In July 2015, a young female rapper from India released a music video calling on Unilever to take responsibility for the mercury contamination caused by one of their former factories in Kodaikanal. In lyrics set to the tune of Nicki Minaj’s Grammy-nominated (and explicit) rap song “Anaconda,” rapper Sofia Ashraf explained that “Unilever came and left devastation / As they exposed the land to contamination.”
But Ashraf’s song is clear: This isn’t just about contaminated land. “Prolonged exposure got many men killed / There’s children born being seriously ill / The environment is polluted still,” she rapped. And she calls on those in power to make amends for their greed: “Unilever, clean up your mess,” chants Ashraf and a crowd of former factory workers in the video. In a related campaign against Unilever, former workers at the thermometer factory hold signs saying, “Dear Shareholders: We made you rich! And your company poisoned us!”
Ancient Israel didn’t have rappers, but in our January cover story Walter Brueggemann finds a remarkably similar analysis of wealth, greed, economic exploitation, and environmental devastation in the evocative lyrics of Hosea, an eighth century Hebrew street poet. Along with Amos, Isaiah, and Micah, Hosea used “imaginative utterance” to disrupt a “seemingly secure economic arrangement” in which the rich enjoyed surplus wealth by exploiting everyone else.
And though we might be familiar with what the biblical prophets have to say about economic exploitation, Brueggemann takes it a step further, pointing out Hosea’s warning that “economic violation leads to environmental disaster.” Then as now, it behooves the people of God to pay heed to the poets among us.
Preview the entire January 2015 issue here.