On Meanness and Saying Less: An Open Letter to Daniel Caesar

In a perfect world, we would all be nice to each other.

But the sad reality is that, in the age of the internet especially, no one has an obligation to be nice to you. No two people are likely to completely agree on everything, and that’s okay. What makes people angry, and consequently mean, is hearing or reading grossly uninformed messages that should be easily corrected by common sense.

Daniel Caesar, you are a very talented young guy. Your lyricism exemplifies a depth that shows you have the capacity to understand issues in broader contexts. In the case of you believing that black people are carrying out a wave of unnecessary meanness against white people, it’s startling for many of us that you would be so naive and would oversimplify an issue in the way that you have, drunk or not. And for you to say you won’t apologize for your commentary because no one is bothering to teach you is both frustrating and disappointing. If you know that you’re ignorant enough to learn something, maybe don’t make such definitive statements that you know people will jump on you for. You’re obviously allowed to speak your mind, but sometimes, you really don’t have to say anything.

The first thing I wondered about after watching your weird, drunken rant was your age. It’s possible that maybe, because you are relatively young, you haven’t had the experiences that a lot of black people have had that have shaped their perception. But at 23, some things should just be common knowledge.

I’m not going to go deep into the history of race relations; in fact, no one should have to for you. Canada has racism just like the U.S. and, frankly, so do many other westernized countries. Maybe you have a few white friends so you can say “not all white people,” but there’s no way you don’t understand the historically established dynamics between us. If you don’t, it’s no one’s responsibility but your own to learn about them. My white friends understand the nuances of our respective cultures, identities and backgrounds and how they all relate to each other. When I or other black people critique an aspect of whiteness, they know how to either learn from that critique or move on knowing that it doesn’t apply to them. There is nothing inherently mean about the conversations surrounding navigating whiteness. And our collective outrage isn’t simply a matter of not being able to take a joke. What you perceive as being “mean” is us rejecting the way that non-black people talk about and perceive us as a complex group of people. We’re allowed to be “mean” as a response to people who are actively working against us.

There seems to be an increasing number of artists, celebrities, and people with large platforms making lazy statements about love and how being nice to each other is the answer to everything. Unfortunately, it’s not. A person can be nice to you and still be detrimental to your wellbeing. There are systemic issues that need to be addressed, and something as small and seemingly insignificant as calling an individual out for ugly comments or actions is a step toward denormalizing the damaging, and sometimes outright violent, systems and attitudes that hold many of us back.

Good for you for being able to brush off whatever weird thing Dave Chappelle said to you. But other people are not able to just “keep it moving” when someone demeans them for the sake of a “joke,” and they shouldn’t have to. In that specific moment, a real, valid identity was being used as an insult, and there’s no reason for that. If we all move past and ignore “jokes” like that, we continue to let those jokes dehumanize the real people with those identities.

Your girl MaybeJewels (I’m sorry, I actually can’t ever get her name right) has been criticized for things that I haven’t entirely kept up with. But what I do know is that, similarly to you, instead of taking the criticism as an opportunity to learn, grow and do better, she barks back in defense and digs a deeper hole for herself. That’s why people are “mean” to her. No one is exempt from criticism, constructive or otherwise. What becomes upsetting is when valid criticism is ignored because of hurt feelings.

Is it fair that people resort to poking fun at her sex life or your appearance because they’re mad? Of course not. It’s childish and irrelevant. But it doesn’t invalidate their anger or frustration.

My hope is that one day, you and others who believe that certain things are “just jokes” will realize that, in a lot of cases, they’re not. We aren’t even more “sensitive” than we used to be. In a time where multiple voices are being amplified by way of ever-expanding social media, we’ve become more open in expressing ourselves, as well as critiquing things we don’t agree with. Instead of getting defensive and saying “be nice,” we all need to be more open to learning how to be better people, and for many people, that includes learning to listen.

And there’s always the option to just not say anything at all.

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