If You’re Not Talking About Institutionalized Racism, You’re Not Talking About The Truth
If you don’t listen to Kendrick Lamar you better catch up now. Kendrick Duckworth who, is artistically, known as Kendrick Lamar just rightfully earned a total of five Grammys, including, the Grammy for best rap album of 2016. However, the public’s feedback has not been one of celebration. At the Grammy Awards held on February 15th in Los Angeles California, Lamar performed a very controversial show. He came out in shackles dressed as an inmate and began with “The Blacker the Berry” from the winning Album To Pimp A Butterfly which speaks about how society imposes conflicting ideas on the struggling youth of Compton.
“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a ni**a blacker than me?”
He then went on to perform another song from the same album, “Alright” which again talks about the issues of being a minority in America. The last song he performed is an untitled song with lines such as “On February twenty sixth I lost my life too” alluding to the death of Treyvon Martin, and “Twenty twelve was taken from the world to see / Set us back another four-hundred years / This is modern day slavery”. Twitter buzzed with the outrage from a “racist” performance.
This is arguably what Lamar wanted by ending with the words:
“Conversation for the entire nation this is bigger than us.”
But was this a racist act on Lamar’s part? I would like to start by defining racism. Racism is prejudice, discrimination or antagonism (active hostility or oppression) directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. In Lamar’s performance there is nothing directed from the black race to any other race. He is speaking about his reality and the reality of the thousands that still reside in Compton. He addressed that as Americans we are living with “modern day slavery”. Even though African Americans make up only 12–13% of the American population, they make up 60% of the inmates of jails or prisons. He is talking to the justice system that has allowed that to happen. He even omitted one of the strongest lyrics that say “We hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.” Which, in my opinion shouldn’t have been censored in the first place. He at no moment even remotely implies the Black race is superior. Nice try White people.
This type of reaction isn’t new. Two weekends ago Beyoncé performed her newest single “Formation” at Super Bowl 50 which featured a group of dancers dressed as Black Panthers, which has sparked a lot of backlash that is still being talked about a week later. One of the phrases that is being used to describe her performance along with Lamar’s is “anti-police” and after reflecting on what it means to be anti-police I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I believe that the police should only be used to restore order, not to play God. They are not in charge of deciding who’s life has value and who’s doesn’t, and more importantly no crime is worth a person’s life, unless maybe if they have taken someone else’s but that is up to a Judge to decide. If believing this makes me “anti-police” then I wear the label proudly.
I consider Kendrick Lamar to be a living legend, a protesting body, which is what we need more of these days. He puts up resistance by not only writing about things America doesn’t want to hear but he forces them to watch it at the Grammys. The passionate, humble, and activist energy he possesses reminds me of the iconic Marsha P. Johnson who was a gay liberation activist. In a documentary about her life columnist Michael Musto says:
“People think oh, the gay community just happened this way. It didn’t. There were people like Marsha, literally in the street not just celebrating but fighting for rights.”
Similarly one day we will look back and say the same about Kendrick, because things like equality don’t just happen. It takes people with passion and in his case, the guts to make a room full of white people mad at him.
“How many years has it taken for people to realize that we’re all brothers and sisters, and human beings in the human race?…We’re all in this rat race together.”- Marsha P. Johnson
Music has become the primary agent for protest. People have been taught since elementary school that racism died 52 years ago with the end of segregation. To bring out the truth is scary. People don’t want to face the problem much less think about how they are part of the problem. Now that our opinions are easily made public, we are responsible for them; because when we go against the white man, a white man gets offended. When the white man goes against us, we die.