By: Laura Nwogu
“With all due respect.” Yes, Mr. Joyner–with all due respect.
The establishment of this phrase is a prelude to a barrage of words that hit hard with a stinging bite. “I don’t have pity for you black n—–.” What’s going on here? Let me paint a picture.
Joyner’s music video displays two men opposite sides of a table in a relatively barren warehouse. The man speaking these words? White. The man receiving these words? Black. The voice delivering these confrontational and provocative words? Joyner Lucas, a rapper from Worcester, Massachusetts with a white mother and a black father, and two sides of a heavy coin. Lucas has added to the discussion of modern racism and discrimination in a time where racially charged police shootings and discrimination have become a talk about which lives really matter and which seemingly don’t.
As the song relays stereotypes and point of views from different individual experiences, some may argue that this song is just another coal to the fire that will be put on the back burner. Sort of like a hashtag that seeks to bring awareness to a tragic death or event and then is forgotten about months after, lost in the Dead Sea of social media. But it’s not just that. This is controversy done right. It sparks conversations through one of the most universal things: music.
The “I’m Not Racist” video alone has over 46 million views on YouTube. There were reaction videos uploaded, Twitter responses that went viral and articles written that critiqued and praised Joyner’s added voice to the conversation. “I’m Not Racist” had both sides nodding their head like, “Yeah, wow, you tell them.” Claps, shakes of heads, sneers, scrunched eyebrows, surprise. Because of one thing – the truth. Sentiments like, “And all you care about is money and power and being ugly/ And that’s the cracker within you,” and “All you care about is rappin’/ And stuntin’ and bein ratchet, and that’s the n—- within you,” may not be the thoughts of all black or white people, but have an attitude carried by some that is provoked by previous interactions and predisposed ideas.
There are truths, such as talks of systematic racism and poverty, police brutality, the debate on whether hip-hop promotes violence, immigration laws, privilege, the presidency, drugs, the cycle of taught racism and taught negative behaviors and attitudes. The lyrics discuss how some circumstances lead to decisions, and how those circumstances are not always understood by people who are privileged.
For example, Joyner touches on how many black men resort to selling drugs due to circumstances of poverty and a lack of resources for a decent job. This leads them to conduct illegal business for fast cash. While producing these hard and tragic truths, Joyner juxtaposes his frankness with stereotypes claiming that all black men are deadbeats who sell drugs and that all white people are racists who only care about money and power. This feeds the thought that these stereotypes have risen and persisted throughout the world.
The theme carries itself in a reflective phrase: “I’m not racist/ But there’s two sides to every story and now you know mine.” It’s an important message to be understood. Differences are good; they make us who we are. But we have to stop making certain distinctions the norm, because they can denounce the fact that not all people are the same.
Racism arises from ignorance. The video, filled with tension and riddled with suppressed words that are finally being let out, is a coal that will help keep the fiery talk of ending racism alive. Songs are timeless. Back burner or not, hidden beneath a stack of books or not, it is one that we can find and understand, even years from now.
Some controversy lies in the belief that Joyner limited the scope of the racial divide, dismissing the fact that racist and opposing views can also come from an individual living in the same type of house as you, or in the same line of work as you. It also seems to imply that a hug and a few words can resolve a seemingly insurmountable issue.
However, it cannot be discredited that discussion sparks change in even the unlikeliest of situations. Dismissing it as just a controversial piece of music that aims to spark unnecessary drama is closed-minded thinking. Is the drama unnecessary when a black man is shot and killed unjustly or when an immigrant who knows nothing but the U.S. as his home is forced to go back to his native country? Why does everything have to be about race, some may ask. Not everything does, sure. But let’s not act as if a great amount of past, present and future issues do not lie in the color of an individual’s skin.