I’ve met a lot of white people and had lots of “honest conversations” about racism. Lots of those conversations intersect with conversations about rap music. Many of those conversations have been with racist people, some of whom believed me to be racist. Naturally, when there’s a rap song about racism people ask my thoughts. Joyner Lucas made a song and video that fit these requirements, and, as such, many people have tagged, texted, emailed, and DM’d me about it. I’m always kind of hesitant because I know my response might come across as hating on the artist rather than critiquing the song and video. I try not to assume they want approval rather than analysis, which is often the case.

I really like Joyner Lucas. I think he’s a brilliant storyteller and a gifted lyricist. This song, itself, is interesting. I’m not sure I’d feel different about the video if I’d heard the song by itself first, but that doesn’t matter because my first experience was watching and listening.

First off, I don’t believe people when they say “I’m not racist” … especially when it’s followed by “but” and then some racist shit. Mainly because that’s racist. Also, never in my experience rapping or talking to racists did I ever express myself to a racist and then the racist was like, “Okay, cool. Hug?” And I was like, “Of course.” Sadly, I’ve had many — too many — actual conversations like this with racists who left the conversation as racist as they were before it began. Unfortunately, some of them left the conversation confident in saying they aren’t racist, and their proof was that they’d conversed with me.

Too many people, it seems, want to believe this shit is going to be “solved” by a conversation, so-called “honest dialogue.” I get the feeling this is one of the reasons the video has been viewed nearly 20 million times now. But black people, people of color, and white people — many of us— know these thoughts and feelings exist. Saying them to each other in an isolated room, alone, isn’t exactly a cause to hug it out. Actually, in my experience conversing with racists, very little is ever accomplished. For this, and many other reasons, I make it a personal practice to not waste my time and energy in that way.

In kind, my first response to one of my brothers about the video was that it felt like a bullshit apologetic for white supremacy creating a false dichotomy to appeal to reason that doesn’t exist. But that was my private response. I do think there’s a conversation worth having about the video.

To another friend, publicly, I wrote I think Joyner Lucas is dope. I think his skills as a rapper are top notch, but I think the song misses the mark, though, if it’s meant to be “the answer.” I’ll clarify here that I don’t, and we shouldn’t, assume any intentions on behalf of the artist. As an artist, I know the frustration of having people presume what we intend. Since audiences might engage with it as such, though, then the video is going to be discussed on those terms, and so those are the terms on which I’m basing my critique. That friend asked if the song might steer the national dialogue toward brutal honesty, and I replied that I’m not convinced the ability to be brutally honest is the problem.

…my first response … was that it felt like a bullshit apologetic for white supremacy creating a false dichotomy to appeal to reason that doesn’t exist.

People have been being brutally honest for quite some time now. However, I do think and hope the song might lead to some good, and hopefully productive, conversations. But I also think and fear it may perpetuate the myth that “solving” racism is going to happen by interpersonal communication alone, and because of that the systemic issues that exist outside of that conversation will persist. The next instance of injustice, then, will just be cause for another “honest conversation.” And, believe me, there will be a next injustice because nothing will have changed except the comfort with which folks discuss injustice. Again, a racist person using the excuse that he had a conversation with a black guy … so he can’t be racist … seems to be another likely outcome. And if people are able to say they aren’t racist because they can talk about racism, then it’s less likely those people will see injustice as being unjust. From that point, nearly every wrong can be written off as interpersonal rather than systemic. After the conversation, the systems that perpetuate inequality still exist outside that room.

Also, that whole fucking conversation just seems imbalanced to me. A white racist spewing white hatred counterbalanced with Black resentment in the face of inequality rooted in white supremacy seems a lot like “I called you nigger. You called me wigger. Now we’re even.” or Reverse Racism-ism. The two verses of the song simply don’t hold the same weight. That they are presented as if they do is problematic, to say the very least. This is the reason for my response to my brother. It’s also the reason I didn’t share the video without writing this first. I imagine there’s much more discussion to come. Hats off to Joyner Lucas for that [even if most of those are MAGA hats], I guess. 

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A.D. Carson

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I’m just a little south of the Windy City…

2 thoughts on “I’m Not Racist – Joyner Lucas

  1. Howard M. Walters 2 weeks ago

    You have a HUGE heart and mind. My reaction to this is less pensive and more outright rejection. To its credit, it is like a Norman Rockwell painting: showing us ourselves. No judgement, or critique just a plain reproduction of the current dialogue on race. There is ignorance on all sides of how this works. The lyrics and imagery show the problem, but why? Art in my estimation should lift us higher. If you can only make a portrait of what I already see, your value is only in preserving for posterity a past we hope to leave behind. There is a value here, but one of retrospective. If alternatively, you are able to share a vision of a future any of us have yet to see, that’s a different echelon of art. Imagine an I’m not Racist that shares a vision of a world where racists are an anachronism. Not a post-racial fiction, but a place where a President that uses racial slurs is denounced, or better yet – not even possible. How about a musical vision that looks more like Run DMC and Aerosmith than an Iggy Azalea and Lil Weezy duet. You can’t use the medium of rap music as a White man to announce your racial equity lens. The layers of irony and sarcasm counteract any possible poignancy. Rap about thrift stores and struggles with Western constructions of masculinity as a White man, but not race. It’s too contrived. As a counter verse, as if one is necessary, does the Black lyricist really need to explain themselves. As Talib Kwali and Mos Def explained, “It’s mathematics…” If your listener refuses to understand, authentic hip hop doesn’t get frustrated. Rather it says, “it’s like that and that’s the way it is.” The catharsis of the aesthetic of hiphop culture, like blues, jazz and gospel before it, is that it creates a space for throwing off the constrictions of Western ways of being. Imagine an angry atheist using the medium of gospel to challenge the “how I got over” praise. It just doesn’t work to respond, aesthetically or otherwise. I guess I’m saying, I don’t care about his artistic intent. It is a dull portrait from any angle. We can put it in a Museum for when we want to see just how ignorant and ill-formed dialouges on race were back when. But then again that could be the Cabernet Sauvignon talking.

  2. Julie Hoffman 2 weeks ago

    Thou art far more kind and gracious than I.
    I couldn’t get through the beginning, which was all racism, all hatred, and all disgusting.
    Maybe by the end it was sorted out, but I couldn’t stomach the poisonous entree to get to the potential (but not promised) cheesecake dessert.