24. Cultural Appropriation
It’s as dull as it sounds. Madonna wears a burka! Katy Perry dresses up like a Geisha! So does Nicki Minaj. So what? If Pharell Williams wants to step out in public in an Apache headdress, call him a dickhead, not a racist. But scenes like Outkast dressed up as apaches has left the Internet creaking under the pressure of people taking offence whenever a member of one race deigns to walk in the shoes of another. And when you add ‘dressing ghetto’ and ‘talking street’ to the mix, we could be here forever…
23. Give The Blackface A Miss Though, Eh?
White people blacking up always think it’s good fun and are forever shocked to find black people not amused by it. Bananarama will tell you they were paying homage to Motown singers in I Want You Back, Marilyn Manson will try to convince you he blacked up in the name of vaudeville and not because he’s a twat, and we’re sure it was all in the name of surrealist fun when the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band stepped out in rubber lips and boot polished faces on There’s A Monster Coming. Although, we rather liked Yolandi Visser blacking up in Die Antwoord’s Fatty Boom Boom and seeing Aphex Twin in blackface in Die Antwoord’s Ugly Boy. Maybe we just like Die Antwoord.
22. Using And Abusing Native American Indians
Next to countless Ten Little Indian style traditional songs, Ramones’ Indian Giver, Sweet’s Wig Wam Bam, Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw and Larry Verne’s Billboard Number One smash Please Mr Custer all played their part in reducing the native Americans to their lowest common stereotype. On these shores, though, they’re considered the height of exotic, which can lead to cringy racial consequences. Worried the actual Indian credentials of Tanita Tikaram might hold back sales, she was given a native American Indian make-over in the video for Twist In My Sobriety, while in an embarrassing display of internalised racism, Jas ‘Spaceman’ Mann from Babylon Zoo succeeded in convincing no one he was part Sikh part Cherokee.
21. ‘Stealing’ Black Music
Elvis Presley took the credit for ‘inventing’ the all-American (read: all-white) rock ‘n roll by covering Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, while Rolling Stones’ got flak for their maiden hits: Come On by Chuck Berry, It’s All Over Now by Bobby Womack, and Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster, but then Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower beats the crap out of Dylan’s original, Bing Crosby sang Try A Little Tenderness before Otis Redding and Blame It On The Boogie was written by a white German dude, called, um, Michael Jackson. After Bob Marley, the biggest selling reggae act in the 80s was UB40. And between The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight and Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, the three biggest rap songs in the UK charts were Rapture (Blondie), Ant Rap (Adam and The Ants) and Wham Rap (Wham). But then no hip-hop fan ever complained about the Beastie Boys amplifying the genre. Artists rip off as much as they riff off other artists. Although we have to draw the line at Duran Duran covering Public Enemy’s 911 Is A Joke. Really, Simon? Do the police really not rush to your house when Yasmin finds a spider in the bathtub?
20. When White Singers Have Non-white Dancers
No one’s saying don’t hire black female dancers, a lot of our best dancers are black females, just don’t pick on one with a big booty and slap her in the arse, Miley Cyrus. Lilly Allen also faced the wrath of the Twitteratti for casting black women as props in Hard Out Here. See also: Gwen Stefani and her Latino dancers in Luxurious and Avril Lavigne’s Japanese dancers in Hello Kitty. White women having male black dancers is a no-no too (Sky Ferreria’s I Blame Myself), and the outage goes off the scale when it’s a white guy backed by black dancers, even if it’s as weird as Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker. Black artists objectifying black women in videos, on the other hand, no eyelids bat.
19. Velvet Underground. Really?
Well, there’s John Cale, pounding away on the piano in Berlin, the year in 1974, while Nico wails through the banned Nazi-glorifying verse from Das Lied Der Deutschen, and the crowd want to kill them. As well as glassing Jimi Hendrix’s singer for being black, Nico was also frequently outspoken against Jews, even though she dated them, most notably Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, and who knows if some of that racism didn’t rub off on them? Reed got plenty of flak for the ‘coloured girls’ lyrics in Walk On The Wild Side, while casting himself as the ‘white boy’ in I’m Waiting For My Man sort of insinuated the heroin dealer in question had to be black. If that feels a bit crowbarred in, things get more in-your-face when he sings in I Wanna Be Black: ‘I wanna be black, have natural rhythm, shoot twenty foot of jism too and fuck up the Jews.’
18. Dylan Getting Sued By Croatia
While other musicians get the finger of accusation pointed at them, Dylan got charged with inciting actual racial hatred. In an interview he did with the French Rolling Stone magazine (who also got sued), while discussing the always-controversial topic of slavery, he concluded those who’ve endured slavery will always be mistrustful of their enslavers, ‘just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood’. Before that, one of the few times Dylan and racism were in the same sentence was when he wrote Hurricane, protesting the innocence of black boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent 19 years in prison charged with murdering three white men. Dylan was instrumental in getting his conviction overturned. And considering he’s written a string of songs highlighting racial inequality under his belt – from Black Cross to The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll – sorry, Croatia, think we’ll side with Bob on this one.
17. No! Not Floyd!
The man responsible for making thousands of fresher’s drop acid and tune out, Syd Barrett dropped a pointless bombshell in Rats by including ‘Pakis’ on a list of vermin. It didn’t exactly help matters when Roger Waters cast the character of Pink, based on Barrett, as a raging Nazi in The Wall. These days, Waters is routinely portrayed as a massive racist by the press for doing things like urging Robbie Williams not to play in Israel, while we can take solace in the thought that Barrett wrote Rats when he was going out of his mind, which gives weight to our theory that racism is actually a form of mental illness.
16. It Wasn’t Racist Back Then Though
Ah, the good old days when non-whites had more violent problems to worry about than complain about being stereotyped in songs. There wasn’t a hoo-ha over Pat Boone crooning, ‘Hey, Rosita, I hafta go shopping downtown for my mudder-she needs some tortillas and chilli peppers’ on Speedy Gonzales, or Rolph Harris warbling ‘Let me abos go loose, they’re of no further use’ on Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. Casual racism wasn’t flagged up like it would be now (a video like The Bangles’ Walk Like An Egyptian would be crucified by the online outrage brigade). But it still happens. Here’s Iggy Pop backstage at Glastonbury in 2007 casually dropping in ‘Paki shop’ into the conversation and not one of the wet wimps in the Radio 1 studio picks him up on it. Racist or just a bit backward? Answers on post-colonial card.
15. Too Cryptic To Tell Whether It’s Risqué Or Racist
You’d have to be a right stick in the mud to brand The Fall’s Mark E Smith a racist, but then there’s these lyrics in The Classical: ‘Your taste for bullshit reveals a lust for a home of office… Where are the obligatory niggers?’ Then there’s Ian Dury on Blackmail: ‘I’m a Paki, Chink, a half-cocked ponce, I’m the blackmail man.’ See also: Patti Smith’s Rock ‘n Roll Nigger, Randy Newman’s Rednecks, and Perry Farrell destroying all the good work of Jane’s Addiction in one fell swoop with the atrocious Black Girlfriend.
14. Not That Spelling It Out Makes It Any Clearer
It’s Ian Mackaye, Fugazee, man. He’s no racist. But then there’s this passive aggressive line from the Minor Threat track Guilty Of Being White: ‘I’m sorry for something that I didn’t do, lynched somebody but I don’t know who, you blame me for slaver, a hundred years before I was born’. And what to make of the seemingly straight-to-the-point Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey by Sly and the Family Stone? Or the we-have-black-friends-we-can’t-be-racist likes of Anthrax (here seen in their offshoot band Stormtroopers Of Death screeching Speak English Or Die), or Eminem admitting ‘all the girls I like to bone have big butts. No they don’t, ’cause I don’t like that nigger shit, I’m just here to make a bigger hit’.
13. Professor Griff’s Anti-Semitic Outburst
In 1989, Public Enemy’s Minister of Information decided to inform the world he was a howling racist by saying things like ‘Jews have a grip on America’ and that they ‘have a history of killing black men’. It isn’t known whether Chuck D, who stood by Griff, then sacked him, then hired him again, shares Griff’s anti-semitic views, but he did write a track called Swindler’s Lust. And started a rap rock group called Confrontation Camp. With Professor Griff.
12. Try Come Up With Another Word Other Than ‘Jew’
Unless it’s a song about Jesus, that word will always cause problems, especially if concentration camps are used for rhyming. We’re looking at you Captain Beefheart (Dachau Blues, those poor Jews), and Sex Pistols, of course (Belsen Was a Gas I heard the other day, In the open graves where the Jews all lay). And it goes without saying using ‘Jew’ when you mean ‘money grabbing’ or ‘evil’ isn’t on either: Michael Jackson on They Don’t Really Care About Us (Jew me, sue me… kick me, kike me), Madonna on the Beast Within remix of Justify My Love (‘They say that they are Jews, but they are not, they are a synagogue of Satan’).