Haviah Mighty hopes people will 'do their part in reversing white supremacy' after watching her new video
The visuals for 'Thirteen' come out on Canada Day because 'celebrating it should look a little different'
"Man, we have so much work to do."
The closing lyrics to Haviah Mighty's quasi-title track "Thirteen," from her debut solo album, 13th Floor, hold so much in just eight words. The Toronto-born rapper blasts through centuries of oppression in the song's three minutes, connecting slavery to the modern-day prison system in vivid, personal detail. The work is to dismantle the system.
While the album came out a year ago, winning the 2019 Polaris Music Prize and making Mighty the first hip-hop artist to win in the prize's 14-year history, the official video for "Thirteen" comes out this Canada Day, just over a month after George Floyd's death and the beginning of the current worldwide anti-Black racism protests — and while everyone is at home during a pandemic, more alert to what's going on in the world than possibly ever before. Her hope is that people will feel moved to "do their part in reversing white supremacy" after watching the video.
"Given the climate right now and the focus of everything that's been going on and how well it ties in to themes that I was thinking about a year ago on this record and it just not being your mainstream conversation [a year ago] — now it is that mainstream conversation," explains Mighty, over the phone from her home. "It felt like there would be no better time to put [the video] out … obviously, it's a message that I think is important to hear at any time but while people's social media is open, while their hearts and ears are open, I think that's the manner for them to receive it. "
If you listen to the song, I think it's clear how it ties in to every Black person globally.- Haviah Mighty
The video has been finished since April, and Mighty was thinking of releasing it later this summer as the last visual project from 13th Floor. But releasing it on Canada Day felt right: it's her way of showing solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities on a holiday that feels less and less celebratory. And while the song "Thirteen" speaks specifically to the United States' 13th amendment, which abolished slavery "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted," it is very much connected to Canada.
"If you listen to the song, I think it's clear how it ties in to every Black person globally," she says.
The new animated video for "Thirteen" is stop-you-in-your-tracks powerful, with animator Theo Kapodistrias illustrating subtle emotions within the song (Mighty's opening sigh dissipates a set of chains that are connected to her childhood head) while also zeroing in on striking detail (a set of nooses drop out of a tree just before Mighty raps, "Those nooses they up in the trees and I'm hanging but I'll never fall like my pants").
Visuals from the video will air on two Canada Day celebrations where Mighty will perform "Thirteen": CBC's Canada Day celebration (8-10 p.m. ET) and Toronto's Canada Day celebration (7-8 p.m. ET), both online streams (and a TV broadcast, for CBC).
"I feel kind of deceived about celebrating Canada Day," she says, "and I feel like celebrating it should look a little different. We can still have shows and parties and music but I chose to do that song. I don't feel it's controversial, and I think for those that do, you know, that's why I did it."
'Ignorant people need to be weeded out'
Mighty has been rapping about the effects of systemic racism for years, including her time with feminist hip-hop group the Sorority, and has talked extensively about her experiences — and how she's been gaslit about those experiences.
It's hard to live a trauma that seems invisible and tell people the pain from it and feel it your whole life, feel how it's impacted you and have that be dismissed.- Haviah Mighty
"I've been told to my face, 'You don't know what racism it looks like' by a white person," she says, laughing. "So I know definitively that there's a lot of people out there that are like, yeah if you haven't been hung from a tree, you don't really have a fight here."
"It's hard to live a trauma that seems invisible and tell people the pain from it and feel it your whole life, feel how it's impacted you and have that be dismissed," she continues.
It's something she says she's been digging into more than ever these past few months, fuelled by the most recent police killings of Black people, the protests and the conversations that are happening.
"I was talking to my mom about this yesterday. She's like, 'You've always been a vocal person, always fighting injustices. You'd always come home and tell me all the things that kids said. Or whatever the teacher did. Always, you were just ready to break down the injustice. You would write essays about why you deserve the cookies.' So I like learning that about myself and knowing I kind of always had that nature in me because yeah, in a way, I think I suppressed the pain of it because I've just always been like — I'm not taking on the pain, I deserve better. And now, finally, at least to see in my lifetime, there's some resurgence or some sort of revolution. The climate feels completely different."
Having attended a predominantly white school in London, Ont., Mighty describes being called the n-word "several times a week as a child," and being treated unfairly by teachers who limited her — and her sisters' — educational opportunities. And the education they did get wasn't complete.
"Particularly with Black people, with Black culture, most of us go to school and we learn about our history through a white history teacher who has a book and who doesn't know anything deeper than the book that they're reading," she says. "And the book only goes as far back as us being taken from our motherland, but there's nothing before that. So how can you have pride in your people if that's what you learn about your people?"
"And I think that's one of the biggest issues, is there's been a systematic indoctrination of feeling like a lesser-than human being — and that needs to be reversed," she continues. "And so to me, the history, understanding what exists before slavery is to understand that slavery is a moment in time. Well, many moments in time, 400-plus years in time, but it's not the beginning of time. It's not the origin of the Black people story. It is not your worth."
This moment in time feels like a reckoning to Mighty, as she sees more and more people of all backgrounds having the tough conversations. And as someone who has been vocal about anti-Black racism her whole life, Mighty is ready for the rest of the world to catch up.
"I kind of love it because I feel like I've been ready for this conversation my whole life," she says, laughing lightly.
And for the first time, she feels, people are listening — and demanding change.
"I do think it's very important that this conversation is happening because ignorant people need to be weeded out, at the end of the day."