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As occasionally problematic and non-intersectional as Ani DiFranco can be, sometimes her willingness to just say stuff makes for compelling, provocative songs.
Case and point: her song “Subdivision” from 2001’s double-album Revelling/Reckoning, which starts with the line “White people are so scared of black people.”
Despite the bombshell opening line, “Subdivision” is not a song exclusively about racial divides, but about Ani’s beloved home town of Buffalo and her beloved country. Her city has seemingly been left behind by a march of modernity. Here, she wonders if that march is just about having the money and privilege to put more space between ourselves and our fears. Maybe if we’re far enough away we no longer have to confront them.
Except: when we’ve forgotten, buried, or sublimated all that we’ve been running away from, how will we know when it is stil driving our biases?
I had a sense of foreboding when I picked “Subdivision” as my song from 2001 as I prepared for this campaign last month. I’d be posting it just 10 days after the election. I wondered how its message would play in a post-election America, the same country we lived in the day before the election but potentially seen through a new lens. What would it say about a world where Hillary Clinton won the election? What about a world where Donald Trump won? Would it be equally true in both?
Now we know the outcome, and I ask that you simply listen and take from it whatever message you hear. That first line will always stand out for me, but in this redefined world it is teaching me something different than it was a few weeks ago.
by Ani DiFranco
White people are so scared of black people
They bulldoze out to the country
And put up houses on little loop-dee-loop streets
And while america gets its heart cut right out of its chest
The Berlin wall still runs down main street
Separating east side from west
And nothing is stirring, not even a mouse
In the boarded-up stores and the broken-down houses
So they hang colorful banners off all the street lamps
Just to prove they got no manners
No mercy and no sense
And I’m wondering what it will take
For my city to rise
First we admit our mistakes
Then we open our eyes
The ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots
In the city of good neighbors that history forgot
I remember the first time I saw someone
Lying on the cold street
I thought: I can’t just walk past here
This can’t just be true
But I learned by example
To just keep moving my feet
It’s amazing the things that we all learn to do
So we’re led by denial like lambs to the slaughter
Serving empires of style and carbonated sugar water
And the old farm road’s a four-lane that leads to the mall
And our dreams are all guillotines waiting to fall
I’m wondering what it will take
For my country to rise
First we admit our mistakes
And then we open our eyes
Or nature succumbs to one last dumb decision
And America the beautiful
Is just one big subdivision