When Kendrick Lamar’s single, HUMBLE, came out, everyone was talking. It wasn’t for a brief second. The banter was for days, even weeks. A lot of it pertained to the visuals but what seemed to be the majority of comments, were directed at the specific verses:
“I’m so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop
Show me something natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me something natural like ass with some stretchmarks”
And the visuals that accompanied these words had some people expressing their disdain for what he was conveying. That’s an entirely different conversation that I choose to only have with certain people because… this isn’t anything I care to argue about.
Fast forward to his release of another single, DNA. Not as much conversation as HUMBLE but there was enough to know people were watching the video. Which leads us to the recent release of, ELEMENT. I think it’s worth noting that the entire DAMN body of music is a HUGE horse pill to swallow if you’re really paying attention to the lyrics. There’s so much he’s saying that even when we disagree, it is more so a difference of opinion than disputing facts. But back to ELEMENT….this isn’t a horse pill. This is a truth that a lot of my people KNOW to be a reality but we don’t want anyone else to point it out, unless they’ve/they’re living it.
We all know Kendrick was born and raised in Compton, CA and for those who didn’t know, his parents are from Chicago, IL. These are two places immediately known for their violence and the residents of both places are hypersensitive about it, with just cause. If you haven’t watched ELEMENT, please do so. While the truest interpretation of his art could only come from Kendrick, I’m going to tell you what I saw.
I saw a stereotype of my people played out across 3 minutes and 33 seconds. This is how other people see us, specifically Black Men. They’re violent. Kill and fight each other. Unruly and frightening. Always into something that isn’t good for themselves or anyone around them. They’re a mob. Wasting time instead of being productive. Inmates. Influencing the younger Black men to behave the same.
And watching it was uncomfortable as fuck because the flip side to this is…it isn’t just a stereotype. I was raised in Oakland, CA, another place that is immediately referenced as being violent. However, knowing that these stereotypes come from some real truths, I also know that isn’t all Black men and regardless of what anyone has to say to me, environment plays a HUGE part in the Black Men we see being and doing what was in ELEMENT.
It’s a tough pill to swallow because I don’t hide from the truth. I definitely won’t deny it and I understand ALL of this. A lot of the males in my family are these men depicted in the video. They aren’t animals to me though…this is their ELEMENT as much as it is mine. That spirit that is often interpreted as violent is attached to our everyday survival. However, I’d be dishonest if I said this was all Black Men (people) because it isn’t. There’s a visual of Black Men in the video that lends credit to this but the traumatic visuals heavily outweigh that clip. This speaks to real life and the fact that I don’t see anyone talking about it, disturbs me.
It makes me feel like we do like to stick our head in the sand when it comes to truth but if our head is down, how can we ever fix this shit? Do we want to fix it? Or have we ALL grown comfortable with being viewed like this because it is now a social norm? I’d like answers to my questions but beyond that, I’d like to help change come into place so that the visuals of my men doing positive things, outweighs the ones of them being portrayed as something to be feared versus respected. I don’t ever want to be desensitized to anything that is inhumane. I want people to understand that being Black comes with a shitload of shit we Black people don’t even want to deal with…
…I want our ELEMENT (good and bad) understood so that we can freely talk about this instead of acting like Kendrick has aired our dirty laundry. And if that’s the view that’s being taken, it’s been beyond past due that we clean this shit up.
Go watch ELEMENT.