This weekend I got into an argument about music. The person I was arguing with was blasting gangsta rap for glorifying behavior that was ruining their own communities. He even went so far as to say that the music, and everything it stood for, was causing racism.
I went a little apoplectic.
I may not be a huge fan of music that is often violent, materialistic, and misogynist. But I’m not going to blame a musician for white flight, urban decay, omnipresent policing, mass incarceration, the drug war, shitty schools, racist employers… I’m not going to hold a musician responsible for racism because a white supremacist uses them as an excuse. And I am sure as hell not going to accept that kind of blaming coming from someone at the top of the privilege food chain – which he was.
I thought of writing about how racist and classist that shit is. I thought of writing about how difficult it is to balance individual responsibility with structural oppression. But what I really want to write about is having an outlet.
We live in a world that is completely fucked up and filled with pain. Yet we aren’t allowed to express how fucked up it is. We have no strategies for coping with pain. We don’t even want to hear about people’s pain, much less help them deal with it. We don’t want to know what goes on in people’s homes and neighborhoods if it isn’t shiny, happy, and uplifting. And if you have thoughts that fall outside the spectrum of what is socially acceptable, you better hide them or else.
I was filled with rage when I was a teen. And I had a lot less to be raging about than some people. There were times when I had incredibly violent thoughts. There were times when the targets of my anger were wildly off the mark. The only coping mechanisms I ever learned were denial, sarcasm, booze, and flight. I learned to internalize the rage. I drank it, smoked it, snorted it, and walled it off. And I walled off a lot of other emotions with that rage too.
And that’s the way a lot of people like it.
People don’t want to know about your anger, righteous or not. Just take a Xanax and numb it so nobody has to see it. Don’t say anything inappropriate. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve Don’t cry in public. Don’t yell. Don’t make a scene. Don’t be destructive. Don’t be embarrassing. Don’t be perverted. Don’t admit that some things might not be fixable. Don’t show people things that they don’t want to see.
And whatever you do, make sure whatever coping mechanisms you have don’t get in the way of you being a good worker bee. Cause if you can’t manage to find and put up with a degrading 9 – 5 that pays your rent and rehab bills, we don’t want to know you.
I may hate violence, but I understand rage. I may hate materialism, but I understand the desire to have things when you’ve had to struggle. I understand that it is hard to live in a society where you gain status through violence and money without internalizing it. And I really understand how difficult it is to even acknowledge a maelstrom of emotions, much less channel them into something constructive. I understand that sometimes you just need to scream some shit out and have some person somewhere acknowledge that what you see is real and it is fucked up.
I’m not saying that cultural products don’t matter. They influence the way we look at the world. We should criticize them. But we can’t blame them for our social ills. Sometimes the most offensive things can start useful discussions. Sometimes a person just needs an outlet to express their emotions, horrible as they may be. If singing about something keeps you from doing it, that’s a good thing. If singing about something makes someone else think they should do it, the problem isn’t the song but the fact that the other person didn’t have an outlet themselves.
We are never going to have a world where nobody thinks terrible thoughts, hates irrationally, or is just unable to deal with their pain. I don’t think any of us will be alive to see a world without poverty, violence, and oppression. Maybe if we gave people a little more space to express their fuckedupedness, instead of pretending like people pop out of the womb with all the answers and have perfect understanding at age 18, we could minimize the harm we do to ourselves and others.
But instead of trying to understand where the rage comes from and why so many people identify with it, we just tell people to shut up.