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Irish DJ Annie Mac's response to complaints about a song is a reminder that we can't pretend 'we don't see race'

Listeners are responding angrily to Dave’s powerful new single ‘Black’.

ON THE 21ST of February, a 20-year-old London rapper known mononymously as Dave released the first single from his debut studio album Psychodrama. 

The song, entitled Black, has been met with very positive reviews in the music world, with many applauding the way that the song powerfully deals with the experience of navigating life as a black person in the 21st century. 

The music video features plenty of familiar faces, like Stormzy and Raheem Sterling (who proudly shows off the tattoo that led to undeserved victimisation in the press last summer), while the song itself details the struggles that black people face in the UK today, whether it’s in the academia and employment:

It’s workin’ twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than, ’cause you need to do double what they do, so you can level them. 

Or how the justice system treats people of colour:

The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice / A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news / And if he’s white you give him a change, he’s ill and confused / If he’s black, he’s probably armed, you see him and shoot. 

If you haven’t heard the song or seen the music video yet, it’s definitely worth checking out. 

Source: Santan Dave/YouTube

The song has barely been out a week, and already, a number of radio listeners are complaining about it.

Irish DJ Annie Mac, who is well known for her weeknight slot on BBC Radio 1 and her live sets, is one of the many radio DJs currently backing Dave and expecting huge things from the young rapper in the coming months. 

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Today she told Twitter that she’s very frustrated from the negative comments she’s receiving from listeners when she plays Dave’s new single, Black. She wrote:

It’s so very frustrating to see so many negative comments from listeners when I and other BBC Radio 1 DJs play the Dave track Black. Let me get this straight, if you are genuinely offended by a man talking about the colour of his skin and how it has shaped his identity, then that is a problem for you. It’s a real issue that a song so intelligent, so thought provoking, so excellently put together can actually offend you. It’s not just okay to talk about race. It is crucial. Listen to the song with open ears. Please. 

Annie Mac isn’t the only Radio 1 DJ who was bothered by the song’s reception from listeners. She said that fellow Radio 1 host Clara Amfo also found the comments very frustrating, and Greg James decided to bring it up on his morning radio show too. 

Annie’s Twitter comment is bang on, and as well as pointing out how thought-provoking and brilliantly crafted Dave’s new single is, she makes the very important point that it is ‘crucial’ to talk about race. 

This is especially true when, in recent weeks, we’ve seen prominent American politicians recycle that old line, “I honestly don’t even see colour.”

Howard Schultz, a 65-year-old American businessman who’s currently toying with the idea of putting himself forward for the 2020 presidential race, was asked about the effectiveness of racial bias training earlier this month.

As Teen Vogue put it, in an attempt to assure the town hall members that he is not racist, Schultz highlighted his own privilege by saying “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see colour as a young boy and I honestly don’t see colour now.” 

It’s not only a lie – we all see colour, whether we like it or not – but it’s also a lazy response, that can often have harmful consequences for people of colour. Psychologists call this ‘colourblindness’ and define it as “the racial ideology that posits that the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possibly, without regard to race, culture or ethnicity.”

People typically use this response because it can be uncomfortable to deal with race, especially when white people are confronted with the difficult everyday realities that black people face, as BBC Radio 1′s listeners have been when they hear Dave’s new single. In reality, the playing field is not level for people of colour, and as Black’s opening verse points out, it’s very common for black people to have to work twice as hard to get as far as white people who aren’t half as talented or skilled as them. 

Annie Mac gave further comment about the whole situation to NME, where she said:

People are scared of the word ‘black’ and the word, they seem reluctant to have conversations around it. People are feeling on the defensive and act like it’s not necessary to talk about it anymore. I find that really depressing and an absolute justification for that song. 
It’s so important that this song exists and it’s only when you see the texts and tweets coming in that you realise how important it is and how much work needs to be done in this country for racial equality. 

Dave hasn’t made any public comment on the negative responses to his single yet, but yesterday he announced on Instagram that the Psychodrama Tour will begin in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on the 9th of April. Tickets go on sale Thursday morning at 9am. 

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Kelly Earley

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