Last night I watched part of an interview between Rick Rubin and Kendrick Lamar. I know little about Lamar. I’ve only heard snippets of his music. Based on the interview, though, he seems like an intelligent, curious, creative guy. It got me thinking about how we talk about race and racism in America. We generally speak in systematic terms, as though every person from a particular ethnic or cultural background has the same experience. Now, I’m not denying the reality of shared experiences among people who come from the same place. But I found myself watching the interview, interested in this man—as a man—and not looking to find the correct labels to affix to the rapper in my mind.
He did speak about where he came from—growing up in Compton and the challenges that entailed. After the interview, I watched his video for Alright. It doesn’t paint cops in a good light, and I don’t like or agree with that message. But I also don’t know all the experiences that he’s had with cops. Acknowledging that fact doesn’t mean that I suddenly toss my respect for law enforcement out the window—nor does it mean that I completely disregard Lamar’s experiences. Life is complex. Glomming onto talking points only further entrenches you in the polemic you’ve chosen. One of the maddening things about discussing race in America is this pressure to either completely skew the experiences of another group or become mawkishly PC.
There are some things you can only know by looking into another man’s eyes. Watching the interview with Lamar made me want to sit down and have my own conversation with him. A quick chat over coffee. Maybe it would be awkward. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe we’d find things in common to discuss. Maybe we wouldn’t. Maybe we’d like one another. Maybe we wouldn’t. The point is: I would be talking to him—Kendrick Lamar—not Black America.