Welcome to the first installment of Torn From the Headlines, where we'll be showcasing videos that, in the vein of Childish Gambino's powerful "This Is America", offer commentary on the state of the world. And, well, given the current state of the world, things could get dark, but we'll try to lighten the mood with the odd bit of social satire as well.
Let's not mince words or employ euphemisms here: the United States is operating concentration camps at its southern border.
While that wording may bring images of the Holocaust to mind, no one is suggesting that the Donald Trump administration is engaging in anything that even resembles such historic atrocities. As Waitman Wade Beorn, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian and a lecturer at the University of Virginia, told Esquire recently:
What's required is a little bit of demystification of it. Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz. Concentration camps in general have always been designed—at the most basic level—to separate one group of people from another group. Usually, because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they're putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way.
The truth is, migrants from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—fleeing gang violence, corrupt regimes, and the ravages wrought by climate change—are showing up at the U.S. border, via Mexico, in record numbers. The Department of Homeland Security's tactic is to detain them. Despite Trump's campaign sloganeering about "rapists" and "drug dealers", most of the migrants are families, and those families are often split up, with many of the adults being detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency while the children are put in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to a recent Department of Homeland Security report, inspectors at camps in California and New Jersey "observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards...including nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues".
Contrast that with the claims of Matthew Albence, the head of enforcement and removal operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Asked at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year to describe the conditions at so-called "family residential centres" Albence notoriously compared them to being at a summer camp.
That's the background against which rapper-singer Vic Mensa and his band 93PUNX have released the single "Camp America", complete with a provocative video directed by Titanic Sinclair:
The song sounds like an all-time-classic warm-weather banger, complete with the chorus refrain of "I wanna have the best summer ever", but a close listen to the lyrics reveals a decidedly dark undercurrent:
"There’s a place/It’s the time of your life/No parents allowed and no playing in sight/You can laugh, until you cry, at Camp America."
“The song’s lyrics were inspired by ICE director Matthew Albence comparing the immigration detention centers to summer camps,” Mensa confirmed to the Daily Beast. “I thought that was a crazy fucking idea and wanted to create a world with this song that imagined that twisted alternate reality, where it was fun for kids to be held as prisoners, drinking out of toilets, away from their parents, and somehow enjoy it like one might at a summer camp.”
Keen-eyed viewers will notice that the child detainees in the video are all played by blond- and ginger-haired white kids, which hammers home the message, lest there be any doubt, that these could be your kids in cages, Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.
"I believe the duty of art is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed," Mensa told Billboard in a recent interview. "In such disturbing times we have to be radical. But we still gotta dance.”