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  • drmitsy

SEVEN MINUTES AND 44 SECONDS, by Michael Bridgett, Jr.

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Like most important moments in my life, it began with a song. I became woke in the naughties because of music from the 90s.

For a long time, I don't think I ever really cared... not about things that mattered anyway. I paid attention of course, but it was to things like video games and comic books and girls... way too much attention to girls. I was blind to strife happening outside of my suburban bubble. Despite having family and close friends going through hard times all around me. I had the privilege to sleep through a lot of it.

When I finally got to University, I was fortunate to learn a variety of important lessons. My degree was in media, but with that came study of history, economics and business. Despite having access to wonderful instructors and books, I still didn't care. I paid attention, but it was to things like my ska band, my grades, and girls... way too much attention to girls. I acquired all this "knowledge" - dates and definitions. Little of it made any cohesive sense or seemed particularly useful, but I did well enough to leave with a degree. I was just privileged enough to sleep on everything I'd learned.

I was middle class and had the privilege of growing up in the United States. during one of the most economically stable periods in the country's history. We O.G. American millennials inherited the mindset our parents had gotten from theirs. All we need to do is work hard, make good decisions, be respectful to the police. If we could do that, then we'd "earn" prosperity, security. Our membership in the neoliberal, meritocratic "Greatest Country in the World" club assured. We may have been born here through no effort of our own, but we should be proud that our prenatal draw was so lucky. We could have been born in one of those other countries corporations were outsourcing to.

The Nature of the Song

It was on a road trip to visit a sad friend in a sad town in north Texas where he'd gotten his first job out of law school. After weeks of begging, I begrudgingly agreed to come for a visit. After spending $20 of my last $30 on an overdue oil change, my road dog Joe and I took off on an 8 hour journey through the badlands of Texas that look like all the cowboy movies.

Joe was a diehard fan of techno and EDM fan. He'd recently learned to download full DJ sets from radio stations in the UK and burn them to CDs. He'd brought an impressive stack of them along despite my protests. Around half way through our trip, I popped in a new disc while he slept that's where I heard the song. This DJ decided that rather than start his set with "dope beats," he’d rather kick it off with knowledge. This was when I first heard "Nature of the Threat".

"Nature of the Threat" is an 8 minute hip hop anthem by rapper Ras Kass from his 1996 debut album Soul on Ice. Eschewing the typical rap tropes, Ras Kass deep dives into a hard hitting, rhyme filled chronology of the world, all from an afrocentric viewpoint. Even being a long time fan of hip hop by this point, I had never heard anything like it. It shocked my brain like a defibrillator on my temples.

In the song, Ras hit me with a viewpoints I had never considered, from angles I had never peered from. He revealed inconsistencies around lessons that made up the bedrock of my world view. I must have replayed the song 20 or 30 times in a row. I wanted to pick up on every detail I could. "Nature of the Threat" was a lyrical tour de force so brazen and sure of itself, even amidst its inappropriate views and inaccurate claims. Ras wasn't here to debate - he was here to attack. His targets ranged throughout topics of world history, Thanksgiving, Jesus' skin color, Carthage's genocide at the hands of Rome, the origins of racism, connects Christmas and Saturnalia, the slave trade, and biological warfare against the Native Americans. Ras cites German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, gives numerous dates, and had the audacity to make a point of how "Jews don't salute the...swastika but {Black Americans} pledge allegiance to the [US] flag that accosted ya."

"Nature of the Threat" was over a decade old before I’d even heard it. I didn't even need to know if Ras Kass' claims were true for it to make an impact on me in that moment. It changed the way I saw my country, my religion, and myself. After encountering "Nature of the Threat", I was a different person. It only 7 minutes and 44 seconds.

Waking in Slow Motion

It’s hard for sleeping people to encounter anything of substance on their own. It's even harder for them to understand that substance when they do. I had revolutionary information before I ever heard "Nature of the Threat." My Jewish 5th grade teacher took on the school board so we could watch Roots in its entirety. Rage Against The Machine had been raging for a decade already. For a year, I even lived with 3 members of a Zapatistas support organization in Austin. I wasn't ready to understand injustice. Even when it had been happening to me by the state, police, and various "so called friends" for several years. I wasn't able to turn that corner on my own. I needed a catalyst of the right size and shape to wake me out of my American slumber. Or at least get me smacking my lips, stretching and yawning.

Over the 10 years since, my views have continued to shift and change as I've increased my knowledge on my own. It started small. At first I couldn't celebrate Christmas anymore. I couldn't vibe with Christianity on the whole. Christians can't even agree on the skin tone of a rabbi even secular scholars agree existed. How can I trust anything else in your book?

After "Nature of the Threat," I couldn't bring myself to say the pledge of allegiance anymore. Ras Kass point about my accosted ancestors killed patriotism in me. Then I learned about the rest of my incarcerated brothers and sisters. I began to understand the daily psychological assaults and constant disrespect. I couldn't unsee the danger the police posed to any who didn't look mainstream. My decisions about life and friendships started to change as well.

At first, my social media posts looked different. I wanted to share and educate people like it happened for me. I wanted my white friends to think about injustice in new ways. This led to arguments online and off that saw me no longer associating some people as much... people I knew that voted for Donald Trump. People I grew up with that come from where I come from but experienced it through a different color lens.

Today, I occupy my time in continued learning about capitalism and colonialism. I make art about the forces that continue to exploit people around the world. I rage against the weaponized mundanity to which we've become accustomed.

As I re-educate myself, I am remembering the lessons I glossed over in university. I remember the economics classes I didn't care about. I remember the media studies I couldn't understand at the time. I see how closed off my mind was to the problems of the world and the ability I have, if any, to fix some of them. If I hadn't heard that song back then, I don't know if I'd see the world the way I do now. And while it is alienating, it's also comforting to know that I care - to know that I changed. Because if I did, it means other people can too.