Gregory Johnson: Your piece was immediately controversial and provocative, and got a lot of reaction, retweets, a lot of conversations in private. Some of the responses and criticisms called for a less provocative or more nuanced conversation at least. The piece opens up, “I too do not want black people invited to my events.” Some people looked at that as pointed satire, like Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, others as flat-out trolling: “This is Gawker, they’re all about trolling and headlines, what do you expect?”
Homeboy Sandman: I thought trolls left negative comments on people’s YouTubes? Does that mean if you do something to get a lot of attention? If you do something of purpose and substance, that’s not what trolling is, right?
How would you describe your intentions, opening with that provocative statement, then developing a more qualified argument throughout the piece?
I definitely intended for the opening to pique interest. “What does he mean by that?” Absolutely.
Do you think some of the readers didn’t make it into the later, more qualified parts of the argument because of a visceral reaction to the provocations at the beginning?
It seems like a good number of people didn’t make it to the end of the piece, from some of the things people have been saying. Some of the things I touch on at the end, particularly actions we need to take, it seems like some people didn’t get to the end of it. You write a piece, you hope people read the whole thing.
The Howard Beale quote from the film Network, where you talk about how it’s harder than ever to spot the enemy– “We’re up against the most awesome Goddamned propaganda force in the whole Goddamned world!”
You do a pretty decent Howard Beale.
The other Howard Beale quote, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore,” sort of feels like the vibe, pardon the expression, of the piece overall. But that propaganda force, is that American capitalism, white supremacy, people’s apathy…?
I’m talking about the media and the people who control the media. A piece I wrote called “Jailhouse Roc,” at the time that I wrote it, 90% of the media from internet to magazines to radio and television [was controlled by] 232 executives and six major corporations. The media is controlled by corporate interests, and things that are being popularized, are being popularized to sell a bunch of different lifestyles that make people money. I look at it predominantly as distraction. Is that to say that all of it is distraction and no substance? No, but for the most part.
Is counter-propaganda, counter-framing, in the ADHD zeitgeist we’re in…is that possible or even laudable? To use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?
It’s challenging. It’s more like using the master’s channels. As an independent artist, I need to reach people one at a time. If I were on major media, I could reach a million people at a time if I had those channels opened up to me. Whenever I have an opportunity to use those channels, as long as I can remain within my convictions, that’s the challenge–I wanna get real stuff through.
One frequent point of criticism was that you published this piece on Gawker. Some criticize their tendency towards sensationalism, or criticize Gawker as a white publication, “you’re making this polemic against your own people on a white site…”
I’ve very happy Gawker was receptive. I knew a lot of people would see it–black people, white people, a lot of everybody would see it. If it came out on whothehellgivesadamn dot com, no one would have paid attention to it. That said, my first choice was hiphopdx.com, and Justin, the editor-in-chief and I had a miscommunication. I wanted it to come out on a hip-hop site, I’m a hip-hop artist. I’m always quoting Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def, who said “hip-hop is shorthand for black people.” I wanted it to originate in hip-hop cause I don’t like the way that the people who control what we think when we think “hip-hop,” can control what we think when we think “black people.” When I say “we,” I mean everybody.
So I emailed [Justin] the article, and I thought he was deliberating whether it was something that they wanted to publish. I knew that it was gonna evoke a lot of emotion, at the same time, I wanted it to come out very fast. I told him in the email, which it wound up he didn’t get till the next day, “Look, if you’re not receptive to this, I’m gonna get to my people at Gawker,” cause I published on Gawker before, “but I would love for it to be there first.” I would have been very happy if it was on DX, or on Vibe, or anything that people click cause of the name recognition. I take every opportunity to get the channels open to me that way.
You mentioned very strong beliefs about certain outcomes that people are being conditioned or coerced towards. This seems to be of a piece with the comment about folks “walking quietly to slavery.” You also name-checked Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow.
Yeah super shouts to Michelle Alexander–Michelle Alexander ain’t no coward! The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness is fantastically researched. I can’t understand how anybody can read that book, and look at the current criminal justice system, in conjunction with this bogus War on Drugs, and think that its primary purpose is not incarceration of black people, enslavement of black people. The constitutional amendment says no more slaves–except if you’re incarcerated, in prison, guilty of a crime. I’ve gone into Riker’s Island a number of times to speak with the youth population. Last time I was on Riker’s Island, there were 300 youth, there wasn’t one white kid! Riker’s is not a segregated jail. There was not one white child out of 300. She talks about how there’s more black people incarcerated in America today than there were slaves at the height of slavery. What we got going on today is slavery.
My article was about a lot of different things. I was doing my laundry, and I came back and saw on Facebook that these dudes was turning their shirts inside-out, and it reminded me of “we’re gonna put our hoods on for Trayvon” which I thought was such a joke, and I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I wrote this thing…I didn’t even mention the clown from the Clippers, I wanted to make the point it isn’t even about him, didn’t mention his name. Started off with that, and quickly went to Trayvon, quickly went to police brutality a little bit, Michelle Alexander and mass incarceration a little bit. I’m talking about us, I’m not talking about Sterling. We are an endangered species.
I saw you pivot to those different topics; it kind of reminds me of the criticism people had for Occupy Wall Street: “What the hell is it that you people really want? You’re complaining about this trend and that dynamic, you’re all over the place, how am I supposed to take you seriously as a movement?”
I can stand up for mad things at once, all the things at once! And not only that but I could go on for 100 years. Those things don’t seem to be contradictory to stand up for at the same time. That doesn’t even make any sense. We can deal with all those things! What’s up with all this buck-passing? We don’t need to fix things one at a time. People use the fact that there’s a bunch of things wrong as an excuse for not fixing any of them.
Since the publication of your piece, we’ve had media report that there were heated, back-channel talks involving the playoff teams, the owners, the NBA Player’s Association, up to four teams considered a wildcat strike including the Golden State Warriors, who faced the Clippers. If they had been more spontaneous, or in the way you felt was appropriate, could that have jeopardized the outcome they arrived at?
I don’t know how many people feel better about the world ‘cause the dude was banned, that’s cool but the much bigger issue with me is that a dude could say the things he said, and cats only wanna turn their shirts inside out. To me it looks like a missed opportunity. That window of opportunity is closed now.
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