If your first exposure to black people is through rap music, chances are you might be in a little over your head. That’s certainly what happened to me and my friends at our Jewish private school when I was growing up in Los Angeles. We didn’t really know what to do with rap, so we tried to take its power away by changing the way it sounded. One of the ways we’d do this was to pretend rappers spoke “properly,” just like we did. “I enjoy big pimping and spending cheese”… you get the picture. Needless to say, even though I loved rap music a whole lot, this was insanely racist. I outgrew this phase, thankfully, and began to try to see rap on its own terms. So you can imagine my horror upon seeing this same concept being celebrated by the suddenly-huge Respectful Rappers Tumblr.
Respectful Rappers has blown up in all the ways Tumblrs generally blow up these days — a little BuzzFeed here, a little A.V. Club there, and suddenly you’re getting thousands of Tumblr notes for each piece of content you churn out. And what is Respecftul Rappers’ content? Imagine Feminist Ryan Gosling, with pictures of rappers laid out over re-imagined lyrics. There are a handful of white rappers featured, but the majority are black — and what matters here is that this Tumblr’s content does is ridicule black speech.
Not that Respectful Rappers will admit this. Instead, its stated goal is to imagine what would happen “[i]f rappers were a little less angry and misogynistic.” On the latter point, our society as a whole is still insanely misogynistic, and rap exists within that society, so sure. There have been many fascinating discussions throughout the years about misogyny within rap, like bell hooks’ interview with Ice Cube in Spin 20 years ago. But Respectful Rappers is not a part of these discussions, because unlike hooks’ interview, it starts with the premise that rappers are dumb.
Wouldn’t it be hysterical, Respectful Rappers intones, if rappers spoke like you and me? It’s not really shocking that the blog’s creators, Bob Vulfov and Eli Grober, are white and claim to “love rap,” just like I did when I was 13. They use “respectful” as a code word, a dog whistle for “white.” What purpose does it serve to imagine if N.W.A. had said, “Police brutality is very real, and we will not stand for it” instead of “Fuck the police”? None, unless you think that Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and the rest were incapable of saying that in the first place. These people couldn’t think of the right words, so we did it for them. That’s the joke!
In 2007, then-Senator Joe Biden got in trouble for using the word “articulate” to describe then-Senator Barack Obama. “What faint praise, indeed,” wrote Lynette Clemetson for the New York Times. “Being articulate must surely be a baseline requirement for a former president of The Harvard Law Review. After all, Webster’s definitions of the word include “able to speak” and ‘expressing oneself easily and clearly.’ It would be more incredible, more of a phenomenon, to borrow two more of the senator’s puzzling words, if Mr. Obama were inarticulate.” Similarly, in an essay called “Why I Hate Being Articulate” for the Black Youth Project, a young author named Edward describes how in his experience he “come across far too many white people who use the word to compliment a black person for speaking ‘standard’ English.”
Respectful Rappers flips that script, depicting all rappers as sex-crazed idiots who are incapable of speaking in full sentences. In this respect, it’s the latest in a long line of examples of the privileged ridiculing the underprivileged for not being able to “speak properly,” a politicization of language that makes it another means of oppression. Sure, rap isn’t perfect, but what genre of music could possibly satisfy Vulfov and Gruber? They disdain the general concept of anger as much as they do misogyny, and it clearly never occurred to them that rappers could actually choose to speak the way they do, that they might have self-determination.
Anger is a healthy, vital part of music. Respectful Rappers somehow forgets to notice that in “Fuck tha Police,” the entire song is set within a courtroom run by N.W.A (“Judge Dre presiding”), where the group’s members speak in turn to the jury about the oppression they have seen and experienced, and how they hate the police. And yes, they’re angry. But Respectful Rappers pretends that the entire song is its chorus over and over again, and helpfully decides to give these clueless but spunky rappers a helpful lesson in what they’re really talking about. If this blog ever encountered a Trina video, it’d probably self-destroy like a computer in Star Trek forced to answer an impossible question.
I’ll take the Respectful Rappers founders at their word, and believe that they really love rap. But as a fellow white fan of a genre made mostly by people who don’t share our skin color, I’ll also give them a helpful piece of advice: don’t tell people how to say their words. The way rappers speak is part of what makes rap great, just like the way any singer sings influences the song’s quality. If you really love rap, you’ll shut down your dumb, racist Tumblr and listen.
if someone murders daniel tosh i hope they frame me for it
His body isn’t even cold yet and the New York times has already put out a shameful article declaring Nelson Mandela to be an “icon of peaceful resistance”. News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible. Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical. Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.
Don’t fucking let them.
Okay, also wrong.
1) Nelson Mandela WAS an icon of peaceful resistance, but not in the simplistic way the NYT article (and, I’m sure, many that will follow) believe he was. You see, when Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was, indeed, the leader of the ANC’s armed forces. That is not a fact that people should forget.
However, when he started negotiations with the apartheid regime in the late 1980s, South Africa was in the midst of what was basically an undeclared civil war. Violence was everywhere and often very unfocused; don’t think for one second that it was all between anti-apartheid fighters against people upholding the apartheid regime. The deaths/beatings/tortures/rapes were largely civilian-focused, and everyone was hurting everyone else (with white-on-white, black-on-black, black-on-Indian, Indian-on-coloured, coloured-on-black, so on and so forth). For an example, Google anything about “necklacing”.
It was b a d.
In order for the country not to collapse completely, someone needed to emerge as a leader who favored political negotiation and peaceful tactics over the violence that was ravaging the country, and Nelson Mandela, whose release had been advocated for over the past few years, found himself thrust into that position to the point that he started negotiating for the fall of apartheid from prison. He did what he needed to do because any more violence would have completely destroyed South Africa. He chose ending apartheid over saving face with the already-emerging anti-apartheid politicians, chose negotiating with the enemies that he hated over seeing more of his people die because of an ego or power trip or an extreme ideology (see: most of the leaders of both sides at this point). He chose making peace over expressing his anger, or (an even bigger issue now), his racial/ethnic affiliation. If he isn’t an “icon of peaceful resistance” for this, I don’t know who is.
2) “He and his party” Hahaha no. There were different parties and different voices and different races who fought together against the regime, not just the ANC. The ANC is one part of a MUCH LARGER MOVEMENT, one that included the people who would become the DA (the ANC’s biggest political rival), one that included not only the black Africans (mainly Zulu) that the ANC represents but also the Xhosa and the Tswana and the Sotho and the Coloureds and the Indians and The Black Sash and the Jews. IT WAS NOT JUST THE ANC.
Also, the ANC is actually largely why the country is so fucked up right now, because the party wants to keep power over actually doing anything good for its people (see: President Robert “Yes I raped that lesbian HIV-positive AIDS activist but I’m getting acquitted because I’m in power and I’m not HIV positive because I took a shower afterwards” Zuma; see: President Thabo “yeah I committed crimes against humanity but come on hear me talk more about how HIV isn’t a real thing and what all my people are dying of AIDS because I refuse to provide any knowledge or treatment LALALALA I can’t hear you LALALA” Mbeki)
3) “Don’t let racist, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of another radical.” Don’t let your ignorant, imperialist liberalism co-opt the legacy of a man who is recognized as an amazing leader of a country and continent seriously lacking them. Don’t let your lack of knowledge of contemporary African politics let you think for one goddamn second that praising someone’s violence is a good thing. Don’t let your Western all-blacks-are-same ideology not recognize the true radicalism in his ideology, which is that ethnic groups should not matter and people should work together regardless.
4) “Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t.” Hahahaha take this, reverse it. He started violent and ended peaceful.
5) “For this, during his life they called him a terrorist,” Nope. They called him a terrorist because he fought against the apartheid regime, and the apartheid regime was allied with the West during the Cold War. He would have been a terrorist regardless of the amount of violence he actually used.
"and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist" Yep. Because he was (kind of) in the end. Although the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was totally Desmond Tutu’s brainchild, so don’t listen to anyone crediting him with that.
"All to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy," hopefully by now you realize that if you mean "revolutionary" to mean "violence is okey-dokey" you are full of shit. His revolutionary act was to be a Xhosa leading a largely Zulu resistance-cum-political party; his revolutionary act was to negotiate with a racial/ethnic enemy. His revolution rested in whom he dared to talk to, not whom he dared to hurt.
"and the lessons to be drawn from it." Yeah, the wrong lessons will be drawn from it, but not for the reasons you think. People will just think his thought process was "peace at any cost" instead of "w o w having a violent revolution was a super stupid idea because everyone is dying. Let’s take a different approach that doesn’t involve my wife directing her own band of assassins and me being imprisoned for almost 30 years that sounds grand".
An Actual Fucking (Half) South African
P.S. This is still super-simplified (I could literally spend hours explaining all the ins and outs of apartheid/the anti-apartheid movement/Mandela himself), but I think it does its job at least somewhat okay.
Stylistically, Monk always remained quintessentially, well, Monk. So much so that by this point in his career some criticize his dissonant clusters, repeated descending sequences, unique interpretation of stride style, and all his other idiosyncrasies as sounding too routine, deliberate, or even mechanical. Personally, I don’t give a fuck about all that. I think this album among others from this period, recorded just a few years before he lost it and stopped playing entirely, is one of his most spirited and beautiful recordings.
|—||Nelson Mandela, "An ideal for which I am prepared to die". Mandela made this statement from the dock at the opening of his trial on charges of sabotage, Supreme court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20 1964|