When I first heard there was a petition to ban a track by Bompton rapper YG, with enough signatures that the White House is expected to comment on it—I figured it had to be the song "FDT" (aka "Fuck Donald Trump").
But no. To my surprise, the fuss is over "Meet the Flockers," the how-to-rob-a-house primer from YG's 2014 Def Jam debut My Krazy Life, because of its opening bars: "First you find a house and scope it out / Find a Chinese neighborhood, 'cause they don't believe in bank accounts." (That's a stereotype I'd never heard about.)
The specific complaint is that the song (and more to the point, the video) "encourages violence and crimes to a specific ethnic group." The petition was posted to whitehouse.gov's We the People page five days after an incident in Atlanta, in which an Asian American woman with a handgun opened fire on three men who were allegedly breaking into her home. According to the Washington Post, one suspect was killed, two escaped, and the woman was not charged.
Despite the fact that no one has established any link between "Meet the Flockers" and this (or any other) incident, the petition gathered 112,702 signatures in a month. Clearly, the racial dynamics are heated, but is a two-year-old album cut really causing "cultural violence"—and is censorship the answer?
Ground zero of Black/Asian relations on wax is a 47-second song by the king of politically minded LA gangsta rap: Ice Cube. That song, "Black Korea," from 1991's Death Certificate, was recorded during some of the most racially charged days in LA history—after Black teenager Latasha Harlins was fatally shot in the back of the head by Korean American shop owner Soon Ja Du—and released around the same time Du was sentenced to probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. A few months later, the acquittal of the LAPD officers in the Rodney King case sparked the 1992 LA riots. More than half of the businesses burned reportedly belonged to Korean Americans, echoing Cube's warnings of stores being burned "right down to a crisp" if relations didn't improve.
Though that era's rage has subsided, rap still has a problem in regard to its depiction of the entire Asian diaspora (despite tons of Asian American hiphop fans and practitioners). You'll very rarely hear a Black rapper openly slur any other ethnic minority on record—except people of Asian descent. There's the beyond-tired smoking-weed-made-my-eyes-Chinese chestnut, a thousand offensive stereotypes from skits and videos, and a laundry list of groan-inducing lines from Kanye, Drake, and Childish Gambino.
Is the idea that the so-called Model Minority wouldn't mind a little lighthearted prejudice or that they'd be too passive to object? In this, rap is sadly keeping pace with the worst of mainstream white America—look at the recent "Chinatown" segment on The O'Reilly Factor, or the (thankfully curbed) development of NBC show Mail Order Family.
Meanwhile, hiphop is still—still—a target when conservative America needs to vilify Black people en masse. Trump surrogates have even attempted to shift blame for their candidate's repugnant comments about women onto the terrible examples set by rap music.
Attempts to ban rap songs are as old as rap itself, and because the internet makes "banning" a virtual impossibility anyway, you have to ask what these efforts are really about.
Protests have sprung up outside of YG concerts nationwide in the wake of the petition. On YG's Snapchat, the rapper aimed his camera at some of the protesters outside of his show, who called for an apology. "How they gone hate on a real nigga?" he wondered.
According to Seattle-based event producer/community organizer Michael Huang, the intent of protest actions like the petition within Asian communities "is ostensibly to advocate and stand up for ourselves. But the execution is too often to point a finger at black people. Anti-blackness is real in America—including among Asian Americans—but so is anti-Asian and anti-'other.' We're relegated to having to fight amongst ourselves."
One can't help but think of the protests outside the courthouse where ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang, the son of Chinese immigrants, was convicted for the death of Akai Gurley. On one side, the crowd chanted Black Lives Matter. On the other, a huge gathering of Chinese Americans shouted "Peter Scapegoat," demanding that Liang not be convicted for shooting an innocent, unarmed Black man—when white cops typically get away scot-free with that offense.
"Asian Americans have been pitted against African Americans for a long time," says Huang. "Sure, Asian Americans have been able to attain the most upward mobility out of all minority groups, but at what cost?"
The cost for proximity to the American dream is always steep—especially when it includes accepting anti-Black racism. Then again, it don't cost nothing to apologize. "Chinese neighborhoods" or not, we are all neighbors—YG included—and there are far better ways we can show up for one another.