same song, different tune

A few weeks back, I met this guy who–long story short–told me I couldn’t have an opinion on Lupe Fiasco because I hadn’t bought all his albums.

Yeah.

So, story (slightly) lengthened, the comment came about because I’d indicated that I thought Eminem was a good lyricist, but I disliked listening to him due to his misogyny. The guy–who we’ll call Guy–became extremely agitated and dismissive at this statement. Another Fella in the bar, a mutual acquaintance, supported my statement, and Guy began arguing with me/ him, and it was  kind of weird conversation that’s been bothering me, so I decided to write about it.

Specifically, I said that Eminem was, while a talented lyricist, not among the best rappers out there, and his misogyny bothered me so much I couldn’t even listen to his music.

Guy got really upset at this statement–like, really upset–and proceeded to spend about the next 30-45 minutes insisting that it was irrational and stupid to discount an artist because of a little thing like a stage persona or personal opinion (ie: misogyny). He repeatedly defended Eminem’s misogyny as:

  • An act
  • A result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother/ ex-girlfriends
  • A stage persona
  • Not taken seriously by his fans
  • Not a problem because his (female) fans–the type of women who listen to rap music–don’t care about women’s rights

After his friend, Fella, chimed in about two sentences into the conversation in order to support my stance that it could be difficult for a woman to listen to sustained lyrics about violence towards women, and say that misogyny in rap/ hip-hop is problematic and needs to be addressed moving forward, Guy stopped talking to me completely (although he continued to respond to statements I made; he simply spoke past me to Fella instead) and, in fact, began to refer to me in the third person (as in, “I bet she doesn’t listen to Lil’ Kim!” and, “I bet she doesn’t have all his albums!”), even though I was sitting right there.

It was weird.

The ironic thing was, the only reason I brought up the Eminem thing was because one of my son’s (white) teachers had told the class that Eminem was the greatest rapper who ever was, and the only one worth listening to. My son repeated it to me, and I–not knowing much about rap, but knowing enough to know that there had to be black artists as good or better than Eminem in a genre pioneered and created by black artists–had told my son, “I seriously doubt that. I think that’s probably a thing white people who only listen to rap on popular radio stations say.”

So I’d actually only brought up the whole Eminem conversation–along with my distaste for him–as a segue to ask about their recommendations for excellent black artists, since Fella is a rap/ hip-hop artist and Guy apparently professionally reviews rap/ hip-hop. Unfortunately, once I said the thing about misogyny, I (ironically) couldn’t seem to find a place to turn his angry-train pro-misogyny rant back to the station.

Near the end of the conversation, I was getting so frustrated at him talking past me and over me, as well as interrupting me, that I finally asked with a kind of embarrassed half-laugh, “Hey, why are you looking at him? Why are you talking to him? I’m the one who asked you the question. I’m the one who made the statement you’re responding to.”

Guy looked at me, then, kind of startled, and I saw Fella cover a grin. Guy tried to defend himself–say he was responding to both of us, that we were both arguing against Eminem and he was responding to both our arguments. I said, “But you’re not–you’re not even listening to what I said.”

“Yes I was,” he argued back. “You don’t listen to Eminem because he’s a misogynist, but that’s not even giving him a chance, when he’s one of the most talented–“

“No,” I interrupted, frustrated. I don’t like to interrupt, it’s rude, but he’d been doing it to me nonstop and I was tired of it. “No, I specifically said he’s a great lyricist and very talented but I cannot handle his misogyny. So I did recognize his talent, but I cannot handle the misogyny that accompanies that talent.”

He paused, staring at me, and then said, “Okay, okay. That’s valid. I think it’s dumb, but that’s valid.”

Fella spoke up then, to decry misogyny in rap/ hip-hop, and Guy refocused all his attention on Fella. A bit later, Guy said the bit about the type of women who listen to rap/ hip-hop don’t care about all that women’s rights shit, and said women rappers are some of the worst for derogatory, sexist language, he pointed at me and said something like, “I bet she doesn’t buy any rap music,” and I said defensively, “I don’t buy whoever that girl you’re talking about is, but I buy Lupe Fiasco!”

He laughed derisively and said, “Lupe Fiasco believes in aliens!”

I just laughed at that. Like, wtf. Like that somehow discredits him? I mean, most grown-ass adults I know not only believe in an imaginary friend, but pay this imaginary friend money, talk to him, credit all their success to him, and even build him houses that stand empty 6 days a week. I’m supposed to accept that without a flicker of my eyelid, but a famous guy believing he had an alien visitation when he was 8 (I looked it up) is a bridge too far? Wtf, dude?

It’s even more hilarious to me that he dismisses one rapper based on a harmless belief, but elevates another rapper who espouses a demonstrably harmful belief. Like, that’s … what? What?

Anyway, then a friend of theirs came in and said the blacklivesmatter protestors were coming back and blockading the street, so our conversation ended. Guy finally looked at me and shook my hand and said something about a good conversation, and it being nice to talk to people who didn’t know much about the genre because at least it showed we were starting to listen and pay attention. Very condescending.

The whole encounter left a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t tell if Guy was treating me shitty because I was ignorant about music, white, or female. My money was on female, mostly, although I was leaning a little toward the ignorant about music angle–but he seemed like he was really passionate about music; the type who would’ve talk the ear off a mannequin if you got him going on some esoteric piece of musical trivia.

I mean, I can see how someone could say I couldn’t have an opinion on rap/ hip-hop because of my race/ culture/ upbringing–like, that would make more sense to me, right? I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that assumption in every case, because I’m sure there are plenty of white Western-European-descended middle-class people who have just buried themselves in the history and trivia of rap/ hip-hop and are quite versed in the genre, but for my specific case? Yeah, I’ll admit I am not generally a musically inclined person, and my cultural background and upbringing did not predispose me to listening to rap. Here in the PNW, alternative was more common on the radio stations.

Truth is, I’m not just musically illiterate with rap/ hip-hop, as it happens–although Guy did indicate numerous times his assumption that I was a fan of country, pop, and/ or punk/ alternative. Sad truth is, I’m pretty much equally ignorant of all genres. I am the audience the “Top 40” lists are geared to. I don’t care about music history or music trivia, or even fuckin’ what genres things are in. I listen to what I like, and that’s that.

I first listened to rap in middle school, which is also when I first recall having black classmates. There was a black boy named Travis in one of my classes. He sat in front of me, and he used to turn around and sing, “Then I step through the fog and I creep through the smog/ Cuz I’m Snoop Doggy (who?) Doggy (what?) Doggy [Dogg]“, then point at me. That was my cue to sing the next lyric, “Snoop doggy, doo-ooooo-ooog,” but instead I would turn red and sink into my seat, certain it was a set-up.

See, Travis was cool, and I was decidedly un-cool. Travis seemed nice–always joking with me in class, teasing me, helping me with my work. But Travis was cool. He played football and walked with the jocks in between classes. He didn’t eat with them at lunch, but that’s because he ate with the black kids, and the black kids were even cooler than the jocks. I’d spent Kindergarten through sixth being teased by the popular kids in elementary school, who’d become the jocks in middle school, where the teasing had just gotten worse. Travis had never teased me–none of the black kids had–but I was terrified of their niceness because they were so cool, and every time a cool kid was nice to me it turned into gut-wrenching humiliation.

In 8th grade, at the time Travis, Deon, and Shaun (be still my beating heart, art-class crush!) were making their overtures of friendship to me, the jocks/ popular crowd were hounding me through the halls, singing “A horse is a horse, of course of course,” between classes. Because I had buck teeth. Get it? And then, someone told them (the jocks) I was seeing a therapist, and that’s when the straightjacket/ psych-ward/ psychopath questions started.

Then 8th grade ended and the summer started. Away from the bullying, and with the clarity of distance, I realized that Travis, Deon, and Shaun hadn’t actually been friends with the jocks. They didn’t eat lunch with them or hang out with them voluntarily. They’d never yelled at me in the halls. I regretted being suspicious of their motivations. I regretted losing the chance to make some friends. Over the summer and during the first few months of 9th grade, I started listening to more rap. I kind of had this notion that we’d run into each other again, and Travis would do that thing where he would sing a line from a song, and this time I’d be able to sing the next line back. That’s the period when I got into the Geto Boys, Coolio, Shaggy, and the Notorious B.I.G.

When I started high school, I didn’t see Travis, Deon, and Shaun again. A new high school had been built, and my 8th grade class divided into new zones. Most of the black kids in my 8th grade class were zoned to the new high school, while I went to the old high school with my tormentors for the next four years. Freshmen year, I made friends with a bunch of stoners and started listening to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Garbage.

Back to the present … for a few days after my conversation with Guy, I kinda played with the idea that–since he was a person of color (someone referred to him as hispanic, but I thought he was black)–and we were at a blacklivesmatter protest, he was fuckin’ with me because I was white; like forcing me to step outside the privileged comfort zone of my race and deal with being “othered”, which was an interesting and discomfiting thought. Except I realized that theory didn’t really fly because there were other white allies at the protest that night–and the bartender was white–who were male, and he conversed with them as though they were social and intellectual equals.

No, it really just seemed to come down to that as soon as I’d said the dreaded word, “misogyny,” I ceased to exist for Guy. It was especially weird to me because we met at a #blacklivesmatter protest. I’m always blown away when civil rights activists for one cause are completely dismissive of another. I know I shouldn’t be–I’ve met radfems who are just utterly transmisogynistic, and I’ve met plenty of lesbians and gays who are completely biphobic, but it still always catches me off-guard. Like, wait, what?

So … you’re all for equality, but not for everyone? Oh, you are for equality for everyone, you just … don’t believe this specific group is facing discrimination? You think they’re exaggerating? You think their stories are overblown, they’re over-reacting? You think it’s more of a perception problem, or more about the way they’re presenting themselves/ dressing/ interacting with the structures of power in our society than that they’re actually … experiencing the issues they’re dealing with and living through?

Sounds so familiar.

Funny how that works.

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