Modern society has numerous ways to learn about the most disturbing social problems through various sources: media, the Internet, and even music. Everyone expresses their points of view in a variety of ways. Music has always been one of such ways as authors discuss the most significant and meaningful problems through their lyrics. There is no single way to solve the problem. The aim of the current paper is to show that music may even have some stronger effect on a person than an article or a book. Hence, the example of Reed’s “Hold on” and Run DMC’s “It’s like that” are particularly effective to represent the discrimination, homelessness and unemployment as the major problems of US in the 1980s.


The 1980s in the USA were a period of both positive and negative social changes. Reagan’s administration strived to provide more rights to the national minorities residing in the American cities, which would be equal to the ones whites had. In case of African Americans, these changes provided the following pros:

  • they were allowed to enter colleges and universities;
  • they were allowed to establish a business;
  • the citizens were granted a right to vote and participate in elections occupying different leading positions like becoming a mayor in big cities.

Art, theatre and television had influence on relations between races in the American culture. Unfortunately, there were a number of conflicts on the racial background. There appeared pro-racist movements, which included different graffiti on the walls with anti-blacks slogans, various demonstrations, and intimidations because of successful establishment of white-black cooperation. The most common societal problems African Americans faced in the 1980's in the USA were unemployment, discrimination and homicide related to it as well as homelessness. The reasons for their appearance and reactions from the society related to these problems as well as examples of particular situations can be found in lyrics of many songs, books and articles.

The Problem of Unemployment and Tough Economic Conditions in the 1980s

One of the biggest problems of the 1980s is related to the unemployment issue. Run DMC in his song “It’s Like that” raised the matter of “unemployment at a record highs” as well as the issue of money and their role in the life of a man. Above mentioned issues were particularly relevant for discussion of African Americans and whites by claiming that “money is the key to end all your woes, your ups, your downs, your highs and your lows” (Run DMC, 1984). The author wanted to stress that there were tough times for people of both races, who resided in American cities and towns.

It was quite complicated to find a proper job as far as the country’s economic situation was difficult. Very often, due to discrimination, which was widely spread in the society, it was very difficult to earn a living. Hence, this resulted in growing crime level not only in separate areas, but in whole cities or towns. Although there were some attempts to eliminate racial discrimination in the society, there remained those, who refused to employ the representatives of African Americans simply due to personal convictions, not because of some objective reasons. However, unemployment was not only the problem of blacks.

Whites also faced similar issues as the deindustrialization of the cities, due to global economy reforms, led to employee layoffs. For instance, in New York, 300,000 people were dismissed from their jobs (Cannato, 2009, p. 74). Overall, the total number of unemployed within the period between 1969 and 1977 was almost 600,000; as a result, they became poor people unable to earn their living (Cannato, 2009, p. 74). Perhaps, it would be suitable to add here another Run DMC’s quotation: “People in the world trying to make ends meet.” As massive manufacturing businesses closed, the unemployment rate was growing (Run DMC, 1984). However, these changes soon turned New York from a manufacturing into financial city. In such a way, the demand for the personnel in this sphere provided people with a chance to get back to work. However, the work was absolutely different from what they had to deal with before (Cannato, 2009, p. 74). This was the period of rising stock market, where money were believed to be made out of thin air. Although this job was very specific and demanded certain skills, new reforms in the labor market provided 400,000 new working places in the 1980s in New York only (Cannato, 2009, p. 74).

Discrimination Outcomes

Although Reagan’s government made some attempts to eliminate discrimination, the promotion of rights equity was rather controversial. The effect of arising violence due to various factors, including crack abuse, had had a tough outcome for the society of African Americans. The rates for possibility of being murdered for a black male was “one in 29,” whilst white’s male chances were “one in 186” (Marable, 2007, p. 190). Another frightening statistics was related to the age: the chances for becoming a homicide victim being an African American male was “one in 20” (Marable, 2007, p.190). These data were practically similar in major American cities like New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, etc. (Marable, 2007, p.190).

The growing concerns related to constant homicides by the representatives of both African Americans and whites demanded immediate actions to be taken. However, despite the steps to solve them, nothing changed in reality. Some people considered the streets to be unsafe due to the growing number of homeless who “were a social menace or victims of an insensitive and unequal society” (Cannato, 2009, p. 78). The conclusion was rather negative: this group of people did not add to the cities’ popularity, though very few attempts were actually needed to solve it.

Numerous unreasonable murders committed in New York City analyzed below are some of the examples of crimes of that period. Firstly, extremely violent murder of “four African American teenagers in the subway,” whose main mistake was to come up to Bernard Goetz, an electronic worker, and ask for some money (Cannato, 2009, p. 78). The worst thing is that some considered him a hero, who rescued the city from drowning in the immense ocean of crimes. However, vast majority regarded him “as a violent racist” (Cannato, 2009, p. 78). The worst and hard to comprehend thing in that story was that Goetz claimed it was a self-defense; that is why he was “convicted of gun possession” only (Cannato, 2009, p.78).

Some more killings on the racial basis were related to New York history and mentioned in the song “Hold on” by Lou Reed (1989). The singer has represented “blacks with knives and whites with clubs” when singing about Howard Beach and related fighting (Lou Reed, 1989). The events took place in December 1986, “at a pizzeria in the Howard Beach section of Queens” (Cannato, 2009, p. 78). The African American’s car broke down near the place at which “white youths chased the three men” (Cannato, 2009, p. 79). As a result, one of three men died after he “ran onto a highway and was hit by a car”, the two others, however, survived (Cannato, 2009, p. 79). The reaction from the blacks was rather predictable: anger, concern for the others, calling “the attack lynching” although “the others claimed it was just a street fight” (Cannato, 2009, p. 79). However, due to Al Sharpton’s initiative, the marches were organized and the events were highlighted in the newspapers and on TV. As a result, the whites were found guilty in committing the crime and convicted respectively (Cannato, 2009, p. 79).

Generally, the situation was very similar in other cities: discrimination remained one of the most disturbing issues in the civil society. No matter what attempts were made. The state of orders in the USA was not improved. There still exist areas, which strangers are not allowed or are not advised to visit, because robbery is one of possible outcomes. Despite attempts to improve the situation, even today it is rather difficult to cope with that large number of criminals on the streets of American towns and cities, although the police work and perform its duties properly.


Discussing social problems through music is a good way to address those who do not read newspapers or books for different reasons. Lyrics of the songs may raise serious issues, which are sometimes difficult to comprehend or realize without additional sources. Hence, for a better understanding of American social order in the 1980s, in additional to the songs’ lyrics, scientific writings have been included as well.

The most disturbing problems of the 1980s were unemployment and discrimination together with the issues related to it: homicides, homelessness, etc. Due to the statistics, African Americans were more likely to be murdered somewhere on the street than whites, and, due to sad evidence, not always the last faced punishment for the committed act of violence or even crime. Hopefully, the situation will improve, and no racism will appear in the world.

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