The Imbalance of "I'm Not Racist"
“I’m Not Racist” is a rap single by hip-hop artist Joyner Lucas. I’ll be honest, I had to look up exactly who Joyner Lucas was, I hadn’t heard of him before seeing “I’m Not Racist” pop up across all of my various social media platforms. His video has over 2 million views on YouTube and over 20 million views on Facebook. The video itself seems perfectly suited for the Facebook audience.
The video itself is simple. It’s two people sitting down at a table across from one another. One of the two men is a large ginger bearded white guy. This husky gentleman is wearing a white button down and beige khakis pants. He is also wearing the fire engine red “Make America Great Again” hat. The man across the table is a younger black guy. He’s wearing a tee shirt and baggy pants. He has his hair done up in braids. Both of these men look like stereotypes. More than that, they are intended to look like their respective archetypes. The hard-working white conservative and the black guy from the “hood”. Already the two are unbalanced.
Now I will get out in front of it and say that I should never be looked too as a rap authority. I like the music but I’m a far cry from being well versed in the artistic medium. Having gotten that out of my system I will say I do think that Joyner Lucas has obvious talent. He has good flow and a clear delivery. Even more than that, Lucas is able to channel raw anger and rage through his verses without losing any clarity. Strictly from a performative aspect it’s incredibly well done. I also have to admire the time and energy it took into making this nearly 7-minute song and video even though it will never get airplay on the radio. I also hope that by the time Joyner releases his next album or mixtape, some of the problems he raps about will have been solved.
Now for the tricky part, the content of the song itself. The premise of the song is a conservative white guy and that conservative white guy's idea of a black guy trade raps about the state of race in America today. Once both are done expressing their racial grievances they stand up and hug. All the while throwing around the refrain “I’m Not Racist.” The idea is to show how both sides have anger and misconceptions that come between them and stop any real progress. We really are all the same! If only we could just stop and listen to one another. It is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Yet I’m left feeling cold by the entire endeavor.
I think it’s best to lay out what happens in the video so you can see exactly where my problem is. The song starts off with “MAGA Man” shouting at the black man. Not just shouting, but screaming racial slurs at him. He uses the “N” word repeatedly. He accuses the black man of being a thug, a gangbanger, and a drug dealer. He mentions welfare queens and those black men who abandon their families for a life a crime. He accuses the other man of being lazy and playing the race card in every scenario instead of admitting his own shortcomings and doing honest work. Basically, he throws out every single Fox News idea of a black person. It is a lot, to say the least. It could still work if Lucas, who is black, gives the black man the perfect counter rebuttal to all the falsehoods and misconceptions.
That’s not exactly what happens.
This is where my problems with the video come from. It’s a two-fold problem. First of all the black man's response never adequately pushes back against the stereotypes and racism that is put on him. If anything he agrees with the white man. Sure he namedrops institutionalized racism and the history of white supremacy in America, both important facts, but he never refuted being a drug dealer or criminal. Rather he blames his lot in life and all his choices on those two factors. Instead of calling out MAGA man on his racist and disproven falsehoods, he agrees with him or lets the insult stand.
My second issue with the video and the overarching problem with it is one of balance. Namely that both sides, white and black, are not equally balanced yet they are treated on the same moral scale. Saying phrases such as “institutional racism”, “systematic racism”, and “white supremacy” does not make it equal to the barrage of racial slurs hurled by the white man. It makes the two men hugging it out at the end of the video seem hollow. I could go into all the facts and statistics that disprove racist notions such as “welfare queens” and police brutality. I understand it doesn’t make a catchy rap song but I’m willing to bet some version of that rap could have been made. I keep coming back to that hug at the end of the video. It’s played up as a come to Jesus moment. It’s the moment both men feel as if they finally broke through the noise and heard, and felt heard, by each other. It doesn’t work. One of those two men did not hurl racial slurs. One of those men shouted stereotypes. One of those men belongs to a race of people that historically, systematically, and institutionally keep another race down. We need to be honest with one another. Only the white man in this video needs to have a come to Jesus moment.