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Is Lorde’s “Royals” Racist?

A week ago a blogger on the site feministing.com posted in my opinion a very unfair and unbalanced deconstruction of Lorde’s song “Royals”. The blogger quoted from what she wanted, ignoring most of the rest and labelled it “deeply racist.” Why? “Because we all know who she’s thinking when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers? Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East?”

Many commentators from New Zealand rightfully accused the blogger of acting in an elitist and an imperialistic manner by taking Lorde and her music out of context as American’s most often do. We see the world not as it is or as others see things but as we see it and it gets annoying to others that inhabit the rest of the world.

In response to her article I had to write the blogger the following:

As a fellow feminist conscious of the intersections of race, class, and (trans)/gender in America, I know what you wanted to say. You wanted to lump Lorde with Miley Cyrus and call it day. People rightfully don’t agree with your argument that is terribly problematic and frankly patronizing not just to readers but to black folks and people of color as well.

Lorde has the right to speak about popular culture and the white-run, white-consumed, minstrel-show that is all too often what we get from mainstream hip hop made for profit that has N-o-t-h-i-n-g to do with underground hip hop and the d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y of black culture in America.

a) It is profoundly racist of you to lump “all of blackness” and “people of color” to some music video props.

“Black music” (in a cultural studies context) has a legacy in almost every single American musical art form we have from blues to rock and roll to disco and beyond. Trying to “save black music” from someone demeaning it and dismissing it, is not what you did here. You literally linked all black folks to MTV music video props! That is the only thing racist here.

Lorde never took issue with “black American music” (which is all American music). She loves hip-hop and apparently you do too from your video on Twitter. Lorde didn’t film herself in her hipster apartment trying her best impression of “coolness” on the backdrop of “black musical” hip hop beats (which is what you would expect from a 16 year old). Nope, she made a damn good critique of silly props and consumerism that you would expect from a feminist blog. She has the right to make her thoughtful critique and do what feminism intended: EXPRESS HERSELF, make music if you wants, continue being thoughtful and live without someone unfairly shaming her!

Are you the one that gives permission to who can critique pop culture if that intersects with “black music”? Which brings me to the second point.

b) Feeling entitled to save “blackness” or “protect it” in the way you just did is very infantalizing and condescending.

c) Without looking at class and culture in your critique (as if there is not just one monolithic black culture and it lived in an MTV music video) is problematic at best and racist at worst.

Lorde is not just a feminist but in light of this article seems to be a much more critical and thoughtful than other self-proclaimed older feminists that took a few race and gender classes in college and learned a few concepts they still don’t fully understand. I have become her fan of Lorde thanks to this article. I didn’t realize just how relevant she was.

On a personal note, since we seem to have gone there by calling Lorde a racist based on nothing, I would like to say from one feminist to another, being unable to listen to the wisdom of the great critiques you are getting here is incredibly similar to what it looks like when Miley Cyrus continues to stick her tongue out and call her appropriation sexy and cool. Being unable to listen to the validity of these comments from “laypeople” as you see them and ignore the many people of color who are also writing to you, evidences a kind of insecurity and elitism to be expected from a Ted Cruz type, not a supposedly self-aware feminist that examines culture.

Instead of rejecting the very good critiques coming from all over the world including NZ (that are frankly amazingly thoughtful and intelligent, wow, it’s great to hear their points of views) you recognize that you don’t own a monopoly on truth. You viewed it the way you wished to and that is fine but if you can dish out the scathing accusations and critiques you best be prepared to take the intelligent critiques without waving your Victorian wand at the peasants that aren’t “at your level”.

If Lorde wants to artistically speak about what she sees on TV as a by-product of American Imperialism, she can go there without your permission and she has the obligation to go there as an artist and should feel uninhibited to go.
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