A couple guys from one of the “high tier” fraternities invited me to one of their off-campus houses on a random Tuesday night. We had hung out a decent amount, but this was certainly the most personal interaction I had with most of the people at that party. As we walked up the stairs, I could hear rap playing and people laughing. All together there were 7 or 8 of us.
There were two students of color in the room. At one point, someone suggested that people try freestyle rapping. I listened as three or four white guys used the N word during that session. I didn’t say anything then, and I didn’t ever confront those people about that night.
The students of color who listened didn’t visibly react to the word.
As a guest in that environment, it was strikingly clear not only that something was wrong with this picture, but that the use of the N word had become so normalized through music that no one considered speaking out against it.
In that moment, I felt like speaking out and calling out these kids would alienate me. Me, a white man. Imagine for a moment the kind of pressure and alienation those students of color were under.
In my continued silence, I was complicit.
Music does not excuse racist or ignorant attitudes. It does not permit us to ignore history or the systemically oppressive contexts that spawned rap music in the first place.