Editor’s Note: Kerra L. Bolton is the founder of Unmuted Consultancy, a strategic political communications consultancy and online academy that helps individuals, communities and organizations spark and drive change. She is also a freelance writer and former political reporter and analyst in North Carolina. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Kerra L. Bolton: Eminem is the rare white artist willing to stand up and defend his black fans
Other white artists should take a cue and give black audiences the respect and support they need, writes Bolton
Thank you, Eminem, for your video stomp of President Donald Trump at the BET Awards. Somebody needed to say aloud the things black people have been saying to each other or muttering under our breath in frustration – that “taking a knee” was never about disrespecting the flag or the military.
I consider myself a feminist and your misogynistic lyrics paired with a dope beat frustrate me. But on Tuesday you spat out rhymes with a vulgar and sometimes elegant rage. You had me crushing hard on you with this line: “From the endorsement of Bannon, support for the Klansman, tiki torches in hand for a soldier that’s black and comes from Iraq and is still told to go back to Africa.”
You won my respect because your video was the most prominent instance of a white celebrity defending the right of NFL players to peacefully protest the militarized policing of black and brown neighborhoods.
Some of your cousins like Justin Timberlake and Madonna owe their early careers to the embrace of black audiences. However, they have been silent on whether black lives matter to them. Or if they respond at all, it’s with tepid statements that ignore black pain while reassuring white audiences. Timberlake came under fire after last year’s BET Awards when, in a tepid tweet, he complimented Jesse Williams’ speech about the exploitation of black lives by popular culture.
But not you. Pale skin and black-hooded, you prowled a parking lot, drew a line in the sand and dared fans to choose between you and Trump. I’ll give you credit for that.
My friend Desiree is not as forgiving. She rightfully pointed out that you hedged your bets. Your video wasn’t performed at the Grammys in an audience of prominent white industry insiders. You performed at the BET Awards before a sympathetic black audience with black men standing behind you.
You also have a record coming out soon. What better way to build anticipation and boost initial record sales than to release a video that reminds us of your raw, lyrical ferocity while speaking truth to power and shoring up support from black audiences?
I don’t care whether your video was a marketing ploy, love letter to black people or a combination of both. But I hope you stick with black people because we stuck with you.
Be an example to white artists who build their early careers on the backs of black audiences, cross over, forget about us until their careers are in free fall and then want us to love them again. (I’m looking at you, Robin Thicke.)
The money we spend to buy your music doesn’t come easy. It’s hard-earned because it comes from working and living in a nation in which some of its people – and even its President – seem to despise us.
We buy your music because you respect hip hop, and you challenged us to improve our art. You make us dance, think and hope. Fifteen years after the pounding intro of “Lose Yourself” was dropped, the song still speaks to something universal within all of us that creates, loves and strives for the best in ourselves.
To other white artists out there, know this: We gave you the blues, and you called it “rock ‘n’ roll.” We gave you gospel, and you called it country. We gave you Big Mama Thornton’s recording of “Hound Dog” and you spit it back to us with Elvis Presley. Give us the respect we deserve, stand with us unequivocally – or give us a refund.