Representation of Systemic Racism

As Kendrick Lamar filled notebooks up with his rhymes, the young people of color in his neighborhood filled up toxic gangs that contributed to street violence and abuse. Kendrick found his escape, but many others could not avoid the magnetic pull of inner-city gang culture. Through illustrative lyrics and transcendent instrumentals, Lamar’s 12-minute song, “Sing About me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” is a groundbreaking anthem that serves as evidence of systemic racism in America.

Many people seem to believe that inner-city poverty and activity is due to people not valuing work enough. However, it is proven that America built cities that deprived people of color the same opportunities and wealth that a typical white family receives today. MSNBC reporter, Ned Resnikoff wrote a piece called “Race is the elephant in the room when it comes to inequality on the income and wealth differences between black people and white people.” He states, “Disparities in homeownership are a major driver of the racial wealth gap, according to a recent study from Brandeis University.”

When severe alienation happens, oppressed groups often begin to feel that they don’t owe anything to the society that created their conditions.

According to the authors of the report, redlining is a form of discrimination in banking or insurance practices and discriminatory money lending practices, lack of access to credit, and lower incomes have blocked the homeownership path for African-Americans while creating, as well as reinforcing, communities segregated by race. Housing policies that America’s government created have shaped inner-city ghettos. This caused African Americans to migrate to one side of a town as they had no other options for places to reside.

Tactics like denying home loans and insurance or increasing the costs for residents in a defined geographical area were used as a tool to force minorities into certain sections of a city. This began when the National Housing Act of 1934 established the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. The agency created “residential security maps” to determine the safety of real estate investments in selected areas. These neighborhoods were deemed unsafe, and ineligible for financing.

Conditions in American ghettos are the same, as many minorities earlier on were denied ways to gain wealth through the housing. When severe alienation happens, oppressed groups often begin to feel that they don’t owe anything to the society that created their conditions. Minority populations who do not see normal politics as a route to solving the problems of their lives often resort to demanding change by other means, like an urban uprising, or most often—protesting the way they are being treated. Because of this, minorities who reside in these neighborhoods turn to selling drugs or prostitution as a means of making money. This leads to gangs and gangs lead to violence, making crime rates go up and putting minorities in an endless spiral that the American government put them in.

In “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” following two skits, two beats and four verses, the song’s chorus is presented: “When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down, my main concern promise that you will sing about me.” It’s sung in a high-pitched tone that contrasts with the rest of the song. This voice represents death due to violence and crime. In an interview, Lamar states, “First verse is speaking from my partner talkin’ to me, speakin’ on a story of how I was there when his brother passed and I got to watch him take his last breath.” Before being killed, Lamar’s friend’s only request to the emerging rapper was that if he were to die that Lamar dedicate a song to him and his brother. And so he did.

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” recognizes the hardships that minorities are put through every day and the segregation-like tactics that are still placed on them even today.

He raps from the perspective of the victim’s brother sometime after the victim’s death. The brother believes that it’s Kendrick’s fault because they retaliated due to an incident that happened to Kendrick. However, he appreciated Kendrick for being there for his brother and holding his arms while he was dying. The victim’s brother talks about the pain he feels from his brother’s murder and living in Compton. He wonders if Kendrick will ever make it out of the ghetto. He then describes his wanting revenge as being a demon inside him. He questions the fighting between bloods and crips but can’t escape it because it is all he grew up with, all he knows. The victim’s brother wonders if he will ever be as passionate about something as Kendrick is about music and explains that people like him never succeed. He wishes Kendrick the best and hopes that when he becomes famous Kendrick keeps his name alive so children can learn from his mistakes. The verse ends with the victim’s brother getting shot while saying, “and if I die before your album drop.”

The second verse is from the perspective of Keisha’s sister. Keisha was a molestation victim, prostitute, and homicide victim, who Kendrick previously rapped about in his album, “Section 80.” She is angry at Kendrick for “putting her sister on blast,” without knowing her that well. She proudly claims to be continuing in her sister’s path of prostitution in order to make it in the neighborhood. She questions Kendrick’s judgments, arguing that Kendrick doesn’t know what it’s like to be her and doesn’t have the right to criticize her decisions. She tells him that she thinks the system, her childhood, and her abusive parents who believed that children should be beaten, ruined her. However, Keisha’s sister does not want to be mentioned in the song. She claims she doesn’t need a doctor to know that she is healthy and believes that she will most likely live longer than Kendrick. Her verse ends with her saying that she will always work hard for her money.

Kendrick mirrors these different perspectives by responding to them in verse three.

The song ends with an old woman looking at them in shock at the gun in their hands. She asks them, “Why are you so angry?” She tells them that they are dying of thirst and are in need of holy water and baptism in the spirit of the lord. The song concludes with a prayer symbolizing the start of Kendrick and his friends’ new “real” life centered on God.

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” recognizes the hardships that minorities are put through every day and the segregation-like tactics that are still placed on them even today. This song is a cry for help from other people trapped in the “system.” This system was created by the simple fact of redlining. Many people might be comfortable with it, but only because it’s been helping them survive for so long, they don’t know any different. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” documents minority struggle in America that has been looked over for centuries.

Arianna Hayes is a recently graduated high school student from Stivers School for the Arts. She attended and participated in the creative writing magnet and has spent the last six years practicing her writing skills in order to become a trained writer. Arianna is a recipient of the Scholastics 2016 Silver Key Award for her poem titled “The Textbook Romance of Today,” as well as a Scholastics honorable mention for her portfolio titled “Through the Years.”