I haven’t watched x-factor in years, so was blissfully unaware of the existence of Honey G and her tawdry bad-rap act until my social media feeds started filling up with furious rows. On one side, commentators voicing the fact that this felt offensive. On the other, commentators dismissing the taking of offence as a symptom of a lack of humour and then taking offence that other people taking offence was actually an act of labelling them as individually racist…
“God it’s only a joke why can’t you people chill out”
“WTF. You’re implying I’m racist for liking a laugh.”
Cognitive dissonance in 140 characters or less.
In one of these threads, the phrase“hip hop has no colour…” was used, and this phrase has been rattling round my cerebrum all week.
So. Although – as a relatively comfortably off white woman with a love of hip hop that’s proved to be the most enduring love of my life – I am wary of wading into waters that are full of the risk of ending up whitesplaining racism here: I’m jumping in.
This piece is for the white people who think that black people complaining that Honey G is racist are wrong. Newsflash. You don’t get to decide how black people are allowed to feel about Honey G. This is not a case of “political correctness gone mad” or “the comedy police” or “can’t you take a joke”. Honey G (who I have now watched in the interests of research) is an offensively reductive parody of black culture and explicitly lampoons and mocks black culture and if that’s not her specific intention then she is woefully (wilfully) blind to the cultural context in which she lives. There’s a straight line from the Black and White Minstrels via Lenny Henry’s self-hating early stand up all the way through to Honey G.
I have heard some people arguing that Honey G’s no different to Ali G and we all laughed at him. As it happens I didn’t find Sacha Baron Cohen’s act all that funny but I can see that the humour there was in parodying the ridiculous situation where a bunch of young white boys (and girls) who have only ever known a hood when mummy made them put it up to keep the rain off suddenly wanted to talk like the black kids whose cool they craved.
If you ignore the cultural impact of institutional racism on communities of colour, economically, socially, and politically, then I suppose it’s possible to be blind to the impact that reductive and lazy stereotypes have on the way black people are treated and perceived. White people would love to believe that we live in a post-racial society but we really, really don’t. We live in a society where black people are disproportionately criminalised, incarcerated and killed and woefully underrepresented in politics, in company boardrooms, and in the medical, legal, and financial professions. And a world where, when Lenny Henry complained about a lack of diversity on the BBC, a candidate from a mainstream political party suggested he go live in a “non-white country”.
In this world, then, I feel like the power structure that surrounds me gives me a ton of privileges but takes away my right to decide what is and isn’t perceived as offensive and racist by those on the sharp end of that particular stick
And guess what? This isn’t the same thing AT ALL as saying that white people can’t love, or make, hip hop. In one sense it’s absolutely true that hip hop has no colour or race as it’s transcended its birthplace and spread across the globe bringing us b-boy’s from the Philippines, MC’s in Afghanistan, and yes, white rappers like Eminem and Macklemore.
I hate Eminem, as it happens. I hate his misogynistic lyrics and cannot stand the men who gently explain to me that he’s only joking and he’s exceptionally skilled and they choose not to take the lyrics seriously. How dare you tell me what I’m allowed to hear when I listen to hip hop? Can you see the parallel here, Honey G apologists?
But even though I do despise Eminem, it isn’t because I think he’s guilty of gross cultural appropriation. I can see that he understands and respects the origins of the genre he works in and also, see above. I don’t get to decide how black people feel about Eminem and I note that he is regularly name-checked and respected in the hip hop community who don’t have any issue with his colour. And Macklemore, too, shows respect and awareness of the systemic racism that led to him being given a grammy in a year when Kendrick Lamar was shunned.
Contrast this with Iggy Azalea who in the words of the inimitable words of Rah Digga comes from Australia, smacks on a fake US accent “pretending to be Gangsta Boo” and appears to be genuinely outraged and bemused by people taking offence at crass lyrics like:
“When it really starts I’m a runaway slave-master”
I’ve written about Rah Digga’s stance on Iggy Azalea before, and the ludicrous assertion that, in criticising Iggy she was actually guilty of racism. Please. If you read what she actually said she pointed out a comparison with a white Australian rapper who she rated because she was using hip hop as a medium to reflect her own identity and experience, and argued that people should stop pretending to be something you’re not. Write lyrics about your own experiences, and deliver them in your own accent, as yourself. It isn’t rocket science. Stop pretending.
Let’s be honest. Stop pretending to be black. It’s pathetic and childish. And it isn’t funny.
Hip hop does have a colour, but it definitely isn’t honey.
Words by Vicky T