Hip-hop stars Lupe Fiasco and Killer Mike are two of the more politically outspoken artists in contemporary music. And with the horrific Charleston shooting last week, during which white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at the Emanuel AME Church, the ongoing national debate has centered around racism (and the Confederate flag), guns, and everything else that was a factor in Roof’s terrorist act. Both Lupe and Mike decided to weigh in on the issue immediately; Mike via a series of tweets that reiterated his stance on gun ownership, and Lupe with a trio of Instagram posts that was directed at those who endorse the idea of white supremacy.
“Dear White Supremacy,” wrote the Chicago rapper. “First of all you are not really that supreme. While throughout history White Supremacy it must be admitted you have achieved some very dominant positions. These positions have been gained mostly through force or some biological agent such as disease that did a lot of the dirty work for you in advance. I mean anybody can use force on an unarmed populous and anybody can have smallpox.”
Lupe goes on to address the “regularity” of whiteness as compared to other ethnic groups and races, adding that most achievements have come through collaborative efforts and stating there is nothing that white people have accomplished that is altogether more impressive than other races.
“I mean spaghetti and meatballs, Romeo & Juliet, Coldplay, The Tuxedo, lighter that air travel are all world class additions to the collective bucket but they are no less or more impressive than every other regular groups take on the universals either.”
“And if you wanted to get really ironic and meta about it, White Supremacy has to validate it's own identity based solely on its relationship to other races!” he wrote. “I mean now that’s what I would call joined at the hip. Without us there is no white supremacy because there would be nothing to be supreme over! That sounds so stupid but sometimes the truth is stupid. Stupid like a fox. And no not stupid like a Fox News I mean the real fox. The animal.”
Lupe’s letter is well-intentioned, and the outspoken rhymer’s focus on debunking white supremacy is a necessary part of the post-Charleston conversation—even if he’s meandering and unfocused in his critique. But the debunking of white supremacy has to also include acknowledgment of how white supremacy has shaped and skewed the world view of so many cultures and how it permeates virtually every facet of how we view race in America, in particular. It’s not enough to mock it. It’s so intrinsically bound to the collective cultural mindset that it not only informs a Dylann Roof, but also the magistrate judge who says “there are victims on both sides” and the NBC Meet the Press producer who decides to air a segment on black gunmen days after a white gunman murders black people. Or the state that flies a Confederate flag for more than fifty years over its Capitol building. And it shapes the way we view the rights that are supposedly guaranteed to every American.
Which brings us to Killer Mike.
He’s always been a bit more direct with his cultural commentary than Fiasco. Taking to Twitter immediately after the story of the killings broke last week, Mike bemoaned the fact that the victims weren’t armed in church.
“What happened in Charleston is an act of terror committed by a terrorist. Simple & plain,” Mike tweeted. “I wish those folks in that church had been armed.”
“I will NEVER be pro gun control. long as blacks can be killed by the state and terrorist,” he added. “Nah umma be pro save yo own life.”
The gun ownership debate isn’t going anywhere, and, with so many mass killings on American soil, it’s still hard to understand why it is necessary for regular citizens to have access to some of the heavy artillery that can be found at gun shows. But how can we blame black people for becoming staunch advocates for guns when we are seeing so many assaults on black life from armed individuals? Trayvon Martin, Justin Patterson, and the victims in Charleston were shot by ordinary citizens who obviously were believers in gun ownership—perhaps having a weapon would’ve saved the lives of these black victims.
It’s also very clear that gun laws are not intended to protect black citizens’ right to bear arms. The pro-gun crowd typically goes silent on the subject of black people arming themselves or when black people face dire, unjust consequences for exercising what should’ve been their right. When John Crawford III was gunned down while holding an air rifle inside of an Ohio Wal-Mart in an open carry state, he was not martyred by the NRA. Nor was 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by two police officers because he was holding a toy gun on a playground in that very same state. There was no outcry from Wayne LaPierre or Rand Paul over the fact that American citizens were shot and killed for what should have been a right by law. And how often are rappers detained for random gun searches while performing in various states around the country? Guns are for white people, gun charges are for black people.
Both Mike and Lupe addressed two major factors in Dylann Roof’s heinous crime: guns and white supremacy. But it’s not enough for rappers to initiate these hard conversations. White America has to stare its culture in the face and recognize that Roof is not an outlier—no matter how extreme his crime was, his belief system represents an entire facet of white American culture. Is it a coincidence that the most staunchly pro-gun states are also states that currently or have once flown the Confederate battle flag? What kind of culture is created from pro-gun legislation and anti-black state symbols except one of hatred and violence?
White supremacy is what created Dylann Roof and America has to face the ugly truth in that. Part of facing that truth is acknowledging that Americans who share his beliefs aren’t always on the societal fringes. One look at the comments section of any racially-tinged news story, a quick scroll down your own Facebook News Feed, or even a Twitter search can reveal just how many “regular folks” can’t stand black people; add that to the disparities in sentencing and the regularity of police killings of blacks and you have glaring examples of anti-blackness in American culture. So for everyone offering commentary—from rappers to right-wing politicians—addressing that toxic element is the only way we can even begin to understand why Charleston happened and why racism has never disappeared from the national landscape. Or we can continue to live in denial, ask “why is it always about race?” and watch as those under the boot heel of white supremacy become more convinced that more extreme measures must be taken to eradicate it.