Asher Roth, Race & the Politics of Whiteness
Then I heard dogs yelping, yowling, barking
through this landscape, looking for my ancestors, looking for my grandfather, my grandmother, looking for me. I heard the men breathing, heard their boots,
heard the click of the gun, the rifle: looking for me. And there was no cover.
James. Just Above My
Head. New York: Dell Publishing, 1979, p. 386.
fact many people argue... that these triumphs show us to be moving past race, is in fact part of the proof that were not; that, like the passenger who sees the train next to him moving and thinks that he is, we, also, are actually
Harry (Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin). The Unbearable Whiteness of Emceeing: What the Eminence of Eminem says about Race. The Source,
For anyone under the
impression that Hip-Hop is a racial melting pot, think again. For those who
argued, in the wake of Obamas presidency, that the younger generation has
significantly altered the nations racial consciousness, think again. For those
successful Black entertainers, who lent credence to the concept of a
post-racial reality, think again. [On
second thought: screw yourselves.] And for those submitted to the illusion
that, in the Rap community, color-lines are blurred, cultural differences: erased,
and racial tensions: negated, Asher Roth has just proved you wrong.
Two days after the release
of his debut album, the White, Jewish rapper found himself embroiled in a
controversy, for comments made before a scheduled performance at Rutgers
On his Twitter page, he
wrote: Been a day of rest and relaxation, sorry twitter - hanging out with
nappy headed hoes. Yup! You read it right: nappy headed hoes. The same
choice of words that catapulted shock-jock Don Imus to the center of
controversy two years ago.
Most would recall the
horrendously defamatory remarks Imus made about Rutgers Universitys female
basketball teamone with a predominant African-American line-up. Imus launched his
tirade by describing them as rough girls, but, in true bad boy fashion, had
to press further to pinch the right nerves: Thats some nappy headed hoes. Im
gonna tell you that now, man, thats somewhew. And the girls from Tennessee,
they all look cute, you know, so, likekinda likeI dont know. Those words sufficed
in stinging the souls of millions (mission accomplished), and Imus himself
knew, that this time, he had gone too far.
Facing pressure from Civil
Rights organizations, he initially dismissed the attention payed to some idiot
comment meant to be amusing. Shortly after, however, he was willing to apologize
for an insensitive and ill- conceived remark we made the other morning
regarding the Rutgers womens basketball team. Get that: We; not I. In his words, the remarks were completely
inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our
characterization was thoughtless and stupid, so, and were sorry.
Unfortunately for Imus, few
were buying his artificial empathy. The message that he should be boycotted and
fired soon rose above the smokes and mirrors. I dutifully take this walk down
memory lane, because the series of events that trailed Imus comments are now
unfolding in the aftermath of Asher Roths. The same sequence has been
Not until complaints poured
in from some of his Twitter followers, did Asher Roth begin making amends. To hear
him tell it, he was totally just making fun of Don Imus.
Blacks who tookand are takingoffense might be stretching their emotions,
because he was not trying to be offensive. But make no
mistake; he is extremely apologetic to anyone who took offense to my immature,
bad joke. This immature, bad joke that brought pain and sorrow to the
Rutgers female basketball team in 2007, is what Mr. Roth felt pretty pleased in
The plot thickens: The
Tweet itself, from his Twitter page, has been deleted. Recorded history: erasedor
so he thought. Thankfully, scanned images have cropped up on the web, making
valid William Cullen Bryants adage that truth crushed to earth shall rise
The importance of this document
lies in the reality that Don Imus comments were, as well, never intended to
leak into public domain. It was reserved for the brain-dead, conscience-frozen
listeners who pay obeisance to his every word. Those who had been desensitized,
following years of Imus incendiary and barbaric anecdotes, never protested his
denigration of the Rutgers women. They were accustomed to such drivelhis shtickthat
made him a power player in national politics. But once it escaped the
smoke-filled room, network executives knew the battle had been lost.
Death-row prisoner and
award-winning journalist, Mumia Abu Jamal, explained the turn of events in a
column titled, Imus Amongst
Us. He wrote: The videotape of Imus
went from an almost unseen perch on MSNBC to the net, where it spread like a virus. Nonetheless, bloggers picked it up and passed it on, and the more folks saw it, the more it spread. It became a living thing, nastier and nastier each
time it was replayed.
Once replayed, it took
newer meanings, and ripped asunder all barriers of comfort in the viewers
mind. The same can easily be said about Asher Roths micro-blog.
Canibus once rapped,
Learn from the past or the future will punish you, but his quip might have
fallen on deaf ears.
Asher Roth is not a child,
and should not be treated as such. In As I Em, a song featured on his latest
album, Roth seeks to distance himself from any comparisons with Eminem; at the
same time, paying as much respect he contends is due. He complains that Every interview, feel like Im sayin the
same thang/ Like Em was great, ya he paved the way for me/ He was inspiration
for everybody from a to z/ But they keep relatin me, I cant get away. Roth
also hopes to be identified in a context independent from the Wigger-prism most
white rappers are seen through, at the start of their careers: And now the masses think that Asher wants to be a marshall mathers/ They say, his not a rapper/ Nah his ass is just
an actor/ Cuz we have the same complexion/ And similar voice inflection/ Its
easy to see the pieces/ And reach for that connection. Understandable as
his objections are, he might be getting ahead of himself.
Asher Roth is not as
different from Eminem as he would rather insist. In addition to similar rhyme
schemes, they both now share a common bond unnoticed by many.
It was in 2003, during a
highly publicized feud with The Source
magazine, when Eminems 1993 freestyle Foolish Pride, was released to the
public. Though explained as something I made out of anger, stupidity and
frustration when I was a teenager, the
dagger-sharp blade of his verse cut deep for many Black female listeners:
...Blacks and whites they sometimes
mix/ But Black girls only want your money cause they're dumb chicks/ So I'ma say like this/ Don't date a Black girl, take it as a diss/ If you want, but if you don't/ I'ma tell you like this, I surely won't/ Never date a Black girl because Blacks only want your money/ ... And that's why I'm here now telling you this rhyme/ 'Cause Black girls, I really don't like/ We don't mix, it's like riding a bike/ ... I'll get straight to the point/ Black girls are b***hes, that's why I'ma tell ya you better pull up your britches/ ... Date a
White girl, 'cuz they got the raw hide/
Eminem blamed the
re-surfacing of his freestyle on a vendetta the source had against him, but
this excuse failed to quell the accusations, lobbed by Black female empowerment
him of slanderous statements and
sweeping generalizations against Black women. Matters became worse when a
second tape was leaked, featuring equally vitriolic antipathy aimed at Black
women: All the girls I like to bone have
big butts/ No they dont, cause I don't like that ni**er sh**/ I'm just here
to make a bigger hit.
So, here we have two white
rappers with their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar, but without any exculpatory
explanation for statements many have called racist. Some Hip-Hop fans are at a
loss for words, but Im not.
The age of Obama has led
many to the conclusion that the younger generation can be counted on to transform
racial discourse in the 21st century. Older folks have resolved
themselves to the myth that time, as
a factor, can capably blot out the racial transgressions of the past. They
field this theory in the multi-racial coalition of support President Obama
accumulated, in his victorious run against Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.
This example encouraged the notion that the Hip-Hop generation is more
mature, in racial terms, than that which came before it.
Others have taken it upon
themselves to offer up Hip-Hop as a prescription for the cure of racism. Jay-z,
Brooklyns native son, is one of them.
interview last month, he confirmed this assertion. Hip-Hop, he said, has changed America immensely Hip-hop has
done more than any leader, politician, or anyone to improve race relations.
Lie. To support this thesis, Mr.
Carter provides a hypothetical that smacks more of racial infantilism than
clear thinking: Racism is taught in the
home and its very hard to teach racism to a teenager who idolizes, say, Snoop Dogg. Its hard to say, That guy is less than you. The kid is like, I like
that guy, hes cool. How is he less than me? Like every worthy scientific
experiment, the conclusion comes next: Thats
why this generation is the least racist generation ever. You see it all the time. Go to any club. People are intermingling, hanging out, enjoying the same
This generation Jay-z
speaks of, is no different than the last. This is my contention. Yes, changes
have been made, bridges: crossed, and dogmas: corrected, but the past isnt
quite past, yet. The searing legacy of White Supremacy still blazes supreme in
our daily experiences.
Blues giant, Big Bill
Broonzys 1957 hit Black, Brown and White, (His Story), still accounts for the code of conduct under which
institutional racism operates: This
little song that Im singin about/ People you know its true/ If youre black and gotta work for a living/ This is what they will say to you/They says, if you was white, should be all right/ If you was brown, stick around/ But as
yous black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back.
Those who convinced
themselves that Race plays no factor in Hip-Hop because Hip-Hop fans spread
across all racial layers are fiddling with a dangerous lie. Asher Roths
comments are a definitive reminder of how far the younger generation has to go,
before the promise of equality becomes a reality.
Olorunda is a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com.