Eminem’s song “White America” was written over a decade ago in 2002, during the George W. Bush administration, and during the rise on the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror. As a successful white rapper in a black dominated field, Eminem had to deal with the angry white, suburban families blaming him, his music, and being a white rapper in general for all the issues occurring in the United States with the white youth during this time period.
The music video for “White America” best illustrates Eminem’s words, and anger for the burdens he carries as a white rapper in America. It starts off in an elevator with joyful music playing, and you notice it is going all the way down (50 floors), as if a metaphor for what we are about to experience. As the elevator comes to an abrupt stop, the doors open, the music cuts off, and dark music, along with evil laughter begins to play. The camera moves among a diverse crowd of white people that lacks the diversity of brown people, and black people, all appearing as zombies with their eyes open, but completely white, as if actually blind to what is happening right in front of them, and you hear the haunting, “how many people are proud to be citizens of this beautiful country of ours… for the rights that men have died for to protect… have broke their neck’s for the freedom of speech the United States Government has sworn to uphold, or… so we’re told.” This was put as the intro to prepare the listener for the truth Eminem was about to speak, whether or not they were ready to hear it.
Eminem touches upon the idea that he is all that is wrong in the world, as stated on a poster within the video that labels him an “American transcendentalist” which can be understood as understanding reality by looking at the reasoning process. This is important in understanding that Eminem spoke honestly of everything in his life, as well as why he was the way he was, and all these people criticizing him had to do was take a step back and look at the overall picture. This idea comes from the fact that he is white, and therefore has the most of an influence on the white teens because he looks like them, which is where the problem is. He resembles the youth, and that was something that before him, was not an issue in the hip-hop community. It states that a black rapper could never have this success of bringing rap to mainstream America, because they do not look like these white kids, so these white kids feel no connection to their music. All of a sudden, there was violence, and shootings, as if it already was not an issue in black youth communities. He mentions, “hip hop was never a problem in Harlem, only in Boston,” until it started harming the white youth. Eminem emphasizes the idea of racism in the United States by bringing up this concept. Millions of black youth are facing similar and even harder issues, yet we want to focus the attention only on this distinct group of people, because they are the ones we truly care about. They do not care for hip hop, but now that it has reached the mainstream “White America” it has to go.
Eminem speaks on the War on Terror, and how it was ironic that we were fighting for our freedom of speech during this time, yet were also fighting to limit Eminem’s. Afghanistan, and Iraq were terrorists who hated the idea of freedom, and soldiers fought to protect it, yet they want to censor people who use vulgar language in rap, or any other outlet because it can be “dangerous.” Eminem is upset at the fact that he has to deal with the fight to censor his music during this time period. This rap acts as a response to the censorship of Eminem’s music. And, as mentioned before, it is that same idea that it is only being censored, because it is a white man rapping it, and it may potentially reach the white youth. They do not care about black people, or the influence rap and the cursing has on them, they never have, and they still do not, it was only an issue once Eminem was involved. Eminem believes you need that cursing to feel the anger he feels, as well as the passion behind the music, not just in his music, but in every artist’s. He believes that if a child is evil, they are evil, music is just music. Music cannot make a person buy a gun and shoot up their school, only they can. Eminem used his music as an outlet for all he has gone through in his life, and censoring it takes away from the important messages, as well as has no point, because it will not stop anyone from anything they already think of, or plan on doing. He speaks for more than himself with the opening scene where two white cops are beating a person (obviously) of color on the ground, yet, it is covered with an explicit sign, it disrespects the real issues occurring in the United States, and takes away from the suffering people of color face and try to get across through their music. It is Eminem making a statement that the only thing they are hiding is themselves from the evil reality we already live in in our society. This is sadly is still as relevant as ever in the United States, even 15 years later. The policemen have a boombox playing on top of their car, with the vibrations going along with the song, to show they are playing Eminem while beating this man, and others listen to the music along with them, but turn their heads to the violence in front of them, making fun of the idea that Eminem is the cause of all of this. Everyone knows, whether they admit it or not, even the highest up in power will be violent if they are already violent, nothing pushes a person toward’s this.
Eminem uses several images to explain exactly what he is being blamed for, and that includes: school shootings, the drug epidemic, and rise of drug use among teenagers, and school violence. They claim teenagers are hypnotized by his music, and because he spoke on hard hitting topics of drugs, and violence that he had faced, and the kids joined in. With the Columbine shooting, Eric Harris (one of the shooters), was blonde and had blue eyes just like Eminem. Seeing that, the parents instantly needed someone to blame, as if it could not have been Harris’ parents own fault. The teens depicted in the video are shown as innocent white kids, as if, even when calling out that they are violent, and harmful, they still cannot do any wrong. Especially not in the eyes of their white family. White artists who were too intense for these families were to blame for this terror, Eminem and Marilyn Manson as examples. Marilyn Manson was just as controversial when it came to the topic of the Columbine Shooting, and how the kids were supposedly dressed in all black, and wearing makeup similar to Manson’s– which was proved to be untrue, neither wearing such thing, and neither even fans of Manson. Manson has done many articles, interviews, etc. since and spoken on how tired he was on people blaming anything they could for murders, yet not questioning it when it’s in bulk, like dropping bombs on countries. What really makes the two so different? That is the significance of the characters within the video labeled “I Am Eric”/”I Am Erica” not only a play on words with their names also spelling America, but how the white youth looks like Eminem, and seeing that representation causes them to be influenced easier by anything he says. So, because Eminem will speak on violence, and drugs, that is why the white youth are hooked. It is not because of bad parenting, or peer pressure, but simply Eminem’s music. They want you to be cautious of what you’re saying, not just in case anyone hears it, but because white people are hearing it. One of the final scenes of the video shows Eminem at a desk writing the lyrics of the song and having a rope around his neck, symbolising that people are watching his every move, and the second he messes something up, or does what they do not want him to, he will pay for it. People listen for this soul purpose.
Even over a decade and a half later, Eminem’s “White America” is still as relevant as it was in 2002. The general idea of blaming artists for the issues in our society is still a repetitive pattern, except, because Eminem rarely makes music in 2017, there are really no white rappers to place blame on. The dominant race in hip-hop remains black people, and unfortunately, they continue to carry the burden of blame for our youth today. I listen to people argue that artists like Future–who raps about drugs, and lean, causes kids to do this. I believe that today, kids are very much more vulnerable, and they are more willing to try these things, but they would be trying these things regardless, just like Eminem’s time. We use these things to cover the continued issues, like police brutality, drug use, etc., similar to the issues Eminem spoke on. Eminem simply opened the door for the white youth to open their ears to hip-hop, and “stuff they had never”/”would never be exposed to.”
By Brian Naing