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Op-Ed: Is Hip-Hop Handling Racism Properly?

Op-Ed: Is Hip-Hop Handling Racism Properly?

Is defending yourself against racism: bullying?

 

2017 has been a whirlwind for everyone: Donald Drumpf is president, Russia manipulated our election, and it seems as if racial tensions are as tight as they were during the civil rights era. Various public figures have taken to using their voice, on both sides, to share their opinion on how we should go about facing these issues. The latest video making its way around the internet and hitting viral fame is Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist.

I first came across the video last week on the YouTube homepage before everyone’s aunt was sharing it on Facebook. Initially, I had forgotten who Joyner Lucas, and with only the thumbnail image of a bearded white man in a ‘Make Donald Drumpf Again’ hat, I was not about not about to take the time to watch it. Since then sites like Complex and CNN have sung praises for the video. So, I remembered coming across it on YouTube and chose to revisit my decision to pass it over.

 

The entirety of the video takes place in a solid white industrial room with just only a table and two chairs for furnishing. Sitting around the table are two people: the white man in MAGA hat and a younger black male. The lyrics of the song are supposed to be an imagined dialogue between the two sitting at the table about the status of race and politics in America between the two sitting at the table.

The song and video begin with the white male spitting about stereotypes and throwing around the n-word. Talking about how black men always leave their children, discussing the option of building a wall to keep immigrant out, and eventually basing his status as “not racist” on claims of having a black brother-in-law. Followed then by a rebuttal from the black male, the video carries on for 6 minutes and 55 seconds until the two reach a point where they hug.

I appreciate what Joyner Lucas set out to do with this video, it is reminiscent of Cormac MacCarthy’s play Sunset Limited, which was later made into a movie by Tommy L. Jones and stars Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. Any honest and authentic attempt at discussing race politics in a way that encourages open and healthy discussion with the end goal of learning from and loving one another should be commended. And I sincerely want to make that clear, I do commend Joyner and his team for the effort they have made with this project.

That being said, Joyner’s effort is not free from critique and criticism. There are a lot of good things about this video: there is a wide range of issues discussed, it appears to be well thought out, and I get the genuine feeling that this was an authentic attempt at something good rather than using controversy for publicity.

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However, the people used in this video, especially the white male, are themselves predicated on stereotypes. The use of the collared shirt wearing white male in a MAGA hat almost does a disservice to the point Joyner is trying to make. It is obvious to the majority of us that these views are held by the majority (if not all) of Drumpf’s voter base. By using this stereotype, Joyner doesn’t leave room for the much more subtle racist. Those who may express these views in more eloquent ways or hide behind a pseudo-liberal agenda are still able to easily write off their racism. There are articles all across various publications that discuss the idea of supposedly progressive institutions and communities still maintaining more undertoned forms of racism. This video only confronts the racism that is shoved in your face.

Then there is the mention that it is race itself that is dividing us. This is partially true. Yes, there is a division caused by race, but it isn’t the idea of race itself that did the dividing. Instead, the division is caused by a long and systematic history of using race as a tool to divide people. Early Americans did this as a response to the losing clear division caused by slavery. Then again it became more undertoned during the Civil Rights era. And it is again now. This is a small segment of the lyrics as a whole, but it is one worth noting. It isn’t race itself that inherently causes a division between us, instead, it has been made into a tool for doing so.

Finally, this idea of the two hugging at the end and racism being over is strange and forced and generally too corny to be taken seriously. This is because there needs to be a genuine desire on the part of the white man to want to learn, to want to discuss, and to care. Which simply isn’t the case most of the time. If there isn’t a desire to do these things from the white man, then this conversation is a waste of breath. This gives the impression that ending racism and bigotry is as simple as having a conversation but it is much more than that. There are whole systems of government and media and language that need to be changed. The reason there are protests and riots is because that discussion didn’t work. If it was as simple as discussion, this problem would’ve been fixed in the 1800’s, if not earlier.

Joyner Lucas’s video is one that seems genuine and authentic and full of the best intention. I commend and applaud anyone who wants to start these conversations and uses their platform to do so. There’s very little wrong with his video, but it just isn’t perfect. There is always a way to improve the dialogue and we should continue striving to do so.

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