Words: Stephanie Dando
Rapper Tom MacDonald fuses broody trap beats with digestible but often blundering lyricism. In MacDonald’s most recent effort, ‘Whiteboy’, the Vancouver-hailing rapper protests what he deems to be the widespread vilification of white people, in the process creating a four-minute-something emblem of modern day ignorance.
The music video is set in your average High School class, replete with a diversified cast of students. The video begins when MacDonald, seated as a student, raises his hand. He raps: “I cannot feel guilty for s**t that I didn’t do”. He continues:
“Yeah I’m white but I never put your neck in no noose
And I never burnt no cross or put my face in a hood”
This syllogistic understanding of racism and race relations rests on two fallacies: 1) that racism is something that happened back then and that 2) the world functions on an individualistic, A + B = C basis. While racism back then was much more overt, that is certainly not to say that it isn’t still taking place. This is the trap MacDonald falls into, relegating racism to a thing of the past. The high profile shootings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown – among countless others, at the hands of government officials implies that in America being black is to be a second-class citizen.
MacDonald raps “I” didn’t do this, “I” didn’t do that, as he subscribes to an individualistic perspective on life. Not everybody has the privilege of being seen as an individual. Whether we like it or not, we are all active participants of the categories to which we are a member.
Still, MacDonald raps about being “wrongly convicted”. Being the butt of a joke on the internet doesn’t mean that you’re being “wrongly convicted” or even convicted at all. Because while it might be slightly embarrassing or shame-inducing for you if you’re white and read an article or a joke or see a meme where your race is shown in an unflattering light, that stops once you get off the web. It also does not affect your livelihood in any way. It would be a huge error to mistake the parameters of the internet for the parameters of real life.
“White people that you hate aren’t your neighbours or lawyers
They’re the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Bushes, and royals
Hate the ones who think you’re all the same and judge you profusely
‘Cause of the way that you’re portrayed in the news and our movies”
This one is perhaps a little upsetting for me to refute because I wish I didn’t have to refute it – I wish it were solely the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Bushes and royal family that we could angle all our anger at about the systemic inequalities in the world. But it’s not that easy. And MacDonald gives us a clue as to why it isn’t.
Just as MacDonald says, black people are portrayed in a specific way in news and in movies. In terms of representation in the news, black people are overrepresented as perpetrators of violent crime compared with arrest rates, and underrepresented in the sympathetic role of victims (Dixon & Linz, 2000) while African Americans are also overrepresented in news stories about poverty (Clawson et al., 2007). Because we cannot get away from television and the media, we are subliminally inculcated by this chronic misrepresentation – yes, even our neighbours and our lawyers.
“Stop before you say it, I know what you been thinking
How’s a straight white male in 2018 bitching?
You’re making me a villain by demonizing my race”
Nobody wants to be vilified. But it’s easy to paint yourself as a demon when you promote your unwillingness to be portrayed in a negative light over caring and working to fix fundamental racial inequalities. Jessica Gao once noted that white people often think being called racist is worse than being racist. It certainly isn’t, but the temptation to defend ourselves when we feel accused is a trait that can be found across human nature.
“The ego makes you do it,” A Tribe Called Quest said. We dismiss anything that we perceive as an attack on our sense of self because we want to protect ourselves. We all do it. But here’s thing, we can’t fix anything when we take things personally. When you lose sight of the bigger picture in order to dispel the possibility you might be seen in a less-than-glorious light, that’s a sign that you’re losing. MacDonald you said it yourself: “I deserve a chance to show you I’m not part of the problem.”
Here’s your chance.
Words: Stephanie Dando