Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau’s body, along with Victoria Sims, 75, was discovered on June 15 after she was reported missing. She’d blasted a man on social media for molesting her and taking advantage of her in a time when she was in desperate need of help and protection. Social media was reeling. Hashtags went up. I even came back from a social-media break to post about her.
Then I got right back off and deleted Twitter and Instagram because it seems that every time I get on social media I see more depressing images and stories. Don’t get it twisted, I’m still finding ways to stay informed. Social media isn’t the only forum to get my news. (In fact, I found out about Toyin on YouTube.)
But Toyin couldn’t even have a day before attention was swiftly taken off her. On June 16, a day later, rapper J. Cole posted his song “Snow on Tha Bluff,” where he addresses his own feelings of guilt on whether he was doing enough in the wake of Black men and women being killed by police.
But in the midst of putting his own insecurities on the track, he manages to subliminally criticize one of his peers. He didn’t say her name, and I had to look in the comments to figure out who exactly “she” was. Most guessed he was talking about Chicago rapper Noname, who has been using her platform during these times to educate and be a leader in the movement.
But why would he criticize her?
What Is a Tweet Going to Do?
As I said, I’ve been off social media, so I’m not privy to all that’s been happening. But I quickly caught up. If you’re reading this and aren’t aware, here’s what happened. J. Cole was responding to a tweet in which Noname called out top-selling rappers who profit off the plight of black people, yet can’t even so much as tweet in solidarity with the movement.
She tweeted this on May 29 and then deleted it: “poor black folks all over the country are putting their bodies on the line in protest for our collective safety and y’all favorite top selling rappers not even willing to put a tweet up. niggas whole discographies be about black plight and they no where to be found.”
Now at first, I thought, what is a tweet going to do? How much is a tweet worth?
Lately, Twitter has been the enemy of celebrities. There are those who get on and speak out of turn, uneducated to the words and thoughts they put out there, i.e. Terry Crews and Shameik Moore. There are those who tweet out hashtags and say they’re down for the cause, but have been exposed for being nothing more than oppressors themselves. I’m talking to you, Lea Michele and Mark Wahlberg.
At this point, I don’t need a tweet from a celebrity. I’d rather them go out and protest, entrench themselves in those communities, learn their needs, donate, donate, donate.
But I had to really think about it. It’s not about what I think is important or necessary. It’s about the dissemination of information. Twitter is now the new soapbox. My generation and Generation Z behind us, all we know is social media. Every breaking news story in the past few years that I’ve ever learned about, I learned about it through social media. We’re always on our phones, let my mom’s generation tell it. And in a time where we’re all stuck at home, everyone is paying attention, and almost everyone is on social media.
Noname’s twitter profile is the perfect example of being a pillar of information. Resources are being retweeted and shared at a faster rate than they would have if it hadn’t been tweeted out. People are donating more. People are sharing videos of the activists who came before us and whose words back then still resonate today.
So a tweet, right now, means everything. And at the heart of Noname’s tweet, she is simply asking that if you can’t go out or won’t go out to protest, if you can’t or won’t donate, the very least you can do is use your influence to educate the masses or pass on any information that can be helpful. Reassure your fan base who are more vulnerable to police and are injuring themselves in the streets for you and your children’s future that you hear them, you see them, and you stand in solidarity with them.
No Sidney Poitier, Muhammad Ali or Nina Simone
But celebrities of today aren’t of the same mold as the Sidney Piotiers, the Muhammad Alis, the Nina Simones. For them, money, endorsements and partnerships are at risk if they say the wrong things. They’re not willing to put it all on the line and defer capitalism for liberation as Noname tweeted for the greater good of everyone. They saw what happened to Colin Kaepernick, and as much as they support him, they don’t want that to be them, to lose their careers, money and access. Even Star Wars actor John Boyega expressed that he might not work in Hollywood anymore for being so vocal on social media following George Floyd’s death.
A tweet only takes a minute, which is a slice of the anti-racism and anti-police-brutality work that those on the front lines are doing. Noname was frustrated when she made that tweet because in a time where we need all hands on deck the most, some of you rappers aren’t stepping up to the plate. You can use the pain of black people for dollars, but you can give those dollars back or speak up.
I want her to call these rappers out. I wish she had said names because I’d love to defer my money elsewhere to people actually doing the work and who care about my life, my brother’s life, my mother’s life, my nephew’s life, my best friends’ lives.
Here You Come, J. Cole
Then here you come J. Cole, criticizing her frustration when she never said your name. I don’t know what you meant, but I’ll tell you what it looks like. It looks like you’re coddling these men in a similar fashion as how you coddled XXXtentacion, Lil Pump and Tekashi 69, one of whom is an abuser and the other a sex offender. You gave them sympathy and guidance in lieu of criticism. You were patient to them, and I guess in a way, you want Noname to have the same approach.
But who are you to tell someone how their tone should be? Why does her frustration with certain rappers’ inactivity affect you so much? Why doesn’t Toyin’s murder not frustrate you enough to make a song? Why don’t the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Vanita Richardson and Truvenia Campbell, Tony McDade, Dreasjon Reed not frustrate you enough? When you could make a song about everything that’s happening, and you have in the past with “Be Free,” you decide to police a woman’s tone?
You say that you’re not educated enough and that people shouldn’t associate your college degree with being woke. However, you’ve shown in the past that when the times call for it you can speak out and you can make music that reflects the times. And then you ask Noname to educate when Google is at everyone’s disposal to read and watch what you don’t know. We are now in a time where we have nothing but time on our hands, so there’s no excuse for your ignorance.
That’s why you sound like a misogynist (not a hotep despite what some people have said). And in a time where Black women aren’t feeling protected by Black men; when I can look on Twitter and see Black men saying disparaging things about Black women as if they don’t have Black mothers, sisters, grandmothers; when just a day before Toyin’s body was found, you decide to follow up that tragedy with this. There were so many options at your disposal for how you could have handled this, and you chose the wrong one.
Noname handled you well, giving you exactly what you wanted, which was education. A day later, she responded to “Snow on Tha Bluff” with “Song 33,” where she circles back to the important issues at hand: George Floyd, Toyin Salau and abolishing the police. She lets you know that there was so much you could have talked about, but you decide to focus on her. She’s providing an example of what you should have done, and I hope you enjoyed the lesson.
Don’t Tell People How to Protest
Noname, what I will say to you is that just because people aren’t tweeting, just because we can’t see the donations or don’t see photos of them at protests, it doesn’t mean work isn’t being done. While it would be nice for celebrities to post their donations online and challenge others, it’s not fair to tell people how they should protest.
I didn’t go to any protests, but I’m definitely donating to as many organizations as I can. I haven’t tweeted, and I’m rarely on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having conversations with friends and family about what’s happening.
Cole, I’m not canceling you. I’m just disappointed in you because I know you know better. You caused way more dissension than was necessary in an already divisive time. I can respect that you stand firm on your opinion, but I don’t respect that your tone on Twitter seemed to come off as dismissive and close-minded when you were criticized for this song.
These are crazy times we are living in. It’s been a rough year. But I think what everyone can all learn from this brief “beef” is that we work better together than apart.
So, let’s keep it that way.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.