It was a story, and a story worth reporting.
Rap had little to do with it, in the beginning.
But the reaction that ensued?
That, on the other hand, feels like it might have a lot to do with rap.
Because rap is black.
Put bluntly, would so many people feel so thoroughly violated and endangered if this was a story about a white assistant principal using a different form of artistic expression?
I don't know the answer to that question, but posing it seems critical to genuinely grappling with what we've seen play out, online and elsewhere, in the wake of last week's story in The News Tribune about Lincoln High School assistant principal Logic Amen and his now-controversial side work as a hip-hop artist.
It was a legitimate story to publish. The reason is obvious.
Amen is a high-profile administrator at one of Tacoma’s public high schools and is clearly well respected within the district. His artistically expressive lyrics — most particularly, a song written from the perspective of a troubled teen fantasizing about shooting up a school — raise real questions about impact versus intent. They also lend themselves to a debate about protecting creative expression in a world where gun violence at school has become all too common.
Unfortunately, we know that world, we live in that world, and we’re keenly aware of the hyper-vigilant response of school districts across the land in dealing with any perceived threat.
Would the district grant a student at Lincoln the same leeway for creativity as the assistant principal? It’s a fair question, and the News Tribune's story included more than 3,000 words of context, much of it cultural and necessary to fully grasp the layered nuance at play.
That’s the easy part. The larger reaction to the story is a lot harder to parse.
Amen's music was excoriated by some people for potentially sending kids the wrong message — for being violent, sexist and racially divisive. But would people be so intensely worried about what the children might be exposed to if Amen had written a violent screenplay or novel? What if he’d written a misogynistic power ballad?
What if he wasn’t black and hadn’t rapped?
Surely, some people would have objected to any form of art, coming from any school administrator, concerning itself with school shootings in the way Amen's did. But would the reaction have been so immediate and visceral? And would that reaction have been different even though we know most mass shootings are carried out by white men?
Though race and rap clearly are not the only issues at play in this complicated story — there are many, and reducing the situation to simplicities is precarious — it seems equally clear that ignoring them as possible factors altogether is problematic at best.
At worst, it feels symptomatic of a much deeper flaw in white culture.
On a broader level, much of reaction in the days following the story’s initial publication would seem to serve as evidence of this larger epidemic — one white people need to confront.
Without fail, white people are consciously or unconsciously threatened by the mere existence of black bodies. We’re scared by black expression, and we're terrified when it’s outspoken and unapologetic. When black artists do express their lived experiences? White people routinely push back, and hard.
We see it in the way white opinions are formed around people like Colin Kaepernick, Kendrick Lamar and Ta-Nehisi Coates. It manifests in the way white people navigate supermarket lines and traffic lights.
It happens every single day, all the time.
Just think of the examples we’ve seen in the last several months.
A white student called the cops when a black student was napping in a common area; a white woman dialed 911 when black men were having a barbecue; and a white woman summoned the law enforcement when a black real estate investor inspected a house.
These are not isolated events, sadly, and they tap into something white culture needs to reckon with — sooner rather than later.
Why are so many white people terrified of black people, and what are we going to do about it?
And how much of that came into play in the reaction to the story of Logic Amen?
In a column full of questions, those are also important to ask.
As Amen opined in his music, “Black on purpose, white folks nervous.”
Much of the time, that certainly seems to ring true.
Purposefully hiding our eyes to this reality — or the impact it might have had on how Amen's story was received — is more dangerous than any mix tape.