Catalyst House

They Don’t Care About Us: Ten Years Later

Nearly decade ago Michael Jackson performed his most controversial single, “They Don’t Care About Us,” for music video. The video remains one of the most talked about and socially active pieces Jackson ever composed and performed. 

The video was shot by director Spike Lee in two locations in Brazil, a “favela” or “shanty town” in Rio de Janeiro called Dona Marta and in Salvador da Bahia.

Salvador authorities tried to ban all production over fears the video would damage their image, the area and prospects of staging the 2004 Olympics. Still, the residents of the area were happy to see Jackson, and hoped that their problems would be made visible to a worldwide audience.

At the beginning of the video, a Brazilian woman proclaims “Michael, eles não ligam pra gente” which means “Michael, they don’t care about us.”

Performing with Jackson is Olodum (pronounced oh-lo-doon)a cultural group based in the Afro-Brazilian community of Salvador da Bahia. It was founded by percussionist, Neguinho do Samba.  Olodum runs an inner-city school for Salvador’s underprivileged children in which they teach a full array of academic and arts courses in order to build self-esteem and encourage economic ascension among Salvador’s younger generation. 

From Lynnea Bylund’s unpublished memoirs June 1998 – 

The Brasilians have a tremendous love for Salvador DA Bahia, Brasil.  They are constantly talking about Bahia and there is a song they sing heard all over the country, “I don’t want to stay here, I want to go back to Bahia”.  I can’t stop singing it myself day-to-day especially after experiencing the spirit of Bahia.  We went to a live performance one night to hear one of the most popular samba-reggae style Brasilian groups called Olodum.  They began with an ensemble of their classics, a troop of dancers emerge, and colorful large samba-reggae bass drums with a dozen drummers open the show.  I am feeling every beat of the drums down deep inside what a moment!  There is a native instrument that is made by hand that the Bahian musicians like Olodum play, it is called a Berimbau.  We danced the night away to this marvelous group Bahian style.  People who could not afford a ticket to go into the outdoor concert venue enthusiastically sang, danced and shouted with joy in the streets outside the club. Others danced and sang down the old colonial streets in waves as they passed by the venue. Live music is featured every night at this outdoor club, and Tuesday, the night we were there, historically is the biggest draw, as it is the standing regular time slot reserved for when Olodum comes out to play for the community. 

From Wikipedia

Producing the video proved to be a difficult task for Jackson. State authorities unsuccessfully tried to ban the singer filming in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. Officials feared images of poverty might affect tourism and accused Jackson of exploiting the poor. Ronaldo Cezar Coelho, the state secretary for Industry, Commerce and Tourism demanded editing rights over the finished product, stating, “I don’t see why we should have to facilitate films that will contribute nothing to all our efforts to rehabilitate Rio’s image”.

A judge banned all filming but this ruling was overturned by an injunction. Although officials were angry, the residents were not and Jackson was surrounded by crowds of enthusiastic onlookers during filming.

In 2009, Billboard described the area as “now a model for social development” and stated that Jackson’s influence was partially responsible for this improvement.

The New York Times reported that the song contained racist and anti-Semitic content on June 15, 1995, just a day before the album’s release. The publication highlighted the lyrics, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.”   

Jackson responded directly to the publication, stating:

The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted.

“They Don’t Care About Us”

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Situation, aggravation
Everybody allegation
In the suite, on the news
Everybody dog food
Bang bang, shot dead
Everybody’s gone mad

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

Beat me, hate me
You can never break me
Will me, thrill me
You can never kill me
Jew me, sue me
Everybody do me
Kick me, kike me
Don’t you black or white me

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

Tell me what has become of my life
I have a wife and two children who love me
I am the victim of police brutality, now
I’m tired of bein’ the victim of hate
You’re rapin’ me off my pride
Oh, for God’s sake
I look to heaven to fulfill its prophecy…
Set me free

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Trepidation, speculation
Everybody allegation
In the suite, on the news
Everybody dog food
Black male, black mail
Throw your brother in jail

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

Tell me what has become of my rights
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came
You know I really do hate to say it
The government don’t wanna see
But if Roosevelt was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be, no, no

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Situation, speculation
Everybody litigation
Beat me, bash me
You can never trash me
Hit me, kick me
You can never get me

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

Some things in life they just don’t wanna see
But if Martin Luther was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be, no, no

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Situation, segregation
Everybody allegation
In the suite, on the news
Everybody dog food
Kick me, kike me
Don’t you wrong or right me

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about
All I wanna say is that
they don’t really care about
All I wanna say is that
They don’t really care about us

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lynnea2 The BoardLynnea Bylund is managing director of Gandhi Legacy Tours, Director of Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, founder of Catalyst House and has nearly three decades of experience in administration, marketing and business development. She was a nationally recognized spokeswoman for the emerging alternative video and information delivery industries. She has a degree in holistic health-nutrition from the legendary and controversial health educator and activist Dr. Kurt Donsbach, she is the founder of two not-for-profit small business-based wireless trade associations and has lobbied on Capitol Hill and at the FCC where she has spoken out strongly against the cable TV monopoly, illegal spectrum warehousing and ill-conceived congressional schemes to auction our nation’s precious airwaves to the highest bidder.

Ms. Bylund is a founder and former CEO of a Washington DC telecommunications consulting and management company with holdings in several operating and developmental wireless communications systems and companies. In 1995 Lynnea became the first female in the world to be awarded a Broadband PCS operating permit – she was one of only 17 winners, along with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in the biggest cash auction in world history, raising a whopping $8 billion. Lynnea also spear-headed the successful effort to launch the first cable TV network in the South Pacific islands.
> Follow Lynnea on:  +LynneaBylund – Twitter – LinkedIn – FaceBook – Pinterest & YouTube

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