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Weathering the storm: Was Stormzy’s refusal to comment on racism cowardice or strategic?

Saturday morning, I woke up to “black twitter” up in a frenzy over a video of Stormzy’s interview on Channel 4’s The Last Leg. During the interview he was asked about an incident in which the police raided his new luxurious Chelsea home because a neighbour thought he was an intruder. When questioned about whether the raid had a “racial undertone”, Stormzy shied away from the question by stating “well I’m new to the neighbourhood”. This caused a Twitter uproar and had the TL divided into two factions; Those who felt that Stormzy was smart for shying away from the matter and avoiding potential repercussions against his career, and those who felt that he was a coward. Now even though I think it is a stretch and unfair to bash him for refusing to call out racism, I do feel that in the grand scheme of things his negligence could prove to be an issue in the future… if it’s an issue he chooses to permanently remain silent on.

For too long have we seen influential black figures, especially those in the entertainment industry, choose to be negligent regarding the topic of race. Most of the time they only choose to address once it becomes a direct hindrance to them *cough cough* Nicki Minaj, Kanye West. Although this neglect is often rooted in selfish reasons, we spectators can’t lie and act as if speaking on certain topics does not have the potential for severe consequences. Racism is a system. It’s institutionalised and speaking out against it in an industry where it’s prevalent will have you taken down systematically! This can range from the media making you out to look like a nutcase (e.g. Dave Chapelle) to potentially ending your career and silencing you forever (e.g. Michael Jackson and 2Pac). For such reasons its obvious why one would want to dodge the topic when put in the hot seat.

However, dodging the question indirectly can also prove to be a calculated move. J.Cole once rapped “play the game to beat the game, or be that broke mother***** talking about ‘how I stayed true’. Ironically J.Cole found himself the victim of an eerily similar circumstance to Stormzy last year, when police raided his new house after his neighbours wrongfully thought it was a trap house. Cole chose to dedicate a full song to the incident on his most recent album. He may have chosen not to address the incident on the airwaves but he still brought awareness to it by addressing it through his art. He was strategic about it. Kendrick Lamar did a similar thing with To Pimp A Butterfly (his five-time Grammy winning album). In order to tear down a system you have to be strategic. You can’t go all out guns blazing. At least not always. That isn’t a knock against black celebs who do directly call out the racist nature of the industry in public. I admire their courage and we need more influential people of colour to posses such boldness. At the same time, we should also understand one has to be smart when navigating in and around the industry.

Although I do feel a simple “it may have very well been a racial issue who knows” from Stormzy, wouldn’t have hurt, I do understand his reluctance.  Stormzy’s profile has grown significantly since he first emerged on the scene three years ago. He is only going to get bigger and he still has a long way to go before he is truly a force to be reckoned with within the industry. Until then he has to be careful and strategic about his moves. That interview most likely was a trap set for him. He has mouths to feed and people relying on him. He has to play the game before he can beat it. Let’s not be so dismissive of him yet. Let me know how you feel by tweeting us at @SpotlightFirst.

Words by NiftyNoel

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Nifty Noel