The song was "41 Shots (American Skin)," written as a reaction to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo by the NYPD

By Alex Heigl
September 28, 2016 01:55 PM

Shortly after Monday night’s presidential debate, Apple Music released a video teaser for an upcoming interview Mary J. Blige conducted with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Though the interview, called The 411 with Mary J. Blige seemingly in reference to Blige’s landmark 1992 album What’s the 411, is ostensibly an actual sit-down, the clip showed Blige serenading Clinton with a song about police brutality.

“If an officer stops you, always be polite, and never ever run away. Promise momma you’ll keep your hands in sight. Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it a wallet? This is your life. It ain’t no secret. It ain’t no secret, no secret my friend. You can get killed just for living in your American skin,” Blige sings.

The Internet was largely confounded, and not just because of the cognitive dissonance of seeing an R&B legend serenade a presidential candidate in a milieu reminiscent of tearful rehab confessions or exclusive one-on-ones about one’s sexuality. No, it was more about the fact that Blige was singing Bruce Springsteen’s song “41 Shots (American Skin),” which was written as a protest after the shooting of Amadou Diallo.

Diallo was a West African immigrant shot 19 times (out of 41 shots fired) by four NYPD officers in 1999 as he was reaching for his wallet. The four officers involved were acquitted, and the NYPD has continued to be somewhat tetchy over Springsteen’s song, yanking his police escorts and urging people to boycott his concerts. Springsteen has played the song live throughout the years, dedicating it to concurrent victims of racial shootings.

Okay, so it was half the song and half the cognitive dissonance. Though the video is an emotional one – and the fact that a black woman is singing to another woman who is currently running for president about police brutality is hugely important and shouldn’t be understated – Twitter doesn’t take anything seriously, and quickly seized upon the video as a source for memes.

Apple released a version of the clip without the song, but the damage had been done, and memes of the scene continued to circulate. Anyway, the full episode debuts on Friday, at which point viewers will in all probability be treated to the song again, as well as Clinton’s answer to Blige’s question, “Where do we go from here?”

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