“I don’t care if the whole group says something; I’m going to be honest. I know I don’t have the most popular opinion sometimes,” Erykah Badu said during an interview with Vulture that left me wondering if years of breathing in incense fumes could cause brain damage, because these opinions of hers are problematic, to say the least.
While that quote is agreeable enough, it’s hard to stomach some of Badu’s unpopular opinions, especially on Bill Cosby, racists and Hitler. Yes, Hitler. And this:
I would never even want a group of white men who believe that the Confederate flag is worth saving to feel bad. That’s not how I operate.
To say that she doesn’t want racists to feel bad? Ma’am. What?!
Now, I understand that Badu is known as a free spirit. And most of us joke about her aura being so magnetic, it’s hard not to get stuck when you’re in her presence. (Word to André 3000, the D.O.C., Common, Jay Electronica and any other man caught in Badu’s vibes.) She playfully calls it “the Erykah Badu legend,” saying, “People think these rappers get all confused by my presence.”
When asked about the exciting music she’s listening to, Badu mentioned, in addition to Lil Uzi Vert and D.R.A.M., rapper (and Satan’s bestie) XXXTentacion. And bless the journalist, Davis Marchese, for doing his due diligence in asking the follow-up question: “Do all the allegations against XXXTentacion affect how you think about his music? What’s your opinion on this larger discussion happening now about about whether we can separate the art from the artist, be it XXXTentacion or Fela [Kuti] or Louis C.K. or Bill Cosby or whomever?”
Erykah’s response was about a parable centered on Jesus and Barabbas, and then she went on to give an explanation that gave me pause:
... I don’t want to get scared into not thinking for myself. I weigh everything. Even what you just asked me, I would have to really think about it and know the facts in each of those situations before I made a judgment. Because I love Bill Cosby, and I love what he’s done for the world. But if he’s sick, why would I be angry with him? The people who got hurt, I feel so bad for them. I want them to feel better, too. But sick people do evil things; hurt people hurt people. I know I could be crucified for saying that, because I’m supposed to be on the purple team or the green team. I’m not trying to rebel against what everybody’s saying, but maybe I want to measure it. Somebody will call me and ask me to come to a march because such and such got shot. In that situation I want to know what really happened. I’m not going to jump up and go march just because I’m green and the person who got shot is green. The rush to get mad doesn’t make sense to me.
What in the Hotep hell is this, Erykah!? Baby, what is you doing?! No one is asking Badu to be a group thinker or to even take sides. But there are certain things that are just universally bad. Using your power to drug women in order to rape or sexually assault them is wrong—no matter if it’s one or 51 women who have accused someone. No one’s asking Badu to dive into groupthink, but she’s starting to sound like a Hotep Trump, who once claimed that tiki-torch-wielding white nationalists were good people.
Badu’s brand of humanity is a conundrum, to say the least. She believes in the good in everyone (even Hitler, and I’m not using “Hitler” metaphorically; she literally believes that there is good in Hitler—Hitler!: “Hitler was a wonderful painter”) and uses empathy to help guide her as a person in the world. It all sounds beautiful and cultlike, but unfortunately, humanity doesn’t work like that. At least it didn’t when Hitler slaughtered much of the Jewish population in Europe. No one cares about how awesome a painter Hitler was (or wasn’t) when he designed his life around being a spawn of Satan.
It’s like news outlets running headlines on the Las Vegas Strip shooter, Stephen Paddock, being a country music fan. Or Charleston, S.C., church killer Dylann Roof being a troubled teen. No one cares about the human details of their lives when their endgame was to take out as many lives as they could. I don’t want to compare murder to rape here, but both are horrible crimes against humanity, and unless you’re the mother of Cosby, Paddock or Roof, you shouldn’t give much consideration to these people.
It’s important not to separate people like Cosby and XXXTentacion from the art they create. When we support art from problematic and predatory people, we are putting money in their pockets. And money is powerful because there are people around these problematic figures who are just trying to make a living and are often not holding them accountable. But we have to remember, when we support artists whose beliefs don’t align with ours, we’re as complicit as they are.
The Vulture writer, Marchese, like us, was just trying to understand Badu and her controversial opinions and said: “I’m perfectly willing to accept that you might be operating on a higher moral plane than I am, but I think going down the route of ‘Hitler was a child once too’ is maybe turning the idea of empathy into an empty abstraction.”
Ding, ding, ding!
Later in the interview, as the writer continues to try to understand her point of view, Badu says:
We are all living in a cognitive-dissonance reality. We want to live a certain way or do a certain thing, and we don’t because we are emotionally attached to how the group thinks. The hive mentality takes over. But you know what’s right in your mind and your heart, and if you’re strong enough to detach from the hive then sometimes, just sometimes, you may be able to do the right thing.
So, I guess there’s that?
In response to the backlash to the article, Badu tweeted that she was open to the dialogue, but it seems that she doesn’t like it when black and Jewish folks deem her problematic opinions problematic because we use the word “problematic” too much:
Sis, maybe you’re problematic too much.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted this response to the Vulture article:
In two other tweets, Greenblatt went in on the Hitler comment:
I also like to think that there is good in all people, but Hitler is pure evil. I don’t care if he painted or was a vegetarian; Hitler is responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews & a war that claimed the lives of tens of millions. Shame on you for downplaying that. You are a role model to many, and as such, you should immediately apologize for these irresponsible and misguided comments.
In case you want to read the interview, spoiler alert: Badu’s next album may be a series of moans and hums; she sits at the bedsides of dying people as a hobby (which actually seems like a pretty relaxing way to go, with Badu at your bedside); her favorite response is, “I don’t know”; and she and Common took an illegal trip to Cuba. This story was probably the best thing about the interview.
So go forth and educate yourself on the very different vibrations of Erykah Badu.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include Badu’s tweet and the ADL’s response to the Vulture article.