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As Australians, we would like to believe that we live in a diverse and accepting society. Our generally privileged and sheltered environment allows for the vast majority to feel accepted and proudly call Australia their home. But we would also be ignorant to believe that our not so culturally sensitive past of discrimination does not lurk in the shadows. We live in a multicultural society and must show tolerance and acceptance to all. Words traditionally created out of hatred and disgust have become increasingly popular within the global music industry and is giving too many opportunities for the wrong people to use the wrong words. This can be sparked from the type of music we listen to. Mainstream artists often include racial slurs in their lyrics, which while censored on commercial radio, are readily available for all to hear through other sources like spotify or youtube. It is time that we as Australians stand up against this language and allow our country to come together as one, regardless of our skin colour and cultural heritage. The use of a single hateful word can set the precedent for violence and hate, which I’m sure we can agree nobody would like.
On the 23rd of October 2017, Kendrick Lamar, an African-American rap artist invited a caucasian woman to sing a song heavily peppered with a racial slur which was once commonly used to offend people of his ethnicity. This term has become extremely unacceptable to be used as an insult, given its link to slavery and black oppression. In modern times, within the black community, its meaning has shifted from being a derogatory term against people of colour to simply meaning friend both in the rap industry and beyond. The n-word has become appropriated as a measure of status, forgetting the cultural context at its roots. Lamar was performing in Alabama, a southern state recognised for its long history of slavery, yet a white woman did not see the significance behind the word and simply thought people were booing her because she was not “cool enough”. A simple solution would be to ask rappers and people in the public eye to stop using racially offensive words as unfortunately, ignorant people use such words to justify their overt racism. The power and strength given to artists who create music, offer their listeners guidance, and depending on their choice of language can either help to bring peace or further the divide.
Music is meant to be a platform for people to express their views and tell a story with words, not a place where people need to skip every second word due to lyrics not being appropriate for all races. Statistics show that over 50% of hip hop and rap listeners are caucasian, despite their target audience being African-American. But this is not at all about prioritising white-comfort over the empowerment of the artists’ race and culture, but about mutual respect. In Australia, it is unlawful to publicly behave or speak to others in a racially abusive way, so why is it okay to sing words that we are taught not to say? The law specifically exempts music, yet many more will hear Kendrick Lamar’s words, than any one man’s public rant.
Indigenous-Australian rap artist, Adam Briggs, aims harness the power of words to tell a story that will make a difference in our country. Known for his politically-charged music, including the controversial album “Reclaim Australia”, he simultaneously asks us to come together as a nation, whilst also being highly critical of our colonial past and current racial tensions. Increasingly, the disposition of our nation seeks to recognise our shameful past which has never been given accurate recognition. If someone who has experienced first hand racially offensive and torturous events can speak their views without using racial slurs, then it is possible for everyone else to do so. Briggs recognises ‘white Aus still have a black history’, calling attention to pride and culture without using hateful words . He also chooses to refers to his friends as ‘brothers’ in his lyrics, rather than using racial slurs.. With Indigenous voices like these we are reminded of the pain and suffering the thousands of families that were torn apart simply because they were Indigenous.
Whilst attempts are still being made to help repair a tarnished relationship between the first nations people and our continually accepting society, we can help to recognise that using insulting words which can cause offence and discomfort will only worsen the problem and cause further unnecessary disattachment. We should be aiming to ‘close the gap’ rather than making it wider.
We are the future and we should never forget our past. We need to admit the wrong that happened before us, in order to ensure that it is not repeated. But we also need to think about the country we want to be: Is it full of hate? We need think about the people around us: How do they speak to each other? And lastly we need to think about ourselves: Do we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? We can make a change for our country by doing something as small as considering the words we use, using manners and being kind to one another.
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