Lamar vs. Riviera

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the outline of this story. White Conservative blames hip-hop for the hood, Black hip-hop artist responds to baseless criticism and everything goes quietly into the night. Except upon closer inspection of said White Conservative’s words, what becomes exceptionally clear is the language of White American accusation and fear of unfettered Blackness.

Geraldo Rivera, Fox News’s newish lapdog, fresh from his berating in Baltimore decided to take particular aim at Kendrick Lamar’s BET Awards performance set in which the backdrop of Black rage plays against the lyrics of his song which emphatically declares that “We gon be aight”. Lamar’s charged and passionate delivery of a performance centered around the events of a not too distant history certainly struck a chord with the audience and it was not lost on Rivera either.

Rivera committed a cardinal sin in his analysis of Lamar’s song, pulling the song completely out of its written and intended context and reading his own context into the lyrics. “…to conflate what happened in this church in South Carolina with these tragic incidents involving excessive use of force by cops is to equate this racist killer with these cops.” Which is to trot out that tired statement of White denial of a Black reality that the police do not engage in racially discriminatory or flat out racist policing practices and that America does enough to prevent racial bias from showing up on the police force. Rivera prefaces this remark with one that is rooted in a pronounced and deeply entrenched fear of African American expression of rage, saying that hip-hop has done more damage than even racism. Here I must assume that Rivera has either no actual idea what racism IS and all its current funtions in American society or that he’s just trolling for views, likes and clicks. If anything, hip-hop is a response to racism, much as Lamar’s performance piece of American sanctioned police brutality indicates, setting up the staged riot as a response to the brutality experienced in Baltimore, Lamar’s message to the crowd was one of hope and dogged determination in the face of every imaginable odd stacked against Black America collectively.

Just as it seemingly always is with Fox News’s coverage, they took the coward’s way out and belittled what they did not or refused to understand. Lamar’s response to Rivera’s decontextualized rant against hip hop and his art in particular is a common one when the White gaze casts itself upon the unfamiliar optics of Black rage and expresses horror and recoils at the sight: Lamar explained his art and his intentions. “I think his attempt is really diluting the real problem, which is the senseless acts of killings of these young boys out here. And I think for the most part, it’s avoiding the truth,” the Grammy Award-winner said. “This is reality. This is my world. This is what I talk about in my music. You can’t dilute that.”