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You don’t have to be a politician to value black lives

Lil Wayne’s unpopular opinion goes deeper than his peculiar ‘Nightline’ interview

“I ain’t no f—ing politician.”

By now, we’ve probably all seen and heard rapper Lil Wayne declare this at the end of a rather bizarre interview with ABC Nightline’s host Linsey Davis. As he uttered those sentiments, Lil Wayne, real name Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., began removing the mic that was attached to his shirt. The interview concluded, leaving Lil Wayne free to return to his normal life. In Lil Wayne’s world, racism doesn’t exist, his up-tempo tunes will continue to fuel fans at nearly sold-out concerts. In Lil Wayne’s world, there’s no deep connection or affiliation to any movement other than the red bandanna he pulled from his back pocket. “I’m a gangbanger, man,” he proudly expressed while holding the bandanna. “I’m connected.”

A one-minute clip tweeted from Nightline’s Twitter account hit social media Tuesday night, shortly before the full six-minute interview aired on ABC. The clip, in which Lil Wayne made it clear that he doesn’t “feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothing to do with [him],” was met with mixed reactions ranging from props to the rapper for speaking his mind without conforming to pure disgust. Here sat Lil Wayne, a man whose fans have been his ride-or-dies through his rise to fame from a harsh New Orleans environment, his eight-month stint of a yearlong sentence at Rikers Island on a gun possession charge, his breakup with longtime mentor and father figure Bryan “Birdman” Williams, and stood in line to support his newly released memoir Gone ‘Til November, composed of journal entries written during his time in jail. The Lil Wayne in the interview barely seemed recognizable.

Lil Wayne didn’t appear to be himself: his wide eyes, exaggerated movements and disconcerting responses to Davis’ questions led to social media speculation about drug use before the interview. Whether Lil Wayne was under the influence of anything or not, his message of where he stands with the movement was loud and clear.

“I am a young, black, rich m—–f—–,” he said. “If that don’t let you know that America understand black m—–f—— matter these days, I don’t know what is.” He directed his comments to Davis. “Don’t come at me with that dumbass s—, ma’am. My life matter. Especially to my b——.”

He winked.

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Since then, the rapper has issued an apology for his actions, stating that Davis’ questions about his lyrics were what set him off. “When the reporter began asking me questions about my daughter being labeled a b—- and a h–, I got agitated,” he said, according to TMZ. “From there, there was no thought put into her questions and my responses. Apologies to anyone who was offended.”

In a modern, tech-savvy society in which things you’ve said are immediately looped, tweeted and reposted, hollow apologies of this kind don’t mean much when the damage is already done. I’m guessing that sending a vague tweet shortly after the backlash wouldn’t be such a good idea either.

Though it may have been the first time Lil Wayne expressed his views in such an abhorrent manner, it wasn’t the first time he’s addressed the topic of racism. In September, Lil Wayne joined hosts Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe on FS1’s Undisputed to discuss sports, when he was also peppered with questions about racism. After inquiries about his take on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality, Lil Wayne successfully sidestepped them, saying that he didn’t have enough information about the protests to form an opinion. The rapper did, however, go on to express his thoughts about racism from his point of view.

“I have never dealt with racism,” Lil Wayne said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to. I don’t know if it’s because of my blessings, but it is my reality. Not only did I think it was over, I still believe it’s over.”

He listed an example of one show during his tour where he saw nothing but white faces in the crowd. “I don’t want to be bashed because I don’t want to sound like I’m on the wrong — if there is a side — but I thought that was clearly a message that there was no such thing as racism,” he said. He went on to tell a touching story about the time he accidentally shot himself and a white police officer came to his aid.

Just a month before his Undisputed interview, Lil Wayne performed at his second annual Lil Weezyana Fest in New Orleans — a benefit concert the rapper created in 2014 to give back to his hometown while helping victims who are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

“We are black America,” he said at the concert. “Black lives matter. Clothes don’t matter, cars don’t matter, nothing else matter, ’cause black lives matter.”

In both cases, Lil Wayne seemed honest, and I respected his surface-level thoughts while giving him the benefit of the doubt. Lil Wayne stepped into the music industry as a teenager surrounded by bold thinkers and decision makers who battled industry giants on his behalf. He now tours the world with people closest to him, his personal shields, and has the privilege of seeing his labor of love come to fruition through mixed crowds of music heads who come together, if only for a few hours, to enjoy the hits he’s created.

It’s a safe bet that Lil Wayne doesn’t have to run his own errands, and I’m sure he doesn’t deal with the general public daily unless he wants to. It’s a luxury most average Joes can’t afford, so I can see why Lil Wayne’s definition of racism accounts for nothing more than what’s been presented to him. He can only speak to his personal experiences.

But this is where the problem comes in.

Lil Wayne’s personal experiences are his personal experiences, not those representative of every black person in this country. While debating whether this country has made significant progress in the treatment of its black population, it’s so easy to point to President Barack Obama and the success of black athletes and entertainers as a sign of overcoming. Yet statistics about the disparities black Americans face in society in general, including the workplace, continue to fall by the wayside.

In 2015, average hourly wages for black men were $15, compared with the $21 white men earned. College-educated blacks earned a $25 hourly wage compared with the $32 hourly wage earned by their white, college-educated counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center. In a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of black people surveyed believed the country had made a lot of progress since the 1960s, while an overwhelming 79 percent said a lot more work needs to be done. Forty-eight percent of white who were people surveyed said a lot of progress had been made, while 44 percent believed a lot more work needs to be done.

We are as united as we are divided. Just as perfect as we are flawed.

Lil Wayne is not the first to express displeasure with Black Lives Matter, a movement that gained steam after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. About 36 percent of Americans still don’t understand exactly what the goals of the movement are.

Maybe it’s not a big deal that in today’s America, a white supremacist can walk into a church, kill nine innocent people because of the color of their skin and be taken safely into custody. Maybe it’s not problematic that America’s most shameful moments in history are being repeated (on Tuesday evening, a predominantly black church was set on fire in Mississippi, if that sounds familiar). The overbearing attitude that these problems don’t matter if they don’t affect you or –even worse — a denial that these problems don’t exist because they don’t affect you is most harmful. The desensitized reaction to police brutality — no matter what race the victim is — and lack of empathy these cases receive will continue to worsen.

Police brutality should not be the norm. A request not to be killed while handcuffed, while sitting in a car, while playing with a toy, while reaching for a wallet, while sitting with your hands up, while asking for help, while having a stroke, while sleeping, while seemingly being perceived as a threat for existing, should not be the norm.

You don’t have to be a politician to possess the basic human feelings of empathy and compassion. You don’t have to be a certain race to recognize that privileges and freedoms you have may not apply to others.

You don’t have to agree to understand.

Movements like Black Lives Matter are not about trying to change the beliefs and ideals that have been ingrained in the minds of people for decades, but to increase awareness, respect and equality for all. It exists to let those who may still view us as three-fifths of a human being that we are here and we are whole. It exists as proof that we, as a nation, still have a long way to go.

You don’t have to experience the brutal sensation of a closed fist connecting to your jaw to know that the blow will hurt. You don’t have to be sexually assaulted to know that the physical and psychological agony from such a horrid ordeal are real and will often persist long after the initial attack. In a society where the aftereffects of slavery, Jim Crow laws and systemic racism may not always be seen but are definitely felt, it becomes increasingly difficult and exhausting having to explain to people — especially black people — why my life matters and theirs does, too.

You may not have to agree to understand, but a little understanding sure goes a long way.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.