When M.C. Platano (Gabe Hernandez ’07) advertised his rap “Lickin’ a Bum” to the Yale community in an e-mail last month, 150 students replied, expressing their indignation over the offensive nature of the lyrics. Platano initially removed the song from his Web site and issued an official apology, admitting that the song was both “immature and irresponsible” and expressing his understanding of the “sensitive nature of the issue within the Yale-New Haven community.” By the end of the week he had reposted the song — it was, according to the Web site, “back by popular demand.”
The song not only belittles and degrades three members of the Yale-New Haven community — the Poetry Lady, the Flower Lady and the Shakespeare Lady — but also ridicules and dehumanizes a marginalized population: the homeless. It exaggerates the divisions that already exist between Yale and New Haven and validates the complaints that New Haven residents often make about the insensitive, unconcerned, and spoiled Yalie. Its publication is something that we cannot accept.
Platano sexually harasses and slanders individuals who are not part of his audience. The song is available only on the Internet and is not accessible to the three women. This means that they do not have the opportunity to challenge its content and to request an apology — or to file civil suit, something which would also be nearly impossible for them to afford.
He discusses the three women individually, beginning with the Poetry Lady, “the first bum who’ll be blowing me.” Although “she’s real good,” he decides to “switch it up and go bang the Flower Lady.” The Flower Lady is “mad sexual but dumb” so, dissatisfied, he moves on to the Shakespeare Lady who is “Near crazy, the craziest bum.” Platano claims that “Homeless b*hes are the best girls in the world / Cause yo, you ain’t gotta buy ’em diamonds and pearls — Just get her some dollar menu Mickey D’s / and you’ll see how quickly she gets on her sticky knees.” He boasts that he’ll “take on all three of ’em at once, / licking them from their homeless faces down to their homeless cts.”
Platano has justified the distribution of his song by calling it “satire” and appealing to principles of free speech. This is problematic for many reasons. First, even though a satirical work is not meant to be taken at face value, it must have an alternative or greater meaning. For Platano to call his song satire, it must convey a deeper message. “Lickin’ a Bum” lacks this vital element. What exactly does Platano want to satirize?
Second, while dismissing all complaints about the song with the blanket justification of free speech is convenient, it misses the point. The matter at hand is not an issue of what can be said but rather what should be said. The students who protested his song never denied that Platano has a right to free expression. However, in order to act as a responsible citizen, Platano, as all other artists, must consider the consequences of his words and actions. The students’ push for the removal of “Lickin’ a Bum” is not a simply an attempt to censor speech that is not pleasant or politically correct. Rather, it is a call for Platano to treat his fellow citizens of New Haven with the respect and dignity that all people deserve.
Writings like Platano’s only widen the gap between Yale and New Haven. Although many students acknowledge this gap and work to bridge it, too many do not. The first step to improving relations between Yale and New Haven is to show basic respect for all of New Haven’s citizens.
Magni Hamso ’05 is a co-coordinator and David Tian ’07 is secretary of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, Inc.