Black Lives Matter has been hailed as the most significant movement for Black rights since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but Lil Wayne wants no part of it.
In a recent interview with Nightline, Wayne was asked about his thoughts on the movement and if he regretted prior comments that may have seemed insensitive. Wayne doubled down on his previous stance in a way that was even more incendiary, infuriating many of his supporters in the process.
“I don't even know why you put a name on it. It's not a name. It's not 'whatever, whatever.' It's somebody got shot by a policeman for a f**ked up reason,” Wayne said. “...I am a young, Black, rich motherf**ker. If that don't let you know that America understand Black motherf**kers matter these days, I don't know what it is.
“I don't feel connected to a damn thing that ain't got nothin' to do with me,” he added. “If you do, you crazy as s**t.”
Rap has a strong history as an art form used to speak up for the oppressed and disenfranchised. But there are plenty of artists who don’t adhere to such history. Some disagree with the sentiments altogether, some don’t feel obligated to speak up and others are more comfortable contributing to causes behind closed doors. It’s often forgotten that speaking up about such issues is a choice — and by shaming artists into speaking up on behalf of a movement, we’re likely minimizing the power and significance that comes with artists making that choice for themselves. If Lil Wayne apologizes for these comments on Nightline, it’ll appear to be because of the public backlash, not because he actually realized he was wrong. When artists are able to come around at their own pace, they’re able to become even better allies for social change. Jay Z and Beyoncé are great examples: they had done work privately before, but since Harry Belafonte’s challenge several years ago, they’ve slowly but surely come into their own as some of the most visible proponents — both publicly and behind the scenes.
That said, it’s still disappointing to hear this from Wayne. When he was asked by Skip Bayless about Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality, he said that he hadn’t experienced racism himself. He added that he would rather let experts speak about it. “I thought [racism] was over, I still believe it’s over. But obviously, it isn’t,” he said. It felt like a cop out to many, but I thought it was understandable: it seemed that he didn’t want to speak where he didn’t feel conviction, but he didn’t want to detract from an important movement that was much bigger than him.
“I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothing to do with me,” is what Wayne recently said about Black Lives Matter. But it does. Wayne’s wealth may put him in a different tax bracket, but it doesn’t protect him from racist public policy. There are plenty of examples: from basketball player Thabo Sefolosha being assaulted by police outside of a club to Henry Louis Gates being arrested for trying to get into his own home to Chris Rock still feeling terrified enough to tweet every time he gets pulled over by police for being a Black man driving a nice car. Denying the racial element just doesn’t work. Black people aren’t the only people who are victims of systemic racism or police brutality, but they’re still disproportionately represented when it comes to the perception of criminality in the United States. The Washington Post reported that Black people are “24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by police despite only being 13 percent of the population” — which means “Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”
Wayne has even spoken about the lack of recognition for Black humanity himself on “Georgia...Bush,” his heart-wrenching song from 2006 about how President George W. Bush and the U.S. government were slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina in his hometown of New Orleans. The song was a highlight on his Dedication 2 mixtape, and it seemed promising for an artist who had otherworldly talent but who wasn’t known for his sociopolitical commentary. His voice would have been useful in bringing awareness to Alton Sterling, the Baton Rouge man whose death by police shooting in July is the subject of a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice.
Maybe he would rather stay apolitical to protect his investments; maybe his time in prison and his own gang affiliations (which he mentioned in the interview) have tainted his perspective somehow. Maybe the years of drug use has given him a lack of clarity. None of us are inside Wayne’s head, so none of us know anything more than what he actually said. His comments don’t disqualify his Blackness or mean that he should be shamed into falling in line with everyone who is aware, but hopefully he educates himself and comes around on the issue. In the aforementioned segment with Skip Bayless, Wayne named his four children as the only people he felt allegiance toward. Educating himself and getting involved in the movement to fight racism helps him further advocate for his family — and places him on the right side of history.
(Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for Bud Light)