Don't gloss over the ugliness of black supremacist music but don't condemn the entire cultural movement out of hand.
Matthew Broomfield looks at the similarities – as well as the differences – between the black and white supremacist music scenes
You might assume these lyrics are from the Horst-Wessel-Lied or some other Nazi marching song now confined to the shelves of a Holocaust museum. Failing that, perhaps they were penned by an unhinged Fascist broadcasting poorly-written death metal songs to an audience of twelve on an obscure Youtube channel.
In fact, with one small change, the man responsible for these words has a net worth of over $145,000,000 and has seen his albums go double platinum. Substitute “black” for “white” in the lines above and you have, word for word, a line originally rapped by hip-hop icon Ice Cube.
If a white man of such fame and popularity sung or rapped these lyrics, casting white people in the role of the “masters”, there would be outrage. But Ice Cube is a household name, ranked the eighth best MC of all time by MTV, whereas white supremacist artists find their output limited to a niche audience.
However, it is difficult to view the message propagated by the more extreme proponents of black supremacy as any less hateful than that put across by their white equivalents.
In August 2012, a man named Wade Page shot dead seven people, including himself, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Wade Page played in two white power bands, whose names alone, End Apathy and Define Hate, speak volumes (and are still less extreme than those belonging to associated acts such as Jew Slaughter, Fueled by Hate and White Terror).
Clearly, this seriously disturbed man was influenced by the lyrics of the culture he immersed himself in even as he fed back into it through his own artistic endeavors. His bands’ websites were swiftly taken down following the shootings, but the lyrics of a band he once played with, the Blue-Eyed Devils, are fairly representative of their agenda, as when they sing “kill the Jew and cut off his head”.
However, it is difficult to see what makes these lyrics any less acceptable than lines such as “shoot you with my 22/I got plenty crew/I take out white boys, that’s scary” from Da Lench Mob’s Buck the Devil. The titular Devil in this song from Ice Cube’s protégées is not the devil of traditional Judeo-Christian or Islamic teaching. This is the devil of the Nation of Islam, of the Five-Percenters, of Ice Cube and a host of other rappers – this is the white man as devil.
“The black man is the original man… [and] by using a special method of birth control law, the Blackman was able to produce the white race”, according to Elijah Muhammed, the leader of the Nation of Islam for forty years. The Nation’s genesis in Detroit in the 1930s and teachings are both complex topics, but the central tenet that black people constitute a chosen race is the element of its doctrine which inspires black supremacist rappers.
In particular, the “Five-Percenter” offshoot counts amongst its adherents hip-hop royalty such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy and Nas. “The Nation of Gods and Earths”, as the Five-Percenters are also known, has influenced hip-hop down to its very vocabulary: the greeting “G”, now commonly used as shorthand for “gangster”, originally stood for “God”, in a reflection of the Five-Percenter teaching that the black man is a divine entity.
Like contemporary, relatively mainstream white supremacist movements, such as the BNP, the Nation of Islam attempts to play down any mention of a racially-motivated agenda. However, you do not have to read deeply into the history of the Nation to find deeply unsettling beliefs, or go far to find lyrics which are as offensive to liberal sensibilities as those performed by white nationalist groups.
This imbalance in public reaction is what angers Blood and Honour, a neo-Nazi organization which focuses on music promotion and whose name is a translation of the slogan of the Hitler Youth, “Blut und Ehre” (they describe themselves as a “white nationalist” group but their representative rejected the term “white supremacist” as being “a media term” when I applied it to their music).
Their spokesman sees the fact the Nation is more accepted by the mainstream media as being “because the liberal left-wing are ashamed to promote anything white.” To an extent, I would argue this is a valid point. White commentators are terrified of criticizing black culture, and hip-hop music in particular, lest they be perceived as racist. Evidently, racism is still prevalent throughout Western culture, and for the most part it is still white people who enjoy the better jobs, education and quality of life – to say the media never promotes any white cultural phenomena is evidently a fallacy.
Criticising hip-hop is therefore a shortcut to accusations of bigotry by more liberal sections of the media keen to distance themselves from the overall white, conservative hegemony. However, the attempted justification of the ugly underbelly of rap music (a side incorporating misogyny, grasping materialism and the glorification of violence as well as nonsensical supremacist teachings) is equally as closed-minded as the kneejerk labeling of all hip-hop music as talentless garbage.
John Cleese would doubtless be somewhat startled to find himself being quoted by a spokesman for a white nationalist group, but my correspondent at Blood and Honour did just that in reminding me of Cleese’s statement that “no-one has the right not be offended”. In America, the First Amendment protects both white and black supremacist music from censorship, and the Blood and Honour spokesman stated that “it is foolhardy and wrong to start to say… freedom of speech for all except you or him” in support of his organisation’s right to promote music which he accepted is seen as offensive by non-white people.
This is a standpoint it is difficult to argue against, but Wade Page can be held up as one example amongst many of white supremacist music inspiring violence, despite the insistence of Blood and Honour via a somewhat muddled comparison that “it is a step too far to insinuate that WN music as a whole promotes violence. Just as singing about the weather doesnt [sic] mean the artist is promoting rain over snow.”
As well as the media’s unwillingness to be seen condemning black culture, then, the history of white-on-black violence associated with white supremacist music can be set against the paucity of black-on-white incidents, as well as the context of the whole history of white-on-black oppression.
Hindson and Caner suggest that “the Nation of Islam serves to vent the frustrations of African-Americans who have felt the brunt of racism”; the adherence of rappers to the apparently racist doctrines of the Nation can therefore be seen as understandable, if not desirable, in the light of the years of discrimination experienced by black people.
Incidents such as the murders of 14 people by black supremacist group “The Death Angels” in the “Zebra Murders” of the 1970s should not be forgotten, but historically and numerically it is white supremacists who have proven the more violent and numerous – again, perhaps this is why black supremacist music is so much more legitimised.
There are angry young men listening to hateful music produced by black and white artists alike. Hate is appealing and simple to understand, particularly when tied to a movement which identifies with “pride, heritage and loyalty to ones [sic] own race, nation and kin.”
These tenets, offered by the Blood and Honour spokesman as the core basis of white nationalist music when I suggested their music was mainly based on a culture of violence, could apply equally to the teachings of the Nation of Islam.
Ultimately, the main difference between the differing social positions two movements is a blurring of boundaries in hip-hop which is absent in white nationalist music. Hip-hop is one of the few avenues for young black men to escape poverty and racial stigma to a world of success, and at its best it reinforces positive messages of empowerment for poor people of all colours and both genders.
Regrettably, this is twisted by some otherwise brilliant artists into a black supremacist agenda, out of ignorance and more understandably as a reaction to personal and historical oppression.
White supremacist music stands more isolated as a cultural phenomenon – there is little mainstream rock music providing empowerment for white people in the same way as hip-hop does for its largely black audience. White supremacist music is easy to get angry about and black supremacist music is easy to ignore, but there is not a lot between them.
In Jay-Z’s book Decoded, he says that the reason hip-hop is so controversial is often simply that “people don’t bother trying to get it”. Comfortable though it is for the liberal media to gloss over the ugliness of black supremacist music even as the conservative establishment condemns the entire cultural movement out of hand, it is no more beneficial a stance.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.