Even with Odd-Future savant Frank Ocean's sexuality a relative non-starter, the mainstreaming of sissy bounce and all the recent talk of the queering of hip-hop, this video, by burly, bearded New England rapper B. Dolan (who happens to be a straight, cisgender man), blew my mind.
A little background for the uninitiated: When trans* woman CeCe McDonald was attacked by a group of violent, transphobic harassers (one of whom, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed during the ensuing struggle) in Minneapolis in June of 2011, she was arrested and charged with second-degree murder (she later pleaded out to manslaughter, saving herself from a multi-decade prison term). The outrage over various miscarriages of justice (the deceased had a swastika tattoo that wasn't permitted into evidence, while McDonald's bad-check writing charge was; McDonald is currently housed in a male facility; McDonald is a trans person of color in prison for defending herself -- a fact most supporters feel would have held sway if she wasn't black, or trans) have engaged people of all stripes, but a signal-boost from alt-hip-hop star B. Dolan is an exciting development.
After watching "What Side Are You On" approximately a dozen times, B. Dolan had himself a new fan. What's not to love? He calls out homophobic rap stars, asks big questions, samples the title 1931 protest song. But I was left wondering -- in a landscape of radio-silence -- how to make Dolan less of anomaly? To get real for just a minute, some of my biggest transition struggles have been moving among men for whom sexism, homophobia, and transphobia (and racism, too) are invisible -- rendering me invisible, on some occasions; and, at others, getting called out, as a man, for my own (surprising, internalized) sexism.
So I phoned him up to suss it out, feminist to feminist.
Dolan had already written "Which Side Are You On," but when he heard about the McDonald case, he was immediately moved. "I try with my political art -- when I do political rap music -- I try to avoid just raw bumper sticker rap; just soapboxing: 'politicians are corrupt,' and 'corporations are bad!' If I'm gonna make a political rap song, it's going to be about something tangible that people can do."
By the time he'd caught wind of McDonald, she'd already been scheduled for sentencing, so he got in touch with the Trans Youth Support Network of Minneapolis and helped "pack the protest" for her sentencing (where parts of the video are shot). Now his mission is to "channel awareness and support" to CeCe and the organization.
Of course, Dolan isn't a bro. For one, he frequents Jacques drag bar in Boston to see shows that inspire him. "I go there to get excited about stagecraft." He also hosts the incredible touring act, Church of Love and Ruin, a bill stacked with his talented friends -- a cross-section of sexuality, race, and gender -- though his audience tends to skew straight and white. So how do bros react when put to the test?
"Overall, it's been overwhelmingly positive," Dolan says. "There's been a few YouTube comments, and you know they've provided a platform for us to make an example of somebody ... when those homophobic hip-hop fans speak up, it's a good chance to make an example of them and tell them publicly, 'I would rather not have your ticket money. I would rather be the artist that challenged you on your shitty belief and lost you as a fan, than have you at my show thinking like you think and thinking that I'm with you."
But my big question: how to cultivate more allies -- and more role models of masculinity -- like Dolan? In his case, he credits friends that hold him accountable ("I can't see why you'd be otherwise, really, why you'd be willfully ignorant"), and a willingness to own up to privilege. "In my own life, I've analyzed that privilege and not been afraid to think about it, and not been afraid to seek other perspectives." And he figures it's the duty of those of us with it (most of us have some sort of privilege: economic, racial, gender, passing, etc.) to check each other.
"That's something I'm uniquely in a position to do as a straight white man," he says, frankly. "I don't think it's for people of color or for queer people -- the burden isn't on them to explain themselves to straight people. The burden is on straight people to put other straight people in check, and men to put other men in check on misogyny. That's something I see as my duty."
He cites Brother Ali as inspiring him to look at uncomfortable truths in himself. "You have to love yourself as a person, and it requires a love and a comfort with yourself to admit to yourself, 'I may have benefited from things that I had nothing to do with.' ... It feels like you're admitting weakness by admitting privilege. Once you get there, you realize it's not weakness, it's strength."
So how to make more B. Dolans? His advice to allies: "It involves more listening than talking, and not assuming that you've figured everything out or that you're beyond getting schooled. It takes humility and a willingness to understand and empathize and support people. Ultimately that's what makes you a decent human being: That's the good news. It's the process of becoming a decent fucking human being, which should be everyone's business anyway."