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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Songs about Identity, Diversity, and Empathy

last updated June 1, 2021

posted by Catharine Hannay


I've been having a lot of discussions lately with friends and colleagues about how to respond with compassion to people whose worldview we find incomprehensible.

Meanwhile, I'm frustrated by the tone of social media, where it feels like a lot of people are just slapping each other in the face with bumper stickers rather than engaging in thoughtful discussion. 

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, 

"Far too often, we start with an assumption about someone, and then look for evidence to support it... It's amazing how much people tend to demonize [other groups] rather than making any attempt to consider what could really be going on."

(see 'Let's Make This the Year of Understanding') 

For the latest installment of the popular series of song playlists, I decided to focus on lyrics and videos that challenge the stereotypes and help all of us begin to see the world through different eyes. 

As S.G. Goodman asks in 'The Way I Talk'

"Will you try hard to comprehend?" 

Be Cool, L-Fresh the Lion (Sukhdeep Singh Bhogal)

lyrics; audio from BandCamp (the youtube video is no longer available; here's the link to his youtube page)

"They judge me and think they've figured me out before I open my mouth..Try living in a home where every day you’re made to feel like a visitor... I’m not here for your amusement or here for you to abuse me... My heart's felt so much pain there’s been times I've almost tore it out."

Black Like Me, Mickey Guyton

lyricsofficial audiovideo of live performancefigure skating routine by Starr Andrews 

"Little kid in a small town, I did my best just to fit in. Broke my heart on the playground when they said I was different... It shouldn't be twice as hard... If you think we live in the land of the free, you should try to be black like me."

Are you surprised to see the black experience represented by a figure skater? See 'Brother' and 'Southern Curls' (below) and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement and #blacklivesmatter for different perspectives. You may also like 'My Black is Beautiful' by teacher Lovely Hoffman, which I've included in the  Song Playlist on Self-Compassion, Self-Acceptance, and Empathy

Born This Way, Lady Gaga

lyricsdance performance by 'Gleedom'

"I'm beautiful in my way 'cause God makes no mistakes. I'm on the right track, baby. I was born this way. Don't hide yourself in regret. Just love yourself and you're set."

For more songs like this, see the Song Playlist on Self-Acceptance.

Brother (Watching), Shad

lyrics; official video

"After a while, it sort of starts naggin at you... Saturated with negative images and a limited range of possibilities... and it's sad cause that naturally do sort of condition your mind and over time. That's what's attractive to you. So young blacks don't see themselves in scholastic pursuits or the more practical routes... And that narrow conception of what's black isn't true."

Brown Girl, Aaradhna

lyricsofficial video

"I'm more than the colour of my skin. I'm the girl that likes to sing. All I know is what's within... God, please help them see they ain't no different from me. Not above, not beneath. Teach them equality... I'm more than what they think of me. More than the colour tones that they see."

Choices and Rights, Johnny Crescendo

lyricsaudio (Alan Holdsworth 'Johnny Crescendo' had polio as a child and is active in the disability equality movement.)

"I want dignity from where I sit. I want choices and rights in our lives. I don't want you to speak for me. I got my own autonomy. I want choices and rights in our lives."

Farther We Go, Walk off the Earth
lyrics; official video with the story of a homeless father 

"When did the simple things get so complicated? When did the future stop feeling so far? When did our lives decide to play out like they did? But we're getting smarter, the farther and farther we go."

Healing Our Culture, Yabu Band
"Together, we all can be healed. Our dancing, our music, our  way of life is slowly fading away.... Together, we all can be healed."

Yabu Band is an indigenous rock group from Australia. Scroll down to 'Indomitable' and 'Still Here' for more indigenous perspectives.

Hip Op-eration: The World's Oldest Dance Crew

video about the group; dance performance at the 2013 World HipHop Finals

[OK, this isn't really a song like the others, but I think it definitely fits in with the theme of shaking up stereotypes.]

I Am Australian, Yabu Band
audio in Wongi and English; video of students from Mosman Park School for Deaf Children signing in Auslan (Australian Sign Language)
"We are one, but we are many. And from all the lands on earth we come... I'm the hot wind from the desert. I'm the black soil of the plains.... I am, we are, Australian." 

I'm Deaf, Sean Forbes

lyricsofficial video, performed in English and American Sign Language (ASL)

"Look, I understand that you might be leery, getting music beats from the hard-of-hearing... Never be held back... Jimmy Abbott pitching with 1 hand, full of talent. Stevie Wonder never saw the keys, and Hellen Keller was capable of communicating... I'd rather not hear [than] not listen."

I've got a whole playlist of Songs in ASL on Mindfulness and Compassion, including 'Watch These Hands' by Sean Forbes. I've also included his song 'Hate' on the Multilingual Song Playlist on Unity, Diversity, Peace and Tolerance.

Indomitable, DJ Shub ft. Northern Cree Singers


[no lyrics available; electronic instrumental music with traditional Cree chanting]


Little Boxes, Malvina Reynolds

lyricsaudio by Pete Seegercover by Walk Off the Earth

"There's doctors and there's lawyers and business executives...and they all have pretty children, and the children go to school. And the children go to summer camp, and then to the university, where they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same."

A Man's a Man for A' That, Robert Burns
poem by Robert Burns; acoustic version by Ryan Joseph Burns

"Then let us pray that come it may,    (As come it will for a' that,) That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,    Shall bear the gree, an' a' that. For a' that, an' a' that,    It's coming yet for a' that, That Man to Man, the world o'er,    Shall brothers be for a' that."

Mujeres (Women), Julieta Venegas
translated lyrics: "A woman must be pretty. A woman must be silent. It's time for you to start listening to us. Don't try to tell this story... My present and my past. With this voice, I will narrate it today."

Scroll down to 'Walls' by Wolf Saga for another perspective on supporting women. 

There are three more songs in Spanish on the 'Multilingual Song Playlist.' 

Nose Song from 'Cyrano'

This song is from a musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. You might also be interested in the parallel scene from the movie 'Roxane,' where Steve Martin's modern-day Cyrano out-disses the man who insults him at a bar by coming up with 20 insults more clever than 'big nose.'

Oh My My (What a Life), MILCK (Connie Lim)
"I thought I'd end up selling my songs to shiny pop stars with millions of followers 'cause who would wanna see someone like me?... Now I'm here standing in the sun. Singing my home songs of freedom... Took a little bit of time to see. Took a little bravery. Took a little bit of soul searching. Took a little questioning... I've never been this happy in my life."

Pretty, Lauren Alaina
"All the other girls are thinner, so you skip another dinner... What's the matter with this picture? Girl, deep down you know better."

Another song about eating disorders is 'Courage' by Superchick, which I've included in the Songs About Self-Acceptance. On the same playlist, 'Try' by Colbie Caillat and 'Pretty Hurts' by Beyoncé focus on young women feeling pressured to have a 'perfect' appearance.

Racist, Sexist Boy, The Linda Lindas

"You say mean stuff and you close your mind to things you don't like. You turn away from what you don't wanna see. You are a racist, sexist boy... We rebuild what you destroy."

Southern Curls, Julie Williams 

"Not all Southern girls are met with open doors. Some of us are looked down on before we're even born. Curls are too tight, skin is too dark to feel beautiful just as we are. I'm a Southern girl, with the wrong kind of Southеrn curls."

You might want to teach this in conjunction with 'Black Like Me' by Mickey Guyton (near top of this playlist) and 'My Black is Beautiful' by teacher Lovely Hoffman, which I've included in the  Song Playlist on Self-Compassion, Self-Acceptance, and Empathy.

Stereotypes, Black Violin
lyrics (speaking in the background of instrumental classical/hiphop); official video

"Mine is clear, mine is very easy. My number one stereotype is just because I'm 6 foot two
260lbs doesn't mean you supposed to be afraid of me... 
I wish that I didn't sense that they were threatened by my presence without even knowing who I am.

Still Here, JB The First Lady
"The message is clear [to indigenous people]. They wanted us to disappear. But we still here... It's important to make a presence. Representations at all levels."

Still Woman Enough, Loretta Lynn

lyrics; audio

"They call me hillbilly but I got the last laugh. Standing here today proving in every way, I'm still woman enough. Still got what it takes inside. I know how to love, lose and survive. Ain't much I ain't seen and I ain't tried. I've been knocked down but never out of the fight. I'm strong but I'm tender. Wise, but I'm tough.


Walls, Wolf Saga
lyricsvideo (in honor of his grandmother)

"Wasn't recognized then as an equal person. And all these rules made by men cast shadows on your walls. And I'm sorry that you didn't get to do the things that had called out to you. And I promise that I'll advocate [for] the intentions that you have pursued."

You might also be interested in 'You Gon' Be Fine' by Lil Crazed, which is dedicated to single mothers (see the Self-Compassion and Empathy playlist).

The Way I Talk, S.G. Goodman
"She said that I know what you're thinking when you hear the way I talk... Her brother's back at home tending to her daddy's land. He's farming for the businessman who takes the profit from his hand... Will you try hard to comprehend?"

We Are the Children, Chris Kando Iijima, Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto, "Charlie" Chin

lyrics; audio

"We are the children of the migrant worker. We are the offspring of the concentration camp. Sons and daughters of the railroad builder... We are a part of the Third World People who will leave their stamp on America."


We Are the Same, Mark Goffeney

video (As pictured in the image above, Mark Goffeney plays guitar with his feet because he has no arms.)

"We are more the same than you may think... And it's a shame to be ashamed."

Worth, Jade Turner

audioofficial video (lyrics in video description): shows a boy from a First Nations community who is taken into foster care 

"I wish you could see that you matter... It feels like you just can't pick yourself up off the ground. But sometimes you gotta get lost before you're found. And I know it seems like there's just no other way, but believe me when I say you’re worth more than this."

I hope these songs help you and your students reflect on your own background and identity, and how you're similar to and different from the individuals portrayed in these videos. You may want to follow this up with Two Powerful Empathy Practices to Awaken Compassion.

Also be sure to check out the other song playlists. I spend a lot of time sorting through songs from a wide variety of musical styles, looking for hopeful and thought-provoking lyrics with no gratuitously offensive lyrics or images.

You might also be interested in the video playlists on mindfulness, compassion, and self-care, including thought-provoking videos about empathy, compassion, and service.

And there are hundreds more posts here at Mindful Teachers on:

Practicing and Teaching Mindfulness and Compassion


Self-Care for Educators and Other Helping Professionals

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)