How Bob Dylan Addresses Civil Rights/Racism in his Music

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Bob Dylan an American author, painter, singer, and songwriter was born in the year 1941 at the time America was struggling with various social and political issues. The 76 years old received Nobel Peace Prize of Literature in 2016 for his inspirational songs that have influenced civil rights movement across the United States of America. Despite the fact that Dylan is a white male, he had made remarkable political proclamation for civil rights from the 1960s when he was still a neophyte in the music industry. This essay will assess various ways in which Bob Dylan addressed civil rights/racism in his music.

Five decades ago, music was only for entertainment, and no one expected it to lace unfathomable meaning or societal commentary. However, artist such as Dylan started using music to protest various social prejudices as well as deliver a message of hope to the society, which was unusual at the time. These were transformation times in the American society as the songs sensitized the populace to stand up and fight for social injustices.

In his song “Blowing in the Wind” Bob Dylan expressed how the minority especially the back community goes through hardship in the American society. For example the lyrics of the song “Blowing in the Wind” stated “…Yes, and how many years can some people exist before they are allowed to be free?” (Dylan).  This part was asking the American society a question about the freedom of the minorities especially black American communities who were at the time, subjected to racial segregations (Dettmar 9).  He went ahead to ask “….how many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see?” which was a question posed to the American authorities that at the time, turned a blind eye on several social injustices faced by the minorities.

The answers to these questions according to Bob Dylan were blowing in the wind.  This song, “Blowing in the Wind” became an anthem as well as archetypal protest song of 1960s (Dettmar 10). Even though Bob Dylan denied that his song Blowing in the Wind” is not a protest song, the words were obviously seeking answers to seeking answers to racial injustices in the United States of America. This shows that Dylan addresses civil rights/racism indirectly and inspired many people to fight for justice and make America a better world for all.

In another song titled “The Times, They are A-Changing” Bob Dylan is calling American to gather to gather for a common purpose. Dylan is asking for unity and all Americans to fight for change if they want to live in harmony and a better society (Scarafiotti and Dylan). For example, the first stanza of this song states “Come gather round people wherever you roam” this is a call for people to be together and fight for what is right in the society.

Further, in the lyrics, he is saying “... and admit that the waters around you have grown”. This was a message to the citizens to see the faults of the government, and if they do not realize that racism and poverty are dividing their society and that something needs to be done, then change will not come (Scarafiotti and Dylan). In another line of the song, Dylan is warning the people that things can get worse if they do not act. For instance, “Then you better start swimming, or you'll sink like a stone.”  This part of the song is calling Americans to stand up against the various social injustices that are going on in their society, or they would end up worse.

In the second stanza, Dylan is turning to writers, news reporters or the media to speak up against social ill such as racism and poverty that is running the United States of America. The media can be used as a means of fight injustices, and Dylan is reminding them of their essential role in the society and stating that time is changing and so they should desist from collaborating with the government of the day.

Moreover, he addresses congressmen and women and senators in the third stanza, who are the lawmakers and who are involved in affairs of the government. Bob Dylan is telling the lawmakers indirectly through this song, to heed the call of the people who want change to come to their society. For example, in this stanza, Dylan is informing lawmakers that “Please heed the call” this shows how he is pleading with them to bring the change that would make America a better world (Scarafiotti and Dylan). Further the song states “Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall” Dylan is telling them not to block the needed reforms that would change the USA for better.  Bob Dylan may not be a politician, but he spearheaded lots of change in the society through his songs (Spargo and Ream 9). As explained in the paragraphs above, Dylan used music to address civil rights and racism in American society.

Work Cited

Bob Dylan “Blowing in the Wind” 1962

Dettmar, Kevin JH, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Scarafiotti, Carol, and Bob Dylan. "The times they are a-changing." (2006).

Spargo, R. Clifton, and Anne K. Ream. Bob dylan and Religion. na, 2009.

October 05, 2023

Literature Music


Literary Genres Musicians

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Poetry Bob Dylan

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Expertise Bob Dylan
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