When Rappers Are Affected By White Fragility [Talib Kweli Greene]
In this essay, Talib Kweli Greene takes on the complex issue of how ‘white fragility‘ affects rappers, as he walks us through Twitter battles and unfounded accusations of racism from fellow hip-hop artists Remedy and Diabolic.
Guest post by Talib Kweli Greene
Let’s deal with the facts. Hip-hop was primarily created by black and Latinx youth living in the South Bronx in the 1970s. During that time, highways were being built through poor neighborhoods, destroying the fabric of these communities. Along with budget cuts to programs designed to help poor people of color, these changes disenfranchised many. Arts and after school programs were cut, and rather than being in safe learning environments, many kids took to the streets for their education. They created new slang and a rebellious fashion. They plugged into the lamp posts for power and made up new dances while the DJ played the funkiest part of a song over and over again. They created a new form of poetry, a new form of music that they used to express their pain. Like the rose that grew from the concrete, hip-hop became a quite literal response to systemic oppression faced primarily by poor people of color.
While the South Bronx was, and still is, primarily poor black and Latinx people, there were young white people from all over New York City who were inspired by hip-hop from its inception. Particularly in the graffiti world, white kids were making their mark in hip-hop as early as the original pioneers. It would be more rare to see white DJs, MCs, and B-boys back then, but as hip-hop involved over time, more and more white people became involved in every aspect of the culture and were respected as being down by law. Hip-hop has never been about segregation or some sort of supremacy. Hip-hop has always been about equality. Peace, love, unity and having fun.
Hip-hop has always also been about justice. As rappers moved to the forefront of hip-hop culture in the early 1980s, young people of color were in a unique position to address the oppression we face through music. The first big record to do this was “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The success of “The Message” created a lane for “conscious” hip-hop to be successful. However, the more conscious hip-hop became, the more pro-black it became. While poor people of every race could relate to Melle Mel’s rap in “The Message,” by the early 1990s popular hip-hop artists like X-Clan, Gang Starr and Public Enemy were pushing a message that was focused primarily on the needs of black people. Hugely inspired by Malcolm X, these artists spoke of self determination and worth and demanded we be accountable for pathologies in our community while simultaneously combating a system that is set up for us to fail. As a young black man raised in a culturally nationalist home, this hip-hop spoke to me. These MCs were my heroes.
No matter the message, white kids always will be the primary consumers of hip-hop music around the world. White kids are most likely to be the ones with the money to support the music, another result of systemic oppression and white privilege. Some of these white kids go beyond being consumers and actually participate in the culture. They learn how to rap, DJ, B-Boy, write graffiti, and they become excellent at it. Because hip-hop as a culture is based on skill, as long as you have skills, you will be respected regardless of race. You will be given what is sometimes crudely referred to as “a pass.” This is a beautiful thing. It is proof that hip-hop has unified more people of different races than any other culture.
However, some white people (not all, some, I have to say that because some of y’all get real sensitive when anyone critiques anything white) in hip-hop misunderstand what this pass means. Your hip-hop pass does not entitle you to intentionally participate in the silencing of black people who express black pain. This pass does not mean you no longer have the ability to say or do racist things. This pass does not mean that when you do engage in the silencing of black people, that you won’t be checked.
As defined by Robin DiAngelo in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.
Everyone who follows my career knows I truly enjoy spending time on Twitter. I am on there more than most “celebs” and I engage with fans and haters alike, daily. I promote music, I speak about issues that are close to my heart and I hold debates that can last for weeks. The way I tweet or the sheer volume of my tweets may annoy some people. That’s fair. If you don’t like how I tweet, you can unfollow or not follow at all. Twitter provides that option. However, what I find interesting is people will choose to follow me or visit my page for the sole purpose of complaining about what I post. To say I argue with trolls often is accurate. To say I tweet an awful lot is accurate. To say I have ever tweeted anything remotely racist or participated in any act that could be considered racist, is not accurate. Those are lies. As it’s been said by people smarter than me, when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
From Black Star to Prisoner Of Conscious, much of the lyrical content you find in my music centers around pro-blackness, self determination and justice. My perspective has always been that of a black man, but I stand in solidarity with all oppressed people, whether it’s Latinx immigrants or women of all races who make less money in the workplace. Anyone with a basic understanding of the lyrics I’ve been spitting for 20-plus-years would not be shocked to find that I speak about the same exact things on Twitter.
Yet still, every once in a while a white so-called “fan” will tweet me about how shocked he is to see me stand up for black people and that I’m a racist for doing so. I call bullshit. Those aren’t fans. They are very clearly people who follow me because I’m a celebrity. They don’t support my music—never have, never will. And even if they did buy an album or two out of the 13 that I’ve released, that was an even exchange. The store they bought it from got money, they got a great album. It doesn’t give them the right to tell me not to stand up for black people on social media.
There is an argument to be made that based on the more progressive sociological definition of racism, people of color cannot be racist. Now that we’ve seen the effects of systemic oppression over centuries, many academics feel that the definition of racism must evolve to be prejudice plus the power to act on that prejudice in a systemic way. This is a definition I agree with, but many of those who do not study racism academically are not informed enough to understand it. For that reason, I will leave the sociological definition of racism out of this piece and deal with racism as if the traditional dictionary definition is the only applicable one. For the sake of this particular piece, let’s assume black people have the power to be racist in America. Even by that definition, I am far from a racist.
Calling someone a racist, or even a bigot, is a serious charge. For those of us that dedicate our lives to combating racism, it becomes even more serious. So if you are going to call someone a racist, you should be able to back up that claim efficiently. You “feeling like” someone said something racist is not proof of a claim. Someone saying something that “seemed” racist to you is also not proof if such a claim. These exchanges I’m referring to are all on Twitter. Twitter is not Snapchat, the tweets don’t disappear. If I tweeted something racist, you should be able to find it very easily. There is no need to infer tone, make an interpretation or tell me what you “feel like” I was trying to say when my words are right there. Either challenge what I actually said, or don’t challenge me at all.
Writing is my superpower. I have my prejudices like any human, but I keep them out of my writing. Often, people challenge me on how something I wrote made them feel, rather than take responsibilities for why they have those feelings. When these people accuse me of being racist on Twitter, I ask them to RT one racist thing I’ve ever written. They never can, because those tweets don’t exist. At that point they are forced to deal with the facts that they are spreading lies about me with no proof. I was discussing systemic oppression, and because they benefit from it, they feel like I was talking about them personally.
If anecdotal evidence meant anything, I could tell anecdotes all day that would prove it’s impossible for me to dislike white people. One of my best friends is a Russian Jew named Dave New York. An Italian-American woman named Donna Dragotta is the GM of my company, and from Macklemore to Mac Miller, I’ve done more songs with white rappers than any living black MC. But if I were to mention any of these facts in a debate about my character, I would be no better than the white guy who claims he ain’t racist because he has black friends or a black wife. These could be true facts, but they do not disprove racism. Anecdotes prove nothing.
I don’t need anecdotes to prove I’m not a racist because my words and actions stand on their own. So when a white rapper named Remedy showed up out the blue to tweet me “are you pro black, racist, or both??” the first thing I asked him to do is to RT where I had been racist. He failed to do so, choosing instead to write that I was a “proven racist.” Proven? How? By who? So again, I asked him to RT where I had been racist, and again he failed to, choosing to be a disrespectful troll instead.
As fans watched the exchange, one fan sent me a clip of RZA from Wu-Tang accusing Remedy of stealing music and claiming it as his own. It was at this point that I realized this Remedy was the white rapper the Wu had back in the day. This made his trolling of me even more confusing. Why would a fellow rapper, one down with the Wu, a crew of Five Percenter MCs, be calling me a racist? So I called him a devil. It had nothing to do with race. Devils lie and steal. So far, Remedy had done both.
Would you walk up to a stranger on the street who was having a conversation with someone else and say “are you pro black, a racist, or both??” No, you wouldn’t. So why would you tweet someone that, especially someone in your field who is down with your people? That question is loaded, it’s baited and it implies that you’ve already made your decision about that stranger’s character. This was proven when, upon asked for proof of my racism, Remedy failed to offer any proof, instead, tweeting “you’re a proven racist.” I don’t know Remedy. I have never met him and before he decided to troll me on Twitter, we had never spoken. He is not owed my respect, especially in the face of disrespect. When I called him a devil, his response was “you probably always thought I was a devil.” No, what I actually thought was Remedy could rap and had some skill. I remember liking his song about the Holocaust, “Never Again,” when it was out years ago. But now that Remedy decided to show up quite intentionally to silence me while I was talking about systemic oppression, I know now that Remedy is a devil, a liar, a thief and a culture vulture.
If Remedy’s unwarranted tweets to me weren’t enough to prove he has no love for hip-hop culture or people of color, fans started sending me some of Remedy’s tweets that showed his support of Donald Trump.
What kind of white rapper supports Trump, but claims to be down with Wu-Tang? What kind of Jewish rapper supports a clear white supremacist like Donald Trump? What happened to “Never Again?” What kind of white rapper supports Donald Trump while calling black rappers racist? It was beginning to look like Remedy called me a racist because he was feeling guilty about his own racism.
Even though Remedy claims to be down with Wu-Tang, not one member from the Clan showed up to support him in his claims of my racism, which, by the way, became claims of anti-Semitism once he failed to provide claims of racism. You know who did show up to support him though? Three other white rappers. First up was my friend R.A. the Rugged Man. R.A. is well respected in hip-hop circles for his skill, and while he and I don’t see eye to eye politically on some things, he is someone I have great respect for. His dedication to the craft of hip-hop is unmatched. R.A., who also happens to be good friends with Remedy, tweeted that he wanted us to “get along.” I took issue with this.
Why should I “get along” with someone who is blatantly disrespecting me, making false accusations about my character with no merit? Why would my friend ask me to do that? I DM’ed R.A. about this. He responded by saying that Remedy was wrong and that he didn’t understand why Remedy would do that. However, R.A. went back on the public timeline to once again ask us to “get along.” But never once did R.A. say that Remedy should apologize for being wrong. As a man, I refuse to be silent about people trying to silence me. No justice, no peace. If Remedy didn’t take responsibility for his lies, I would not be “getting along” with him. I told R.A. that on this issue, he would have to choose a side.
R.A. was conflicted, but he shouldn’t have been. Rather than having enough respect for his friendship with me to publicly say that his man who was wrong (R.A.’s words) should apologize, R.A. made a five-minute YouTube video about how he was conflicted because I asked him to choose between friends. That is untrue and it was unfair of R.A. to suggest that’s what I was asking. I did not ask anyone to choose between friends. I didn’t say, “R.A., you cant be Remedy’s friend.” Nor would I ever. I asked R.A. to choose between making the right or wrong statement about a particular situation. R.A.’s exact words were “what Remedy did was fucked up, it was wrong, it was bullshit.” If you think what your friend did to your other friend was “fucked up, wrong and bullshit” but you stop short of saying that an apology is in order, then how are you a true friend to either of them? You are not. If you are not asking for an apology, then you saying it was “fucked up” means absolutely nothing.
R.A. also said in his video that he’s heard me say “if anyone has a problem with R.A., they have a problem with me.” I did say that, and I meant it. But now that statement seems foolish, because now I realize that people can have all types of problems with me, they can lie and accuse me of racism, and R.A. will let them, as long as they are his friend. If one of my friends tweeted anything nearly as disrespectful to R.A., if any of my friends EVER publicly challenged R.A.’s character, especially in a disrespectful manner, I would ask that friend to apologize, publicly. Not even a question. I did not receive the same courtesy from my friend R.A. R.A. respects his friendship with Remedy, that is clear. But his reluctance to say that Remedy should apologize for starting this made me feel like he didn’t respect his friendship with me quite as much.
It amazing that people who have no tweets about systemic oppression or any tweets that show any type of solidarity with people of color at all have so much to say when they show up to defend a white rapper who calls me a racist. Shortly after R.A. chose to involve himself in this, another white rapper named Eamon tweeted me to tell me to leave Remedy alone. Some of you will remember Eamon, most won’t. I’ve never heard an Eamon song, so I don’t know if he can rap or not, but I do know that anyone who comes to support a white rapper who calls me a racist is someone not worthy of my respect. So I quickly let Eamon know that I would not stand for Remedy’s shenanigans, and that if he agreed with Remedy, fuck him too. Eamon bowed out of the discussion quickly.
A week after Remedy’s initial troll tweets, some other white rapper named Diabolic tweeted me to tell me to stop arguing with trolls. I explained to him I will defend my positions in the way I see fit. Hours later, Diabolic, who I had never heard of before these tweets, sent me this disrespectful tweet in a response to a tweet conversation I was having with someone else:
That tweet started this exchange:
Three responses to one request, none which contain proof of the accusation? He’s a racist? Blah blah blah? As you can see, a stranger made an accusation. Remember, I don’t know Diabolic. He was asked for proof of said accusation. He failed to provide any. If I added a scenario or set of circumstances before I described the actions of a hypothetical white rapper, that doesn’t generalize all white rappers at all. Diabolic should learn what words mean. So I said:
If you choose to show up on my page and troll me, if you choose to call me a bigot but can’t back your accusations even when provided a chance to, you are probably a bitch.
Did I show up to troll Diabolic and tell him to check himself, or did he show up to do that to me? Since when am I bound to respect people who lie and make false accusations about me that they refuse to back up? And how is he asking for or entitled to more respect than he is willing to give?
Sidenote: Dude accused me of generalizing all white rappers, then said he didn’t call me a bigot. Generalizing an entire group of people is called — say it with me — bigotry.
Language is political. The Black Panthers called the police pigs, as a way to take away their power. I call people like Diabolic bitches or hoes to show them they have no power over me. I would never use that language to describe a woman, but when used to describe a man, those words have different meanings. Diabolic’s tweet to me where he accused me of “generalizing all white rappers” was problematic for several reasons. First, it’s a lie. I don’t generalize anybody, much less white rappers. This accusation is based on Diabolic’s feeling of insecurity as a white rapper, not on anything I’ve said or tweeted. Second, it’s paternalistic. What does he mean he can’t keep his mouth shut? He is in no position of authority to offer advice or tell me what to do. Third, it’s stalkerish. Why you reading my tweets “all day?” Who are you? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have a life? Fourth, it’s implying ownership. He told me I need to “check myself.” If I don’t, will I wreck myself? Is he going to do it for me? Who is this twitter troll to tell me to check myself? What Diabolic was trying to do was silence a black person discussing black pain.
If we are all in this profession together, we are supposed to show respect for our peers. If I’ve never met another rapper, I’m not going to troll him on Twitter. Even if I disagreed with something he tweeted, I would address it privately. Even if I felt the need to address publicly, I would do so with respect. Diabolic failed to do any of this. In the face of Diabolic’s blatant disrespect, I respectfully asked him to prove his accusations, more than once. Just like Remedy, he refused to, because he could not. They were lies. When Diabolic kept tweeting me disrespectfully after failing to provide proof of his accusations, I met his disrespect with equal disrespect; I called him a bitch or a hoe, every time he tweeted me. He earned that. Any disrespect Diabolic received from me came after his initial disrespect. He gotta eat it. He chose to show up and start it.
In the midst of me clowning Diabolic for his obvious fragility, he began to threaten me with physical violence. I believe his exact tweet was “I will break your face on World Star.” Then he asked me to Google him. So I did. Google told me how Diabolic raised 13K on Kickstarter but failed to deliver an album. This means he stole from his fans. I found it ironic that both of the white rappers that had a problem with me speaking up for black people have also been accused of stealing by RZA as well as fans. These guys are quite literally culture vultures. When I added Diabolic’s Kickstarter thievery into the mix, he got even more upset, and more threats of physical violence followed.
I am not a tough guy. But I ain’t on no soft shit either. I take threats to my body seriously, because they are also threats to my family. If Diabolic thinks these threats will go unanswered, he is mistaken. My schedule is at TalibKweli.com. I don’t run, I don’t hide. I told this to Poison Pen, and Immortal Technique, friends of mine that are also friends of Diabolic. Days after his threats, Pen and Tech visited my home in L.A. As friends of both of ours they were both interested in solving the issue, but neither of them had gone to the beginning to see how it started, they weren’t interested in that. I explained to them that how things started is important when you are trying to end them. Once Pen and Immortal realized that their friend trolled me and tried to silence me unprompted, they were able to see why he was wrong. God willing they can talk sense into they man, because if they don’t, someone will.
As of this writing, fragile ass Diabolic is making up stories about me getting robbed at Rock The Bells. Something about me having to tuck a chain. This is beyond ridiculous. It’s a straight up lie, invented by someone who is clearly mentally disturbed. I’ve never even worn a chain worth stealing. I performed at every Rock The Bells ever, and nothing even remotely negative has happened to me, much less getting “robbed” or “pressed” or whatever lie this dude is concocted. If I was “pressed” by 15 people at Rock The Bells, it wouldn’t be a secret.
I appreciate Pen and Tech coming by my crib. They showed respect, and we were able to chop it up about things that are way bigger than the fragile feelings of a couple of white rappers. This is not rap beef. Rap beef is about rap. I’ve never had a rap beef in my life. But this constant attempt to silence black people who dare to be proudly black is an issue that extends far beyond the hip-hop community. When I talk about how the system of white supremacy is purposefully rigged to benefit those with white skin, that is not racism. If I say that Palestinians are treated like second class citizens and live in an apartheid state, that is not racism. If I say that white people who support Donald Trump are racists, or at least enablers of racism, that is not racism. These are the kinds of things I’ve said in my music for my entire career. Being raw and unapologetic about social justice and race issues is why I am respected. Why would anyone expect my tweets to be any different?
When white people show up to call me a racist for being proudly black, to tell me to stop tweeting about racism or social justice, or to tell me that I need to “check myself,” they are attempting to erase black pain so they can sleep better at night. What I have proven to be is a strong voice for the voiceless. No wonder these culture vultures spend their free time voluntarily following my tweets all day in an attempt to silence me. Judge me by my enemies.