Today Eminem released a new track, "Untouchable." It's six minutes long, and continues discussing the themes the rapper approached in his somewhat cringey, and strangely delivered BET awards freestyle. Opening with a guitar-heavy section (is he making fun of Kid Rock??), Eminem puts himself in the position of a prejudiced white American. The song then transitions into a second part, with a more minimal beat, in which he explores a number of the hardships experienced by black people in the US.
OK. It's clear that he's trying to use his platform among a white demographic for good (though whether he'll actually make any change is a different question) by telling both sides of the story and pointing out ignorance that way. This is also the technique employed on Joyner Lucas' "I'm Not Racist," wherein voices designated as 'black' and 'white' tell a similar story:
A 'gotta see both sides' approach may seem like an interesting way to affect change, but it doesn't really go far enough. Eminem is showing his audience that he's progressive, and aware of how structural racism works. That in and of itself is fine, and not something to be knocked. He shouts out Black Lives Matter (still something that some white Americans deem controversial) and points out a laundry list of systemic problems that black people face in a country that is still learning to treat them like human beings.
But it's difficult to know just how much approaching themes of race in this way can accomplish. Eminem risks just preaching to the converted—digging in further to the notion that we all get stuck in bubbles online, where our own views are reinforced. But beyond that, the message on "Untouchable" may never reach the very people it needs to: white people who wilfully ignore the effects of systemic racism, those who think racism ended because the US elected a mixed-race man as president twice and the sort of people who think black people have a chip on their shoulder when they try to bring up the prejudice they are often faced with. People tend to get defensive, rather than receptive, when told "you're being a bit of a prick," so there's a risk that all of this effort—made by Eminem, and Joyner Lucas—will be for naught.
Eminem is in a great position to not only release songs like this, but go a step further and defer to black rappers or direct his massive fanbase to literature on race that they could read to really understand systemic racism in more depth. Race, in the US in particular, is deeply complicated. It's embedded in the country's fabric, and it's going to take decades to dismantle the legacy of white supremacy across housing, education, the justice system, and employment. What might be even better would be to signpost the many, many black artists and academics who have been saying the same things—more eloquently too—for a very long time, so that Eminem's involvement in the conversation doesn't become bigger news than the conversation itself.
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