In Defense of Eminem

Yesterday Eminem went to the BET awards and performed an acapella Cypher directed at Donald Trump wherein he ended by saying he’s drawing a line in the sand where people can either be against Donald Trump or be rejected as his fan. In the aftermath of that, I’ve seen two kinds of reactions on twitter: people I know from the left applauding, and people from the right denouncing.

I’d like to give my personal viewpoint here, because I think this is significant to the culture. Yes, it was virtue signalling. Yes, it’s popular to rag on Trump. Yes, there was an element of selective outrage with Eminem taking Trump to task for things like constant golfing and vacationing, things Obama and Bush both did (and also both got attacked for). But, let’s take a minute to remember some other things about Eminem. This is the guy who brought rap to white suburbs. This is a guy who, as a white kid from Detroit, gained respect and popularity in the black community by punching up and driving toward excellence in his field. This is the guy who gave a voice to outcasts from every socioeconomic class and working class kids of all races. This is a guy who was perhaps the first notable anti-SJW, and a guy who fights for free speech on a daily basis. I respect Eminem. He has earned my respect over and over.

I refuse to become part of the political zeitgeist that sees people and figures in black and white based on the latest thing they did (unless it’s unforgivably vile, like Harvey Weinstein). Eminem is a guy who has constantly been a fighter for good in American culture from spreading great music, to championing the downtrodden, to fighting back against oppressive ideologies, to being an ambassador between groups. Eminem did more for race relations in America than Obama ever did, and he didn’t have the force of the government behind him. This is a guy who’s been on my side 90% of the time.

Yes, I was disappointed in Eminem’s rap. Not necessarily for the excoriation of Trump — from my perspective, who cares? It’s a public figure. They’re lightning rods. But for his rejection of Trump voters. Sixty million people voted for Donald Trump, and it’s the nature of modern politics that tries to paint millions of people with generalizations, anger and rejection rather than understanding and conversation that disappoints me. I tend to lean ‘right’ on many issues, but personally I don’t even really believe in the right/left political spectrum; the political parties are made up of voting bloc coalitions which, on both sides, don’t cleanly line up with the definitions of conservative or progressive. Most often I find myself siding with libertarians and ‘conservatarians’ as it were, but I’m a political independent, and I like to believe that my mind could be changed if I saw new, credible information. While that’s my editorial point of view, if I have an editorial bias it’s toward promoting love and unity in American culture.

Let’s look at the context of Eminem: he’s a white guy with a foot in both the black community and the white working class community. In the black community, Trump is incredibly unpopular. I can accept that, although I think it’s important to remember that the black community is made up of complex, thinking, feeling individuals and is not a cohesive mass. Just like Trump voters are not a cohesive mass, but a large number of complex, thinking, feeling individuals. In fact, much of Eminem’s catalog is taking issue with being painted with labels that he doesn’t accept like ‘misogynist’, painting himself as a deeper and more complex human being. I see parallels between this and a lot of conservatives who are similarly labeled simply ‘racist, misogynist, bigot’ for having a different policy view as those on the left.

I have a big heart and I want to see black Americans thrive. And it’s because of that big heart that I believe school choice will help not just black Americans, but all Americans who are stuck in an inefficient, outdated, noncompetitive public school system that teacher’s unions have insulated from competition. All the data suggests that school choice and incentivizing schooling to modernize, adopt new technologies and integrate with the cultures of the families that they’re serving has the best chance of lifting the left behind out of poverty. Throwing money at public schools hasn’t worked — spending went up, but not test scores. Affirmative action hasn’t worked, data shows that students who go into a program appropriate to their level of preparedness, they do better than when they get admitted to a program beyond their capabilities — in other words, being a B or A student at a tier 2 school is more encouraging and produces a better outcome than being a D or C student at a tier 1 school. That link is from The Atlantic, by the way, not exactly a bastion of conservative thought.

I believe that changes need to happen in the criminal justice system because the removal of black fathers from black families is a tragedy that devastated black American lives. Growing up without a father is painful. My father was absent much of my life. Children are 4 times more likely to be poor if they grow up in a household without a father. That’s not my conclusion, that’s NPR’s which, again, is no bastion of conservative thought. My heart goes out to these individuals and I think the pain the drug war has wrought in those communities is unconscionable.

School choice is a traditionally conservative viewpoint and criminal justice reform has wide support in libertarian and conservative spheres. While Eminem is lambasting Trump to applause, Trump appointed a champion of school choice to lead the department of education, and though she’s not, perhaps, the scholar of education we all hope she would be, she’s on the right side of this issue. Meanwhile, over Obama’s tenure, he enforced strict Title IX statutes where cases like Colgate college became the norm — although black Americans accounted for only 4.2% of the college population at Colgate, they accounted for 50% of unsubstantiated rape accusations and expulsions.

As a fan of Eminem for many years, I feel like I know him. I think if he had an open mind, he would be open to listening on many of these issues. Especially since the public school system failed him as well. Although he had talent, work ethic, and pursued excellence, many don’t have the same luck or drive. We still want to see every American succeed. This is a guy who’s been on the right side of a lot of issues and who’s been a force for good, in my opinion. I refuse to see him as a public figure in black and white terms. I think that his excoriation of Trump voters was misguided, not evil.

I would love to see Eminem sit down with a conservative thinker with an open mind. Someone who also has an open mind and who can make the argument with a thoughtful, logical, respectful, compassionate approach like a Nick Gillespie, or a Ben Shapiro. This is, perhaps, an opportunity for Eminem to do what made him famous in the first place once again — be an ambassador for two different groups. I see a lot of similarities between Eminem and a person like Ben Shapiro. Both are trudging forward while being constantly attacked and mischaracterized by mobs of people who see people in shallow generalizations. Both have good hearts wrapped up in a package that sometimes comes off as sharp and standoffish.

If we’re living in a society where everyone who disagrees on one or two things has to be an enemy, I strongly don’t believe that. I believe that the ability to turn enemies into friends is the truest mark of leadership.

Eminem drew a line in the sand — you’re with me or against me. I reject it. While I didn’t vote for Trump personally, and I didn’t vote for Hillary, I think a lot of the ideas that are mainstream among conservatives will do more to help black lives, the white working class, and everyone else struggling to get ahead.

I’m still your fan, I don’t care if you hate me.

Ryan is a writer from Los Angeles, California. Follow him on Twitter here, and be sure to buy his new book, Gods of the American Wild.