Why Kendrick’s Auntie Diaries is so Empowering

Content Warning: Homophobia, Transphobia, Slurs

Charlie Pugh
1st June 2022
Credit: Facebook

Content Warning: Homophobia, Transphobia, Slurs

Auntie Diaries, a song in Kendrick Lamar’s new album, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, has been criticised by many as being bad allyship, offensive, or unacceptable.  In the song, he says F*ggot ten times, misgenders, and deadnames his trans aunt and cousin.  Hearing that, the song does sound horribly transphobic, so why was it so powerful for me?

Lamar is very critical about his own use of language.  The story of the song is him growing from using language carelessly as a child and loving his Uncle, seeing the effects of the word faggot and of bigotry on his cousin Mary-Anne, and finally Mary-Anne confronting him directly by comparing the oppression she faces specifically as a trans woman to the oppression he faces as a black man.  She points to a time he stopped a white fan from singing the n-word.  Mary-Anne says this:

‘Faggot, Faggot, Faggot,’ we can say it together

But only if you let a white girl say ‘Nigga’

I don't think that this song is a well-meaning, but ignorant attempt at allyship. He used his words within a very specific narrative framework and with artistic distance. Lamar understood that many would not approve.  Lamar knew the power of the words he uses. For a line-by-line breakdown of why Lamar’s narrative framing is not malicious and further deconstruction of his use of language, see Conure’s exhaustive thread.

Personally, I love this song because Lamar is genuine. As a young boy, he is messy, offensive, and says the wrong things. But he is always genuine. His love for his uncle and cousin is powerful, sincere love. He doesn’t love them out of fear of the label “transphobe”, nor does he love them out of obligation. He paints pictures of real, three-dimensional people through raw moments of human connection: their fashion, their personalities, the haircuts his uncle gives him, and their conversations. Those are the people he loves.

Kendrick abandons artificiality and obligational allyship. It is so often encountered in those who have been told that allyship is the Morally Correct decision, but who have no real conception of trans people as people. Conceptions of trans people are often one-dimensional, viewing only their transness. It is dehumanising and objectifying to be so reduced down to a single characteristic.

What Lamar respects first and foremost is not his uncle’s transness, but his uncle’s personhood, his uncle’s humanity. He doesn’t allow his transness to obscure their humanity. He does not reduce him to victim.

But should Lamar be “allowed” to say any of this anyway? Can faggot be said, can people be deadnamed within the context of art?

inherent_thembo, an organiser of the communal art platform orgic.org discusses the story of their partner's roommate in relation to the song.

The liberal could not conceive that I just liked the guy because we had great conversations and had tons of fun…it had to be something TRANSGRESSIVE…he does not respect me or his roommate as human beings.  He respects homosexuality and black people.  That is to say, his respect is strictly discursive and ideological…

Kendrick doesn’t care about ideology. He actually respects his uncle as a singular human being. He doesn’t need the media, the school system and the state to respect trans people.

He’s not woke, he’s not anti-woke, he’s just an actual fucking human being.

@inherent_thembo

“Wokeness” and “anti-wokeness” are both reactionary. They are not meaningful interaction with someone's humanity, but a knee-jerk to a political positioning.  They cannot help but view a person as a set of categories, they cannot help but view language as a set of rules that must be upheld, words that can and cannot be said.  But that isn’t reality.  People are people.  Language is a tool we use to make genuine connections.

I said, "Mr. Preacherman, should we love thy neighbor?
The laws of the land or the heart, what's greater?

There is nothing revolutionary about dogmatically policing the language of the sincerely compassionate.  Requests for strict adherence to a list of rules is academic and mechanical, I cannot see that it has any place in art, which to me is where we explore the peripheries of the human experience.

For me, transness is about the abolishment of an inherited social order that was arbitrarily applied to me.  It’s not about finding my neat little place in the cis-het structure, right there next to man and woman, it’s about rejecting offers of faux-validity from a binary that can never know me.  How can we ever hope to find beauty if we reproduce the police-cage of cisness in our policing of language?

I will never tell anyone how they should feel about Lamar’s words.  Anger, frustration, hurt, these are all valid emotions, and I understand why so many feel them.  These words have harmed so many, caused so much hurt, have killed. They   Lamar’s execution of his artistic vision can be extremely triggering, and that is something else that must be reckoned with. 

In my opinion, however, Lamar does not use them violently.

For me, Auntie Diaries is a triumphant song of trans acceptance capped with brutal self-reflection.

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