J Cole's Ignorance Clouds His Introspection
Black artists of today are taking various tactics to do their part in the struggle for Black Lives. Last night after his new single release “Snow on Tha Bluff,” we saw J Cole take the main stage in the public discourse as his song directs a message to Chicago rapper Noname asking her to educate Black people kindly rather then tear them down with knowledge.
J Cole’s “Snow on Tha Bluff” sets out to be an honest and vulnerable confession of his own limitations and ignorance but that blatant ignorance unfortunately obscures his introspection. He dedicates half his song to suggest how Noname should educate Black people better instead of listening to where Noname’s frustrations lie and seeking out the resources Noname has contributed to the Black community that he so humbly suggests she create.
J Cole’s track is seemingly tied to the recent post of Noname reading “poor black folks all over the country are putting their bodies on the line in protest for our collective safety and y’all favorite top selling rappers not even willing to put a tweet up. niggas whole discographies be about black plight and they no where to be found.”
It seems J Cole believes calling out celebrities does little to achieve change as he is not that “intelligent” or “woke” enough to lead the movement. Thereby echoing the same sentiments sent out by Dave Chappelle who in his recent special 8:46 mentioned that “the streets will talk not me.”
But the frustration that Noname expresses in these tweets is not one rooted in virtue signalling or lack of evidence for what J Cole and others have done. Noname instead yearns for a reality where J Cole’s, and others with his influence, undeniable care for Black folk exhibited in music is paired with a genuine seeking of knowledge in their personal life and relayed to their audience as they grow. The criticism is not rooted in whether one has been or should be some Malcom X or Dr. King. The criticism is rooted in her aspiration for one to want to learn the struggle that is Black Liberation to use their platform for all the good it can do, addressing the issues that they rap about.
J Cole assumes in this record that Noname’s thoughts and perspective is because of her environment and upbringing saying,
“She strikes me as somebody blessed enough to grow up in a conscious environment. With parents that know ‘bout the struggle for liberation and in turn they provide him with a perspective and awareness of the system and unfairness that afflicts them.”
And Cole goes further to suggest to Noname that she should “Hit the ghettos” and “plant seeds” — that it is better for her to treat people like children giving them love and patience to grow.
But this basis for Cole’s arguments lies so far from the truth. Unlike Cole, Noname has had no college education. Her experience was Chicago Public Schooling. She had no parental lineage of Black liberation struggle. And she continually speaks on how hard the barriers of academia and her lack of knowledge and education cause her to feel like she too lacks the privilege to gain persepctive. In fact, Noname was publicly scrutinized by her audience last year for tweeting about the Black Capitalism as a means for liberation. Much of her audience gave major backlash and criticism and suggested that she read and learn deeper about the history of Black Liberation struggles. And so she did. Not too much later Noname established an online and community based Book Club titled Noname’s Book Club which has expanded in many cities across the country, including Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and more even expanding internationally to London. The book club offers readings all about Black Struggles, Liberation, Black Narrative and much more while simultaneously being led by and targeted towards Black communities. The exact ones that Cole wishes Noname would serve.
So who exactly is Cole speaking to? As said by Imani Anansa on Twitter, “Noname has recommended a plethora of books to read and had a day dedicated to people getting library cards so they could get books for FREE. Those bars can’t possibly be for her.”
How much more accessible and grassroots can it get than organizing Black people to get library cards?
J Cole seems to have little knowledge of how Noname has fed the Black community. His call to tend to others like children reflects the same train of thought that white people use when Black people get angry at racism in the world responding with “we hear you but could you tell it to us nicer. Could you educate and not yell?”
No. We’ve been trying to educate white folk but they haven’t listened. White people should not be able to tell us how to react when we have been doing the work. Iman N. Milner says it so well stating,
“Black women have to write the book, read the book, explain the book, decode the book and then pretend to not know too much so it can be palatable. Man. Gone.
But yes J Cole stans, we must also acknowledge that J Cole’s clear intentions as he says “He isn’t above criticism” but Cole undermines his intention by spending half the song labeling Noname guidance as “queentone,” giving more emphasis on the way he felt from her words rather than what her words were conveying.
Unfortunately for Cole, this track could not have come at a more humbling time, as much of the discourse on Black Twitter and other spaces involving Noname and thousands of other Black women directly addresses their frustrations with Black men for not stepping up to be about ALL BLACK LIVES. They’ve argued that Black men are failing to start dialogue, to organize action, or even post about the losses of Black Women and Black Trans Folks lives due to police brutality, racial violence, and more notably domestic violence at the hands of Black men.
We can see an example of that by the out pour of grievance over the young 19 year old activist Oluwatoyin who was murdered by her sexual abuser just recently. Twitter user Blue Ivy’s Maid saying,
“Black women are on the front lines of these protests ready to go to war but who’s protecting us? She was killed by a Black Man. Black women are facing a fight on two fronts.”
We can see the historic evidence for this by the foundations of the Black Liberation movement being largely written and imagined by Black Feminist thought leaders like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and bell hooks among others. Black women have been the foundation for the struggle without being recognized by the community they fight for.
This is deeper than some virtual signalling or cancel culture. It is not about taking a platform away from anyone. It is asking what is the necessary action in all areas of the Black Community that leads to tangible change and the liberation of our people!
Of course not every Black person or Black artist needs to be an activist. But when you create music that speaks on the dense topic of Black Plight and as you advocate for change and hope your music can influence part of that change then it begs the question — why doesn’t your study reflect the strategy it takes to achieve that change?
All in all, it’s clear J Cole wants to do more as he ends the track with thoughtfulness and reflection saying,
“Thinkin’ just maybe, in my pursuit to make life so much better for me and my babies. I done betrayed the very same people who look at me like a hero.”
And ending the song with an oh so honest “why I feel Faker than Snow on Tha Bluff? Well, maybe ‘cause deep down I know I ain’t doing enough.”
Well maybe J Cole. You, me and every other Black man can take this opportunity to listen to what Black Women are saying. We wouldn’t be close to where we are without them.
Let’s listen, learn, and grow together.