When Shi Wisdom set out to write and record “Young Gunner” for her Stranger Things Have Happened EP, and create the powerful visuals to accompany it, her aim was to tell a story she had seen play out countless times in her own life growing up in similar neighbourhoods as the one the video depicts.
Although not inspired per se by the highly publicized murders of young Black men like Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner, “Young Gunner” serves as an important reminder that those killings did not happen in isolation. An inherently oppressive, racist society contributed to them, and contrary to what many may believe, Shi Wisdom reminds listeners this narrative is as real north of the 49th parallel as it is south of it.
“Canadians are a little bit more timid in their approach,” explains Shi Wisdom. “But it doesn’t mean that they’re not saying the same things. There’s subtle racism and blatant racism. And it doesn’t make the fact that it’s racism any different.”
AS AN ARTIST, WITH THE PLATFORM THAT YOU HAVE, DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN OBLIGATION OR A DUTY TO RAISE AWARENESS ABOUT THE TYPES OF ISSUES YOU SING ABOUT IN “YOUNG GUNNER”? I don’t think that as an artist I have an obligation to raise awareness, but I think as a person who belongs to the group that’s being oppressed and slaughtered, for lack of a better word, right now, I think that there is some level of obligation because I too, at any moment, can be affected by these very same things, so choosing to not say anything or have any opinion on it, I feel it’s pretty irresponsible.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN AMERICA WITH THE #BLACKLIVESMATTER MOVEMENT, DO YOU THINK THOSE ISSUES ARE CORRELATED TO BLACK LIVES IN CANADA? Yeah, because you’re Black anywhere you go. I mean, people seem to have the idea that Canada’s different from the United States or very different or we don’t have the same problems. We do. We do have the same problems. They just look different, and Canada in general involves itself in the same really problematic disturbing things that the United States of America tends to put itself in or engage in … Canada’s right there behind America all the time in everything. We were there in Afghanistan; we’re there in all these wars that America gets [itself] into.
Until we collectively come together and realize that this is a problem that has to change, it’s not going to. And it’s going to take awhile.
THE SONG AND VIDEO FOR “YOUNG GUNNER” WASN’T INSPIRED BY ANY ONE OF THE PUBLICIZED STORIES OF TRAYVON MARTIN, ERIC GARNER OR MIKE BROWN PER SE, RIGHT? No [it was] not for any particular story. Just the sentiment, the feeling, the struggle that has been happening, that we’ve been in for years and years and years. This is not going to be over anytime soon. It’s something that we have to collectively realize is a problem first. There’s a lot of Black people that just feel complacent or just feel like, ‘Well, this is the way it is, so this is the way it’s going to be.’ Whereas we don’t realize that as a body of people, there are so many Black people running the world, like we possess so much – we could possess so much power if we choose, but a lot of people don’t choose to exercise the power so until we collectively come together and realize that this is a problem that has to change, it’s not going to. And it’s going to take awhile.
The lion is always seen as the dangerous animal that only relies on instinct and will kill you whether or not you are there to be friendly or whether you are there to kill an animal … Nobody is telling the story of the lion.
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE YOU WANTED TO GET ACROSS? I’m not saying don’t be the young gunner, I’m not saying to be the young gunner, I’m just saying that this is the story. It’s something that I have seen. I’m telling the story based on things that I have seen. I’m not telling people what to do. I’m just saying what I’ve seen.
THE VIDEO ENDED WITH AN AFRICAN PROVERB, “UNTIL THE LION HAS A HISTORIAN, THE HUNTER WILL ALWAYS BE THE HERO.” TELL ME ABOUT THAT. I decided to use that quote because generally when you look at the news, you look at the media, who would you say is the saviour versus who is the villain? … The lion is always seen as the dangerous animal that only relies on instinct and will kill you whether or not you are there to be friendly or whether you are there to kill an animal … Nobody is telling the story of the lion. Maybe the lion is only protecting itself. Why are we in the lions’ environment? What’s the hunter’s business in the jungle? Does anybody ask that question? And why are you there with guns? I mean you don’t have to be there. You choose to be there and you choose to be afraid. And you don’t necessarily have any real reason to be afraid. I mean we’re all conditioned to feel like it’s a wild animal [and] you should be afraid. But you also don’t have to be there. Leave the lion in the lion’s environment and the lion will not attack you.
Introduction written by. Priya Ramanujam
Photos Courtesy of. Shi Wisdom