1955: A 14-year-old boy from Chicago travels to the Mississippi Delta to visit relatives. He is black at a time when being black in America is a struggle, to say the least. At one point during this visit, the boy was seen talking to, and allegedly flirting with, an older, married, white woman. The woman told her husband, who went with his brother to the boy’s house and kidnapped him. The boy’s body was found three days later at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. He had been tied to an industrial fan blade by a piece of barbed wire around his neck and had been shot in the head, severely beaten, and one of his eyes had been gouged out.
Many of you probably recognize this story; the aforementioned boy was named Emmett Till. For those of you who did not have to watch the horribly detailed news reports and look at gruesome pictures in your ninth grade social studies class, you now have somewhat of an idea of what happened.
Of the scores of deaths and beatings that have been caused by the poisonous intolerance in the United States, this is one that stands out to many due to the nauseatingly violent nature of the crime and the fact that it’s victim wasn’t even old enough to legally drive a car. He would never go to the prom and never get to go to college. He was only a child.
2012-2013: Two rappers decide to collaborate on a project, specifically Future’s remix of his own “Karate Chop.” Future has chosen Lil’ Wayne to be his featured “artist” on the track. Lil’ Wayne is well known for his odd and sometimes rather disgusting sexual metaphors, such as “She call me Dracula and I vacuum her”1 and more blunt lyrics, such as “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world”2. His latest poetic work comes on this track with Future, during which he utters the line “Yeah, beat that pussy up like Emmett Till.”
Most people, regardless of race, would read this and their jaw would drop straight away. Others would even feel sick to their stomach, especially if the mention of the name “Emmett Till” conjures up the same disturbing image of the mutilated boy in his open casket that was burned into my mind when I was his same age. This image is somehow made even more unsettling when the name is linked to the idea of rough sexual intercourse.
So let’s discuss what’s wrong with this. Firstly, a violent act as heinous as the one in question is not to be taken lightly by anyone, no exceptions. It does not matter how much of a “musical legend” you may be, this is the sort of thing that should always be off-limits. The horrible act that is so carelessly tossed about in this recent single as if it were Lil’ Wayne’s pathetic $10,185 bail bond represents a larger idea: the violent, shameful underbelly of American history. As a country that didn’t abolish slavery until 1865 or officially consider lynching to be a federal offense until 1968 (you read that correctly), we should never be able to cash in on Emmett Till’s name. And that ain’t just my “white guilt” talking.
Another issue is one that is often overlooked, especially in the world of rap. This is the issue of female objectification—and, in many cases, abuse—that is so frivolously mentioned in rap lyrics. The verb “to beat” should never be used in the context of fornication in a nonconsensual manner. Why? Perhaps because it has a tendency to evoke the idea of, oh gee, maybe… RAPE. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve always thought that sex was supposed to be a loving act engaged in by two people who care about one another, not something that involves one person physically abusing the another unless, of course, there is a consensual understanding regarding the way in which the act is executed.
Epic Records is allegedly attempting to pull this song and/or alter the lyrics, to which I say “don’t attempt, just bloody do it,” but at least an effort has been made. Future himself recently made a statement saying that “we did it from a good place with great intentions, just to add some life on to the song.” No place that produces a lighthearted comparison of the brutal murder of Emmett Till to an act involving female genitalia will ever be considered “good” in my book. Your so-called “great” intentions are only matched by the greatness of your own ignorance. And finally, I don’t remember the last time a death ever brought “life” to anything.
Future and Lil’ Wayne, you can defend yourselves all you want. You can talk about how it’s a “hot song” and even call it “good art” until you’re blue in the face. Go ahead. You can even, though you haven’t as of yet, argue your right to free speech. Don’t worry, I have that right too. Until horrendous hate crimes are socially acceptable, they should not be sprinkled throughout socially acceptable elements of pop culture. But they never will be socially acceptable and therefore mentioning them in this manner that is expected to be socially acceptable is not excusable my any means.
1 From “Pussy Monster,” released in 2008 by Cash Money Records
2 From “Every Girl” by Young Money, released in 2009 by Cash Money Records
Cora Swise is a freshman B.F.A. Acting major. She likes black and white movies, tofu, and Tumblr.