On a black box set backed by jazz piano and gypsy violin, John Mellencamp’s bluesy voice poured out the lines to his 2017 hit, Easy Target, Thursday night on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Singing with the lines ‘Easy targets, our country’s broken heart’, John took a knee and then raised a fist as the final notes of the violin played.
The gestures referenced the ongoing silent racial protests by current athletes and civil rights protests during the ’68 Olympics. The raised clenched fist is a centuries old gesture that represents togetherness and unity. Also known as genuflection, taking a knee is an even older gesture showing respect or reverence. This is why athletes go down on one knee when there is an injured player on the field or when listening to the coach. By taking a knee, Mellencamp showed respect to current athletes that are both respecting the flag and all of the people it represents. This includes those that are considered easy targets.
In his Netflix documentary, John talks about how people treated fellow singer Fred Booker in his first band, Crape Soul. John mentioned it was fine while they were performing, but when the music stopped, onlookers would want ‘that boy’ gone, referring to his 16 year old bandmate. Back then, he and Booker fought the racial biases both on and off the stage. John’s gestures on Colbert were one more uppercut in a fight that he’s been a part of since the 60s.