Upon the release of his new song “The Blacker the Berry,” many people have expressed strong opinions about Kendrick Lamar and the angry message he sent. It seems half threw their hands up in agreement and praise, loving the song and calling it a passionate black anthem. However, the other half were struck by the end lyric that said, “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/Hypocrite!” They took this as him bringing up black on black crime and criticizing our apparent concern for only white on black crime. I kind of see it as him bringing up a deeply personal thing that happened to him, and showing concern for the violence in his own community, being that he’s from Compton. But I’m also still unsure what to think of him as a whole, considering I don’t know him personally and don’t want to assume what views he has based off of one lyric.

However, I think many people are suspicious and upset at the song because of his previous response to the Mike Brown case, in which he said something along the lines of “how can we expect them to respect us when we don’t respect ourselves?” A statement like this is reminiscent of those that Bill Cosby or Al Sharpton has made about how black people need to change their actions in order to gain white approval. Some common ones I’ve heard are that black men need to stop sagging their pants or that black girls should be more respectable and not twerk. They come under the guise of being helpful and pushing black people to live up to our potential. But really, they’re as harmful as blatantly racist messages from anyone of any race.

I always try to understand all facets of an argument, so I can vaguely see the kind of logic these people have. I think they feel like we shouldn’t live up to our stereotypes, because it just reinforces to white people that we don’t deserve to be treated equally. But if I’m attempting to understand them, I’d hope they’d do the same for me. So I must ask, why is it that when a black person does a bad thing they’re the face for all black people, while a white person can do a bad thing and their race is still overall lauded? The answer would be something called racism. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

And I hate to break it to you, but black people “doing better” is not going to end racism. If that were the answer, it would be over by now. Because we’ve already been “doing better.” White America holds certain professions and achievements to high esteem. Doctors, inventors, the leaders of our country – white people in these roles are respected and reap the benefits of this praise. But instead of hearing about Dr. Harold P. Freeman and his moves to bring proper health care to the poor, you hear of Dr. Phil. Instead of being informed about Dr. Patricia Bath and her inventions to help impaired vision, you hear about Thomas Edison and the lightbulb. And newsflash – we have a half-black President. He accomplished a lot to get there, but at the end of the day some racist is still going to see him as just another n-word. Racists use confirmation bias, a psychological principle in which people seek out information that already confirms their worldviews and ignores the rest. From there the logic would say that if we want respect, all black people must act completely perfectly in order to eliminate sources of confirmation bias. And frankly, that’s some ol’ bullsh*t, as well as highly unrealistic. I urge my fellow blacks to be realistic. And I recognize they may say the same to me. They may truly think it’s more realistic to strive to fit white standards than simply speak out and educate others on racism. But it’s not. So if both of our options seem unrealistic, I’d rather go for the one that doesn’t blame the victim.

Because we are victims (but by no means take that as meaning we’re weak). These respectability politics from blacks with a holier-than-thou air diminish that fact. They ignore the reasons behind why we commit stereotypical acts. If we take the example of “black on black” crime, any basic research will show that crimes are committed due to proximity. People will offend against those nearest to them. Blacks live among other blacks because of something else you may have heard of, segregation. So of course statistics are going to show that a high amount of black people commit crimes against other black people – that’s the pool we have to choose from.

“But why do blacks have to commit these crimes at all?” is what I would guess is the following question from that. Well, when we are pushed into low-income neighborhoods because landlords don’t want us in their nice, white neighborhoods (ever heard of blockbusting?), we don’t have a lot of resources. Food deserts and a lack of mental health centers and schools with good education abound in these areas, as just a few examples, because no one thinks it’s worth putting in the time and money to get these structures to these places. Just the other day I saw a girl tweet that she hid her purse under a pile of her history books because no one on the Southside of Chicago would break into her car for those. Though I live in a different part of Chicago, this obviously still made me angry. Everyone assumes the residents of this and other “bad” parts of cities are ignorant and don’t want more. They assume they want this lacking life and so that’s all they are given. When you don’t even have access to places that could help you find a passion or learn that you can be more, of course you’re going to settle for what can get you by. For many, crime is that solution.

When these basic foundations of negative behaviors are ignored, they work to further dehumanize black people. It’s much easier to say “be better” than to ask why we do those things in the first place. Don’t you want to make a little effort, find out a person’s back story before you pass judgment? That seems like a better way to show that you respect and love fellow black people and want them to succeed. It would humanize us, which I think would be more effective in combating racism. If a white teen couple can go across the country on a crime spree and the media highlights their “love story” over their actions, then black people should be able to do bad things and get a look into their history and motives. In “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick seems to rhetorically question this, but stops short. Rather than pose the question at the start, he ends the song this way, thus also ending the opportunity to really answer the question and connect it to the systemic causes of racism (some of which he even touches upon earlier in the song). Without that connection, his song seemed to praise blackness while at the same time ignoring formative experiences we’ve had as a race, and it came across as fake to some. Though this recent release has mixed messages, I hope that he’s at least seen the error in his reaction to the Mike Brown case and can see that lack of self-love and respect are at the bottom of the list of why black people act out in these ways society disapproves of, and that a few individuals should not represent the whole.



Love this post by Trina? Sign up for our weekly email for more Black goodness.