“Changes”

The last few days, I’ve been haunted by 2Pac’s song “Changes.” I first heard it when I was in elementary school, and it immediately became a favorite. (I make no claim to being a 2Pac superfan.) The other day, my fiancée and I were watching an episode of Fresh Off the Boat, and it ended with a bit of “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” which led me to the other 2Pac song that I think of as legitimately beautiful.

If you’re not familiar with “Changes,” I strongly encourage you to listen to it, because it’s incredible.

Anyway, bits of “Changes” have been running through my head for most of the last week. There are these lines that are just haunting me because of how immediate they seem. I don’t understand everything that he’s communicating, nor would I repeat the things I do understand as my own views. It’s art. It’s his art. It’s not my art. But the song shares a perspective in a way that’s enormously valuable for our society.

There are these lines about the relationship between the institutional power structure of society and far less institutionally powerful African Americans that are demoralizing to hear. I wonder how far 2Pac imagined we might have come by now. And I wonder whether the elementary school version of me thought that the late-20s version of me would live in a society that still locks up African American men at a disgusting rate, that still accepts entrenched poverty as the necessary consequence of economic “liberty,” that sees the not-so-uncommon killing of unarmed human beings as an unfortunate glitch.

How are we still doing this to our fellow citizens? How are we still so unsympathetic to the unholy cost of systematic racism?

It’s a beautiful song, but it’s devastating.

My hope and prayer is that, two decades from now, when I hear “Changes,” it will be heartbreaking but also firmly a song of the past. The changes we need take work. They do not happen magically. Will we be willing to make the necessary changes? Or will my kids be amazed that 2Pac not only released records posthumously, but also seemed to speak of events forty years after his death?

We can do better.

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