Blame rap music.
It's one of the laziest and oversimplified go-to explanations when events in this country have any sort of racially charged undertones. But it also seems to be one of the most rampantly used -- in particular by political pundits.
The latest example comes from MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
On Wednesday morning (Mar. 11), the hosts were discussing the scandal surrounding a racist video that featured members of the SAE fraternity. Specifically, they were discussing Waka Flocka's role and responsibility in the University of Oklahoma incident.
Now, you may be scratching your head, but fear not. Let host Mika Brzezinski explain:
"Clearly, the most horrifying sight on this video is these boys and some women chanting these racist slogans," she said.
OK. I'm with you so far, Mika. Keep going.
"Having said that..."
Noooooooo. You were so close, Mika. You got off on the right foot. Don't do what you're about to do.
"There's this rapper, Waka Flocka Flame, who has performed for these kids in the past on the campus. And he cancelled his show at the University of Oklahoma after this video surfaced, saying that, in the wake of the video, he's disgusted and disappointed," she said, referencing an interview he gave on Tuesday night on CNN.
"And I'm like, I look at his lyrics, and I'm thinking, why wouldn't you ask this guy, why you would go on that campus, and if you look at every single song, I guess you call these, that he's written, it's a bunch of garbage. It's full of n-words, it's full of f-words. It's wrong. And he shouldn't be disgusted with them, he should be disgusted with himself."
Oh, that's the direction you decided to take this? OK.
Listen, you can say that you're disgusted with Waka for using the N-word in his lyrics, if that's how you feel because, say, you're so disgusted by anyone's use of that word -- no matter their race. That's fair, and that's how some people feel. But you can't then, in the very same sentence, say that he can't be disgusted with a bunch of white kids for using it. There's a breakdown in your reasoning here.
Next, Bill Kristol, a guest on this particular day, weighed in:
"Popular culture becomes a cesspool, a lot corporations profit off of it, and then people are surprised that some drunk 19-year-old kids repeat what they've been hearing."
Well, sadly, no, you're right, Bill, I'm not surprised about this video. But that's because of some larger and centuries-old issues within our society that have shown us time and again that this sort of behavior and outlook exists.
But, yes, I am surprised that you're finding a correlation in Waka rapping something like, "I go hard in the motherf--kin' paint, n---a," and a bunch of 19-year-olds chanting, repeatedly, "There will never be a n----r in SAE, you can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me." Because there isn't one.
They're saying, "There will never be a n----r in SAE, you can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me." That's very different from Waka rapping, "See Gucci? That's my motherf--kin' n---a."
This is something at least one person on the panel, Willie Geist, understood.
"I'd love to never hear that word again, white, black or otherwise," he said. "But there is a distinction between a bunch of white kids chanting about hanging someone from a tree, using that in a hateful way. And this is a term that you hear in hip-hop that African-American guys sometimes in certain contexts call each other."
Now, all of this isn't to say rap music should be free from criticism, nor that it plays no role in our society and the way people -- young people, in particular -- come to view the world. On the contrary, it needs to be looked at critically, and hip-hop has become an immensely powerful art form across the globe, and we all benefit when artists grasp the power of their words.
But we're selling ourselves and future generations short if we let rap music excuse issues and injustices in our society, rather than viewing it as a piece of a larger social and historical system and set of realities at play, as well as a reflection of some of those very same prejudices that it purportedly breathes life into.
These guys were in college. If, between their parents, family and friends, as well as elementary, high school and college educations, they hadn't come to understand that there's a deep history surrounding the N-word, regardless of Waka's raps, then we've got much, much bigger problems on our hands than rap music.