One of hip-hop’s most legendary artists has some interesting things to say about Black lives and the police.
Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA appeared on on Bloomberg’s "With All Due Respect" show this week to speak about his music, the 2016 presidential race and the contemporary state of racial justice. During the interview, host John Heilemann asked RZA what he thought about Black Lives Matter. He had a curious response:
Of course Black lives matter. All lives matter. I stopped eating meat because their lives matter to me. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to grow a cow to kill it.
So…the Wu-Tang super-producer equated animal slaughter to Black people being killed by police.
Anyway, RZA continued his train of thought by talking about his former desire to be a police officer, citing the examples of shows like "Baretta" and "Starsky and Hutch" he watched in his youth. He later addressed the responsibilities officers and civilians have to maintain positive relationships:
I love what the police do for our society, I love the idea of it, to serve and protect. Those who are upholding that idea, then they are beneficial to society. But those who lose that focus, whether they lose it through fear, through stress, or through not being properly trained—and they are allowed to go out on the streets—how can you enforce law if you don’t understand law?
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 that 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 got to pay attention to. Is the image that we portray that could invoke a fear into a white officer, or to any officer?
Given RZA’s prominence in hip-hop culture and adherence to Five-Percent Nation beliefs (not to mention records like 2014’s "A Better Tomorrow" that directly criticize police brutality), many are surprised by his support of respectability politics. Social media users criticized him and his seeming hypocrisy, citing Emmett Till and other Black men lynched in "proper" clothes to assert that state violence and White supremacy don’t care how one dresses:
Does #RZA know that Emmett Till dressed in a dress pants and dress shirt and still was killed by racist whites ?
— Dude Mane Dontrelle (@Sooths4yer) January 8, 2016
— Right & Exact Ent (@RightExactEnt) January 8, 2016
I wonder if #Rza is aware that Blacks wore suit & ties, and were getting a water hose, a German Sheppard and were getting killed by police?
— For_The_Masses (@For_The_Masses) January 7, 2016