Recently, a rap feud between Pusha-T and Drake unfolded. On May 29, Pusha released his song “The Story of Adidon” and tweeted a photo of Drake in blackface. In his song, he claims Drake has insecurities of being biracial as his song states, “Confused, always thought you weren’t Black enough; Afraid to grow it ’cause your ‘fro wouldn’t nap enough.” Drake has spoken out on the complexities of being biracial in the past. If Drake had referred to Pusha’s hair as “nappy,” wouldn’t we all be outraged? The following day, Drake put out a press release for the explanation of the photo:
“The photos represented how African Americans were once wrongfully portrayed in entertainment. Me and my best friend at the time Mazin Elsadig who is also an actor from Sudan were attempting to use our voice to bring awareness to issues we dealt with all the time as black actors at auditions.This was to highlight and raise our frustrations with not always getting a fair chance in the industry and to make a point that the struggle for black actors had not changed much.”
Blackface is a delicate topic due to its historical racist roots. One could argue that it is an insensitive method to express a message of inequality. This was not the first time a black artist has used blackface to convey this message. In 2000, Spike Lee released his movie Bamboozled, which told the story of a group of black actors on the variety show Mantan (played by Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson) who ruthlessly wore blackface while shucking and jiving and telling racist jokes, which leads to high ratings. The movie highlights the racism black actors face in the form of a dark, unapologetic satire. The film was criticized for its controversy in the beginning of its run, but was been given an honorary salute in 2015 at the Governor’s Awards. Ashley Clark, film curator and critic, and author of Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled commented on the film: “It’s a film that holds Hollywood and the establishment accountable in the present and in the past,” says Clark. “It aims to call out racism, which happened 100 years ago and is still happening today.”
From this photo, the focus has shifted to Drake’s racial identity, the pressure on his views on BLM, and what contributions he has made to the black community. After Drake issued his statement, Pusha responded by saying that Drake is “silent on all black issues.” Drake is not entirely silent. He expressed his views on police brutality in his 2015 song, “Charge Up.” The rapper also addressed the killing of 37-year-old Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers on Instagram. Drake has made numerous donations according to Billboard over the course of his career. A few contributions listed are: a donation of $30,000 to the Jamaican Learning Center early in his career in 2010; in July 2015 he hosted a softball tournament along with other celebrities. Proceeds went to the Houston Astros’ Urban Youth Academy. There are other artists of color who have been silent on black issues. In 2016, while being interviewed by Nightline, rapper Lil Wayne was asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement. He stated that he doesn’t feel connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and that the idea of the movement, “just sounds weird.” And how can we forget Kanye West’s controversial statements on slavery being a choice. Why are we not holding both of these entertainers and rich celebrities to the same type of pressure as we are now holding Drake? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to support Kanye after his recent actions and insensitive comments?
Interestingly enough, on Friday June 1, old tweets from Pusha were dug up. In an angry 2014 tweet, he refers to a rude black flight attendant as a monkey and mocks the attendant to clap his hands while singing and dancing. Is this not racist? When H&M dressed a young black boy in a T-shirt stating, “Coolest monkey in the jungle” for an ad, and most recently when Rosanne Barr compared former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape, we raised our collective fists in fury. If the argument over Drake’s picture (which Pusha put out without any context, and which Drake provided a context to) is because he is biracial and should know that it is insensitive to use blackface, does Pusha get a pass because he’s a (100%) black man calling another black man a monkey? Does Lil Wayne get a pass for adamantly and unapologetically dismissing BLM as a worthy and important movement?
Being biracial does not make a person “less black.” Who are we to judge on who gets to claim the black experience? Is there a sole keeper of the black cards?
There can be a bias toward people who are mixed. A study led by social psychologist Sarah E. Gaither researched white and black people’s perceptions of Barack Obama’s race before and post re-election. White individuals reported Obama being “too black” and black individuals reported Obama being “too white” before his re-election. It was not until after the success of his re-election that perceptions dramatically changed. White individuals then saw Obama as “white enough” and black individuals saw him as “black enough.” We were all on the Drake bandwagon during his feud with Meek Mill and we were okay with him saying the N-word. His race was not the topic of discussion. Now, all of a sudden after this photo, he isn’t black? We shouldn’t cancel Drake for trying to make a statement on art and its limitations for people of color. He has the right as a black artist to express these oppressions, as stated by journalist Touré:
“It wasn’t hateful. It wasn’t denigrating anyone. It was an artistic choice that he made to comment on himself and his people…Artists have the right to explore—and the right to repurpose—the tools of their people’s oppression. It’s not racist for a black artist to use racist tropes and symbols in ways that reprogram or interrogate or challenge that racism. No one gets to tell us what we can and can’t do with the symbols of our own oppression.”
Can Drake’s use of blackface be seen as hurtful and insensitive? Yes. But it was not done with a malicious intent to degrade anyone. To argue he can’t use this form of expression strictly because he is mixed, now that is just straight bias.