In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, followed by the continuous Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, Chicago rapper Zachary Sogh, better known as “Woes” released the song “Ashamed in Amerikkka,” pairing it with a video depicting the violence unfolding across the United States. In the video, Woes dims out his own figure to merely a silhouette, showcasing behind him the imagery of a country so deeply broken and inherently racist to its very core. Woes begins the song by questioning, “What do you say / When everything’s wrong?”, which is something many non-Black people seem to be asking right now. A big difference in this particular piece, compared to the general sentiment of many is, the words continue past this question. The lyrics, the conversation, the questioning, and the concerns—they all continue, instead of being followed by mere silence. In hip hop and R&B, many non-Black artists take part in as well as enjoy many parts of Black culture. However, many of these artists tend to fall silent when it comes to real Black issues, such as police brutality. Woes, an Armenian-American man living in Chicago, uses his platform to show us why that is unacceptable. Hopefully, through art, we may all be inspired to break the silence notoriously maintained out of fear and discomfort.
The music video for Ashamed in Amerikkka begins with pictures of Black Americans killed at the hands of police brutality and other violent racism-based offenses flashing on the screen concomitantly with the lyrics “Somebody’s father / Somebody’s son / Somebody’s daughter / Somebody’s mom.” Unapologetically putting faces to names such as Alton Sterling, Ahmaud Arbery, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and several others demonstrates the willingness to not shy away from the dark reality behind these tragedies. Images flashing of individuals, such as Elijah Mcclain, remind us of the cases where the police officer has consistently gotten away with murder, as they are almost always merely suspended or forced to resign, at best. This imagery paired with the lyrical reminder of a cruel and unjust reality is designed to evoke the type of rage we all need to harbor in order to make real systemic change. The instrumental takes a small pause to focus on the lines, “The news only showing you what you can handle / I guarantee you couldn’t channel this.” It is no secret that American media rarely relays the truth or the full story of these topics. They stopped covering BLM protests as if they are not still happening across the country every single day. If the protests are given coverage, the media portrayal tends to be biased in the sense that it fails to show the violence the police are unleashing on peaceful protesters. Bloodied and fearful images from protests show up on screen, as the video takes a clear stance on refusing to replicate the media’s silence in regards to these unacceptable and disturbing occurrences.
Several visuals of Chicago police officers appear rapidly on the screen, showing how terrible things currently are in Woes’ home city. It calls attention to the unimaginable terror the Chicago Police Department is reigning down on the citizens of Chicago, as Woes recounts these experiences he has seen first hand. Being from Chicago myself, these graphics really hit home for me, as it most likely will to every other Chicagoan watching. The lines, “How many names are we at? / I saw a cop and I asked, / He looked at my face and he laughed” paint an incredibly vivid picture of what it’s like facing CPD right now. Tonitruale asked Woes for his commentary on what it’s like at a Chicago protest right now. He responds, “I have seen police do pretty much anything you can imagine at protests. It all comes down to corruption and the abuse of power they are given. Police in Chicago have acted as though they are untouchable. Police in Chicago have treated Chicagoans like fucking animals. I never thought I would see half the shit I’ve seen at protests from the fucking police department. CPD is the biggest gang in Chicago.” Through his artwork, the world can take a look into the truth of the Chicago Police Department and the ways in which citizens are choosing to fight back.
In regards to all of our own communities, there are several other ways to help if you are unable to physically be at a protest. Woes, while citing examples of ways to aid the movement that he has encountered mentions, “I was really surprised at how many ways there are to contribute other than physically attending a protest. From running supplies to locations that are collecting them, raising money to donate to organizations, distributing supplies at ongoing protests, there are countless ways to be involved.” At the end of this article, resources will be provided for ways to help BLM in countless ways from wherever you are!
Art, in all its countless forms, is a powerful force in our world and tends to often be underestimated for the impact it can have on an enormous amount of people. We are in a time currently when we can spread what we create all throughout the world and reach audiences we can’t even fathom. This is a skill that must be utilized at such a time as this. R&B and hip hop tend to be appropriated constantly by white and non-Black artists. Yet, the silence or willful ignorance that these artists project onto their platform towards Black issues is deafening. When asked about this problem within the genre and why he thinks it is imperative for hip hop artists to speak up right now, Woes replies, “The biggest thing I’ve continued to remind myself since I began rapping years ago is that this genre is a house that I am a guest in. I have to keep myself in check and acknowledge the horror and discrimination that jump-started this genre, to begin with, and never allow myself to forget that. Black people have paved the way and fought for this genre to exist since day one and CONTINUE to face the unspeakable for it. It’s bullshit for any white artist to exist in this genre and NOT speak on the events that happen to our Black brothers and sisters.”
In the second verse, Woes remarks, “If I ain’t rapping about it, I add to the problem, / I’m thinking I’m opportunistic / Maybe my vision is twisted / Maybe my two cents is senseless.” These two conflicting emotions likely reside in many artists currently. While recognizing that silence is violence, there is also the fear of saying the wrong thing or speaking over Black voices. When asked about his mention of being “opportunistic” in terms of speaking about Black Lives Matter, Woes explained, “Being silent during unjust times is opportunistic. You don’t hesitate to exist in a genre, but you hesitate to speak on the issues surrounding it/the people that make it up? That’s complete fucking bullshit. A big part of me did not want to write or release anything at all because I felt as though it was not my 'place' or 'time' to speak. I didn’t want to take away from any Black artists or Black voices that are needing to be heard right now. It took me showing the song and pitching the video to a lot of people in my life who are Black for me to understand that all of these things need to be said.”
Ashamed in Amerikkka gives us a key example of what using an artistic platform should look like during these times for non-Black artists that are particularly silent for whatever reason right now. The song fades out to a simple instrumental as Woes stands in front of a now black screen. With his figure outlined in darkness, a statement appears over him. These words read,
“I vow to acknowledge and use every ounce of privilege I was born with to do my part to fight for equality and justice in America. I stand with my brothers and sisters whose injustices continue to go unnoticed in this country. I see you and I am with you.
Black Lives Matter resources: