Last week, I went to a Kendrick Lamar concert and he was amazing.
I did have a few exit thoughts about my concert going experience. I am a huge Kendrick fan. But, I was mostly excited to see SZA , so TDE going on tour was perfect for me. The recent news that she was taken off tour and may never sing again was definitely a depressing thought for me, but the thought was temporarily shelved to focus on Kendrick that day. That day, June 1, Kendrick had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Celebrating him would be easy.
“Well, maybe.” I said, now totally surrounded by packs of white teenagers from neighboring high schools as they frolicked the fields of the Jiffy Lube Live outdoor field. I didn’t know but one other person there and this crowd, predominantly white 2000s babies seemed ready, but for something else. A group of white boys started chanting “Fuck Kendrick” behind us and I had to pretend it was a frat thing or something just to keep from going into the rant I am about to go into now in this essay midway through Schoolboy Q’s set. It just kept bothering me. But it was a concert, so my capacity to judge the fun of others was unwarranted….until it turned racist.
This past winter, when Kendrick wasn’t awarded the appropriate Grammy, there was no use pouring outrage into the same old cup where SZA was the most nominated woman there and got nothing. The Pulitzer committee described “DAMN.” as ‘Recording released on April 14, 2017, a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life”, making Kendrick Lamar the first rapper on this level. Kendrick was so good that white people loved him.
I am often lost and found in predominantly white spaces. Yes, often as a student but also as a consumer of and contributor to literature. It is in those spaces, a poetry reading or an English classroom, where it is most apparent that the literary world is not immune to any of the ills of society. It never has been, it is not now, and quite frankly, it has always been the tip of the pen on the beating heart of exposing these acts of institutional racism. It always will be. As one of the oldest institutions surrounding a widespread, common yet all encompassing kind of skill, there is no space for literature to hide. It must confront pain, including any pain it has caused, and push forward the same way we all do. The trade of writing has never gone at a fair price.
Take for instance, a specific example: author Malcolm Jones’s recent account of the underlying racism in the children’s literature community, which he chastises for their newfound commitment to now getting on the right side of history. In the article, he states “publishers have labored mightily not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. They will be inclusive. They will be vigilant in rooting out casual or prejudiced ways of thinking. This is kid lit in full instructional mode”. These publishers perceive that swarming a genre with progressive new-age books to bait and switch with their history of racism will excuse or eclipse newer accounts of racism or any other systematic injustice by the people who hold the most power especially. This might be complicated seeing the difficult history attached to kid lit.
(Also, see the Boston Review profile on the Junot Diaz situation regarding sexual assault in the literary community and the denial surrounding it. See the fatphobia that occurred at the Midwest Writers Workshop. See how authors like Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) have to fight racism from getting into the movie adaptions of their own words. These are the persisting situations authors who are so intrinsically intertwined feel the most removed from.)
Intellect aside, racism can shift to fit any brain mold. Yet, the literary community loves to absolve itself — either feigning ignorance & lack of perspective or confusing awareness for the solution instead of just an excuse for bad behavior.
Comparatively, the world of music is another age old expression of popular culture that falls guilty to conventions of evolutionary socialization.
Shorthand, things change. SZA has lost her voice forever. Brockhampton broke up. Kendrick has a Pulitzer. These are all relevant issues that appeal to our conscious somehow, even if it is involuntary. Why? Because hip hop is now mainstream.
Things change. The cultural shift that led the entire world down Compton streets and New York beats and the bleeding heart of Chicago made it so when you paint the picture of American society 30 years from now, there is nothing to use but those colors. Hip hop’s dominance remains present in almost every modern day avenue of culture.
As Complex once said in their 2014 article “Rap Game Christopher Columbus” after the rise of Macklemore, Miley Cyrus, and Iggy Azalea , “the gentrification of hip-hop is inevitable, and it’s happening now”. Just because these rappers have faded off the charts, it doesn’t lessen the impact. It is happening now. It will continue. But under vigil. And respectfully.
The public sphere has entered their home and their space for not the first time, but for what feels like it. The space & its residents do not and will not have to tolerate rude house guests. White concertgoers should take note for the sake of the clusters of people of color who always manage to gravitate toward each other in a crowd, like a fifth sense (for which I am thankful for). Those who approach these groups with spit in their mouths poised upwards as a joke are testing patience and it is wearing thin. Those who think it is funny to antagonize the people this very music is actually for are showing some raw jealousy. White concertgoers, drunk and dirty and disorderly, screaming at the top of their lungs a word they’ve never earned a scar from. That is only the kind of bravery that pours out of unstung cheeks, dripping from the desire for a life they’ve never lived.
That night, it rained.
Hard. It was a classic Northern Virginia thunderstorm. When Kendrick put “PULITZER KENNY” behind him while suspended on that beam, lightning struck. The crowd gasped and it was in that moment I felt like it was the first time all night that we were all truly in sync. A massive body instead of a mass of bodies, jigsaw puzzles that had all been just trying not to fit. And as he started the second verse of GOD, you couldn’t help but marvel at the kind of man who could do that.
I was not there but when they put that award in the hands of that man, I know lightning flashed then too.