“If Martin Luther was livin’/ He wouldn’t let this be/ Skin head, dead head / Everybody’s gone bad” sang Michael Jackson in the song “They Don’t Care About Us.” The lyrics are striking a chord again now, three days after the tragedy in Charlottesville.
Taken from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future – Book I, released in 1995, “They Don’t Care About Us” is probably Michael Jackson’s most politically-engaged track.
And with good reason. The song openly discusses racial discrimination, skinheads, Martin Luther King, and the passive stance authorities often take against injustice. “All I want to say is that/ They don’t really care about us,” crooned the King of Pop, implicitly referring to people of color in America.
Aside from the political lyrics which are still extremely relevant, one version of the video clip has been getting a lot of attention now, over twenty years since its release.
Both versions of the video were directed by Spike Lee, who is known for his activism on behalf of people of color, as is evident in his filmography which includes Jungle Fever (1991) and Malcolm X (1992).
The first version of the video was filmed in the streets of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. Displeased with the results, Michael Jackson decided, for the first time in his career, to film a second version himself.
Michael’s version was a big hit at the time. In the clip, he appears handcuffed in a jail cell before going on to dance in the middle of the prison cafeteria filled with mostly black prisoners.
The inmates begin to protest, while archival images flash onscreen portraying historic police violence, famine in Africa, human rights violations and Ku Klux Klan gatherings.
In a divided America that often prefers to ignore racial tensions, the video for “They Don’t Care About Us” feels pretty provocative.
Particularly since it came from one of the most iconic black pop musicians of all time – who also happened to be adored by the white middle class. Due to the controversial content, the clip was actually censored in the 1990s, and MTV and VH1 would only air it after 9pm.
In the days following the death of 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, references to Michael Jackson’s video have been popping up all over Twitter. Many shared the clip online saying the images and content took on even deeper meaning in Trump’s America.
The first version of Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ video which was refused to be played on tv & we know why. ☻ pic.twitter.com/FCw0pNqlyh
— Hanan. (@USoulSurvivor) August 13, 2017
A tweet asserting that “the first version of Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ video… was refused to be played on tv & we know why” has been liked by over 160,000 people and retweeted over 106,000 times.
And if we needed any further proof that the clip still has a strong impact, the comments section under the video on YouTube recently had to be deactivated because the debates were getting too violent.
“They Don’t Care About Us” seems like the perfect anti-racist anthem for these trying times.