“It’s Not That Serious”: Why Eminem Saying Faggot Is “That Serious”

“The burden of proof of humanity falls in the lap of the marginalized all too often.”
Author:
Publish date:

Jamel Myles was nine years old when he killed himself.

Myles killed himself because he came out as gay and was viciously bullied. Before turning 10, before ever getting to see the beautiful communities and love that would have been available to him, Myles was beaten down by a carnal, leaden hatred from his peers—from children. Jamel Myles, may he rest in as much peace as the world has to offer him, is not unique.

The first time I was admitted to a hospital for trying to kill myself, I was 12 and the whole school knew I was gay, and in as many words told me I “shouldn’t be here.” Good at following directions, I went to the guidance counselor and let her know these were my circumstances and that I “know what I should do,” or some other melodramatic phrase. I was 12, remember. She gave me a rubber band to snap myself with while she quietly called my father and the local hospital. Things have gone well for me since 12, but I consider myself overwhelmingly lucky.

Per the CDC, LBGTQ+ youth are at a greater risk of suicide, with “nearly one-third” of queer youth attempting suicide in 2015. The statistics go on and on, as do the sources, but the numbers aren’t the point. One child wanting to kill themselves should be enough. The very act of pulling numbers to convince a human being that another human being’s life has value is a sickening reality. The burden of proof of humanity falls in the lap of the marginalized all too often.

So, what does this have to do with Eminem? Everything. I’m not interested in Eminem’s past offenses, I’m not interested in extending the conversation or “keeping that same energy” with straw man arguments. I am interested in the present, where Eminem releases “Fall,” and calls Tyler, The Creator, who ostensibly came out in 2017, a faggot.

“Tyler create nothin', I see why you called yourself a faggot, bitch / It's not just 'cause you lack attention / It's 'cause you worship D12's balls, you're sack-religious” —Eminem, "Fall"

This moment cuts deep, not just because of the slur, but because of the targeting. Eminem is not flippantly hateful, he is using an anti-gay slur to tear down a gay man. Eminem, 45, reached back into his lexicon, pulled from all of his life experiences, and found the exact word for the exact type of person he does not regard as human. This is grave and outrageous. These are not shock raps, this is not a character. This is damning behavior from an adult who recently patted himself on the back for opposing Donald Trump.

The obvious counter to this critique, if we want to be slight with our language, is that Eminem is simply using the language Tyler, The Creator uses to describe himself. Now, should that reasoning follow, Eminem and all people should be free and clear to use all epithets at their leisure since people self-deprecate at all times. Not only does this ignore a longstanding history of trauma-coping techniques, but it is also flatly outrageous. Rap knows this, on some level. Hip-hop is more than conscious that Eminem cannot say every word, with one Twitter user politely explaining, in the context of saying faggot: “Well he can't say "n***a" lol.”

Of course, to continue making the argument sound, detractors will require I employ some framing. Here we are: if you aimlessly yell “Kyke!” at a passing man, that is hateful. If you walk into a synagogue and yell “Kyke!” at the Jewish people inside, you are being calculated and target with your hate, you are inciting violence with your language; this constitutes a hate crime.

Let us imagine, too, for a moment that Eminem made a different choice and used the n-word to specifically tear down a Black man or woman on "Fall." Unanimously, or close to it, hip-hop would agree that is morally repugnant and Eminem would have to be punished in some way for obviously vile actions. But, instead, Em is just calling Tyler a faggot, which, as another Twitter user pointed out, is “fun for [them]!”

If these framing exercises come across banal and disconcerting, that is because they are. The mere fact that one person’s suffering must be put into the context of another’s to be understood is dehumanizing and humiliating. The burden of proof of humanity rots in the lap of the marginalized, and that is gaslighting at its finest.

No, the next step is not to “cancel” Eminem, that is fruitless and self-congratulatory activism. The next step is the first step, which is to take the lives of people outside of your immediate lived experience seriously. The next step, for many, is to listen without plotting to dismiss. The issue of “Fall” is not as minute as Eminem being tasteless; the issue is the broader acceptance and jeering.

We gain little from canceling Eminem, and we stand to gain everything from appraising ourselves and the circles we occupy, asking ourselves if and when do we permit this type of behavior? Do we do anything to stop it in its track? The issue of “Fall” is systemic, Eminem is merely the catalyst for a series of endless and difficult conversations America refuses to have with itself. Complacency has consequences; remember Jamel Myles.

The moral here, too, is not that identities should be parsed and pitted against each other, but rather that there is an obvious hierarchy of care in our broad society. This is not a hip-hop-centric problem. To focus in on hip-hop as uniquely homophobic is racist and moot. This is a societal sickness and one that takes lives daily. Call it an epidemic, call it an outrage, tweet something inspiring and get your clout out, but do not tell people that they are easily offended in the face of caustic hate that kills. There are a lot of choices people can make in their lives, and Eminem should be making better ones just like the rest of us.

Maybe I am just too sensitive for this hip-hop shit. Or, maybe, we deserve to do better by each other.

For more sponsored hip-hop video content like this, subscribe to the ADM YouTube channel here.

Related