As we flip over another page in our 2020 “Hang in There” kitten calendars and reveal the sneering visage of an angry August, we find ourselves more than two months into a historic cry for racial justice unseen in this country for half a century. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to remain locked in our collective consciousness as it competes with the other two ever-present topics covered by the media: the novel coronavirus pandemic and the fascism-cosplaying goon currently befouling the fine leather wingback behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. Everyone with a Twitter handle has been hurling their pocket change perspectives at anyone sedentary long enough to get caught in the line of fire –– both in support of and in shameful opposition to the moment.
Fort Worth MC The.Naaman is no different, and he’s recently put his thoughts on the subject into verse and added them to a thumping fuzz bass-laden beat. With his latest single, “White Silence,” the self-reflective rapper opens up a direct and honest dialogue on white ambivalence to systemic racism, but the words from The.Naaman, who is white, aren’t meant for the far-right, rebel flag-flying hillbillies guarding Confederate statues. Instead, he’s taking aim at the otherwise oblivious, soft, and noncommittal masses of Middle America. As opposed to focusing on overt bigotry, the track, which features production work from Sam Culp (Yokyo, Vogue Machine), Joshua Ryan Jones (Gollay, Cody Lynn Boyd), and Peter Weirenga (Tornup, Siberian Traps), tackles the subtle unconscious biases that almost all white people are prone to and which are the real driving force behind systemic racism.
“I didn’t want to capitalize on the low-hanging fruit of [guys in] MAGA hats,” The.Naaman said. “I wanted to have a perspective that was like, ‘Even the best of us as white folks have a little of the systemic racism problem.’ Even allies and people who are trying to do their best. It’s been ingrained in us. We have these ugly things lying beneath the surface of society. We have to get really uncomfortable and confront those truths.”
From the opening stanza: “Let me take you back to little ol’ me / ’83 / Stars ’n’ Bars in the house on White Wash Street / Middle America / Is this scarin’ ya? / Does this remind you of your mom’s house with a terrier?”
The.Naaman paints a picture of a generic Southern upbringing that just about any white kid, especially one born in the Lone Star State, can likely, if honest, identify with.
“I was not raised by Ku Klux Klan, out-and-out racists,” he explained. “And I wasn’t raised by crunchy granola-eating hippies, either. I was raised in this middle ground where racism was a very subtle thing, and I needed to speak to that community about the subtle and stealthy ways that racism has shaped their viewpoints. I didn’t want it to be this white guilt thing, like ‘Woe is me,’ but like, ‘Here is your medicine! You have to think about this shit!’ ”
Over the hook, he drives his mark home, showing that what might seem innocuous and benign is actually what does the most harm. “White Silence / The damage we did by staying quiet / Who’d have thought our apathy would lead to such violence?”
The.Naaman said he is certainly conscious of the potential sensitivity of adding yet another white voice to the already outsized influence it has in popular culture, especially on such a topic, but in the end, he said he couldn’t help but offer his perspective.
“White Liberal Jesus is a real thing,” he said. “This idea of ‘I’m going to save you. I’m going to help you.’ And I didn’t want it [to be taken] that way. I didn’t want it to be a self-serving thing or like capitalizing on a moment. We should definitely be listening to and elevating the voices of people of color, but I can only be true to my own viewpoint as an artist.”
As opposed to being inspired by the recent activism surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the track was actually written more than two years ago. Sadly, the content is likely even more poignant today.
“I would love more than anything for it not to be [still] relevant,” he said, “but, unfortunately, it is. I know it’s kind of weary and exhausting to constantly be having to go over and talk about this shit, but it’s really the only way we can move forward.”
“White Silence” is available across most popular streaming platforms. The.Naaman is currently in the final stages of completing his debut album, Albatross, due out late September.