A White Man, Some Black Music, and a Car Ride Home

kendrick

It was quiet in the parking lot as I walked to my car after work. The people I passed outside my job seemed unemotional, and vacant; I felt that way as well. I hadn’t spoken to anyone as I left work, and once I got to my car my hand was slightly shaking; I was running on 90 minutes of sleep a glass of water from the night before. Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States (you have to say it a few times for it to make sense to you) just twenty some odd hours prior.

I sat in my car for a few minutes before leaving, searching for something to listen to. I considered continuing the political podcast I had started on the way to work, but it felt obsolete already. I didn’t really need a validation to my emotions of shock and despair anymore. Discussing voter turnout, polls, policies, and protests seemed so far removed in just twelve short hours. I needed music.

I only played one song on the way home: “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. It’s a song about black pride, about black plight, and about the ideas of faith and hope in the shadow of evil. It knocks pretty well in the car, with bass lines and live instruments that could make even the calmest person nod their head. It isn’t a happy song, though, but rather something very sad. Furthermore, it’s about something very distant from me; something I can never truly relate to nor experience. Yet, it felt more important to me, in that moment, than almost anything I had read or heard during the entire day. It was both listening to something from a time capsule, or another planet, and also listening to a prophecy.

“Alright” is one of my favorite songs, and yet I can’t relate or truly understand any aspect of the song for the single fact that I am a white male in my twenties. I am a product, in every way, of white privilege, and to pretend as though the words of the song truly resonated with any remote experience I’ve ever had would be disingenuous and a lie. It is a powerful, important, and monumental musical achievement, yet I will always experience it from the outside looking in. I wasn’t born into an environment that Kendrick so expertly captures, yet why was it the song I had chosen to play?

As I played it over and over, I started to think about President Obama, and how fondly I will remember him. Whether or not you agree on his politics or not, the last eight years have opened up a lane for rap music in politics in a way that never truly existed before. Sure, there was political rap, but rather than it now being used a political tool, it had become a political force.

I thought about this song in relation to President Obama, as well. I listened to the pain in Kendrick’s words (a song recorded during the Obama presidency) and thought about much farther he still felt like we, as a society, had to come; three months later Donald Trump would announce his candidacy for President.

I texted one of my closest friends to ask him how he was doing. We had spoken on election night, and our texts were short. It was a mainly a conversation of disbelief and surrealism; this night’s conversation was full of anger and discouragement. He told me, as a black man around my age, that all of this seemed pointless. He had voted, done his part, got his hopes up, and was once again reminded that angry white men, men that look just like me, had votes that apparently mattered more than his. He spoke about the pointlessness of it all, and the shame he felt for the country he lived in, and the friends around him who had voted for Trump. I couldn’t think of anything to say because he was right.

White men, like myself, voted in large numbers to reverse virtually everything the first black president of our country fought to achieve, and what the fuck could I even say? An apology would have been worthless; vowing to change the system, in retrospect, seemed empty. How do you change innate hatred of others? How could I promise him to do everything in my part when ninety percent of my extended family voted for Trump as well?  For as much as Kendrick’s song made me feel both nostalgic of a more promising time and grief stricken of a path we will never follow, how is my experience even remotely similar to the pain I could sense in my friend? The answer is it isn’t.

If you have gone on social media, you have probably seen plenty of people talking about how much they want political statements on Facebook to finally stop, and how they can’t wait for things to go back to the way they were. In their minds, Trump won and arguing about it any longer is pointless; you will find most of these people are white. They want their bubble of information back; a self-regulated feed of topics and facts that they get to decide on in a way of shielding themselves from what hurts. Yet, there are plenty of others who, no matter what, will never get that opportunity now. Minorities don’t get to walk away from the Trump Presidency unscathed. Instead, they now face a possible reality white people, like myself, get the privilege to skip.

What fails to strike white people, many times, is the privilege we have of inserting ourselves and exiting from social issues that may not concern us at our own leisure. Trump hasn’t called for white person ban or a deportation of white people. Trump hasn’t ignorantly addressed white on white crime or ignored the crisis of a pipeline running through a white neighborhood. Trump’s victory on Tuesday proved that not only do white people, white men especially, have the ability to insert themselves into issues of race and gender when they feel threatened, but that they also have validation for those acts now as well.

Kendrick’s song doesn’t have to resonate with someone like me every time, BECAUSE I am white, and that is now an idea that could affect actual policies in the U.S. under a Trump Presidency. In March of 2015, when Kendrick Lamar released that song, it was a glimpse into the genius and beauty of art that can found even in the darkest of times. On January 20th of 2017, our first black president will hand his presidency off to a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

“Alright” is probably going to be the only song I listen to for a while, not because I want to pretend that I understand black pain, or the pain of any minority group, or because I want to motivate my black friends that every thing is going to be okay. Instead, I want it to hurt me. I never want to forget what that moment feels like, to hear those words, and to know that people like me could cause so much hate that words like Kendrick’s may never come to fruition. I want my friend to know that when I text him, that I’m here to listen and nothing more, for now, and when he needs me that I will always be there. I owe him that much.

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