by Darius Woods II
adrienne maree brown and Victor Kwesi Mensah (affectionately known as Vic Mensah) portray their views on social injustices, both using a different method than the other. An underlying theme in both pieces is the deep-rooted situation of living conditions in poor communities of Michigan. Also, indirectly mentioned, is the fact that unjust actions by the government and people in positions of authority will eventually cause a chaotic reaction by the people. brown discusses these injustices through narrative, while Mensah gathers his views into a song. Both pieces are driven metaphorically, using imagery to give the reader an in-depth analysis of the state of Detroit and Flint. In "The River" and "Shades of Blue", brown and Mensah use imagery, strong diction, and their own self-conscious artistic ability to portray unrest caused by social injustice.
brown uses a much more metaphorical strategy to get her point across. The "main character", if you will, in this short story is the river. Aside from the fact that "The River" is the name of this piece, brown uses this recurring idea to depict the effect of Detroit's social issues on women, children, and people in positions of authority. brown exclaims that "something in the river haunted the island between the city and the border. This has an adverse effect on the people of the island, ‘Detroit’. The haunting even sends one young boy "babbling incoherent confessions" to his mother, who doesn't pay him any mind. The level of stress that the mother is experiencing due to the tough times in Detroit, cause the time spent by the river to be “rare and precious.” brown goes on to explain social injustices including segregation, eurocentrism, gentrification and the like.
Mensah uses what some consider to be a more aesthetically pleasing avenue to portray his take on the social injustices of today’s time. His first 3 lines read, “Color of morning pee coming out of the sink, it’s 2016 who would think, kids in America don't have clean water to drink.” This isn’t quite about Detroit, but just under 70 miles away, lies the city of Flint, and they’re going through a lot of the same issues that brown mentions. In “Shades of Blue”, Vic Mensah uses lyricism to express his view of the state of Flint. Flint is 60% African American, and most of its residents fall beneath the poverty line, regardless of their race. Later in the song, Mensah poses a question; “If you were to tip the scale, and it wasn’t 60% black and it was 60% white, would the same things have happened?”
A major theme that comes up in both songs is what happens to people in authority. In the case of the mayor in “The River”, the river consumes him, leaving nothing but bones. In the case of authority figures in “Shades of Blue”, Mensah writes “Now you've got toddlers drinking toxic waste, while the people responsible still ain't caught no case.” He’s referring to Mayor Dayne Walling, who never received more than bad publicity for his actions while this situation played out. When put side by side, the story and song might show that only God (or the universe, or nature itself) can truly handle people in authority the way they should be dealt with.
In "The River" and "Shades of Blue", brown and Mensah use imagery, strong diction, and their own self-conscious artistic ability to portray unrest caused by social injustice. This story and song cover multiple social issues, including: the problem of authorities not being held responsible, humans not receiving basic necessities of life, racism, class divides, etc. Both brown and Mensah prove that the pen is indeed mightier than sword on most occasions.