Twenty-three years ago many of us witnessed the violent beating of Rodney King on our TVs. Four police officers brutally beat King and it was all captured on a camcorder. After two of the officers were acquitted, we witnessed and maybe even participated in the public outrage that ensued the streets of South Central LA. The video capturing the incident and the footage of the LA riots that looped on the major news networks fundamentally changed the way America saw our relationship to the police. Today we are experiencing a similar story in Baltimore with Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old black man killed while in police custody. Twenty-three years later and through social media, we can see the streets around the world lined with black and brown youth outraged at system set up against them.
“Which Side Are You On?” is a newly released video by Rebel Diaz ft. Dead Prez and Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples, and directed by Sense Hernandez. Although the song was released in 2013, its message resonates loud and clear today. Through the historical context of revolution and resistance, the song asks a simple and obvious question, especially for Latino/as who are seeking to forge solidarity with the Black community.
Rebel Diaz, G1 and Rodstarz, are two brothers who have been organizing in their communities for quite some time. Their roots lie in Chile, Chicago and now South Bronx. In 2008, they started the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective (RDABX), a hip hop community center based the South Bronx. Throughout grassroots organizing circles, Rebel Diaz is well known for performing at community spaces and events. Their choice of collaboration with M-1 and Stic.Man from Dead Prez is not surprising considering how both groups use hip hop as a platform for political education. In light of our current political crisis, their collaboration is yet another example of black and brown unity.
Inspiration for the song seems to be derived from hip hop legend, KRS-1, who in an interview recalls the phrase, “which side are you on?” as a protest song. Filmed in New York City’s Union Square, the video follows the five artists in a cypher-like collaboration, each giving their own political perspectives on systematic injustice and historical resistance. The content of the song reflects and connects to the found footage references of Ayotzinapa, the Zapatistas, the Border Patrol, Fred Hampton, Trayvon Martin, the Brown Berets, Richie Perez, workers, politicians, political prisoners, and the police. We also see images of Baltimore and signs that read “Justice for Freddie Gray,” which are of utmost relevance.
“Which Side are you on?” is a direct question, and in light of the most recent events in Baltimore, a crucial one for Latino/as. Thanks to the social sciences, we now know with certainty that black and brown communities in the U.S. face the same systematic injustices. We share the brutal history of colonization and now we see rapid gentrification sweep our neighborhoods. Despite our shared struggles, we have a lot of work to do in regards to racism and xenophobia within our own families and communities. But the work is being done, slowly and surely, and this song and video reflects that history and perhaps serves as a starting point to what lies ahead.