I have been grappling with how exactly to approach this post, but I feel it’s important to say something about the song, Brother Lion, which means so much to the band and is finally getting released to the public. In writing the lyrics for WBPT, I always attempt to start a dialogue around a social topic that we are passionate about. At the time, the whole country was reeling from the senseless murder of Michael Brown, and I was galvanized by the Black Lives Matter movement urging us to value our citizens, celebrate our differences and accept the tragic structural racism of this nation so that we might actually begin to address it. I wanted to write a song about race, but I didn’t want to write a Macklemore Same Love deal, where someone from outside a struggle attempts to explain it to the masses. I am not black despite growing up on the African continent and identifying strongly as African, so I didn’t want to write about Ferguson directly.
Since moving to the United States 7 years ago from Cairo, Egypt, I have been attempting to better understand my niche in society as a mixed-race Arab American with Jewish and Muslim blood. I am proud of my varied heritage but also confused by it. I feel like a chameleon, able to code-switch to fit my environment, but never fully at ease in my own skin. Why are my eyes blue when all my family members’ are shades of brown? Why am I fair skinned, when my brother is darker than my dad who comes from Nubia? Why is it that when I walk downtown on a Saturday night, I only get weird looks from some people, mentally questioning “What are you?” while my brother gets a full on “Go home towel head!”
This is my relationship to race. Genetically tethered to an identity, but more often than not an identity that doesn’t manifest itself visibly to the average bystander. There is a certain amount of guilt involved—as if I should feel guilty that I avoid racial provocation—which leads to even deeper self-criticism for the guilt. This is what I set out to write about in Brother Lion, with the lion literally symbolizing my brother, who has experienced far more aggression and racial profiling than I have.
Confession: this is not the first time we thought about releasing Brother Lion. Last February, after the mastering session with Ed Brooks in Seattle, another tragedy struck America. This time, it was even closer to home, as Yusor, Razan and Deah—young, Muslim American activists —were senselessly murdered at their home in Chapel Hill. My people were being killed and I didn’t know how to respond. We decided not to release the song at that time because we didn’t want to give the impression that we were using this tragedy for self-promotion. Instead, a few weeks ago we set the release date for June 16th.
Here we are again. Our nation continues to face shooting after shooting and after the awful massacre that took place at Pulse in Orlando we need to look at ourselves: who we relate to; what messages we promote with our words/actions/art; what we spend our money on; how we react when presented with situations/statements/people we know are wrong; what we’re scared of and what makes it scary. When did different become synonymous with dangerous?
In Brother Lion, I ask the question, “How long will it be before they look at him, the way they look at me?” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for 25 years. Around the country and around the world, marginalized communities are screaming to be heard, seen and treated fairly. I see the role of an artist as an amplifier for those voices and a screen for those faces, a salve on the wounds of oppression. That is why Brother Lion is so valuable to me. I hope you find something of yourselves in the song and together we can work toward a society we all deeply desire. Please share the song and spread the love.
Zein, on behalf of White Bear Polar Tundra