If you put a camera in someone’s face, you never know what you’ll get.
RZA has long been respected in Hip Hop and music for his position at the head of the Wu Tang Clan. That respect is being tested after RZA made some very controversial remarks in a Bloomberg interview when questioned about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When you think about some of the brothers who are being brutalized by the police, you also got to have them take a look, and us take a look , in the mirror, at the image we portray. If I’m a cop and every time I see a young black youth, whether I watch them on TV, movies, or just see them hanging out, and they’re not looking properly dressed, properly refined, you know, carrying himself, conducting himself proper hours of the day—things that a man does, you’re going to have a certain fear and stereotype of them. I tell my sons, I say, if you’re going somewhere, you don’t have to wear a hoodie–we live in New York, so a hoodie and all that is all good. But sometimes, you know, button up your shirt. Clean up. Look like a young man. You’re not a little kid, you know what I mean? I think that’s another big issue we gotta pay attention to. Is the image that we portray that could invoke a fear into a white officer, or any officer.” – bloomberg.com RZA on Clinton Succeeding Obama: ‘That’s a One-Two Punch’
Yes, unfortunately, he went there. He has since tried to clarify his statements on Twitter among the backlash and insults he has been receiving for his attempt at respectability politics. That didn’t go so well either as RZA seemed to double down on his remarks. He tweeted,
“How can a original black man be a coon &sell out? You best look deep into my words &make an assessment. Do you still think pork is healthy? I don’t expect agreement with everything I say. I speak honestly from my own perspective &evaluation from my space time experience. I could never condone police brutality or any form of injustice and oppression. Knowledge of self means studying self to improve self. Peace. I’m not condemning the kids for their garments. We live we should learn and evolve. When are we men at 21 or 41? Yea yea mon. Enough Rza badgering for the day. Add a button up shirt to your wardrobe. Of course Black lives matter.. All lives matter”
The problem with RZA’s remarks are many-fold.
I don’t recall many button up shirts or suits in the Wu Tang Clan’s fashion line in the 90’s or in any of the products that come out now. I’m not seeing any button ups in these Wu Wear search results. The image that RZA is criticizing stems from one that he promoted to become the famous and wealthy man he is today. Facebook user Studio By Kelly expands on this in a post regarding RZA’s comments. But I’ll be fair and say that maybe he’s grown up since then. It happens. But if that’s the case, still take some responsibility for a part of the image you helped shape if that’s what is scaring police into killing Black youth.
Let’s be clear, you don’t have to be a fan of the chosen fashion of anyone. I don’t particularly like pants that sag to the point where I can see someone’s underwear and there is nothing wrong with criticizing those fashion choices. Everyone is a critic about something. But! And this is a major but. Black people aren’t being harassed and or killed by police because of their fashion choices. Those outfits don’t negate their civil and human rights. The two points aren’t even related and shouldn’t be. On top of that, the police, white America, and the system’s fear of Black folks existed before any of these outfits that RZA finds disagreeable. Let’s remember Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated in suits. Harvard Professor, Yale graduate, and Peabody Award winner Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was harassed and arrested on his own front porch in a polo style shirt because the police believed he was breaking into his own house. Their clothes didn’t scare the people they encountered. Their Blackness did. And the responsibility for that fear isn’t on them but on the folks that hold the ignorant, misinformed, bigoted, and/or racist views. These are the people that need to assess the way they conduct themselves when we are talking about violence against Black people by law enforcement.
RZA’s statements are dangerous because they are the types of things that the people who commit and support these acts against Black folks will use to continue to justify their actions. RZA will be pointed to as opposing evidence to the allegations of racial bias. He will be cited as an example and his words will continue to dilute the fight for Black people to be recognized as people and receive fair treatment. It gives a usable excuse for the next police brutality assault. It helps to legitimize the idea in their minds that police have a reason to fear Black people.
If you want to have a discussion about being more presentable or how Black folks represent themselves and the image projected, go for it you can find many valid points I’m sure but none of them justify the harassment by the police, the unbalanced treatment in the justice system, the killing of unarmed Black folks, and the past and present racism in the system and the minds of those that perpetuate such actions. If you want to say that image influences perception you can say that too but don’t equate it with the fear an officer might have of Black people. That fear and inability to fairly look at and judge Black folks is something that officer had before and should have been shed before putting on that badge and being authorized to use that gun. Don’t explain away their responsibility by blaming the targets of their aggression and failure.
Don’t confuse the two. Shame on a….brother.