Last month, an outrageous phrase, “Hang the Whites”, was trending on French Twitter. What brought this horrendous exclamation under the national spotlight was a provocative song named PLB (the French acronym for “Hang the Whites”) by Nick Conrad, a black rapper that no one had heard of before.
In the equally provocative video clip for the song, posted briefly on Youtube and taken down after widespread outcry, Conrad and an associate abduct, chase, torture and violently kill a white man. The song’s shocking lyrics appear to advocate for the “killing of white babies” and “hanging of their parents”.
The video clip quickly set the French political landscape on fire.
In response to Conrad’s video, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-rightRassemblement National Party (National Rally) criticised what she called “an anti-white racism that no self-proclaimed expert or media person speaks of”.
Minister of Interior Gerard Collomb also tweeted that he “condemned without reservation these abject remarks and ignominious attacks”.
On September 27, Paris prosecutor’s office announced that it launched an investigation to determine whether Conrad’s video constitutes an incitement to a crime.
I, too, was shocked when I watched the video clip for the first time, only hours after the start of the controversy. What I saw in those images was nothing more than a disturbing fascination with violence. I could not stand the words that were describing the killing of human beings in gruesome detail.
Nick Conrad gave an interview to RTL on September 26 and explained that his song was not a “call for hate” but a “fictional” re-telling of the horrors experienced by black people in real life, in which the races were reversed for impact.
He said that the scene in the video clip in which he tortures and kills a white man was a re-enactment of a scene from the 1998 Hollywood movie, American History X, in which a black man was killed by Neo-Nazis in a similar way. He even referenced the movie in the lyrics, saying “Black History X, it is the beginning.”
Several people also came to Conrad’s defense on Twitter, and argued that this was not a “racist” song calling for murder, but instead an artist’s provocative attempt to attract attention to the very real racism black people have long been facing.
After reading Conrad’s interview and comments by people defending him on Twitter, I was still not entirely convinced, but I decided to have a second look at the clip. After looking at the disturbing images from that perspective, I had to admit that Conrad’s explanation made some sense.
Every single scene in that video clip and every verse in that song is a re-telling of a specific abuse black people had suffered in not so distant history. When Conrad says, “Catch them quickly and hang their parents, tear them up to entertain black kids of all ages big and small”, he clearly refers to the spectacle that was made of the public executions of black people during the Jim Crow era. When he says “Whip them hard – frankly, it stinks of death as blood is gushing”, the reference speaks for itself.
The way the artist used his platform to shock his audience is more than questionable and certainly counterproductive. But even though I’m still not certain of his real intentions in creating this video, and concerned about the brazen display of violence in the clip, I have to admit that it is possible to find new layers of meaning under the violent imagery.
Is Conrad’s video simply a celebration of violence, or is it a provocative and controversial commentary on racism? I’m still not certain. But if we put the clip itself aside for a second, and focus on the reaction it received, we are faced with an even more interesting question: How can a virtually unknown rapper become a topic of national discussion, and a symbol of “anti-white racism”, simply by releasing a video clip on the internet?
As read the reactions to Conrad’s video, I could not help but wonder whether I had ever witnessed such a vivid backlash to any racist statement, song or comment by a d-list celebrity, an aspiring musician or an unknown member of the public. As far as I can remember, I never did.
Conrad was not a superstar or even a well-known public figure before this controversy, and it was obvious that his music would have next to no influence in France or anywhere else.
So why on Earth would so many pre-eminent political figures give so much exposure to an unknown rapper who had no more than a couple of hundred followers on social media?