Politics | Anger at Obama’s refusal to ban rap song offensive to Asians
Rapper YG (left), pictured in California. Photo: AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON
Rapper YG (left), pictured in California. Photo: AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON

Anger at Obama’s refusal to ban rap song offensive to Asians

The song, by the hip-hop artist YG, describes armed robbery on the homes of Chinese families in the US. The White House says it's a free speech issue

December 6, 2016 1:20 PM (UTC+8)

Asian Americans are voicing outrage over the refusal of the White House to help ban a song by the hip-hop artist YG that glorifies attacks on the homes of Chinese families in the US.

A reaction from the Obama administration was prompted after more than 114,000 people signed a petition calling on the president to wade into the controversy surrounding the California-born rapper’s song, “Meet The Flockers.” The nationwide drive began in September under a presidential program that allows any petition gathering over 100,000 signatures to receive an official White House response.

The petition asked the federal government to ban the song “from public media and investigate the legal responsibilities of YG.”

“The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech in the United States. The White House doesn’t make decisions about whether particular songs are available publicly. Individual platforms determine their choice of content and the rules of participation and conduct for their sites,” said a statement first posted on the White House website on November 29 and signed the “We the People Team.”

Many Asian American leaders, while affirming their support for free speech, were angry that the president chose not to condemn the song’s lyrics.

“(The White House decision) was disappointing, both in tone and substance,” said Yungman Lee, the CEO of Global Bank in Manhattan’s Chinatown and a former Democratic candidate for New York’s 7th Congressional District. “The response was delivered in soulless bureaucratic language suggesting our complaint wasn’t taken seriously … Of course there is a First Amendment right of free speech. But we learnt even in high school civic lessons that you cannot cry fire in a crowded theater. Have the rappers crossed the line? I think so. You are not free to commit a crime against a group of people.”

“I am very disappointed that President Obama refused to ban rapper YG’s song,” said Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education. “This song (constitutes) hate speech because it incites violence against Chinese Americans, a specific racial group. He should have at least condemned it. If this song had targeted African or Muslim Americans, President Obama would have immediately banned it. Just like his attitude toward college admissions, unfortunately, President Obama’s social justice only applies to some racial groups he favors, not Asian-Americans.”

Crime blueprint

YG’s “Meet The Flockers” lyrics read, in part:

First, you find a house and scope it out
Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don’t believe in bank accounts
Second, you find a crew and a driver, someone ring the doorbell
And someone that ain’t scared to do what it do
Third, you pull up at the spot
Park, watch, ring the doorbell and knock
Four, make sure nobody is home

The song was the focus of an October demonstration by over 700 people in downtown Philadelphia. The protesters connected the two-year-old song with the armed robberies of more than 100 local Chinese American families and businesses in 2016 and demanded more police protection. Twelve families were also said to be victims of home invasions between July and August of this year.

The large rally, timed to coincide with a concert by YG in Philadelphia on October 15, was attended by Asians as well as some members of the African American community.

“All of us together, the city of Philadelphia, must stand arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand to oppose any act of violence,” said the Reverend Robert Shine, an African American pastor who attended the rally and characterized YG’s lyrics as “reprehensible.”

Chinese American groups also demonstrated against the song in other cities across the US.

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time that rap lyrics have outraged Asian Americans. New York hip-hop station Hot 97 was blasted in January 2005 for playing a song that mocked the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 people in Asia.

The lyrics of the parody, sung to the 1985 tune “We Are The World,” read, in part:

All at once you could hear the screaming chinks
and no one was safe from the wave
there were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away
you could hear god laughing, “swim you bitches swim”

Hot 97 apologized and fired the staffers responsible for the incident — which drew criticism from non-Asian groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“For someone to market these negative, despicable and deplorable images of people who have suffered so much is a travesty of justice. People of good will must condemn this,” said Charles Barron, an African American member of the New York City Council, at the time.

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times

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