An Open Letter to Kendrick Lamar

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Dear Kendrick Lamar,

You recently released a very catchy tune called “The Blacker the Berry” regarding your antipathy towards white people. Mr. Rembert Browne, writer for the popular sports/pop culture website Grantland.com, wrote a response to this song wondering how the villains of your story, whites (or perhaps non-blacks in general), might react to your lyrics. I think that’s a fascinating question, so let’s get right into the “sweeter juices.”

The first thing I notice, Mr. Lamar, is that your conception of the enemy presupposes his incredible strength. I mean, wow, what amazing, near omnipotence the whites of the world possess to “church me with your fake prophesizing that I’mma be just another slave in my head” and “[make] me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga.”

I mean, damn, I can evidently enslave you through the power of my religious suggestions (though as a relatively quiet deist in the vein of Voltaire, I’m not sure what those are) and make a murderer of you with nothing more than, I don’t even know. Perhaps my presence? I had never thought of myself as this kind of demigod, but to conceive of myself in the same terms with which you seem to conceive of “my” people, it sure is empowering. Might I suggest that conceiving of yourself in the opposite terms, the injured mouse in the paws of whitey’s inexorable and infinite power, might be somewhat disempowering for “your” people?  Might there not be a better chance of success for oppressed blacks who view whites as normal folks, who can be outcompeted and overcome just like anybody else?

I mean, you do get a villain for the desired comic book morality system and an automatic excuse for failures, and that is comforting. But is that moral clarity more desirable than seeing your enemies for what they actually are? Perhaps that question depends on whether you prefer moral or actual victories. The former are certainly safer.

As for the vileness of your enemies, we find many examples in this gloriously enjoyable song. “You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture, you’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey, you vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me.”
While I get what you’re going for, Mr. Lamar, I do find a problem or two with the good and evil narrative as constructed. Marcus Garvey, who you admiringly mention as a beacon of black pride in this very song, in a sense got what he wanted. If evil is a property of a racial group, Mr. Garvey’s project to remove the noble, oppressed slaves from white dominated America to black Africa should have ushered in an era of black prosperity and justice. Unfortunately, this fails to explain the immense crappiness of Liberia then and now, including the fact that former slaves, upon arriving in Liberia, enslaved the locals. If, as seems obvious to me, oppression comes from a combination of being weak and easy to distinguish, then both the African enslavement in America and the Liberian clusterfuck make a lot more sense.

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Liberian girl sans forearms.

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American slave sans a great deal of skin on his back.

Further, I wonder about how sincerely you mean it when you say “you’re fucking evil.” I mean, the first time I saw you, you were sharing a stage with all-white band Imagine Dragons. I saw you the second time whilst you were laughing at Stephen Colbert’s jokes and performing The Colbert Report’s final musical act. Then of course, I accessed both of these performances via the white Sergey Brin’s free to use search engine. It seems that you profit quite a lot from your associations with evil whites like myself. I wonder why Stephen Colbert, the Imagine Dragons and Sergey Brin didn’t vandalize your perceptions or terminate “your” culture.

Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of white privilege. As opposed to black power, with its pride and emphasis on community, whiteness really doesn’t mean anything. As someone who takes advantage of white privilege every chance I get, I can tell you with absolute certainty that whiteness is 100% compatible with both crime and lawfulness, artistry and accounting, liberalism and conservativism. I can be a homosexual, white mob enforcer who enjoys Japanese food, swimming and hip hop and nobody blinks twice. I can be a fire and brimstone pastor calling down damnation on the heretics and nobody thinks it racially odd. I can marry a Korean/Honduran/Indian and nobody calls me a sellout because there’s nothing to sell out.

This is why black/Asian/whatever pride has always confused me. Why do you want a racial identity to constrain you? Why do we fondly remember the white race traitors of yore while black race traitors like Russell Wilson earn revulsion from “their” people? Why on earth, Mr. Kendrick, do you want the little black boys and girls of your neighborhood to, facing the myriad possible ways one might betray the proud black race, enjoy less freedom than I have?

And this bleeds over to another reason why the lyrics of this song bemuse and annoy me, but don’t actually offend me. Whiteness is amorphous, it is almost meaningless. In fact, pretty much the only type of whiteness that has any meaning is the proud whiteness which most people would very much like to avoid. “I’m proud to be white,” since the 1960’s at least, has meant “I’m a trashy, dependent and not very smart person with whom you absolutely don’t want to speak.”

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Self-identified white pride couple.

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Self-identified white pride man.

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White pride criminal. Perhaps, Mr. Kendrick, this and the previous two photos properly demonstrate why I find the entire idea of proud (insert ethnic group here) stuff kind of trashy.

As such, most of us white privilege connoisseurs embrace the amorphousness of white, we glory in the fact that it doesn’t mean anything. Thus, when you attack “fucking evil” white people, it doesn’t really stick to me. Considering the absolute lack of outrage to your song, I’m guessing I’m not unique, either. The annoyance, Mr. Kendrick, comes mostly from the fact you think something as trashy and outdated as a meaningful racial identity applies to me. It’s sort of like a stranger offering you treatment for leprosy – the connotation rather than the query rankles.

I’d like to go back a bit and talk about the desire to destroy black culture we whites have. While I can’t speak for everyone, especially given the meaninglessness of “white,” I have to say that I personally feel no animus towards black culture, I feel sadness. I see black kids who think that success and race treason are synonymous and I thank God I didn’t grow up in that shit. I, living in South Korea, see hip hop culture exported to Asia and cringe. I see two generations of Koreans whose entire exposure to your culture is twerking, Lil’ John and references to marijuana. I feel relieved that I don’t have to explain “we’re not all stoned, promiscuous murder enthusiasts.” I see whites who dress like NWA treated a lot worse than blacks who dress like The Black Keys and I thank heaven nobody pressures me to fit into the former group.

I wonder, Mr. Lamar, if reducing black identity to an amorphous blob of nothing might help more than it hurts. I ask because a lot of what you stand for – the upward mobility, the intellectualism, the writer before rapper shtick – are beautiful things.

Sincerely,

Ben Garrido

If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying the author’s novel.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Blackguard-Ben-Garrido/dp/1939051746

For customers living in East Asia.

http://www.whatthebook.com/book/9781939051745?

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14 comments

  1. Amen to your post. For me the notion of “pride” must attach to accomplishment. It has always escaped me how anyone, without regard to the situation at hand, can express pride in accidents of birth, inheritance or any other thing over which they had no control. As Mr. Obama was wont to say, “you didn’t build that, somebody else built that.”

    1. Very interesting. Would this stance include things like patriotic feeling or, say, proud Catholicism?

  2. So … the “white pride couple” picture confuses me. I look at it and I see a man with tats, a woman presumably his wife, and in the background kids, car, house, dog. They look perfectly ordinary to me. is there something specific about the tats and the hat that I’m missing? Likewise, the long-haired dude … should I recognize him? Or is he just some random white guy with long hair and a beard?

    1. They are people who self-identified as white pride supporters, though you’d need to read the articles I got those pictures from to know that.

      Good catch, I’ll add more detail. 🙂

      1. I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would be “proud” of something they didn’t actually personally accomplish.

      2. Neither do I, but being proud of stuff you had nothing to do with is the foundation of an awful lot of things we do every day.

        I have no idea what a country without patriotic feeling would look like, for example.

        Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      3. This is a whole other discussion… 🙂 I honestly believe “patriotism” is an exceedingly dangerous emotion, that all too easily slides into jingoism. Why can’t we simply learn to feel content with who we are – even glad to be that – whether it’s a nationality, a sexual preference, a racial group or a gender? I mean, I get “gay pride” in that it’s pushing back against homophobia. The same applies to the “proud to be me” pushback against any present or historic inequality. But it’s dangerous, too, because it entrenches the “us and them” way of thinking, and I cannot think of a single instance where that is truly a good thing. We are so much more than the flag we wave or the label we wear.

      4. Excellent points.

        I honestly think these “inheritance prides” serve several purposes. First, I think they provide a cheap and very easy source of identity. Second, I think they are one way to achieve unity. Third, and most important, I think they aid us in defeating empathy.

        That sounds unambiguously terrible, but I think it probably served (serves?) a purpose. Namely, if we don’t have a way to defeat empathy it’s awfully hard to steal food from the next tribe over when we’re starving. Justice, in situations like that, is a realy good way to make sure you genes don’t get passed along.

        Fourth, I think dehumanizing is a form of fantasy fulfilment. https://bengarrido.com/2014/07/19/the-john-galt-zombie-hunter-fantasy/

  3. Quite a catchy post here. I couldn’t stop reading! Well done.

    I agree with the sentiment here. I think there’s a certain amount of cultural relativism at play in this pride of race, which seems to go over well amongst a certain group of folks. I personally have never felt attached to any particular group or race or gender by virtue of being born into it. I mean that in a pretty extreme sense. I think there are very few people who are like me (and you).

    In any case, “Us against Them” is not gonna work for anyone in the long run.

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Perhaps an interesting question is why inherited, group identities are so powerful when they pretty clearly don’t make a lot of sense.

  4. Sorry to have missed your reply way up the page but happy for the opportunity to revisit this post. The more i read into it the greater the realization that I really no longer have a working definition of the word ‘pride.’ It has been so broadly applied as to have become quite ambiguous.

    My dictionary lists as definition number 1: “A high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.”

    Number 4: “Pleasure or satisfaction in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”

    And then there’s definition number 11: “Sexual desire, esp. in a female animal.”

    In the future I might have to ask anyone expressing pride to lend clarity by defining the term as they mean it. And if it’s number eleven,”would you like another drink?”

    Again, thanks for the “banquet for thought.”

    1. You are welcome. I’m glad I gave you something to think about.

      If you are interested in identity, you should look into my novels. The Blackguard is about racial pride and identity – a community of white supremacists getting run over by urban sprawl. The Potency is about patriotism. The Book of Joshua is about religious identity.

      All of them are explorations of an idea I call “inevitable superiority,” the notion that the natural aim of human society is not just to be dominant, but to become automatically dominant. In other words, to be “the shit” by default.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  5. You missed the point of the song ENTIRELY.

    Every verse starts with “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015”, and by the end of the song, Kendrick reveals he’s playing a character.

    This song specifically criticizes those who only blame white people for injustice, yet engage in gang black-on-black violence.

    “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street / when gang banging made me kill a n**** blacker than me? Hypocrite!”, that’s literally the song’s closing line.

    I feel ridiculous having to explain this to you. You failed to do any research and ignore Kendrick Lamar for his true artistry. I doubt you’ve ever heard of his work from anywhere else than Fox News. To Pimp A Butterfly is a brilliant album about abuse of fame and the ghetto mindset.

    This might surprise you, but hip-hop is a genre where not every line represents the artist’s opinions.

    Excuse my English, I’m an Eastern European high school student, which only further proves how sad it is that I have to explain this to you.

    1. I know and I like the song, too. The fact that the lyrics are so nuanced is the biggest reason I engaged.

      Also, your English is excellent. You’ve got nothing to apologize for.

      But I think you missed my point. I don’t know what it’s like in Eastern Europe, but in the US or in South Korea the single biggest advantage to being white is that whiteness means nothing. Whatever you’re interpretation of Mr. Kendrick’s lyrics, it’s difficult to claim blackness means as little to him as whiteness does to me.

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