In case you haven’t heard, Eminem unleashed a verbal storm last night during the BET hip hop cypher, calling out the racism, narcissism and hypocrisy we’ve all been horrified by lately…
Reactions from POC were mostly positive, and high-profile athlete and artist activists like Colin Kaepernick and Talib Kweli voiced their appreciation. But others criticized Em’s performance. Some called it too little too late, others pointed out his track record of lyrical misogyny and homophobia. Are Black people and their allies responding poorly to Eminem if they critique him?
The reality is that appreciating Eminem for performing his powerful piece AND being critical of this apparent statement of ally-ship are both reasonable and productive responses. Here’s why:
- Eminem IS problematic..
Look, Eminem has made some great music. But he’s also made some shitty music. And he has glorified the abuse of women and LGBT folks in his lyrics at a more extreme level than 99% of his Black rapper peers. To me that doesn’t make his expression less powerful because I can take the good from what he expressed while also acknowledging that he has some shit he really needs to work on. When truth is spoken that’s important, regardless of who is speaking it. But let’s not act like he’s a great leader overall.
2. It IS too little too late. But it probably still helps.
Where was Eminem when rappers like J. Cole were marching in Ferguson?
What he’s saying now is great, but acknowledging that he should have stepped up more before now sends a message to other white rappers and allies that it’s not cool to wait around until resistance is popular. We could have really used Em when Trump was winning his home state of Michigan by a slim margin and Kid Rock was campaigning like he wanted to live in 1865. If you’re down for the people and the culture, make it known right now.
3. White people shouldn’t base their commitment to justice on how “nice” Black people are to them.
The argument is made by not-so-woke white folks regularly that anti-Blackness would end if Black people were “nicer” to white people, and it seemed to be hinted at by people who didn’t like the critique of Eminem. This idea that Black people need to be nice in order to keep their allies is just all kinds of false. For one, some of the “nicest” Black folks historically have still been lynched or shot by racist white people.
Also if “niceness” is a prerequisite for you to defend someone’s humanity, you aren’t committed to social justice in the first place. If Eminem is a real ally he can take the criticism and continue speaking out.
4. Real allies need to be accountable for their shortcomings and make space for expressions of anger and pain from POC.
Black anger or frustration or negativity might make some people uncomfortable, but anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of US history and present-day inequities should find such expressions completely understandable. If Eminem and his white fans are truly not racist, they will be able to sit with the negative feedback and see the humanity behind it. And in the end it will make them much better allies.