A Letter to Logic, From a Biracial Fan - DJBooth

Purple Tapes: A Letter to Logic, From a Biracial Fan

"You have a rare opportunity as a biracial white-passer to study your place in American society and reach those who have experienced the same things you have."
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So, you’re Logic. You were born Robert Bryson Hall III in a Maryland hospital; not just a junior, but a second junior. You were named after people you aren’t. You are tethered to identities you don’t quite belong to. You grew up in an environment of dysfunction; drugs, violence, neglect, bigotry. You are not the biggest, strongest, or highest-achieving among your peers. You seek fantastic worlds in films and cartoons in order to escape from a dark reality. Amidst (and adding to) all of this, your ethnic ancestry is torn in two; half black and half white.

I can’t possibly understand what you’ve gone through. I won’t venture to offer advice to you, nor to blow smoke up your ass. I can’t Monday morning quarterback your decisions knowing I have had a far more privileged life than you. But what I am, too, is biracial. I am of mixed Chinese and Dominican descent. My parents are both Dominican nationally, with my father being half Chinese—leaving me as merely a 25-percenter. And yet “Asian” is the first racial category I’m typically placed in because my Asian side presents the strongest. My skin is light, unlike my mother’s and her mother’s. My eyes “slant,” like my father’s. I know neither a word of Chinese nor a single relative of Chinese ancestry. But because of how I look, I’m typecast into a background that I have a hard time personally relating to. 

There are important differences between each of our most common racial categories; Black and White are complicated identities originating as meaningless links to skin color and have evolved over time. Asian and Latinx are only defined by physical appearance in a crude, uneducated sense. In reality, Asian and Latino people are a rainbow of physical characteristics—different skin colors, hair types, eye shapes—which are not simply a result of “mixing” or “presenting.”

What we call presenting or passing is an essential part of the multiracial experience. We know, factually, there are no biological differences between people of different racial backgrounds; that race is, say it with me: a Social Construct. We know that racial identity has been constructed and molded in this country with an express purpose of division based on physical features in order to legitimize a caste system through a pseudo-scientific quality. This quality is unconsciously corroborated by anyone with eyes; it’s physical, and no one can deny physical qualities. So when we walk around looking like something, it has a powerful effect on our perception, whether we like it or not. And in some senses, we’re taught we should like it because our appearance might give us certain privileges. The history of the United States adheres to a gold standard of whiteness. We know this standard to be based on myth and erasure. Somehow, a country built by the enslavement of black people, using the land and resources of brown people, and currently powered by the labor of Latinx immigrants and Asian slave labor, has convinced itself that white people did it all.

The existence of white privilege has been denied by many an opinion piece and primarily white internet forum, but not by any reputable social scientists studying the issue. So when you said, “But he was born with the white privilege! / Man what the fuck is that?” on Everybody’s title track, I was dubious. In your Genius annotation breaking down this line, you explained that you knew what white privilege is, and that it existed, and that you can acknowledge you’ll never know the difficulties of having darker skin in this country. I’m glad you are able to acknowledge this. But you went on to say: “I’m a biracial person who looks white in a black man’s rap game. Who’s not accepted by many parts of the culture because of how I look. I don't’ know, maybe life would have been easier for me if I became a fucking accountant or something but I didn’t do that and I faced diversity and I said fuck that, I’m going to go do this 'cause I’m proud of that.”

To me, this mindstate, with which you carry yourself and the perception of your own career, is outdated. White privilege does not exist within a vacuum, and it doesn’t dissipate when you decide to be a rapper instead of an investment banker. Granted, hip-hop culture is, particularly by its origins, a black culture. The best qualities that still permeate hip-hop today are borne by black people. The celebration of wealth against the odds of poverty, the tales of inner-city street violence and drug usage to cope with the trauma of devastated black neighborhoods; these are all qualities that source from the oppression of black people in this country, and the “black experience” surrounding it. But to insist that in 2017, at the time you released Everybody, that hip-hop is still a “black man’s game” seems reach-y. What do you even mean by this phrase? Are you referring to the mostly white audience, or the mostly white executives that finance and control it, or the mostly black but increasingly multiracial crop of artists? Does this refer to a dynamic localized to your hometown in Maryland?

We know that today’s hip-hop landscape is filled with white artists who are often allowed access to audiences and opportunities due in major part to their skin color. We know that Eminem became the highest-selling artist of the 2000s as a white rapper. We know that Em, after having written songs in which he lyrically murdered several people, feigned violence against the president and even raped his mother, became one of the most beloved hip-hop artists even amongst women and children. And then there's “White America,” a record on which Eminem openly admits to us: “If I was black, I would’ve sold half.”

Despite your black ancestry, which no one can deny from you, you are still a white-presenting man tapping into a majority white audience that constantly champions you for being relatable to them. And that, of course, is okay! You have touched people’s lives with your work, including mine. I was put on to your Young Sinatra tape entering high school and it inspired me. For one, as a biracial white-passer who kinda looked and sounded like you, I felt an ability to relate to you. I watched you skyrocket; I watched your fanbase constantly compound itself until you were undeniably a force to be reckoned with in the industry, which led to your signing with No I.D. As a young rapper, you inspired me. You showed me a path that people like me could follow; biracial people with a burning love for hip-hop and humanity in general.

As you build expectations for the release of your upcoming album, YSIV, I hope that you can return to a comfortability that you found in your early mixtapes; when you didn't want to prove anything other than that you’re a great rapper; when you moved to tell people your story instead of your identity; your feelings instead of your categorizations. You have a rare opportunity as a biracial white-passer to study your place in American society and reach those who have experienced the same things you have. But perhaps you should stop reaching for singularities, especially given that you’re a walking multiplicity. Each biracial person has their own way of assessing their identity; instead of telling us you’re biracial over and over, tell us what that means to you.

In my biracial identity, it’s taken me much longer to learn what identity I could even feel comfortable in. All I knew in my familial life was Dominican people and culture, yet I still deal with essentialist narratives of not being Dominican enough despite that; my Spanish wasn’t good enough, I can’t play baseball, I don’t care much for plantains. I have constantly seen myself as an Asian boy because of my appearance and my surname; even in Santo Domingo, I was “Chino.” But I felt like a fraud; like I knew too little about Asian culture to be wearing a mantle like I was part of it. Every time I have aimed for singularity, it has not gone well for me. I even hesitate to take sides in arguments (everyone “has a point”) likely because I can’t find myself identifying with a distinct singularity. I can see in your “We are all the same” mentality a similar perspective.

On Young Sinatra standout cut "Mind of Logic," you asked questions: “Why are we on this earth? / Why must we feel pain? / Why does everybody feel the need / To judge one another when we're all the same?” One can see you struggled with these ideas from the beginning. On Everybody, which Pitchfork declared your “All Lives Matter” album, you attempted to answer these questions, but it fell flat; your answers felt typical and naïve. The album's standout single, “1-800-273-8255,” was propelled by your ability to write catchy songs, but left a bad taste in the mouths of many for oversimplifying and brightening a dark and complicated issue; that of mental health. It went from “I don’t want to die” to “I finally wanna be alive” in a matter of minutes, with no regard for the spectrum between those two tentpoles of mental health that often confine people’s ability to understand their struggle. It was a microcosm of the record and of your recent history of trying to simplify; too black and white.

As biracial people, we have a tendency to “toggle” between both of our identities with ease, an advantage that comes from being borne by multiple races. The flipside of this is that we will never feel quite right within either identity; not black enough for the black kids, not white enough for the white kids. And that’s because we don’t quite fit. We are outliers. To put it in a crude sense, we can examine literal color on a page. When we mix red and blue, we do not get “red and blue.” We get purple, an entirely new and distinguishable color. Purple might be “just as red” as red, and “just as blue” as blue, but what’s most important is that it is its own color. It can mix itself into a spectrum of either color; it can chill with navy and baby blue, and it can mingle with crimson and maroon. But it’ll always be a little different.

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