White Men Are Black Men Too is a problematic assertion. It’s the type of thing you can imagine whichever hopeless white politician in the English-speaking world saying because if ‘white men are black men too,’ apparently there’s no need for change towards equity. This either says, “We’re all equal already, stop complaining”; or it’s an implicit acknowledgement that late capitalism is fucking all of us below a certain socioeconomic status in the same way. Both of these assertions are false, because oversimplifications don’t really serve as a coherent ideological framework that can actualise real change.
So while Young Fathers have called their album White Men Are Black Men Too, I don’t think that the album is necessarily engaged with articulating the ‘why,’ of the statement, but rather the ‘what’. What are these terms that delineate race? What do they do? How can they be subverted? Really, this has been the overarching theme of their career to date and why, to some, DEAD fell over in restating said arguments, in the same way.*
So when I say that White Men Are Black Men Too is a statement of intent by Young Fathers, of course I mean in its politics. But, its true intention lies in Young Fathers’ desire to use their position as zeitgeist-accepted Mercury Prize-winners to realign pop music towards, in their words, better “representing culture as it really is.”
And so while the dissonant everything-falls-apart choruses are still here on tracks like ‘Feasting’ and ‘Dare Me,’ the album’s ideology is spelt out in the initial one-two punch of ‘Still Running’ and ‘Shame’. Here, Young Fathers are inside a sonic background unambiguously from the pop side of the generic spectrum, celebrating the pop aesthetic as, arguably, one of the more salient and subversive means to get a message ‘out there.’** This pop sensibility also extends to the songwriting: Where in past albums most of Young Father’s songs’ were focused on concepts (or people representative thereof), now it is on the self and how said concepts affect the individual. Take ‘Sirens,’ where the sound of the police*** “violates the silence” of everyone in the song’s narrative space, so while the figures in this song are not the reasons for the sirens, they too, they collectively, are oppressed by them.
While album’s title appears again in ‘Old Rock ‘n Roll’ it is deployed in such a way that we cannot walk away from the album saying: “That is was Young Fathers were saying, I know this.” Nor do the next five songs that finish the album define it to the point that I, or anyone,**** could delineate one interpretation as the most adequate. And, really, working out this album as an isolated text would be beside the point. White Men Are Black Men Too is too slippery to define with any certainty. So what are we to make of it? As far as I am concerned, White Men Are Black Men Too is a call to, as per the title (and hook) of the last song, acknowledge these inequities and ‘get started’ towards, hopefully, change.
* I do not know where I stand on DEAD, while definitely not as good as TAPE ONE and TAPE TWO, it’s not a bad album by my or most others’ subjective measure.
** In this sense, Hip Hop itself is a coup, of sorts, in how its popularisation has made the narratives of urban poverty wholly pervasive in popular culture.
*** Shout out to KRS One.
**** Despite some hilarious white-boy interpolations of the lyrics over on Rap Genius.