Hey, Michael Rapaport: Liking Hip-Hop Doesn’t Mean You Get to Tell Black People How to Feel

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Actor Michael Rapaport made a joke that wasn’t a joke on Twitter. Few black people laughed, but he insisted that he was right anyway.

Michael Rapaport attends 2016 Roc Nation Summer Classic Charity Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on July 21, 2016, in New York City.
Michael Rapaport attends 2016 Roc Nation Summer Classic Charity Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on July 21, 2016, in New York City.SHAREIF ZIYADAT/WIREIMAGE

You know how this goes. You’re chilling, waiting for the bread and circuses that are the start of the NFL season, when your homie forwards you a link on Twitter, along with his own commentary: “Did you read this b.s.?” You know in your gut that some white person just said something dumb because … ’Murca. So you click on the link, and voilà, there it is: a tweet from actor Michael Rapaport about NFL players potentially protesting on Sept. 11:

Think it thru fellas for real!

  • At first you go, “Is this for real? Like, ‘for real’ real? Maybe this is a troll account?” But yeah, there’s the good ole blue check mark, meaning that this really is Michael Rapaport’s account. So you head over to Rapaport’s Twitter page, and he’s over there defending his tweet, telling black people that “they ain’t done jack [s–t]” when it comes to protesting, so basically, they should shut up when it comes to telling NFL players to emulate San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneel-down protest. And as I scroll down, I see that Rapaport is calling black folks “hoes” and generally coming at them from the left.

A’right.

I try to ignore that, and see if I can get to his main point, and it is this: Rapaport says that he’s down with NFL players protesting systemic racism; it’s just that they shouldn’t do it on Sept. 11 because that’s a day to honor the heroic first responders, police and firefighters who died during the terrorist attacks. And that’s when I come to the natural conclusion that Rapaport is indeed on some other s–t.

First, a little background. Who is Michael Rapaport, you ask? He’s that white actor every black person knows. Been in a bunch of movies and television shows over the past 20 years, but on the black folks’ Netflix Search List, most of us know him from the movies like Zebrahead or when he was playing Dunwitty in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.

He and Lee have had their own issues over race and gentrification over the years, but that’s another column. But besides the acting, he’s also known for his love of hip-hop, having produced the Tribe doc from a few years back, and his conspicuous hip-hop mannerism that, some have argued, appropriates blackness.

Anyway, after I read Rapaport’s tweet, I shoot him one back. In a 140-character nutshell, we go back and forth, explaining that black people don’t get days off from oppression and systemic racism. He responds, directing me to his I Am Rapaport podcast, in which he says that he’s both joking about the fantasy football and the “Aiello’ed” references in his tweet, but not joking when he says that no one should protest. His reasoning is that he thinks the day should be set aside to honor the “heroic first responders” who were killed on 9/11.

The blowback was immediate. Black people attacked Rapaport for being a culture vulture, a white man who takes from black culture but, when needed, is not there.

Rapaport goes after his critics hard. His comeback is to tell them that “they haven’t done [s–t],” while reciting his own résumé of what he’s done for the hip-hop community (while pointing to his previous podcast in which he’d talked about his support of NFL players protesting; he’d even taken a picture in a Brandon Marshall T-shirt as a sign of support). But he wanted NFL players, just for this day, to do him a solid and keep their protests to themselves on this day. It is then when I realize … an intervention is needed.

So, let’s go.

One of the biggest lies that hip-hop ever created—and it was a grand lie—was that the racial fault lines created by this thing called America could be bridged and blurred all because of a love of and devotion to the hip-hop culture. And while hip-hop has done many great things, this lie did give some white people the notion that if they were deeply immersed in hip-hop culture; if they spoke like the black people in the culture; if they had the correct “proximity validation” of the culture you or I grew up in (fill in the best real hip-hop culture city, borough, etc., that works); and if they could spit lyrics and history with the best, then they had an approximately accurate understanding of blackness that, in a curious way, would allow their white-privilege musings to be accepted as just being “real talk” to black people. Hip-hop was the outward clothing that covered up the skin color, and as long as everyone was wearing that shell, they could spout whatever they wanted under the unifying umbrella.

Rapaport carries himself in a way that says, “I’m down with black folks through my love of hip-hop culture … ” So black folks, of course, sit there waiting. How down will he be? And when will he remember that his race card is white, and when will he pull it for value-added privileges? Unfortunately for Rapaport, that card was pulled for Sept. 11, and for that, black folks called him out, as they should.

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