The Problem(s) With Joyner Lucas’ ‘I’m Not Racist,’ Explained

Joyner Lucas YouTube screenshot
Joyner Lucas YouTube screenshot

Who is Joyner Lucas?

Joyner Lucas is an American rapper from Worcester, Massachusetts currently signed to Atlantic Records. He garnered widespread exposure and critical praise after the release of his single “Ross Capicchioni” in 2015. In 2017, he released his fourth mixtape (and first on a major label), 508-507-2209.

Joyner gained national attention when he appeared on the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher. He was the first artist to be moved from the web platform of the show to the televised syndication


Um, do you even know who Joyner Lucas is? This sounds like it was lifted directly from his Wikipedia page.

Because it was. And to answer your first question, I know who Joyner Lucas is, and I’ve known exactly who Joyner Lucas is for a little over 90 minutes now.


So basically you’re doing an explainer about a rapper you literally just discovered today?

Yes. And that’s no shade to Joyner Lucas, by the way. From what I’ve heard, he’s a pretty talented dude. I just don’t listen to much new music or the radio at all. My Spotify playlist primarily comprises Kanye, movie scores (my favs: Jesus Christ Superstar and, surprisingly, Inception), Radiohead, Ghostface and, of course, Rick Ross for when I want to scare white people.

I see. So why are you writing about him today?

A couple days ago, Lucas dropped “I’m Not Racist”—a now-viral video with 2.8 million views on YouTube and 24 million on Facebook. It depicts two men (one black and one white) sitting by themselves in what looks to be a warehouse, and each has the opportunity to air his racial grievances at the other.


The white man—decked in a “Make America Great Again” hat and “regular-people” clothes—basically raps that black people are lazy, government-assistance-dependent criminals who use slavery as an excuse for our behavior and are more concerned with looking cool than taking care of our kids. Basically, everything we’ve already heard on every message board, in every comment section and from every American politician ever.

When he’s done, the black man offers his rebuttal, which is ultimately that racism is the reason we’re forced to do the things the white guy accuses us of doing. Throughout each verse, “I’m not racist” is repeated like a singular chorus breaking up each stanza. The point? Neither of these men is racist. They just need—and want—to understand each other better.


And when both men are done rapping, they hug.

Also, just because I anticipate some confusion here, Joyner Lucas is black and he’s actually the one rapping both the white verse and the black verse.

This sounds like a pretty cool video.

It is, actually. It was produced well, and although the lyrics veer a little corny at times, you can feel the emotion and the rage bubbling through them. It’s palpable. As is the thought and care Lucas very obviously put into creating this. I don’t know if this is the type of song you’d listen to on the radio or in the car—it feels more like a spoken-word performance than an actual song—but I don’t think it’s intended to be.


So what are your problems with it?

The most obvious part, after watching this three times now, is that the black guy’s rebuttal is weak as fuck. The white guy spits all of the Breitbart and Bannon talking points, and the black guy cites ... Tupac? Sure, he also does mention how historical structural racism makes him feel, as if he’s living in a “frying pan.” But his overall rebuttal is more “Racism is why I do these bad things” and not “Actually, most of us don’t do those bad things you think we all do.” He basically returned shrapnel fire with a spitball.


Also, it shouldn’t even exist.

The entire video?


I thought you just said it was cool.

I did. But it’s cool the same way two bags of Cheetos can alleviate hunger. It’s an empty coolness because the concept—the song and the video—is based on a faulty premise.


What’s that?

That white people’s race-related gripes and black people’s race-related gripes are equal—equally justified and deserving of equal time and attention. They are not. There is no conversation that needs to happen between the races in order to create some measure of truce and racial conciliation. The only conversation that can do that is white people talking to other white people to try to find a way to be less awful to black people. (Also, saying “Hey, stop discriminating against and hating and killing us” is not asking for a truce. Just for them to stop doing what they’re doing so we can breathe.)


Yes, it would be great if whites and blacks came together on some kumbaya shit. But there’s no meeting in the middle here. There’s no finding a common ground. They have to come where we already are, and they have to recognize, acknowledge and begin to make amends for why the separation exists in the first place.

Let me put it this way: How offensive and absurd would it be if, instead of a black person and a white person having this conversation, it was a Jewish person and a Nazi?


Um, that analogy doesn’t work. No one would dare do something like that.

Actually, the analogy works specifically because no one in their right mind would dare do something like that. We give the Holocaust the respect it deserves. We recognize the horror of what happened to Jewish people and the evil of the Nazis. (Well, we generally do these things.)


But America doesn’t give the centuries-long trans-Atlantic slave trade the same acknowledgment. The analogy doesn’t seem to work because our country doesn’t believe it was as serious and destructive and transformative and evil as the Holocaust was. And we still don’t fully acknowledge the pervasive residue of slavery and the metaphysical construct and constraint of racism still existing today. We haven’t reckoned with that evil and that violence. And because of that, the thought behind videos like “I’m Not Racist” exists.

Joyner Lucas YouTube screenshot
Joyner Lucas YouTube screenshot

The message on-screen at the end of the video provides a perfect snapshot of the faultiness of this premise. It states, “We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.” It’s fulfilling and uplifting in the same bag-of-Cheetos way. But this video is dealing specifically with American race relations between black Americans and white Americans. And saying “until race disconnected us” removes the very active role white people had in creating race specifically to disconnect.

We weren’t disconnected by race. We were disconnected by people who deemed themselves white. And that acknowledgment fucking matters, man. It’s not some nonessential detail. It’s the only one that matters.


Damn. Well, anything else?

I actually do appreciate what Joyner Lucas attempted to do here. And I’d appreciate it even more if he read some bell hooks and Kiese Laymon and Kimberlé Crenshaw and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Toni Morrison and Derrick Bell and tried again.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Tomi Marchant

Pure, ‘both sides’ bullshit. It is not up to the oppressed to dismantle racism. It never has been, it never will be.

Whites EAT this shit up, that’s how you know it’s absolute coonery.