HAMILTON: How the Broadway Musical Parallels Today’s Movements

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?

On Friday, July 3, the recorded version of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton was made available to stream on Disney+, released early, “in light of the world turning upside down”, stated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who penned the show.

When I first listened to the soundtrack in its entirety, I was overcome by bittersweet emotions and intellectual stimulation — but most of all, an overwhelming desire to turn the world upside down. From the opening number, I was transported back in time and journeyed through the riveting life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the individuals he encountered throughout his lifetime. I wanted to be as fierce as Angelica, as proficient and skilled as Lafayette, as ambitious, impactful, and powerful-with-a-pen as Hamilton. 

Much of these feelings were rooted in the revolutionary aspect of the show, which can be applied both on the stage and beyond the fourth wall. It is no doubt that Hamilton is loved by many for its themes of empowerment and pushing for change, yet why is it that some fans of the show don’t maintain that same energy in regards to the uprising of the Black Lives Matter Movement? 

Rachel Cargle x Lin-Manuel Miranda

As I scrolled through the Instagram homepage, I came across that familiar crinkled-gold background that was Hamilton’s signature branding and took a moment to read this post from their official account: 

God, how it struck a chord within me. Rachel Cargle, a black activist that utilizes her large platform to promote anti-racism and advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda to draw parallels between the lyrics of Hamilton and the headlines of current events.

“But your ‘aha’ moment isn’t nearly enough. Ongoing action in anti-racism looks past a passive empathetic moment. It’s taking accountability for what roles we play in this moment in history and DOING something about it in every way that you can.”

Rachel Cargle

And so, moving forward, this article will further explore the lyrics of Hamilton and how it connects to the Black Lives Matter movement and today’s current events.

Scratch that. This is not a moment, it’s a movement.

My favorite track on the Hamilton album is Nonstop. It demonstrates ambition and continuity, perseverance, and consistency. Though the Black Lives Matter Movement has skyrocketed in media popularity by flooding Instagram stories and dominating the trending page on Twitter, it cannot be dismissed as a “fleeting” moment. The Civil Rights Movement lasted for 20 years; the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted longer than 365 days. We cannot dismiss this as a trend– and that doesn’t translate to BLM being the sole topic of conversation; it means we need to devote time and effort alongside our normal routine to combat racism. We need to be ambitious in order to be fully progressive, consistent when committing ourself to being anti-racist, perserverantdespite any roadblocks along the way, and continuous in the fight for racial justice. 

I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties.

The disputes over societal issues in the United States are often fueled by our partisan system, the generational gap, religious values, and problematic beliefs passed down through environmental influence. While there is a high chance that pushing for real change can result in conflict, it’s certainly better than standing idle. When it comes to opposition towards basic human rights, we must ‘drop the niceties’ and be assertive and firm to ensure that marginalized communities are treated as equal and receive justice.

Photo from @hamiltonmusical on Instagram

Chaos and bloodshed are not a solution, don’t let them lead you astray.

As a white or non-black person of color, it is not your place to tell black people how to grieve. This has been stated numerous times, yet many use the riots and violence, which does not reflect the central ideas of Black Lives Matter, to paint the entire movement in a negative light. The foremost thought when it comes to police brutality protests should be the lives lost, not the scorched buildings or vandalized statues, because those are replaceable. Human lives should be valued and prioritized over material objects. It’s not a political statement, it’s common sense.  

The plan is, to fan this spark into a flame.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has always been of the utmost importance, the momentum it has gained throughout the months of May and June was a turning point in the fight for racial equality. It has finally become a daily topic of conversation, something ingrained into our minds permanently rather than a distant afterthought. We have fanned the spark into a flame, gathered allies from across the world, and spread anti-racist resources like wildfire.

I know the action in the streets is exciting but Jesus, between all the bleeding and fighting I’ve been reading and writing.

The Black Lives Matter movement is certainly compelling. It’s not every day you see protests in all fifty states and in several countries across the globe. However, we must go beyond passive empathy for the Black community by relying on education and taking action. Many are misinformed or lack knowledge on how to be an active ally, black history and culture, microaggressions, and racism in industries like health and housing. The acquirement of information can lead to the acknowledgement of mistakes, holding oneself accountable, and a desire to do better.

We must read articles and books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, and discover endless resources that we have unlimited and infinite access to due to the internet. We must engage with black activists, organizations, authors, speakers, creatives, and the black community as a whole to understand their experiences and stand with them.

For once in your life, take a stand with pride. I don’t understand how you stand to the side.

Does neutrality exist in the fight for racial equality? One can claim a neutral stance, but all that does is imply that acts of police brutality are ‘okay’ and not worth speaking up against. It is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist. A popular quote from Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican cleric, states, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Silence is compliance, and staying ‘neutral’ is dangerous: while you stand to the side, lives are being lost.

It’s full of contradictions; so is independence! We have to start somewhere.

“That’s why we can’t stop with people saying that the answer to this is some retraining. I am not down right now. And I don’t have the patience right now for people to think that this is going to be a tweak around the edges type of situation. This is going to take tough, bold political sacrifices.”

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

Defunding the police: It may sound increasingly radical, when in reality, it just calls for the reallocation and redistribution of the police system’s excessive funding towards affordable housing, job training, education, mental health counseling, and social workers. Investing into community-based strategies for public safety is only one step into dismantling systemic and institutional racism, but we have to start somewhere.

Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

Marsha P. Johnson. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X. Bayard Rustin. And so many more.

These black activists led the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960s, and have since changed history. Decades later, the black community is still struggling to gain racial equality and end police brutality. As we march for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, we step in the faded footprints of those who marched for Emmitt Till.

They will not be forgotten, and the legacy they leave behind is that of change, action, and hope. We must act to ensure that black children of the next generations can grow up in a world where they are celebrated, protected, and uplifted.

The seeds have since been planted in the garden, the roots are the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Although the fight for justice has seen growth, it has only sprouted. We still have a long way to go. Some day, after the world is rid of anti-blackness, after we dismantle white supremacy, after we defund the police, after interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism is abolished, after every single one of the demands made by the black community is met, then will it truly blossom and establish its legacy.


We must also keep in mind that Hamilton glorifies the actual Founding Fathers, especially Washington and Jefferson, who owned a large sum of slaves. While watching the movie and listening to the soundtrack, it is important to separate the dramatized characters in Hamilton from their real-life counterparts, who were either atrocious slave owners or complicit in one way or another.

“With Black Lives Matter rising and statues of white slave owners falling, it might feel good to watch “Hamilton” and think of an ethnically diverse, hip-hop past. The reality, of course, was way more complicated.” writes Gregory S. Schneider for The Washington Post. Learning about the history of the real Founding Fathers can help one be more aware not to put these men onto a pedestal.

Instead, we can praise the mostly POC cast for stellar performances, connect the lyrics to modern day events, and use this to propel forward in the movement. Now that I’ve had my ‘aha’ moment, I’m not throwing away my shot – the next step is to keep learning how to be a more active ally by reading and reflecting on my actions, and find other ways to help.


READ UP!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/07/03/hamilton-slavery-washington-jefferson/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/founding-fathers-and-slaveholders-72262393/

https://libguides.nyit.edu/c.php?g=666045&p=4761364

https://theestablishment.co/welcome-to-the-anti-racism-movement-heres-what-you-ve-missed-711089cb7d34/

https://docs.google.com/document/d/17ctVFeXJwJwtOa7ogZ0oEiVhpH7zQQwoRdIJ6XvEM_Y/edit

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/10/thomas-jefferson-radical-and-racist/376685/

https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-systemic-racism-and-institutional-racism-131152

https://www.biography.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr-black-activists-civil-rights-movement

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