Larry Smith

Rapper Eminem released his 11th album, “Music to Be Murdered By,” this past January. (The release made him the first artist to have 10 consecutive albums debut at No. 1 in the U.S.) I recently listened to the album for the first time and came across a song that made me think about America’s current racial context. One of Eminem’s long-time collaborators, Royce da 5’9”, raps on a track titled “You Gon’ Learn.” The song includes the following lyrics:

“Make a bigot racist uncomfortable

If y’all against talkin’ reparation then I’m not against the thought of separation

While the politicians that are white and privileged

Ask how is this different from segregation.

That’s funny bro

Segregation is bein’ told where I’m gonna go

Separation is bein’ woke and goin’ wherever I wanna go”

Consider the irony of a Black rapper performing a song that gives credence to racial separation — on an album from a white rapper who is the all-time, best-selling artist of a distinctively Black musical genre. Indeed, Eminem is one of the best contemporary examples of racial integration — at least as far as music is concerned. (I recall Chris Rock’s joke from several years ago that the best rapper, Eminem, is white, while the best golfer, Tiger Woods, is Black.)

“You Gon’ Learn” contributed to my contemplation of the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical price that Black folks have always paid as we have navigated historic and contemporary American apartheid. This navigation is made all the more turbulent due to the concurrent pandemic. Then, just for fun, throw in the fact that we have an upcoming national election whose implications — racial and otherwise — are the greatest in living memory.

Is it hip hop-crisy for a Black rapper who is so closely associated with a white rapper to suggest that racial separation is a viable option? (See what I did there?) To answer my own question, I don’t think so — at least in this instance. If Black nationalism were Royce’s modus operandi, one might reasonably accuse him of being a hypocrite. But that’s not the case. I think that he’s merely expressing frustration regarding the hypocrisy of racism. For example, it is not uncommon for white people to complain about HBCUs, affirmative action, BET, Miss Black America and other efforts to combat white supremacy. Some Black leaders, including Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, concluded that white people would never accept Black people as their equals. Thus, these leaders proposed racial separation. There is no indication that Royce ever adhered to that philosophy.

However, as the song suggests, Black folks have every right to criticize the hypocrisy of the people who created, perpetuate and benefit from white supremacy. (This reminds me of the “Black lunch table” complaints that some white students made during my undergraduate days — at an overwhelmingly white college.) I long — most likely in vain — for the day in which the majority of white people will hate racism as much as they hate the reactions to racism. (As a bonus, I long for the day when the nonsense notion of “reverse racism” is discarded.)

My point in all this is that we have not found a genuine solution to these challenges — in their myriad iterations — since 1619. The promise of the 1954 Brown decision gave way to the stark reality that desegregation has fallen woefully short of ensuring racial equality. I grieve at the compounding effect of centuries of intellectual, emotional and physical energy that could have been spent on advancing all of humanity as opposed to fighting for recognition of Black people as fully human.

In the inimitable words of Marvin Gaye, all this “Makes me wanna holler and throw up both of my hands.” 

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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