(See also: “Kreayshawn Reconsidered”, in which I realize I went way over the top with some of the things I said in this article.)
I guess I’m late to this party; a quick look around the interwebs demonstrates that debate has already been raging for months about whether or not Kreayshawn, the Oakland-based white rapper, represents America’s cross-cultural, post-racial future, or if she’s simply recycling and regurgitating tired old racist stereotypes for fun and profit.
At first I was in the pro-Kreayshawn camp; contrary to what some people are saying, I think she’s a decent rapper, she seems to have a good sense of humor and style, and I’ve always been favorably inclined toward any new artist capable of outraging my less-mainstream-than-thou friends.
Curious to learn more about her, I subscribed to her Twitter feed, and for the first couple weeks saw nothing more remarkable than the usual swagger and bluster I’d expect from a rap star on the make and a bold yet insecure girl not all that far out of her teens.
But yesterday she posted a couple things that had me re-evaluating her. The first was “Snitchin in the hood aint good,” the gangbanger mantra that has made it all but impossible for police to get a handle on the murder and mayhem that has become endemic in the America’s inner cities. She followed it up a few hours later with “Ridin round and lookin for something to shoot.” To both of which I was like, SHUT YOUR STUPID FACE, WHITE GIRL.
Kreayshawn, you are not from “the hood,” and I’m not talking geographically. I don’t care where you come from (her bio says East Oakland), you are a pop star for whom “the hood” is a marketing device you can pick up or put down as it suits you.
Ditto for your playing at being a bad-ass gangsta chick mimicking the tragic trope of brain-dead thugs tearing the heart out of one black neighborhood after another with pointless beefs and drive-bys. For countless African-American families, gang violence has meant death or crippling injury for their sons, brothers, and fathers. To your silly white ass, it’s a fashion accessory.
Mouthing mindless slogans isn’t necessarily the worst crime in the world; let’s face it, we’ve probably all done it at one time or another, especially when we were young. And honestly, I don’t think she’s doing it just to sell records or promote her image; more likely she’s just after what white kids have been aspiring to for generations: to be a little more “black.”
Nothing wrong with that: hipsters, musicians, entertainers, or just repressed white suburbanites in pursuit of a makeover, have been doing this since at least the Jazz Age, maybe, if you wanted to stretch a point, all the way to whites performing in blackface minstrel shows in the days when slavery was still the law of the land.
The knock against minstrel shows – and against mid- 20th century counterparts like Amos and Andy, was the way they pandered to the worst stereotypes about black people, mocking them as lazy, conniving, shiftless, unintelligent. The 21st century version of the minstrel show, perpetrated by black artists like Odd Future as well as white ones like Kreayshawn, has added violent, misogynistic, homophobic, drug-addled and sex-crazed to the mix.
Unlike some of her critics, I don’t care if Kreayshawn sprinkles her speech or her raps with n-bombs. As the product of a time when “nigger” still functioned as one of the most hateful words in the English language, I dislike hearing anyone, black or white, use it, but worrying about it is a lost cause now that it’s become a conversational mainstay for kids of all races and backgrounds.
And I don’t think Kreayshawn’s obvious, almost desperate desire to “be” black makes her a racist, either. There are innumerable things that people can learn and adopt from African-American culture, starting with but hardly limited to most of the music I grew up with or the heroism and devotion displayed by pioneers of the civil rights movement. Language, fashion, politics, philosophy: all have been immeasurably enriched by African and African-American influences.
But what does make Kreayshawn a racist – and, you might say, the most problematic, even dangerous kind of racist – is the kind of “black” she is trying to be. I’m reminded of another well-intentioned white guy (at least I’m sure he thought he was), William Upski Wyatt, who in his mid-90s book Bomb The Suburbs urged privileged white kids like himself to show solidarity with black people by turning their own suburbs into urban-style ghettoes.
Cover the walls with graffiti, hang out on your front stoop smoking blunts and drinking 40s, he told them, apparently never considering that there’s nothing intrinsically “black” about vandalism, unemployment, or drug and alcohol abuse. On the contrary, millions of black Americans – no doubt the vast majority – would profoundly love to see all of them banished from their own neighborhoods.
If you’re a white kid who seriously wants to “be black,” there’s no end of admirable African-Americans to pattern yourself after: authors, scientists, community leaders, even the President of the United States, not to mention the millions of working class men and women who faithfully devote themselves to supporting their families and building a future for their children.
But racists like Kreayshawn don’t see any of that. Say “black” to them and all they hear is hood rats, ghetto bling, and prison-bound thuggery. The only thing that distinguishes her view of black culture from that of a Ku Klux Klansman is that she wants to be part of it – at least as long as she can retreat back to her safe suburban home whenever things start to get unpleasant.
So hire a bunch of black actors to be in your videos, pay a bunch of black “friends” to be in your entourage, live out your fantasy, Kreayshawn, but no matter how famous you get, how much money you make, you’ll never escape the bitter truth: that you did it by spreading negative, hateful images of African-Americans that will poison the minds and attitudes of your impressionable fans while letting you believe that you’re “down” and dripping with street cred.
Know it or not, admit it or not, Kreayshawn, what you’re doing, is racist to the core. It will hurt people, a lot of people, while you’re laughing all the way to the bank.