Well, this song doesn’t pull any punches (which you really should expect from a song titled “Call It What It Is”). It just immediately starts with the lines: “They shot him in the back/Now it’s a crime to be Black.” There’s no metaphor or simile to that; Ben Harper and his band are directly confronting you with the injustice of police brutality like Trayvon Martin’s face during the interactive portions of Usher’s “Chains.” (Hopefully without a mismanaged, but ultimately well-intentioned campaign by Jay-Z and Tidal.)

And on that note, Ben Harper doesn’t want anyone to tiptoe around the topic at hand or beat around the bush. According to him, what police are doing is murder. Period. He wants you to call it what it is. …However, he then goes to illustrate exactly how things aren’t exactly that simple within the song itself, completely undermining his point. He himself notes that “Government ain’t easy.” and “Policing ain’t easy.” after saying that not all cops are bad. This sends mixed messages, as if he’s saying “Shooting black people because they’re black is murder, but…uhhh…not all cops do that. There are good cops and…uhhh…bad cops. Speaking of which, being a cop is hard. Also, running a government is hard.”

It feels as though he’s excusing the immorality some police exercise because their jobs are difficult, and it feels like even he’s aware of this because then he backpedals again when he says, “Oppression ain’t easy/Racism ain’t easy/Fear ain’t easy/Suffering ain’t easy.” So…who exactly should we side with? Is the government oppressing us, or are they just doing the best with a bad situation? Should we hold police accountable, or excuse their actions because they perform an essential and difficult job? Ben Harper may want us to call police shootings murder, but what are we supposed to call this entire situation we’re in now? He tries to summarize, saying, “Gun control/Mind control/We dug ourselves into a hole.” It only seems like the only person digging themselves into a hole is Ben Harper with his lyrics. He’s just reinforced how complicated and sordid this entire mess is while trying to make it as simple as possible, which is exacerbated by how strongly the song started off. While I can applaud the mellow, bluesy, sound (which is a nice departure from “Like a King”) and soulful guitar accompaniment, I have to call this song what it is: seemingly well-intentioned social commentary with a mixed message. Catchy, though…

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