Tom Hanks’s son Chet Hanks, the aspiring hip-hop artist who goes by Chet Haze, is in trouble. On his new song “Juice,” featuring the rapper Chill, Hanks repeatedly uses the N-word, and after being called out about it, he released a video defending his behavior. Here’s a snippet:
Look, I know the majority of y’all are not gonna get this because the history is still so fresh in our country. But hip hop isn’t about race. It’s about the culture you identify with. And can’t no one tell me what I can’t say.
Haze’s argument — I am what I say I am — is a common and convenient one, and it’s often made by people who don’t seem to understand that their ability to self-define is a privilege. Hanks, Haze — whatever he wants to be called — is the son of one of the biggest celebrities in the world, and he feels comfortable speaking in the clichéd vernacular of a black person because he “identifies” with that culture. Well, bully for Chet, because it’s his feelings that matter the most here, right? And all of those people whose language in part developed as a result of dismal socioeconomic realities should respect his truth. Because it just wouldn’t be fair otherwise, would it?
Look, maybe Chet Haze is making a bigger argument here, about how art can transcend racial and social barriers — as hip-hop has in so many ways. In which case, sure, he’s free to relate to the music in any fashion he sees fit. But you have to wonder about just how deeply he connects with hip-hop when he seems so tone-deaf about how the language of the culture evolved and developed, and who might be sensitive to hear that language used by someone like him. Q-Tip touched on this last year, when he gave some unsolicited advice to Iggy Azalea, who was having an appropriation argument with the world that's not dissimilar to the one Haze is currently having:
You have to take into account the HISTORY as you move underneath the banner of hip hop […] hiphop is fun, it's vile, it's dance, it's traditional, it's light hearted, but 1 thing it can never detach itself from is being a SOCIO-Political movement.
Hip-hop welcomes all comers — fabulously wealthy children of globally famous white people included. But when those people then say that it doesn’t have anything to do with race? Well, it doesn’t take an expert in hip-hop culture to know that that’s wrong, or that the person doing the talking probably feels like he has a little too much to prove.