This piece was submitted from a member of our enthusiastic community of readers. If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, check out our how-to post to learn more.
The news that A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden hit on July 3rd, and initially, the reports were that he was arrested because of a street brawl. Naturally, fans and Black activists alike rushed to their social media to demand that the Swedish government release Rocky immediately. As the story developed and we learned out that allegedly the reason Rocky was involved in the altercation was to stop a woman from being harassed by two men; and this alone was enough to heighten the anger felt by the Black community. Thousands rushed to share the hashtag #FreeA$AP, and it is now being reported that Rocky is currently living in inhumane conditions and faces up to six years for the assault.
John Ehmann Rocky's manager made a statement saying, "The conditions of the facility are horrific and include 24/7 solitary confinement, restriction of amenities for the most basic of human functions, lack of access to life-sustaining food as well as unsanitary conditions." This has prompted many celebrities, rappers, and social activists such as Tyler the Creator, Schoolboy Q, and Lil Yachty to threaten a boycott of Sweden until Rocky is released from Swedish prisons.
Although everyone agrees that A$AP Rocky does not deserve the treatment that he is enduring, a few people are hesitant to completely support him because of his comments on race and Black women in the past. From his comments on dark-skinned women wearing red lipstick to his comments on the Black Lives Matter movement, Rocky has been insensitive when it comes to discussing race in America. In 2015 Rocky was interviewed in Time Out magazine and when asked about his feelings on rappers rapping about Black Lives Matter and the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, he responded with: “I did not sign up to be no political activist. I wanna talk about my motherf**kin’ lean, my best friend dying, the girls that come in and out of my life, the jiggy fashion that I wear, my new inspirations and drugs! I don’t wanna talk about no f**king Ferguson and shit because I don't live over there! I live in f**king Soho and Beverly Hills. I can't relate" This sparked outrage among the Black community, and his subsequent interview with the Breakfast club doubling down on his comments has come back to haunt him and rightfully so.
A$AP Rocky's comments on race can be described as ignorant or just him being bad at expressing himself, but both of these explanations are intellectually dishonest. Rocky's earlier albums eloquently and obscurely touch on his relationship to blackness and before and after that interview Rocky had been able to express himself just fine so what was the actual reason for this shift in his mentality? A simple explanation, in my opinion, his proximity to whiteness.
One of the most puzzling lines from his Time Out interview was him stating that he can't relate to the struggles that Ferguson is having because he "lives in Soho and Beverly Hills." This is puzzling simply because Rocky's life didn't start in Soho or Beverly Hills; his life began in one of the blackest spaces in America, Harlem, New York City. Rocky lived in Harlem for most of his childhood, his brother was killed in Harlem, and after leaving Harlem, Rocky lived in homeless shelters and sold drugs to make ends meet. Rocky's hardships in his life are explicitly linked to the socio-economic effects of being Black in America, the same socio-economic effects that birthed the tragedy that happened in Ferguson. Despite knowing his own struggles, he chose to dismiss the struggles of those who were working in Ferguson to dismantle a system that produced Black graves, and ironically he is now in a position where he needs those people.
For those who think that Rocky's situation is purely karma based on his comments from 2015, sadly that ain't it. What this situation is, is a literal example of no matter how close a person of color is to whiteness, they will never reap the full benefits of whiteness. No A$AP Rocky did not want to be white, but he wanted the full benefits of being white which is why he adopted an elitist attitude towards those in Ferguson. Rocky's proximity to whiteness wasn't about race per se but about the socio-economic factors that come along with whiteness. Entangled in what we call white privilege are economic resources that fuel elitist and racist discourse about places like Ferguson. White privilege is like a tree, and a tree cannot exist without its roots. The roots of white privilege are the monetary systems that funnel capital back into the hands of those in power. Those with power have the money to produce social and political machines that exert oppressive forces on minorities so that in turn, minorities will funnel their capital into those machines. The process is easy for white people but grueling for Blacks especially.
The lottery system, banks, access to schooling, healthcare, and amenities are all oppressive forces that benefit off disadvantaged minorities. The two cities that Rocky mentions are excellent examples of what whiteness is capable of in that regard, the gentrification of Soho to the ample reports of police brutality in Beverly Hills show just how flawed his elitism is. In 2015 when Rocky did that interview, he was coming off a high of a 2013 album that went platinum and a 2015 album that eventually went platinum, and his mentality was shifting. Him becoming a millionaire mixed with him moving to an affluent neighborhood and his own internal issues relating to his race and the trauma he went through as a teenager led to him adopting this new mentality.
This is not an excuse for his comments or his ideology; it's only a plausible explanation and adds perspective to his current plight. The one issue with minorities attempting to embrace a white mentality or lifestyle is a simple fact that they will never fully adopt that social status. A$AP's adaptation of a white mentality did not save him from being arrested in Sweden; his mentality did not save him from being treated like an animal inside Swedish custody. His proximity to whiteness did not save him from going through what Black people all around this country go through daily. It pains me to say it, but the plight that A$AP Rocky is experiencing right now mirrors the exact same plight that he dismissed back in 2015 and that makes this situation raw for some people.
So yes, there will be some people who will not engage in this movement to free him, and they're allowed to feel this way. There are folks that have been on the battlefield and have fought against the injustices that Black people go through who are worn and torn from their fight so forgive them if they don't see the need for campaigning for someone who wouldn’t campaign for them. As always, there will be those who regardless of Rocky's past comments who will still proudly fight for him and allow them to extend their empathy to him. Many of these individuals will likely be Black women and members of the Black LGBTQ community because they are the heart and soul of Black activism. My only hope is that if Rocky makes it out of this, he'll finally be able to shift his mentality back and return that same empathy that was shown to him.