Last November, only five months removed from releasing his breakthrough album “508-507-2209,” Massachusetts rapper Joyner Lucas exploded social media with the song “I’m Not Racist.” Accompanied by a video that features a young black male and a thirty-something white man with a Make America Great Again hat, the song and the video attempted to tackle the growing public divide that has been taking place in the country over the past few years.
The song is constructed as so: the two actors are sitting at a table across from one another, looking each other in the eye. The white individual begins rapping about all the issues he has with black people while stating multiple times in the verse: “I’m Not Racist.” The white individual finishes, sits down, and the young black man proceeds to do the same. The song then ends with the two of them standing up and hugging it out, happy that they were able to have an adult conversation about their points of view… Kumbaya.
The only issue is that the lyrics do not have an honest conversation about the issues between black and white relations. This in large part is due to the lyrics from the person of color being way too forgiving and understanding about the white male’s lyrics, which are bigoted. There is no way you can call it anything else. The lyrics meant from the white man’s perspective consist entirely of false stereotypes and racial epithets. Multiple times during the song the “white man” uses the n-word, both with the ‘er’ and ‘a’ endings.
“All the black guys rather be deadbeats than pay your bills
Yellin’ ‘ni**a this’ and ‘ni**a that’
Call everybody ‘ni**a’ and get a ni**a mad
As soon as I say ‘ni**a’ then everyone reacts…”
“And all you care about is rappin’
And stuntin’ and bein’ ratchet, and that’s the ni**a within you…”
“Ni**as kneelin’ on the field, that’s a flag down
How dare you try to make demands for this money?
You gon’ show us some respect, you gon’ stand for this country, ni**er!
I’m not racist.”
There are two different ways to interpret the first verse in the song. The white man is either supposed to represent the stereotypical racist white redneck or he is supposed to represent the average joe. He is probably closer to the redneck than the average joe, but whatever he is supposed to be, he is ignorant. And not ignorant in the sense that he is racist (though he very much is), but he is ignorant towards the perspective and livelihood of people of color, which is something both the racist redneck and average joe share. They are both uninformed, as well as misinformed about life as a black American because neither of them has experienced being black in the United States.
It is in the next verse the song comes apart, because instead of telling the man that he is uninformed in all his arguments and that he does not like black people and he is basing his comments off of false stereotypes, the young black man just does the same thing but from the “black perspective.”
“Judging me by my skin color and my blackness
Tryna find a job but ain’t nobody call me back yet
Now I gotta sell drugs to put food in my cabinet
You crackers ain’t slick, this is all a part of your tactics…”
“And you don’t know shit about my people, that’s what bothers you
You don’t know about no fried chicken and no barbeque
You don’t know about the two-step or no loose change”
“You don’t know about no 2 Chainz or no Kool-Aid, you don’t know!”
“And get stopped by the cops and not know if you ’bout to die or not
You worry ’bout your life, so you take mine
I love you but I fuckin’ hate you at the same time
I wish we could trade shoes or we could change lives.”
He brings up issues within the black community, such as police brutality, Donald Trump and the use of the n-word, but Joyner fails at one of the most important points: disproving the stereotypes that the white man is speaking towards the black man. Joyner’s second verse, from the black man’s point of view, brings up actual facts, like racism in the justice system and white America co-opting black culture while attacking it at the same time, but he does not tell the speaker in the first verse why everything is wrong with his beliefs, that they are grounded in falsehoods.
The song comes off like the two sides are equal in terms of knowledge about the black perspective when one individual has no clue what he is talking about. If a teacher and a dentist have a discussion about dentistry, the teacher should come from the side that they are out of their range of understanding of dentistry and be more receptive to the dentist’s experience. Joyner’s song takes the perspective that both men are equally knowledgeable about black America when one relies entirely on untrue stereotypes and is not black. That does not mean the white man should not be allowed to talk, but he should come with open ears and follow up questions than declarative statements.
When the first verse ends, the second verse should begin with the narrator saying something like, “You are wrong and have no idea what you are talking about. Listen to the truth from someone with experience or leave!”
In 1963, famed African American author James Baldwin wrote: “My Dungeon Shook- Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation.” In the essay, Baldwin explains to his nephew what he must do to continue making improvements with race relations and why.
“You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men…”
“Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.”
Joyner, who is a very talented rapper and his album “508-507-2209” is worth the positive publicity, seems to follow Baldwin’s ideas of this without taking the important step of walking the white man through the cloud of his ignorance towards the clear skies of reality. Only time will tell what the future of black and white relations in this country will be, but it can only improve in substantial ways when harsh truths take the place of false stereotypes and caricatures.