the ward “warrior” according to Miriam Webster Dictionary:

:  a person engaged or experienced in warfare; broadly :  a person engaged in some struggle or conflict 

If we could miraculously erase all of the ugly American history, loaded language, and bitter culture wars from our minds, wouldn’t we all want our social systems to have tenets that hold some regard for justice or fairness? Not to expect that life will always be fair or that we are all guaranteed equal outcomes despite our efforts or qualifications. Justice should be an ideal we strive for, even if we never 100% master the pursuit.

(Let me add the caveat that I also understand that “justice” itself is somewhat of a subjective concept.)

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Time For A Reckoning: Examining The Phil Anselmo Controversy & Backlash

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By the time I even viewed the damning video of Philip H. Anselmo, the legendary vocalist of Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual, performing a forceful “sieg heil” Nazi salute followed directly by adamantly shouting “white power” to the crowd at the end of a star-studded Dimebash fundraiser concert at Lucky Strike in Hollywood, CA, the internet had already exploded with outrage, responses, defenses, theories, and excuses.

In just the few days after the event, it appeared that Phil Anselmo outrage fatigue had already set in. People were already sick of talking about it, hearing how offended people were, or even acknowledging that the heavy music world might have a race problem. Despite this fatigue and the fickleness of the social media news cycle, more than a few people reached out to me asking if I would write some type of response considering my track record of dissecting heavy metal culture and openness to discussing race and politics. I consider it my responsibility to weigh in, so here it is:

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Anti-Flag

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I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about the controversy involving the Confederate Flag. Every news or media outlet that had someone with an opinion threw their hat in the ring. I had some discussions with a couple of my best friends whose viewpoints were both vague indifference: that they had too many other problems in their real life to really care. I took that as a slight frustration by being inundated with yet another controversy for people to be outraged by. The PC police had run amok…again. I can empathize with some of their frustration considering how many “false flag” (pun intended), “boy who cried wolf” outrages over Don Imus, Alec Baldwin, or Tracy Morgan saying inappropriate things. In my gut though, this was different. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The truth is I never thought anything would ever change about a certain sector of this country’s infatuation with the stars and bars. I knew the real history. Or most of it at least. If I saw someone displaying it out and loud, it made me a bit uncomfortable. But that was rare; I lived in New Jersey for Christ’s sake. I remember seeing  the flag in a well-to-do kid I went to high school with’s room in semi-rural New Jersey. To me, it always seemed daft to see a northerner with the flag of the south. I mean, you could just move down south if you wanted to. What exactly are you pining for?

Over time, it just faded into the brush of Americana. I didn’t take it personally. I guess it was maybe a racist thing to some people. But I just took it as a redneck thing. I don’t love using that word, but I’d imagine if someone was proudly sporting a big ol’ Confederate flag, they probably don’t shy away from self identifying as a redneck. That might be presumptuous, so sorry if I’m wrong. But I just took it as one of those things that southerners, self-identifying rednecks, and maybe a some white supremacists would just have forever. Like guns or perpetual war. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ve just gotten used to it.

I was extremely surprised when there was a public and political push to remove the flag from state grounds across the south after the massacre in Charleston. I’m cool with it, but I can understand how southerners and republicans would be freaked out.  There’s a black President, gay marriage just got legalized, and now your favorite flag is being marked for obsolescence. Like I said, it’s kinda like guns for me. In a perfect world, I’d love people to maybe not have so many guns, but with that whole “from my cold, dead hand” bit, I understand how attached to them you are. I’m just gonna concede that one. I mean, you gotta gun. Hang on to it. Don’t mind my idealistic ass.

I have to let people vent, but I saw this on my Facebook timeline.

Racist Meme

First, I was confused. Then, I was angry. Then, I just got sad. Maybe that’s what being offended feels like. Just being really hurt in your heart by something. I’m never really offended, so I didn’t really know.

It should also be said that I guess no one ever thought for a second that these black people could physically excrete American flags from their butts, which would basically make them the most patriotic people in the country. National treasures, really. In all seriousness though, this meme is like Rorschach test for the deeply racist and dimwitted. It’s misdirection is simultaneously ingenious and paradoxically stupid. This is a powerful piece of propaganda. Let me break it down:

1. Misdirection: The oldest trick of propaganda. To get you to stop thinking about one issue, they present a completely different issue with the lie that they are connected. If you already have a distrust of black people and hate lefty flag burners and anti-patriots, then alarm bells are going off. It’s red meat for the hungry.

2. False choice: No where on the meme does it say you can dislike both. Like most things involving this kind of thinking, it lacks grey area or nuance. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

3. Breakdown of Logic: You can’t say the above symbol is not racist, or at least that the way you use it and what it means to you is not racist, and then CLEARLY choose a picture of 2 idiotic black people as your example of villains. Meme maker, why did you choose these examples? I’m sure you could have found white people desecrating the American flag. I hate to say it, but at least racist people back in the day had the balls to be honest about it. (By the way, I get that black people can be racist. We all have the capability)

4. Breakdown of Logic #2: You can’t insinuate people wiping their ass with the flags  are “traitors”, and not label the entire Confederacy trying to leave that country “traitors”. How is that not the most obvious thing in the world? I mean, is this thing on? You can’t call yourself a patriot for the USA when you are more loyal to the part of the country that didn’t want to be part of the country. Thinking about the lack of reasoning that goes into that thought process is literally making me dizzy. It’s cognitive dissonance, and complex mental compartmentalization in it’s purest form.

5. False equivalency: If you think going to war to maintain keeping black people as property and decades of Jim Crow oppression is an equal sin to a couple jackasses wiping their ass with the flag, then I’m…speechless.

The person who I saw post this, I’m not gonna name. I’m not gonna unfriend you. But I hope you read this. I hope you know that this made me sad and confused. I’d rather have people with whom I disagree in my personal sphere. I know we don’t disagree about everything. You are angry, so you want to lash out. If hurting people is what you wanted, then it worked. Vengeance works sometimes, but know these public forms are supposed to be amongst “friends”. That’s not how friendly people behave.

I’m gonna wrap up my opinion on the Confederate flag in one anecdote:

One time in 2010, I was having lunch with my friends Tommy Vext and Jenn City to talk about some band stuff. I casually used the word “gay” to describe something. Jenn called me out. Jenn is a lesbian. She called me to task. “What did I mean by ‘gay’?”  I didn’t have a good answer. That’s just the way we talked. My brother and I, guys in the band. “Damn. Taco Bell is closed. That shit is gay.” “I am broke is fuck. This is gay.” Never once had I thought about actual gay people when I said it. I grew up as liberal as can be, and still even I had a blind spot. At first, I was a little annoyed because I meant no harm. But, my friend was hurt by this.

Over time, I broke the habit. For me, not to use the word, is a small thing. But for my friend, not to hear the word used in that way, is a really big thing. There’s nothing politically correct about being courteous and respectful to my friend; it’s just correct. It’s the right thing to do, because I give a shit.

And, it’s the same way with the flag. I’m sure most the people who flaunt it aren’t racist. It probably does mean heritage and southern pride and good ol’ boys and all that stuff. But compartmentalizing what it means to you, and ignoring it’s origins, and ignoring how it makes other people feel…is just a purely selfish act. You don’t want to change. I get it. It’s part of your identity. Being told virtually over night that it’s not kosher is jarring and disruptive. I’m not saying people shouldn’t sport the Confederate flag. This is America. Americans are free to express themselves however they want. Just understand that others who don’t see eye to eye with you on the flag will now look at you with that much more discomfort when it is in sight. It will make certain people sad, confused, scared, and angry. I hope you can live with that. I hope you are ok with the fact that freedom of speech does not grant you freedom from criticism of that speech.  These events have polarized us even more, and that saddens me even more.

What surprised me most is what Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual whose bands sported the Confederate flag on more than one occasion, said, “These days, I wouldn’t want anything to fucking do with it, because, truthfully…I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want much to fucking do with it all, and personally, you know I never…The way I feel, and the group of people I’ve had to work with my whole life, you…You see a Confederate flag out there that says ‘Heritage, not hate.’ I’m not so sure I’m buying into that, you know?”

If this man, a man who has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to racial politics, can evolve to a dramatically self aware place on this topic, than what does it say about us all? When the dust settles, think on it, allow your soul to search. These symbols shouldn’t matter. Like my friends, I should have better things to do, but I can can’t stop thinking or soul searching. Now if only this fucking dust would settle.

Unlocking the truth about Unlocking the Truth

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are just oblivious to who has been making noise in heavy music for last year, than you probably have some familiarity with teenage, upstart metal band from Brooklyn, NY, Unlocking the Truth. Starting as an instrumental two-piece rocking out in Times Square as street performers, the duo’s (later trio) video went viral, and the world took notice.

Seemingly overnight, Unlocking The Truth became the band du jour to serve as opening acts for the biggest names in rock and metal including Guns N Roses, Queens of the Stone Age, in addition to playing mammoth festivals like Coachella and Heavy MTL. More recently, their ascent to fame has been capped off by securing a highly publicized and possibly lucrative record deal with Sony as well as a performance on The Colbert Report, which is unheard of for metal acts.

The public at large appears to be fully embracing this band. Overall, I think that is a great thing. I can’t help feeling somewhat connected to the band. For a time, God Forbid was considered by some to be the torchbearer for black metal musicians. Despite our bass player, John, being white, and my brother and I being bi-racial, race was a big part of our narrative. Especially in the early years. It made me proud to be an ethnic metal band, knowing that it lifted the stigma for many young black people who were hesitant to get involved in music because of the resistance between black, urban culture and rock music. Even if it’s not true, I would love to believe that God Forbid helped pave the way for a band like Unlocking the Truth, and make their journey easier.

Although I feel that Unlocking the Truth’s presence is a net positive (lord knows metal needs some exciting stories), something about the meteoric nature of their transition from obscurity to notoriety is troubling. I couldn’t shake the feeling, so I kept ruminating. The pure talent and ability, for such young people, is obvious. These kids can play. They also aren’t scared of the spotlight. That shows confidence, which usually takes a lot of time to cultivate.

The question has to be asked: Is this band as good as the hype machine is telling us or are we all just wrapped up in the subterfuge of a charming, appealing underdog?

After a good deal of thought, my diagnosis is that the momentous adulation is slightly premature. We are crowning the king before he is ready to rule. Out of some politically correct instinct, the media has been tip-toeing in pointing out the band’s inherent novelty: They are teenagers and they black. Right now, people are enthralled with the novelty and the raw talent.

But, we are yet to hear a song that exemplifies what this band has to say as musicians, artists, lyrically, and sonically. We haven’t heard that song because the band has not released any material yet. How excited can you be for a band that you don’t even really know what their music is? Maybe we’re in a time where the music is supplementary to the spectacle and the story. There are plenty of great bands out there who are personally boring as hell. No story. No image. No brand. No charisma. Style and substance have been glorious partners in rock n roll history. Expert tacticians with no personality bug me just as much as glamorous storefronts with empty shelves masquerading as bands.

I am mainly troubled because I am worried about these kids. From what I hear, their parents and handlers are doing a great job taking care of them. Which is wonderful to hear after the nightmare stories circulated about child stars like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin’s parents. I am worried because there is a strong chance that this moment in time is as good as it gets. They won’t always be teenagers. Novelties wear off. Especially if you don’t have the music to back it up. Will Guns N Roses or Colbert want them when they are 25 years old instead of 15, grinding on their 3rd record, and the shine has faded?

Three examples of bands that come to mind who were previously heralded for their advanced skill level at a young age are Silver Chair, Kittie, and Trivium. In all cases, their first album was their biggest album in terms of record sales (US & UK for Trivium’s Ascendancy). Out of the three, Trivium is currently the only active band and has had a robust and consistent career. They were slightly older than Kittie and Silver Chair, and you could make a case that their music was good enough that their youth only enhanced success that would have already been there. At least Kittie and Silver Chair had a handful of definable hit songs that were played on the radio and MTV. The fan impact and connection was measurable. UTT has not even hit this benchmark.

Having your highest point of success as a teenager must really do a number on your psyche. You can see why so many child stars end up with drug problems and mental and emotional issues.

I am also a bit bothered by the populous being a little too enamored with their blackness and youngness. “They are so cute. They are black kids playing heavy metal.” How cute it is indeed. But therein lies the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” As if their youth and race are impediments. It feels like people rooting for someone with a disability completing a rudimentary physical task becoming somehow heroic. It’s unknowingly and passively insulting. We should like them for being good…period. Not good for being young, black men. We have to judge them against great music as a whole. This isn’t boxing. There aren’t weight classes.

With all of that said, I am rooting for these teenagers. For all of our sakes, I hope that signing Unlocking the Truth is analogous to drafting Lebron James out of high school, and they will become the Hall of Famers so many are predicting. As a realist, I refuse to see the Emperor’s clothes. That dude is currently naked. When these young men arrive, I will be the first to greet them with open arms. We need the next headliners and gateway bands. Until that happens, let’s be supportive but reserved until there is tangible substance.

The Sound of White Noise

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I have always been fascinated by American race relations. Ours is a history that has always been colored by race, no pun intended. Being bi-racial probably gives me more objective standpoint than most, but no one can claim pure objectivity. We’re all victim to our upbringing, environment, and even genetic tools of intellect we’re born with.

Barack Obama’s election was supposed to be dawn of the post-racial society, but instead I believe that it has been a powder keg for racial tensions that have been brewing in all of the decades since Civil Rights breakthroughs of the 1960’s. It seems as though race is the backdrop to every other scandalous news story: The Trayvon Martin case, the Donald Sterling debacle, and now the firing of radio show host Anthony Cumia of ” The Opie and Anthony Show” on Sirius/XM.

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A Band Called Death

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Last night I had the fortune to watch the highly anticipated documentary film, A Band Called Death. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but in short, it is the story of three black blood brothers from Detroit, MI who formed an energetic rock band in the mid 70’s called Death, that in hindsight is viewed as a predecessor to the punk rock movement.

This story really hit home with me because of the parallels to my own life and musical development. I know what it’s like to start a band in my seminal years with my brother, have an uncanny musical connection, and to later be estranged from that brother. I can identify with being in a predominantly black band trying to make a mark in a white world. It is the tale of truly being an outsider, and Death had it far worse than God Forbid in that they received tremendous blowback from the black community. They were trying to make their way in the capitol of traditional black music and the home of Motown Records. The story pinpoints how their morbid band name strangled the band’s progress like an albatross around their neck.

The element of Death’s story that struck the biggest chord with me was their dedication to the purity of rock n roll. They studied the greats, and put the hard work and time into becoming a first rate band with a high standard of excellence. They wanted to be a great rock band. Not just great for black guys. There was no handicap in being good in spite of their blackness as if it was a gimmick. They also didn’t feel the need to “black” up their music. Their standard was The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Jimi Hendrix. God Forbid was the same way. Our standard bearers were At The Gates, Morbid Angel, Candiria, Suffocation, For The Love Of, Pantera, Sepultura, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Machine Head, etc. We weren’t going to be legit until we were at their level from a technical standpoint. And that led to countless hours in the jam room, meticulous studying of our favorite bands, trying to decode the art of being the in the big leagues. Just being a nerd about your craft. Obsession. It never feels like work at the time. You just love it so much that you devour as much content as possible, and it becomes part of your DNA. It’s beyond culture. It’s purity.

A Band Called Death serves as a great contrasting companion piece to the previously lauded rockumentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil about 80’s Canadian glam-thrash, could-have-beens. For me, Anvil served as a cautionary tale as what not to become as an aging musician. They were desperate for stardom probably because of the colossal success of their peers. The 80’s set a standard that allowed for a swath of unreasonable expectations, as documented by The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. This was a generation of people who were not living in reality, and everything that goes up must come down.

A Band called Death is about family. It’s about dedication to music. It’s about holding on to artistic virtue. It’s about doing it for the right reasons. They called the band Death, because death is real. I can back that.