Talib Kweli is a man of many hyphens. He’s a rapper–activist–supergroup architect–truth teller–revolutionary. And he’s fresh-as-hell at all of those things — whether dropping backflip flows or hanging with Obama, Kweli habitually locks shit down.
And yet somehow, while balancing a jet-setter’s schedule, he makes time to answer any troll who wants to fire 140 characters of vitriol his way. The man has 1.08 million Twitter followers and yet he constantly responds to people who created their accounts solely to go at him.
While we were on the line, I had to ask Kweli why he bothers with the sort of people who clearly don’t get it.
I want to talk to you about something that I’m deeply fascinated by. You’ve been involved in, what I call a “two-year long art project” and that is that you respond to every single fucking troll on Twitter.
I’m glad you called it an art project, I’m very avant-garde.
The idea that you’re indulging people who literally don’t think systemic racism exists on Twitter over and over… the only way I can think of it is like fucking performance art.
Let me take that performance art metaphor to the next level, right? I’ll answer it in artistic terms. To me, when I respond to somebody that clearly has never experienced racism — who doesn’t believe that systemic racism exists, that might be a homophobe, that might be anti-women — when I respond to them, it doesn’t matter what facts I give or how much sense I make. They’re going to be who they are. If you see my Twitter feed, you see that there’s a lot of those who show up, right?
When I’m responding to somebody like that, I’m not talking to them at all. Artistic term: they’re a canvas. They’re just the scenery that I’m using to paint this picture of some sort of truth. That truth could be me just making a simple point, or that truth could be me making a simple point and adding a link and a picture.
I often add pictures to the links because people don’t click on links that they’re not interested in, so I’ll just add a link, plus a screenshot of the headline of the link. I always make sure that people can see the headline. Other times I’m just fucking clowning them; making fun of them, or I’m directing them to a study, or I’m saying, “I did a song about this subject and I post a video.” When I engage with somebody like that, it’s always for the purpose of directing traffic to something else, they just provide me the vehicle to do it.
People are just coming at you and you’re a little bit, kind of like, just deflecting them in a different direction.
Yeah, what I’ve done recently is just, people come at me very disrespectfully saying all types of racist things, white supremacist things, daily. There’s different types, there’s people who are just passive-aggressive, there are people pretending to be polite, just so they can say something racist. There are people that just show up violently and viciously racist. There are people who show up innocently racist and don’t know they’re racist…
I know who’s who and when and how to respond, but when you see me respond to somebody who just is hopeless, that’s just me using them to make a point that I want to make.
It must wear on your psyche sometimes because you’re literally exposing yourself to the dregs of our society. Some really racist people come at you and they have an instant platform to talk to Talib Kweli, this guy who’s a serious progressive thinker and a rap legend.
If you notice, all of these conversations, almost 100 percent of them, start with someone saying something viciously racist to me. My response is never, “Fuck you.” My response is never, “You’re a bitch.” That’s never my response. My response is always the same, “Why would you say that? Explain yourself?”
That’s my response 100 percent of the time because I know why they’re saying it. I know exactly why they’re saying it. Their express purpose is to silence me. They’re trying to oppress and silence a person of color that they feel is a threat. That’s exactly why they’re on Twitter. If you have to explain that, you’re just going to look stupid.
I have no problem giving an idiot racist a platform to expose his idiotic racism. I have no problem with being that person. Because at the end of the day, these Tweets ain’t going nowhere. That’s the real punishment: “You have said all of this shit.”
It’s out there in the universe.
I believe in Karma, you know what I’m saying? Me as a black man, I exist, right? I exist and I get to use Twitter like you and I get to be unapologetically black and I get to say whatever I want to say about black people and there’s nothing you can do about it.
It just bothers you so much that you feel like you want to go on pages like mine to get your shit out, go for it. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, there were real bullies, in the flesh, you know what I’m saying? I’ve dealt with real life people shooting at me because of racism.
It’s like I have no issue with letting people expose themselves, like so many gnats against a car windshield going at a 100 miles an hour.
I love that metaphor. I love that metaphor, that’s fucking perfect.
This online shit, that’s a breeze. I’ve dealt with real life shit. This is light work.