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Lil Wayne’s Lyrical Fascism

Posted on Apr 13, 2013
kennethkonica (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

A version of this article appeared at Truthout.

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People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned. ... People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it, very simply by the lives they lead.
-James Baldwin

We have come a long way from the struggles that launched the civil rights movement over fifty years ago. During that historical period, brave men and women marched, integrated white only lunch counters, defied orders to sit in the back of the bus, challenged police brutality and put their bodies in the face of danger for civil and economic rights. Many of them were beaten, attacked by police dogs, and jailed. They fought for a higher cause, and in some cases gave their lives in the face of insufferable injustices. They embodied the ethical grammar of hope, one that demanded courage, struggle, and the creation of social movements. One display of such collective courage took place after Emmett Till, a young 14-year-old, African-American boy, was mutilated and tortured by white racists in Mississippi in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman. The widely distributed image of his tortured and disfigured body made visible a vile racism that could no longer remain unchallenged. Thousands viewed the horrible image of this young boy’s mutilated body and rose up in anger and determination to take part in a social movement that challenged the toxic racism that had become normalized in the United States.

It is hard to view, even contemplate contemporary America in that historical march towards justice and democracy. We live in a historical moment when money corrupts everything from how we view social provisions and schools to what passes as entertainment and popular culture. We live at a time when politics serves the bankers, hedge fund managers, the corporate elite and free market fundamentalists. The legacies of the past now become fodder for advertisements, revolutionary slogans are trivialized, and the pictures of modern day heroes and freedom fighters are used to sell T-Shirts. Even memory and the practice of moral witnessing are commodified, if not corrupted.

One particularly egregious example comes from the rapper Lil Wayne who in a remix version of the song “Karate Chop” by rapper Future mocked Emmett Till with the lyric: “beat the pussy up like Emmett Till.” While a critical response was swift from members of the hip hop community and community leaders, it mostly focused on Lil Wayne’s racist remarks. What many critics failed to do was to look at the underlying conditions that make such racist, sexist blabber and historical amnesia possible. They also largely failed to raise crucial questions about how and why such ethically and politically demeaning music, videos, and lyrics are allowed to flood the culture with so little resistance. Moreover, little was said about why such poisonous lyrics, representations, and representations are measured more for their shock value rather than for the ways in which such material denigrates history, individuals and social movements. Lil Wayne’s racist and sexist comment exceeds bad taste. And then, of course, there is L. L. Cool J “Accidental Racist” song (“If you forget my gold chains, I’ll forgive the iron chains”). There is nothing accidental going on here. What is clear is that both comments are symptomatic of a deeper order of racist ideology and commodification that is pushed to the margins of discourse in the neoliberal age of color blindness. Such racism and sexism point to a society in which economics is divorced from ethics, profit is the ultimate measure of success, and disposable populations are now fair game for ridicule, harassment, and insulting behavior.  Lil Wayne is just one example of the moral dead zone that too many artists, individuals, institutions, intellectuals, and politicians occupy in a land of massive inequality of wealth and power. 

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