Singer Erykah Badu made the seemingly unwise choice of speaking frankly about her opinions, as a recent interview with David Marchese in Vulture has set the internet mobs ablaze. The entire interview is worth a read, but here are the offending sections:
I know this is maybe a weird pivot, but I think it’s relevant. When I was doing research for this interview I came across an article from after you’d gone to Israel, where the Israeli press was linking you to Louis Farrakhan and his alleged anti-Semitism and it seemed that you were being criticized for defending him rather than denouncing anti-Semitism. I don’t know if those reports were accurate, but isn’t it valid to criticize the hurtful idea in an instance like that? Even if you respect the person who holds that idea?
Absolutely. But I never made a statement about Louis Farrakhan — ever. What you’re talking about happened in Palestine. At the time, the working title of my album was Saviours’ Day — which is a holiday for the Nation of Islam but also my birthday. So I’d gone to Palestine and journalists asked me, “Do you believe in Louis Farrakhan? Do you follow him?” Sure I do. I’ll follow anyone who has positive aspects. He single-handedly changed half of the Nation of Islam to clean eating, clean living, caring for their families. He has flaws — like any man — but I’m not responsible for that. I said I’ve appreciated what he’s done for a lot of black Americans. I mean, I’m not Muslim, I’m not Christian, I’m not anything; I’m an observer who can see good things and bad things. If you say something good about someone, people think it means that you’ve chosen a side. But I don’t choose sides. I see all sides simultaneously.
That’s not something most of us are good at.
We’re not, and I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with anything I had to say about Louis Farrakhan. But I’m not an anti-Semitic person. I don’t even know what anti-Semitic was before I was called it. I’m a humanist. I see good in everybody. I saw something good in Hitler.
Yeah, I did. Hitler was a wonderful painter.
No, he wasn’t! And even if he was, what would his skill as a painter have to do with any “good” in him?
Okay, he was a terrible painter. Poor thing. He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, Mars, I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that. I guess it’s just the Pisces in me.
I’m perfectly willing to accept that you might be operating on a higher moral plane than I am, but I think going down the route of “Hitler was a child once too” is maybe turning the idea of empathy into an empty abstraction.
Maybe so. It doesn’t test my limits — I can see this clearly. I don’t care if the whole group says something, I’m going to be honest. I know I don’t have the most popular opinion sometimes.
But don’t you think that someone as evil as Hitler, who did what he did, has forfeited the right to other people’s empathy?
Why can’t I say what I’m saying? Because he did such terrible things?
Well, yes. But it’s also disheartening to hear you say that at a time, like now, when racism and anti-Semitism are so much in the air. Why would you want to risk putting fuel on that fire?
You asked me a question. I could’ve chosen not to answer. I don’t walk around thinking about Hitler or Louis Farrakhan. But I understand what you’re saying: “Why would you want to risk fueling hateful thinking?” I have a platform, and I would never want to hurt people. I would never do that. I would never even imagine doing that. I would never even want a group of white men who believe that the Confederate flag is worth saving to feel bad. That’s not how I operate.
I appreciate that. But I really struggle with the idea of how much we’re supposed to make an effort to understand or have empathy for people who have dangerously backwards or hateful thinking. You want to take the moral high ground, but sometimes that also feels the same as ceding territory.
You got that Pisces in you, that two-fish.
I am a Pisces, actually.
I thought so. So am I. One fish is swimming upstream, one’s swimming downstream. We are all living in a cognitive-dissonance reality. We want to live a certain way or do a certain thing, and we don’t because we are emotionally attached to how the group thinks. The hive mentality takes over. But you know what’s right in your mind and your heart, and if you’re strong enough to detach from the hive then sometimes, just sometimes, you may be able to do the right thing.
The Anti-Defamation League's Jonathan Greenblatt immediately denounced Badu, as did much of Twitter.
While outrage may be the dominant emotion currently fueling the world at this moment in time, it's worth looking at what Badu actually said before we order her vocal cords cut: that bad people, including, yes, Hitler, can have some good in them. And why is that such a thought crime? It is possible to be both good and bad—in fact, it's what all of us are. You can indeed be a bad husband and a loving father; you can be horrible president but a good golfer. You can be a shitbag sometimes and an angel others. Does the fact that Hitler loved animals forgive the fact that he killed 10 million people? No, of course not. If there were a Hell, Hitler will be burning in it eternally. But human behavior isn't black and white, and neither is good and evil.
Erykah Badu didn't say Hitler was right; she said he was human. And I'm not sure why she is being pilloried for that when the much greater sin here is clearly that she believes in astrology.