“This is a country where you see somebody with the flag of this country...automatically suspect. You representing the flag of the United States of America? You must be racist, you must be sexist.” Lyricist Stephen Jerome of Portland’s Killin the Silence does NOT pull punches. In collaboration with producer Digital Shadows, he drew inspiration from local protests over the police killing of George Floyd for the pair's single “Whose Streets.”
The song’s video includes footage they shot while participating in downtown protests. The experience had a profound impact on them and directly led to the song’s genesis. The track touches on several hot button issues, including confrontational direct action protesting, protest as a form of patriotism and a growing effort by those on the left to reclaim the U.S. flag—a powerful symbol most often used by the right as an icon of conservative values.
We discussed the song and its video over two cold evenings. What follows is a frank and poignant conversation on race in America with two artists who, on a surface level, appear very different, a 20-something Black man and a 40-something white man with two wholly different American experiences, but through their music have found a way to bridge that gap with a profound sense of love and respect for each other.