My immediate reaction to Kendrick Lamar’s interview with Billboard magazine was to add his name to the list of stars who need to be sent to the Island of Wayward Negroes. A list that includes names like Don Lemon, Whoopi Goldberg, and the “labels” one herself, Raven-Symoné. Well meaning or not, Lamar invoked God to defend Iggy Azalea and respectability politics to partially excuse law enforcement’s collective assault on Black people. The rapper from Compton sounded like one of those AARP-aged Blacks who thinks the Lord will deliver us from evil (aka white supremacy) the second we pull up our pants and leave that white woman who’s really just trying to make an honest living via a pop-rap career alone.
When asked about the killings of Black men and women at the hands of police officers last year, Lamar did acknowledge that Michael Brown’s death should’ve “never happened,” only he added, “But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting— it starts from within.”
Lamar took the complex problem of institutionalized racism and offered up the equivalent of an inspirational meme found on Instagram as a solution.
It’s bad enough when white people tell us that the onus of racism is on the victim to fix and not the culprit, but it is particularly bothersome when someone who looks like us makes that same case— to a mainstream outlet, no less.
It does not matter if you dress like an investment banker or someone who has used a payday loan to get by: If you are Black, racism will reduce to you pigmentation and the prejudices that will follow.
The same can be said if you speak as eloquently as President Barack Obama or as rambly and somewhat incoherent as my new musical play cousins, Rae Sremmurd.
However, as disappointed as I am in Lamar’s answer, upon more reflection I’m more inclined to sign up for a book club than send him an itinerary for a permanent trip to a far away land. In the profile, Billboard’s Gavin Edwards writes, “Surprisingly for such a hyperliterate lyricist, Lamar is not much of a reader, saying that he mostly learns by talking to people from different walks of life.”
As great as conversation is, so are books in tackling complicated matters like racism. Hopefully, Lamar will learn that having respect for one’s self does not matter if the person with power has no regard for you or your life. That aside, Lamar’s comments about Azalea remain irksome.
When the Australian rapper came up in the interview, Lamar said, “She’s doing her thing. Let her. People have to go through trials and tribulations to get where they at. Do your thing, continue to rock it, because obviously God wants you here.”
Again, hokey language being used to de-legitimize credible complaints about racially-motivated biases.
To be fair, Lamar’s cousin is Los Angeles Lakers star Nick Young, who is dating Azalea — and that puts him in an awkward position. Still, while it’s one thing to not go out of your way to insult a family member, it’s another to argue that someone is ordained to perform in audible Blackface.
I don’t like when people use God as a shield for their half-thought out musings. I also have a hard time thinking God really gives that great a damn if Azalea builds a fortune biting the flow of Charli Baltimore and the voice of Diamond on a track that sounds like discount DJ Mustard. In an indirect response to Lamar’s interview, Iggy also invoked God, though she sounded just as smug as she normally does when responding to her critics.
This makes Lamar’s holy-hyperbolic response all the more grating to the nerves. It’s another example of a Black man in rap going out of his way to shield a white woman who gets by on a caricature of a Black woman. There’s also a bit of irony here in that Lamar encourages Black people to “respect ourselves” more, though it’s perfectly fine for Iggy to mirror some of those very cultural mores to make money. And of course, put some money in the pocket of the likes of Iggy’s greatest champion, T.I., whose background is far darker than the Black men unjustly killed by law enforcement.
I’m not sure who Kendrick Lamar has been talking to about God and racism, but I’m happy to help start a different conversation.