31 Songs About Racism

Racism is an evil that has oppressed so many people all over the world. That oppression has given birth to many profound songs.

Let’s go through the most impactful songs about racism. Some are explicit with their message, but others are less noticeable. Regardless, each has meaningful lyrics.

“Black Rage” by Lauryn Hill

Song Year: 2014

Lauryn Hill released her touching tribute to Black lives after the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Her lyrics reference the historical racism that still influences today’s society.

Hill sings about how the historical status of Black people as legally less than a white person impacted how society views Black people. She admonishes the unfairness of society in terms of culture, law, and broader racism.

“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy

Song Year: 1989

Public Enemy wrote this track for two reasons—to give tribute to one of their musical inspirations, the Isley Brothers, and to shed light on racism and its effects on the Black community.

Their track is a clear-cut protest song. It seeks to motivate Black people and other oppressed minority communities to fight the power holding them down.

“Southern Man” by Neil Young

Song Year: 1970

Neil Young has been an outspoken critic of racism since his first dive into the music industry. “Southern Man” is one of his most famous songs because it shows the hypocritical nature of Southern culture.

Young compared the situations of white southerners and their culture to that of Black southerners, many of whom still suffered under a system known as “sharecropping.” In “Southern Man,” Young contrasts the vastly different situations between white and Black people.

“Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone

Song Year: 1964

Written at the height of racial tension in the United States, Nina Simone’s classic tune is a statement against white power. She names specific states that have implemented and continued racist laws, including Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Simone discusses the pressure Black people felt under governments that endorsed such laws. Aside from this, she also delves into specific forms of oppression, such as sub-par schooling, racist police, and discriminatory laws.

“Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants

Song Year: 1990

One of the few songs with racist in the title, They Might Be Giants released this track to highlight the way white people talk about race and racism. In particular, it laments how white people don't have to be interested in politics because they never have to worry about being oppressed by the government.

The song also highlights the way white people interact with racists. Instead of calling them out for their racist attitudes, many white people would rather walk away.

“This Is America” by Donald Glover

Song Year: 2018

Donald Glover released “This Is America” as a commentary on gun violence in the US, an issue that affects Black Americans more than any other group.

His lyrics vividly illustrate how America’s obsession with guns has led to the deaths of so many people.

The song jumps from a serious tone to one of joy, interrupted by the sounds of gunshots. In taking this approach, Glover tries to show listeners that gun violence can occur in even the happiest moments. 

“Baltimore” by Prince

Song Year: 2015

Released just a year before his shocking death, Prince’s song is about the tragic deaths of Black people in America. He names two men, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, both of whom were killed by police officers.

Prince wrote “Baltimore” because he was saddened that racist policing was still having a devastating impact on Black people.

“White Man’s World” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Song Year: 2017

“White Man’s World” takes a hard look at the nature of white privilege by not only discussing the struggles of Black people but also at the origins of the United States. Before Europeans landed in the Americas, there were millions of Native Americans living and thriving on the continent.

Jason Isbell tells us that the wealth in the United States was built on the backs of slaves, while the land was stolen from its original inhabitants. In doing so, Isbell expresses hopelessness about how to fix it.

“Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil

Song Year: 1987

Midnight Oil is an Australian rock band. Australia has its problems with racism, mostly revolving around the treatment of the Aboriginal people.

“Beds are Burning” centers on the forced removal of Aboriginal people from their historical land in the Australian Outback. Its lyrics critique the treatment of Australia’s indigenous population and implores the country to return the land taken from them.

“F*** Tha Police” by N.W.A.

Song Year: 1988

One of the most iconic rap songs about racism, N.W.A.’s instant classic was released in response to the rampant racial profiling in Los Angeles’ predominantly Black neighborhoods.

N.W.A. birthed the genre of “gangsta rap,” which has been a powerful voice for highlighting racism in American society. The lyrics in this song exude hostility towards the police and a society that has failed to address the problems faced by Black people. 

“Birmingham Sunday” by Joan Baez

Song Year: 1964

Joan Baez’s song about the bombing of a Birmingham Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963 is a harrowing tale of a horrific moment in American history. The atrocity killed four people, all of whom were Black.

Baez delivers an uncompromising glimpse into the nature of racial terrorism in 20th Century America. She also references each victim by name. By the end of the song, Baez offers up a powerful affirmation that the choirs keep singing for freedom, a poignant indication that it has not been achieved.

“Black or White” by Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1991

Micheal Jackson’s hit song from the 1990s discusses how racism impacted his and his community’s life. Aside from highlighting racism, Jackson wanted to bring people together in unity with his music.

“Black or White” wants us to understand that race is only skin deep. We should all treat each other the same because, deep down, we all want to be safe, happy, and free of oppression.

“Black Man” by Stevie Wonder

Song Year: 1976

Ever since Stevie Wonder started releasing music, his unique tone and sound have captured global attention. With that attention, Wonder wanted to show the world a cause he was deeply invested in—harmony among the peoples of the world.

Although that goal hasn’t been achieved, Wonder’s song showed that a better future is possible, we just need to move towards it. Its lyrics highlight the sacrifices Black Americans have given to their country, even when their country had policies that excluded them.

“Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley

Song Year: 1983

Although “Buffalo Soldier” is now one of his most famous songs, this Bob Marley tune wasn’t released until after his death. The song is about Black soldiers who fought for the United States against Native Americans.

The song highlights the divide and conquer strategy which pitted minority groups against the native inhabitants.

“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday

Song Year: 1939

Billie Holiday’s chilling song about the lynching of Black people in the South is as beautiful as it is harrowing. It describes the poplar trees that serve as makeshift gallows for innocent lynching victims.

Lynchings were one of the darkest chapters in American history. When Holiday sings about the strange fruit hanging from the trees, she is alluding to the bodies of innocent Black people. Her unique voice adds an extra layer of depth to the song, giving it a haunting, somber tone.

“Hurricane” by Bob Dylan

Song Year: 1976

Bob Dylan wrote his protest song about racism to help aid Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a Black boxer imprisoned on trumped-up charges. Dylan outlines the instances of racial profiling Carter had to endure in his life.

Carter was charged with a triple murder and convicted on charges that are, today, seen as racially motivated. Dylan wanted to tell the story of an innocent man condemned to imprisonment for his race.

“Freedom” by Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar

Song Year: 2016

Beyoncé’s powerful song about the freedom Black Americans strive towards was an instant classic on its release. As Beyoncé sings about this freedom, Kendrick Lamar raps about the injustices Black Americans face daily.

His observations critique the media for keeping Black people angry and poor, while admonishing the justice system and police officers for their unjust practices.

“Cops Shot the Kid” by Nas

“Cops Shot the Kid” by Nas

Song Year: 2018

Nas’ 2018 song went under the radar. It is about the hardships many Black Americans face at the hands of the police. His lyrics discuss how cops target Black children even when their white counterparts were doing the same things.

The song addresses the systemic suspicion Black children face. Nas also outlines how that suspicion can easily turn tragic when police become violent.

“Changes” by Tupac

Song Year: 1998

Released after his tragic death, “Changes” is about the circumstances many Black people are born into. Whether it’s poverty, drug addiction, or systemic abuse, Black children are often denied the privileges of white Americans.

“Changes” is also a song about how to come together. Both Black and white people need to work together to change these issues otherwise they will persist.

“Alabama” by John Coltrane

Song Year: 1963

John Coltrane wrote and performed this song in response to the Birmingham Baptist Church bombing the previous year. This track exudes despair—for the girls who died in the bombing and for the state of the country.

Coltrane wanted us to feel that despair, too. Especially in the 1960s, many white Americans had no sympathy for the plight of Black people. Coltrane hoped his song would put their struggle into perspective.

“Death of Emmett Till” by Bob Dylan

Song Year: 1989

Bob Dylan wrote this song to commemorate the death of Emmett Till, a young boy lynched in response to the lies of a white woman.

The song vividly outlines the tragic story of Till, including the beatings and lynching. Dylan also describes how the justice system failed Till by allowing his murders to walk free.

“Say It Loud” by James Brown

Song Year: 1968

When James Brown wrote this song, the United States had many laws and policies designed to oppress and harm Black people. Instead of focusing on these structures, Brown wanted people to know that he was a proud Black man.

The song was revolutionary because it changed the meaning of being Black. White people used to ridicule Black people for their skin color. Brown wanted people to celebrate the vibrant culture and love being Black gave him.

“Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye

Song Year: 1971

Marvin Gaye struggled with drug addiction for most of his adult life. “Inner City Blues” explores the discrimination and oppression that many Black people face. Sometimes, that oppression leads to a feeling of hopelessness.

The end of the song details the pain and horror family members feel when the police take away their loved ones. 

“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

Song Year: 2015

Kendrick Lamar has a unique voice that lent itself well to this track about the condition of the Black community. The song’s beat seems light, but the lyrics tell the story of someone living in fear because of what their community endures.

He talks about the rampant gun violence and police brutality only present in his community because of racist policies. Lamar ends the song with a message to his listeners—power can be found anywhere, but it’s important to use it in the right way.

“White Privilege II” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Song Year: 2016

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's track was inspired by yet another case of police killing a Black man. The song is a commentary on the racist actions driving police but also talks about the experience of marching for BLM as a white person.

The song looks at issues well known in the Black community. But for many white people, when Macklemore released his song, they had a new perspective on racism in the US.

“Sad News” by Swizz Beats ft. Scarface

Song Year: 2016

Swizz Beats used Scarface’s unique cadence to produce a song with immense depth. “Sad News” tells us about the struggles of Black people facing injustice at the hands of the police.

Its lyrics speak about how people pay with their due to police discrimination. As the song condemns this, Swiss Beats goes further by condemning corrupt judges and those who exploit Black culture.

“Be Free” by J. Cole

Song Year: 2014

J. Cole is known for his politically charged lyrics. In this tune, he raps about the experience of Black men in America. As a person always looked upon with suspicion, J. Cole wants the world to reexamine systemic inequality in the United States.

He also laments the rise and use of guns in the Black community. Ultimately, he thinks gun culture and racism have created a grim situation for Black men.  

“Marching on Ferguson” by Tom Morello

Song Year: 2014

This song from the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, speaks about the injustices Black people face in the United States. From law enforcement to the government, too many structures function as obstacles for the Black community.

The title refers to Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was murdered by the police. Morello’s lyrics urge listeners to act before another event like Brown’s shooting occurs.

“America” by Tracy Chapman

Song Year: 2005

Tracy Chapman’s seminal song about the conquest of the Americas is a song for the ages. Instead of repeating idealized narratives, Chapman challenges American history.

She speaks of the historic conquest of America but considers it to still be ongoing. In Chapman’s eyes, America is still racist, it continues to take land from indigenous people, and it refuses to accept that these problems persist. 

“Capture Land” by Chronixx

Song Year: 2014

Chronixx’s modern reggae sound is perfect for a song about the captured land of the “New World.” Not only were the Americas taken by Europeans, but so was his homeland of Jamaica.

He wants us all to recognize the historical nature of our lives. We don’t only exist in our present circumstances, but also live as a product of the past. Once we start recognizing the injustices of the present and past, society can begin healing.

“Slave Driver” by Bob Marley

Song Year: 1973

Bob Marley always called out injustices when he saw them. In this song, he takes a poignant look at the legacy of slavery and the ordeals faced by those who suffered from it.

He sings about the horrors endured and the evil that slave masters held in their hearts. Sung from the perspective of a slave, Marley wishes they would have caught fire so they could suffer instead.

Top Songs About Racism, Final Thoughts

Racism has plagued society for centuries, sowing division and strife. Instead, like many of the singers on this list suggest, we should be moving forward together.

If you liked any of these songs, you might also enjoy some songs about perseverance. Sometimes after listening to songs about racism, we need something to cheer ourselves up.

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