Friday, April 24, 2009

listen to racist music

I've blogged before about the anti-racist music that some white folks enjoy. However, I've yet to call attention to the blatantly racist music that a lot of other white folks enjoy.

Why, for instance, is the following song still in heavy rotation on "classic rock" radio stations and such?

Can you think of other songs that are popular despite their racist content?

As I write, this version of "Brown Sugar" (one of many others on YouTube) has been viewed 1,113,772 times.

(By the way, does the Rolling Stones' tribute to Angela Davis make up for it?)

Brown Sugar

(The Rolling Stones)

gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he's doin' all right.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
brown sugar
just like a young girl should

drums beating cold
English blood runs hot
lady of the house wondrin
where its gonna stop.
house boy knows that he's doin' all right.
you shoulda heard him just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
mmm, brown sugar
just like a young girl should

aw, get down on your knees
brown sugar
how come you dance so good?
aw, get down on the ground
brown sugar
just like a young girl should

I bet your mama was a tent-show queen,
and all her girlfriends
were sweet sixteen.
I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like,
You shoulda heard me just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
aw get down
brown sugar
just like a young girl should.

I said yeah, yeah, yeah,
how come you taste so good?
yeah, yeah, yeah.
just like a young girl should.


  1. Holy Shit, that is a racist ass song! I guess I didn't understand the lyrics and inserted what I wanted to hear. I thought it was about the jazz days and such, not about Slave Rape! Oh my God, how horrible! My whiteness really lets me hear what I want to hear and it makes me sick!

  2. not only is this racist, but it's highly misogynistic as well.

  3. Yikes - I'd never seen the lyrics to that written out before! I always did knew it was a racist and sexist song, but it's much worse than I'd realized.

  4. I knew there was a reason I didn't like them.

  5. I remember reading about songs that were racial in "Ego Trip's Big book of Racism"

    and they were in there...huh.

    i hate it when you think that a musician you like won't do shit like this...but then they whack you in the face with it.

    The Sadness :(

  6. Correction: Racist, sexist, misogynistic, and pedophiliac. "Young girl"? Yeesh.

  7. I never listened closely to the song, having only heard it incidentally on the radio, but then I heard a portion of it in a Weird Al polka medley of Rolling Stones songs (yeah, yeah...) where the lyrics were clearer, and haven't looked at the Stones the same since (not that I was ever really into them).

  8. That song was used in some alcoholic liquer's commercial a few years back (I don't remember what kind... a kahlua?). The song has a great & recognizable guitar riff (IMO) but I remember feeling embarrassed and disgusted that it would be used to sell something on TV. Were we supposed to ignore the lyrics? Had we "moved past" them? I don't remember hearing anyone complain about it's use. And you certainly are likely to hear that song on any classic rock station even today.

  9. Maybe the song is a social commentary about miscegenation? *wink*

    Did this song come out before his daughters by women of color, were born? The middle name of his daughter (with Bianca Jagger)is "Jezebel." wtf

  10. I'm a 1970's born "Gen X'er" and when I was a little girl and didn't know any better, I liked The Stones. I was a 3rd grader wearing the t-shirts and everything. My mother, who is also black is/was a fan and obviously didn't know any better either. Once I realized the true meaning of the song (I must've been 12-13), I felt embarrassed for ever supporting them.
    You were asking about other racist songs...well, there are 2 more from The Rolling Stones I find equally offensive. "Some Girls", ESPECIALLY the line about Black Girls and "Sweet Black Angel" (which is supposed to be about Angela Davis of all people). The Stones are some racist bastards. There's also "Black Betty" by Ram Jam.

    "Some Girls" (The Rolling Stones)Notice the MOST offensive lyrics are reserved for black women:

    Some girls give me money, some girls buy me clothes
    Some girls give me jewelry, that I never thought I'd own

    Some girls give me diamonds, some girls, heart attacks
    Some girls I give all my bread to, I don't ever want it back

    Some girls give me jewelry, others buy me clothes
    Some girls give me children, I never asked them for

    So give me all your money, give me all your gold
    I'll buy you a house in Baker Street, and give you half of what I own

    Some girls take my money, some girls take my clothes
    Some girls get the shirt off my back, and leave me with a lethal dose

    French girls they want Cartier, Italian girls want cars
    American girls want everything in the world you can possibly imagine

    English girls they're so prissy, I can't stand them on the telephone
    Sometimes I take the receiver off the hook, I don't want them to ever call at all

    White girls they're pretty funny, sometimes they drive me mad
    Black girls just wanna get fucked all night, I just don't have that much jam

    Chinese girls are so gentle, they're really such a tease
    You never know quite what they're cookin', inside those silky sleeves

    Give me all you money, give me all your gold
    I'll buy you a house in Baker Street, and give you half of what I own

    Some girls they're so pure, some girls so corrupt
    Some girls give me children, I only made love to her once

    Give me half your money, give me half your car
    Give me half of everything, I'll make you world's biggest star

    So gimme all your money, give me all your gold
    Let's go back to Zuma beach, I'll give you half of everything I own

    "Sweet Black Angel" (The Rolling Stones):
    Got a sweet black angel,
    Got a pin up girl,
    Got a sweet black angel,
    Up upon my wall.
    Well, she ain't no singer
    And she ain't no star,
    But she sure talk good,
    And she move so fast.
    But the gal in danger,
    Yeah, de gal in chains,
    But she keep on pushin',
    Would ya take her place?
    She countin' up de minutes,
    She countin' up de days,
    She's a sweet black angel, woh,
    Not a sweet black slave.
    Ten little niggers
    Sittin' on de wall,
    Her brothers been a fallin',
    Fallin' one by one.
    For a judges murder
    In a judges court,
    Now de judge he gonna judge her
    For all dat he's worth.
    Well de gal in danger,
    De gal in chains,
    But she keep on pushin'
    Would you do the same?
    She countin' up de minutes,
    She countin' up de days,
    She's a sweet black angel,
    Not a gun toting teacher,
    Not a Red lovin' school mom,
    Ain't someone gonna free her,
    Free de sweet black slave,
    Free de sweet black slave.

    "Black Betty" (Ram Jam):
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)

    Black Betty had a child (Bam-ba-Lam)
    The damn thing gone wild (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Said it weren't none of mine (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Damn thing gone blind (Bam-ba-Lam)
    I said Oh, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)

    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    She really gets me high (Bam-ba-Lam)
    You know that's no lie (Bam-ba-Lam)
    shes so rock steady (Bam-ba-Lam)
    and shes always ready (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)

    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    She's from Birmingham (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Way down in Alabam' (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Well, she's shakin' that thing (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Boy, she makes me sing (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)
    Whoa, Black Betty (Bam-ba-lam)


    And the colored girls go "do do-do do-do do do-do doooooo!

  12. Holy shit. I didn't know what this song was about.

  13. You made a kind of silly mistake here, which is assuming that the Rolling Stones identify with and endorse the narrator's voice. Barthelme's "The Captured Woman" is told first-person from the point of view of a pretty casually awful misogynist. Huck Finn is a first-person narrative told by someone who regularly uses the word "nigger." Does that mean their authors are sexist or racist? Of course not.

    I can't tell you exactly what Jagger was going for here, but thinking that a listener is supposed to identify with or like narrator is ridiculous. For the record, here's rock critic Robert Christgau's take: "Jagger links his own music to the slave trade, exploits the racial and sexual contradictions of his stance even as it explores them."

  14. Rob,
    Thanks for the over-intellectuallized bullshit.
    Why to you assume that they don't identify with the narrator's voice?

  15. Rob, I second Anonymous's question, especially in regards to Mick Jagger.

    I'd also ask another--are you saying Jagger's racism is okay because he's being ironic about it? If so, that still doesn't make it okay, as I tried to explain awhile back in this post.

    Anyway, I don't see any sort of effort on Jagger's part to distance himself from the racist persona that you're claiming he adopts as an obvious mask in this song.

    You wrote, "thinking that a listener is supposed to identify with or like [the] narrator is ridiculous." I disagree. In the case of Jagger and this song, part of the reason the audience likes his performance is because they do like the apparent identification of Jagger with the narrative persona of that song. (Which is not to say they fully understand all the lyrics, as evinced by several commenters above.)

  16. I've always been aware of the blatant sexism of Stones songs (look up the lyrics of "Under My Thumb" to hear Jagger's celebration of an abusive relationship).

    I'm embarrassed that I never noticed the blatant racism as well. Like some of the other posters, I've heard that song a thousand times but never really heard the lyrics. One disturbing aspect of this song is how he blames the black women for their own rapes. Textbook victim blaming, right there.

    Oh, and the "unreliable narrative voice" argument is bull shit. No, the Stones are not just singing about the ability of white men to rape black women with impunity, they are fucking reveling in it. Big difference.

  17. I've never been a Stones fan, and I definitely do not plan on becoming one now.

    I think there is a big difference in a writer writing a book that contains racist characters or plots, and a band singing about it. I'm not sure I can explain why very clearly though. But there is a difference.

  18. Rob--yeah, even if that were the case, how can you really write that song and then dance & coo so enthusiastically about it?

  19. The same logic that says the Stones are identifying with the rapists and celebrating that rape leads me to believe that here, Macon, since you posted the video and not just the lyrics, you too must be celebrating the rape.

    How do we know you're against rape and slavery? You seem to be on a par with Mick Jagger here in exploiting and oppresing young black women.

    Oh? You say you posted the video so that we have something to discuss? Hmm, sounds like an apology on the level of those oppressors that would excuse the study of Huck Finn, or the views of Mark Twain.

  20. Anonymous, I'm all for the careful, informed study of Huck Finn, and I think a lot of Mark Twain's views could do with more exposure these days too (especially the later, anti-imperialist Twain).

    As for posting the video, I didn't do that to celebrate the song, nor to invite celebration of it. I think most readers who see it will see it within the context of the words around it, and of the blog itself, "stuff white people do." Posting the video also makes it easier to see that as Spider wrote, the Stones revel in the ability of white men to rape black women with impunity, and that there is not, as Rob wrote, an ironic distance between Jagger and the narrator of the lyrics.

  21. Wow at those lyrics. I've never really liked or paid attention to the Rolling Stones. But as with most things the more places you look and the harder you dig the more shit you find.

  22. @badblackkitty

    Black Betty is an old African American folk song. Whether Ram Jam intended it to be racist is debatable. As far as I know they didn't change any lyrics.

    Now, if you want to talk about white musicians making fame and money off of mainstreaming black folk culture, well, that's a different conversation altogether.

    Also, just in general, calling out any random rock song for being misogynist is really an easy target. The Stones had their share, but they were by no means the worst of the bunch.

  23. I don't even know the Rolling Stones. These lyrics are disgusting. Badblackkitty, the lyrics to the songs you posted are even more disgusting. Just. EW.

  24. I don't really understand the point of this post. I get why the lyrics of the song are disturbing, but not what you're trying to achieve by bringing them to our attention. The comments thread thus far suggests that anyone who listened to and enjoyed any albums/songs by the stones in the past should do some sort of ritual purification to rid themselves of tangential association with a rock star who wrote songs with racist lyrics. Or to dwell on the personal racism of Mick Jagger.

    Neither of those things seem productive to me.

    What is the context in which this song was written? Can we talk about how shocking the differences in what was acceptable vs. what is acceptable are? Is there a reason to find hope in the discovery that sitting down and reading the lyrics offends a wide variety of people? Or is the fact that this song still gets played a sure cause for cynicism and sorrow?

    The themes/motifs/imagery in this song are not unique. Can this spark a discussion of how/why these themes are so pervasive?

    Stella: I'm not sure you should view your previous understanding (or lack theirof) of this song as an egregious sin caused by your white privilege. Most people simply don't pay very Close Attention to Lyrics. I'm tone deaf, and so lyrics take on a different level of meaning in terms of my ability to enjoy a song. I usually memorize most of the words to the verses of songs I like within 2-4 listens. Its totally weird.I can do it with quotes from TV too.

    An earlier commenter mentioned Huck Finn, and that exchange brought up an issue that I've long had with the progressive response to that and other similar texts. Why are we, modern people, so terrified that other modern people will be incapable of realizing that the narrative takes place in another time and place, in a time when (if they're old enough to comprehend Twain) they know that racism was institutionalized in a very open, public way, and that slavery was legal. Why are we so sure that exposing people to works that contain examples of racism contemporary to the time of its writing will surely corrupt them into believing that this racism is ok, in our current place in time? Do we really think kids are that thick?

  25. I assume this means that Johnny Cash would like to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

    And that Roger Waters would, if he had his way, have the Coons, the guys with spots, and the queers put up against the wall and shot.

  26. I find the "another place, another time" completely unacceptable. Yeah there were racists and people who reveled in it "Gone with the Wind" anyone, but there were plenty of people who knew it was wrong who we never bring up. We should be celebrating those people not being apologist for others.

    I think the point of the post was to bring it to our attention and maybe we'll all examine the music that we listen to a little bit better--I see that as a good thing. While I don't listen to the Stones (Beatles fan here) and I didn't watch the video (read the lyrics instead), I can certainly relate.

    A while back a song by Soldier Boy Tell Em, was huge. But after listening to the song, I noticed that he says "superman that ho." It took a kid (teenager) to explain to me what he was talking about. I'll let you guys research yourself. Anyway, this song was being used and revered everywhere and people had no idea what this knucklehead was talking about.

  27. Moviegirl wrote, "I think the point of the post was to bring it to our attention and maybe we'll all examine the music that we listen to a little bit better--I see that as a good thing."

    Yes, thank you, good nutshell summary of why I did this post--to highlight and call out some of the racism that's embedded in everyday life. And to question all that white love for this song, and its singer.

    Anonymous @ 9:44, I think there are varying degrees of separation from, and identification with, a singer and the persona of the song. In your Pink Floyd reference, the separation between Roger Waters and that song's persona is obvious. In the Johnny Cash show, less so, but still fairly obvious to many listeners, I would think. In "Brown Sugar," though, as noted above by me and others, Mick Jagger does little to separate a projection of "himself" from the song's persona--there's no hint that Jagger himself doesn't think of black women and girls as little more than delicious meat (or sweet meat--whatever). He probably is adopting a persona, but he's doing so in an effort (a largely successful one, for most of his audience) to make himself seem more outrageously sexy.

  28. That sounds like a rape song to me. WTF!

  29. Okay, a few people jumped on me, so I'm sorry if you have a question for me that I don't respond to. If you ask it again, I'll try to.

    It's a basic misunderstanding of fiction to assume that the author endorses the viewpoint of any character, even a narrator. Pop music is fiction. Unless you can find some Mick Jagger quote where he says, "I wrote this song because I love slave rape and I long for it to return" (in which case you should hold that quote against him much more than this song), it doesn't hold much weight to claim that Jagger is racist because of these lyrics. Does it deal with racism? Clearly. Is the narrator racist? Clearly. Is it also an attempt, however successful or not, to tell a story about a racially charged relationship? Also, clearly.

    It's also a misunderstanding that the two options are just "sincere endorsement" and "ironic." Just because something isn't a full-throated, heart-on-chest paean (like, say, a Toby Keith song about how America rules), doesn't mean it's satirically lampooning the viewpoint either. To be honest, I don't think Jagger's a great lyricist, neither do I think he really has something to say here. And though I don't think he's racist for these lyrics, I don't like Christgau think he's doing some brilliant deconstruction of himself either. I think he wanted to write a song exploring race and ended up with some kinda misfired and unfocused lyrics that don't really say much about racism in the end. But that's my interpretation. I think people who say, "He wrote these lyrics because he loves raping black women, and the song is entirely about how great racism and rape are," are entitled to their viewpoint, but it seems to me willfully skewed.

    If you want a good example of someone who DOES write intelligent and ironic lyrics about race from a white standpoint, and whose lyrics I'd defend with something more then, "He's not racist, he's just not very smart" (which is basically all I'm saying about Jagger here), check out Randy Newman. Here are the lyrics to "Sail Away":

    In America you'll get food to eat
    Won't have to run through the jungle
    And scuff up your feet
    You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
    It's great to be an American

    Ain't no lions or tigers-ain't no mamba snake
    Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake
    Ev'rybody is as happy as a man can be
    Climb aboard, little wog-sail away with me

    Sail away-sail away
    We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay
    Sail away-sail away
    We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay

    In America every man is free
    To take care of his home and his family
    You'll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree
    You're all gonna be an American

    Sail away-sail away
    We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay
    Sail away-sail away
    We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay

    Do you guys think Randy is racist?

  30. I hate it when white people start trying to engage in pseudo-intellectual analysis centered around their own race. It's particularly annoying when they start trying to act moralistic about white people in an effort to rise above being white. Most of the time this is just a sad effort to win the approval of non-white people by being an anti-white white person. It's almost like they get this epiphany, "hey, I know. Let me start a blog and point out all the horrible things white people do! Then minorities will know I'm not racist and they will like me and accept me as an honorary member of their ethnicity. It's amazing how white people have allowed themselves to become so racially self-conscious that they villify their own race in an attempt to assuage themselves of white guilt. I bet you go to Louis Farrakhan rallies, don't you Macon?

  31. Why Louis Farrakhan rallies in particular, Gentleman S? Do you think he speaks for all black people?

    Look, gentlemanly dude--I'm not out for cookies from minorities, and I'm not trying to rise above being white. I'm trying to understand and take responsibility for my being white, and I'm also trying to alert other white people to the facts of their own whiteness, and to the broader fact of ongoing white supremacy, so that they can wake up from the dream into which the lie of whiteness has lulled them. Being stuck in a delusional white state is bad not only for the minorities that white people encounter through their jobs and daily lives; it's also bad for themselves.

    And by the way, did you even read this post? If so, is it really quite all right with you that so many millions of people have reveled along with Mick Jagger in the racist, misogynistic denigration of black women and girls?

    Finally, you use the word "pseudo-intellectual" to describe the analysis of racial whiteness here. It would be helpful to know: where have you encountered what you consider actual intellectual analysis of whiteness, analysis that allows you to deem by comparison the analysis on this blog "pseudo-intellectual"?

  32. I completely read that song a different way from the first time I heard it.

  33. Its interesting that gentleman S feels the need to state "... hate it when white people start trying to engage in pseudo-intellectual analysis centered around their own race. It's particularly annoying when they start trying to act moralistic about white people in an effort to rise above being white...."

    It makes me wonder about the apparent status quo. Does he mean like so many "non-whites" that only a white person can be racist and if he does doesn't it rase a few questions about the apparent racism of that comment.

    A person who is so quick to shout 'racist' should maybe look at himself a little first. I find those people who have to belittle others to justify there personal cause a little less believable when it comes to actual intellectual conversations.

    As to the sing lyrics, The Stones themselves have stated that yes it is about slave rape and heroine. But it is also a protest song. Liking them or disliking them shouldn't be done on the 'advice' of another person it's a choice you have to make.

    If this song had been done by a black man would it be as bad as everyone is making it out to be?

  34. After reading several explanations of the content of the song from Jagger's and other rock critic's viewpoints (something Macon really should have included) it seems fairly obvious that the song lyrics were written, like many rock songs, as an irritant (The idea that the Stones had some socially conscious protest ideology behind it is suspect, since the Stones were rarely anything more than a bombastic hedonist act). What I mean by that is that they knew it would offend the sensibilities of some people, and it did. Even back then people called it out as a racist song, and Jagger sang it differently (replaced some of the more controversial lyrics) when he sang it in different venues.

    The point we maybe might draw is that where in that day and age the song was just shocking or controversial, today a person writing such a song would have "crossed the line" perhaps. I don't know. Rock has always been about pushing buttons and boundaries, and maybe this song just stands as a testament to where that boundary was at one point.

  35. So since the distance between Roger Waters and the song's "persona" on "In the Flesh" is "obvious," that's a song one can appreciate without feeling guilty. But since Mick Jagger's position in relation to the persona of "Brown Sugar" is less obvious, the song is clearly "racist."

    Wow, so this is the kind of art appreciation we're left with. Obvious="progressive." Complicated="racist." I assume the songs of Blind Lemon Jefferson would not do well here either.

    I've always liked Mick Jagger, a performer who has been engaged in a serious way with African-American musical forms since he was a kid. I have always known what the lyrics of "Brown Sugar" describe, because I pay attention to the music I listen to. But I cannot claim, after all of these years, to know exactly what that song is trying to say. It is possible to describe something revolting, even possible to stylize it in ways that do not indicate in an obvious way what the artist is after. That kind of complicated, challenging, often disturbing aesthetic is a part of the legacy of the blues, incidentally.

  36. To add to the confusion, Mick and Keith have both said brown sugar is a nickname for heroin. Mick and Keith write some outrageous stuff, but I don't think they are racist in their day to day lives. Misogynistic, YES.

  37. I'll keep it short and sweet. These people typing diatribes and presenting arguments like they are in a debate eventually work everyone's nerve, don't they?

    Simply put, there are people in life who will never understand why they are racist or sexist. No matter what you say to them, they will just never Get It.

    And to the guy who said Randy Newman was racist for "Sail Away," I say you're the perfect example of the above statement.

    As for the Stones, I think this is more of a case of Jagger showing off his fetishism in regard to black women as sex objects. I don't know if he's more of a racist or a pervert - probably a lot of both.

    Great blog!

  38. I can't believe some of the stuff I am reading here. Rock and Roll has to do with hot, steamy, often sexual images, and is directly rooted in the African American experience. This song "Brown Sugar" ties everything up in one ass kicking package.

  39. the Stones revel in the ability of white men to rape black women with impunityI don't know much about the Stones, and I don't know any of the members personally, so it's difficult to say with any certainty whether they're racist, sexist assholes, but I can tell you that when I read the lyrics, my first thought was, "They're singing about a horrible slave owner and the disgusting nature of the slave trade."

    As in fiction, if you just write "these people were bad and awful," the writing isn't effective.

    If you write it from the point of view of the character committing the atrocity, the reader (or, in this case, listener) is interested enough to "hear" the story, to "feel" the character.

    Think "A Modest Proposal." Surely Swift wasn't condoning - or celebrating - the eating of children. But it's a fun, readable, easy to remember story, isn't it?

  40. Going off of what Megan said, they may have gotten a personal kick out of getting people to unwittingly dance to a song about such a grotesque topic.

    I forget where I read it, but Jagger took very seriously the idea from Fats Domino that you're never supposed to sing rock lyrics too clearly. So maybe this song is part "Borat" in that it is a grotesque caricature wrapped in an irresistibly rhythmic facade.

  41. Anyone who knows anything about the Stones shouldn't be surprised by this. Hello, "Under My Thumb?" And which member was it that had a 14-year-old girlfriend?

    I can't listen to them-- they make me sick.

  42. Hey, timely!:

    Baffling that the theme of “Brown Sugar” eluded so many folks, what with the song’s most easily decipherable lyrics being “Brown Sugar, how come you dance so good… just like a young girl should” and “Sold on the market down in New Orleans,” but so be it. BTW, “Hey Joe” is about a guy shooting his old lady down, check it out.

    If Jagger was adopting a persona in the lyrics to “Brown Sugar,” exaggerating the narrator’s viewpoint to prod listeners into disgust with the horrors of slavery, then the gallows-grim sarcasm (Waters would say “dark sarcasm” I guess) failed spectacularly.

    Best evidence? Not folks’ general ignorance of the song’s lyrics, but that “BS” has served for decades as a boozy-time sing-along moment for the same unreflective white folks who dig regressive dittys like “Old Type of Rock and Roll” (that would be what, Jackie Brenston? Amos Milburn? Here’s a few ideas to help you Bob! In other words many, many people love this song, it's a "classic." And I'm hard pressed to believe that they could all, for all these years, have missed the general jist of the lyrics.
    But Rob, the perspective that claims Jagger was inhabiting a role doesn’t, I feel, pass the logic or the smell test. Like “Birth of a Nation,” “Brown Sugar” is a masterful creation, a near-perfect rock and roll barnburner which just happens to revel in violation and suffering on both a personal and institutional scale. And I agree with other commenters, it’s sexist as fuck (and cozies up to pedophilia too).

    Very hard to see how the Rolling Stones were exhorting us to reject racism with this ripsnorting, jubilant performance. After all, when they wanted to they could make caustic, even terrifying music that cleft to the core of social issues (“Gimme Shelter” best of all, also “Shattered” and “Street Fightin’ Man”) and there was no mistaking what those songs were about.

    What feels like a more interesting trope to follow is how the jaw-droppingly vicious sentiments expressed in “Brown Sugar” can reconcile with Jagger’s obvious race idolatry.

    His transparently clear models; the venerable African-American archetypical hero the Bad [Negro], and Legba, the mischievous figure of West African folk tradition. From Stagger Lee to Robert Johnson to Howlin’ Wolf (whom the Stones have always vocally, and obviously, poached from), Jack Johnson to Lawrence Taylor, to Tupac, 50 Cent and every single gun rapper ever, that live-by-the-gun, pull-tons-of-pussy, duck-the-Man, and die-tragic-senseless-and-pretty figure is a staple in African-American popular culture, and Jagger has worked his skinny white ass off for forty years to live into this persona. That one and the jesting pyromaniac who speaks in riddles, the mischief-maker you see in figures from Br’er Rabbit to Flavor Flav make for the very, very deep well that Jagger had used to draw his identity as a performer from. But clearly the relationship to it is not uncomplicated—his or ours.

    The Rolling Stones have also been jabbing as hard as they can at our cultural alarm buttons forever. Take “Mother’s Little Helper”; pretty vicious little jab at polite culture from the Stones’ early days, and there’s some startlingly unkind material in the aforementioned “Some Girls,” and even “Start Me Up” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll” too. I’m sure if Sir Jagger had the foggiest notion of what regular people think about or deal with on a daily basis he’d come up with something else to piss us off, 45ish years after the band’s debut. The Stones have stuck to their Satanic majesty—but mostly guttersnipe nastiness—for their entire career and only asked us to have sympathy, or taste, once (again; masterfully, goddammit!). The rest of that time they’ve been pretty happy to spit in the soup and sneer back.

    But the Stones’ racial attitudes have always been wildly, weirdly unclear. Look, they came out of the early-60s British blues “movement” and named themselves for a Muddy Waters song—plumbing their racial attitudes is to fish muddy waters indeed. There’s a ton of WTF moments in their catalogue and personal lives that make it tough to pin them down as simply ignorant or racist. When Bill Wyman quit the band they replaced him with Darryl Jones, a Black man (—though he is not an “official” member of the band. As Jones notes in his bio on his website, his “unofficial” bandmates have included Bernard Fowler (, and Lisa Fischer (, both African American. And the mother of Jagger’s first child Karis is the African American actor, singer, and novelist Marsha Hunt (lame source of course, but easy: who claims “BS” was written for her. Stevie Wonder opened for the band on the fabled 1972 American tour and Peter Tosh, the “Stepping Razor” signed to Rolling Stone Records in 1978—neither man could be described as willing to suffer racists gladly.

    The band issued a racially-charged video for their cover of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” in 1986 (animation by Ralph Bakshi: but also participated in Jean-Luc Godard’s radical, anti-colonialist, (and baffling) film Sympathy for the Devil ( ( Ike and Tina Turner were both tourmates and friendly with Jagger (well, Tina anyway). And of course there’s the music—the band has done brisk trade in Motown covers (“Just My Imagination,” “Don’t Look Back” (with Tosh!), “Dancing in the Street,” et al) covers and of course genres and performance idioms.

    But the moment that will make the Rolling Stones part of history—not just rock history but textbook history—whether any of us like it or not is the moment at which they presided over the end of the 1960s, at a concert they headlined Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. That night, as we all know, during the band’s aborted set, a Black man was murdered there by a mob of white men. There are a hundred details to the story but in the end it’s as simple as that the Rolling Stones owned the floor when this occurred. Jagger’s wincingly tone-deaf shift from bespangled, preening rabble-rouser to milquetoast flowerchild exhorting peace (“Everybody be cool now”) as the band repeatedly false-starts through “Under My Thumb” is horrific to watch. It was about to happen anyway, but Altamont darkened the sunlit meadow of the 60s and brought down a twilit netherworld of bad drugs, cults of personality, and exhausted ideals gone murderous. That murder, and the race of the victim and of the perpetrators, is the signal event which took the innocence off of the ‘60s and off of the Stones as well.

    Also, “Brown Sugar” is not about heroin—it just isn’t. The claim doesn’t stand up. “Dancing With Mr. D,” “Monkey Man,” “Sister Morphine” are about heroin. “Brown Sugar” is about reveling in sexual domination, a dirty joke taken to a sickening extremity. It is Lustmord, shot through with ancient, ugly racial notions and role-playing.

    You could easily arrive at the conclusion that the Stones were as “simple and plain” racists as Elvis Presley was not ( but their oevre makes for a very peculiar puzzle.

    Richards, far and away the most interesting example of the Rolling Stones’ relationship with African American music and musicians, brought Chuck Berry out of languishing semi-retirement and into the last moment of pubic adulation he’d see—and certainly has since seen—in many, many years. In 1987 Richards organized a 60th birthday party for Berry, later released as the film Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (, a wonderful document which includes, among many other startling moments, Richards bridling under Berry’s direct orders during rehearsals at Berry’s home. The collaboration between the gentlemanly, sly, caustic Berry and the louche, shambling but razor-sharp Richards, two living legends unused to being told how to practice their craft, is amazing to see. But Richards eventually bows to Berry’s wishes as he arranges a tribute to a man it becomes clear is his idol.

    Richards also visits Jamaica very regularly to hang out with Rastafarians and participate in the Nyabinghi drumming-and-singing circles in the mountains above St. Anne’s Parish. No joke, they even put out an album out: (

    And for what it’s worth, Charlie Watts fronts a thoroughly serious, non-ironic jazz band whose repetoire is currently 7 albums deep and includes Black musicians (

    Of course, it’s worth wondering how the Stones could get away with the kind of racist, misogynistic, and homicidal imagery in “Brown Sugar” among other songs (as could the Smiths (“Queen is Dead”), the Dixie Chicks (“The End of Earl”), Eminem (“Stan”), and Guns n’ Roses (“One in a Million”) but Ice-T (“Cop Killer”), DMX, and Nelly (“Tip Drill”) and many many other Black musicians got torched for expressing similar sentiments.

    This thing is getting epic and off-topic, but here’s the question; how can Jagger—and let’s face it, white folsks generally—dually love and fear the Other they feel expressed in Black music?

  43. Great post, dmc. I don't really have much to respond to or add to in that, as you obviously know a lot more about the Stones and Jagger than I do.

    The only thing I DO want to respond to is whoever thought I was saying that Randy Newman was racist. Reread that post--I was using Newman as an example of someone who is pretty obviously and clearly being ironic and assuming a voice to satirize it.

  44. "I think there is a big difference in a writer writing a book that contains racist characters or plots, and a band singing about it."

    The only difference is that the listener has far more leeway in interpreting the meaning. Raise your hand if you've ever written a song. Alrightythen.

    Things are not always as they seem. It's what's in a person's heart that really matters. Only Jagger and they Stones really know where they stand.

  45. That makes sense at one level, Guy, but to say the song is racist is not to say as well what the writer or writers of the song meant by it. In this case, as others have said here, the problem is the way Jagger's singing persona revels in the sexual abuse and beatings of black women, and girls, and in the way he invites his audience to join him, and in the way almost all of them do. There's no critique in all of that of that supposedly sexually exciting abuse.

  46. I tend not to interpret words or things as inherently "racist". Rather, I look at people, their beliefs and actions as racist. As someone else pointed out, there are songs about killing another person in a somber, sarcastic or possibly humorous tone. That doesn't make those songs inherently immoral, does it? If not those songs, why this one?

    Of course, whether or not this song is uncomfortable to listen to is another matter entirely. That's for people to figure out for themselves.

    This is a very provocative topic to say the least. I can't help but wonder what impact, if any, songs like these have on society. Are they really shaping views or are they just songs with a danceable beat?

  47. Wow it's so sad because they are so talented and the beat and vocals are on point the lyrics are just shameful and hurtful. Condoning the sexual exploitation of young black females??? Perverted and racist.

  48. I despise this song. It's very unfortunate that the instrumental alone is fantastic.
    Also, an anon referenced Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side... Do not go there. Not at all in anyway is that racist. At the time 'colored' was most likely the best viable option.

  49. "Transformer" came out in 1972. Seems unlikely Reed tried and failed to find a better term for Black women (children?) than "colored girls." Six years later, on "Street Hassle" he recorded (and released!) "I Wanna Be Black." I don't know if Lou was a big racist or not, but he does seem to feel he lived in a post-racial world, or perhaps that he reached the social position described by Norman Mailer as the White Negro. Or something.
    And then he was using "Wild Side" to sell selling Honda scooters, at which point I lose the plot.

  50. FilthyGrandeur said...

    "not only is this racist, but it's highly misogynistic as well."

    Yeah, funny how that aspect is so frequently glossed over, isn't it.
    Racism in pop culture is such a terrible, horrible, very bad thing. But the fact that it's a gleeful diddy about raping an enslaved woman - well, boys will be boys.

  51. Maybe its because I was of an age where I swallowed the whole 1976 punk year-zero mentality but I've always disliked the Rolling Stones and I heard about the racism of this song years before I ever actually heard it (or, indeed, any Rolling Stones song, I don't think I ever bothered listening to them till a few years ago). Its one of those things like Eric Clapton's infamous 'Enoch was right' speech, or Bowie's stupid remarks about Hitler that one picked up early on as a reason to write-off that entire generation.

    Mick Jagger's behaviour since hasn't done much to make one change one's view (accepting a knighthood? claiming his marriage wasn't valid so as to try and avoid paying out for a divorce? being rather obviously obsessed with money?).

    But very late in the day I have had to admit that some of the Rolling Stones songs were actually quite good. Which is a bit annoying. And of course the post-punk generation haven't really turned out much better (even ignoring the pathetic use of Swastikas for shock value by some of them at the time).

    Eric Clapton, on the other hand, I still have no time for, either personally or musically. I still don't understand what he could have been thinking when he made that speech (given his whole career was largely based on playing music with, and written by, black people), but I'm not aware he has ever fully apologised for it. But I find his music tedious anyway, so it doesn't cause me any problems.

  52. It's not racist. They are are not supporting the theme they are singing about. The song is a story from a certain perspective, albeit a very gross one.

    Isn't it just as racist for black folks to rap about killing whitie?

  53. It's called ARTISTIC LICENSE you boring ass P.C fuckheads.

  54. Comment approval ? Typical liberal fascist hypocrites.

  55. Does singing about something that really happened (Brown Sugar) make the singer necessarily racist?

    We don't need anymore professional victims and self-righteous apologists. If one is feeling sorry about this, don't drag the rest of us into it. Instead, dance on your forefathers' (and mothers') graves. My direct ancestors had nothing to do with it.

  56. I agree with Flappy... I have seen a interview with Little Richard and he talked about How much he liked the song "Brown Sugar".. Lou Reed is not a racist he is just an asshole.. Look at their early records many of the songs were written by black artist.Most of the people on here I guess have never seen interviews with The Stones talking about how much the looked up to and respect black artist. Keith Richards hero is Chuck Berry. Racism is total bullshit.. But alot of you seem like much to uptight PC losers.. What do you listen anyway Pat Boon...

  57. I don't understand why it's just easier for people to assume (black people, and white people, and purple people, and all the like) that someone is automatically racist because they make a song that has the word nigger in it, or talks about a black woman that was good in bed, or what the hell ever. As for brown sugar, how is it so hard to believe that someone might make a song with the exact purpose of expoliting the evils of racism and the sexism and pedophilia? I don't get it. Why does everyone want to pull the racist card for absolutely everything? "Oh no, surely not, there can't be any other explanation at all for anything but racism!" Yeah, there are a lot of racist songs out there, and a lot of stupid racist shit, but don't be so quick to judge everything. The racist card is a very easy card to pull, also a very dangerous one. It should only be used in concern to 'actual' racism... You can come back at me with all the bullshit snarky comments about how I'm being too intellectual, or reading too much into it, or being racist, or whatever crap you decide to come up with, but it doesn't change the argument or make your side of the argument stronger...

  58. If a white person wrote a blog about "what black people do" they would be condemned as a racist and subsequently beaten to death... Just sayin'......

  59. L, did you read the comment thread here? As a lot of commenters argue, persuasively, this song is racist because it's sung and performed in such a way that it revels in the degradation of and cruelty toward black women. The Stones' performance of it also invites listeners to revel in that, while skipping over what the lyrics actually say. People here aren't labeling it racist as some easy way out -- most of them, including me, are instead waking up to the racism in on of the songs that's been on the soundtracks of their lives.

    M, what exactly is it that you're just sayin? Beaten to death? Srsly? You need to do more reading around the Innernets. There's a ton of sites exactly like that. Trouble is, none of them, from what I've seen, are accurate -- they traffic instead in hateful, racist stereotypes. OTOH, this one, written by a white person (me) about common white tendencies, IS accurate. And it's not hateful -- quite the contrary. Waking up to one's socially instilled white tendencies is a way of healing oneself.

  60. I didn't read through every comment so I don't know if anyone has said this or not but The Rolling Stones are NOT racist. They are the furthest thing from it. Anyone who knows anything about them knows that. Keith's skull ring is a symbol that he believes all people regardless or race, gender, or religion are the same underneath. The song is really just saying what happened and it's a good thing that you guys are disgusted by the words while still creating an awesome song. That's the point.

  61. To suggest that Jagger identifies with the first-person narrator of this song is preposterous and completely unfounded. So book authors are allowed to use the first-person, but songwriters aren't? Actors can play a variety of unsavory characters, but singers can never play more than one role: themselves? Are all you Jagger haters also burning your copies of "A Clockwork Orange"?

    If anything Jagger's exposing the horrors and realities of slavery in this song, in a both literal and, moreso, metaphorical sense - the latter of which is the point of the song, imo.

    If you can find me absolute proof that Mick Jagger is a racist I'll change my mind. That means an interview where he blatantly says racist things, or expouses a racist viewpoint. Not song lyrics.

    Until then, this is challenging art to me, not Jagger's personal views.

    You're going to hang this guy based on song lyrics!? Idiots.

  62. The song is artistic expression that could mean various things, in various perspectives. Give it a rest. And being a white male, this web site is stupid and its very existence shows as much ignorance as the next racially dividing medium. People are people. Cultures are different, but thats changing quickly in the world. Take your 1960's reading glasses off. LETS MOVE ON.

  63. I fail to see any racism in any of the lyrics whatsoever.

    The stones are talking about are talking about black girls, black girls that they are with and attracted to for that matter with satiric references to slavery. I like it.

    Furthermore, at least as some of the worlds greatest rockers they are daring to broach the subject of race and should be able to without being called racist. It makes me very bloody angry to hear some jumped up writers here dedicating time misidentifying raists. The BNP are racists, the KKK(bless them are their low rent behaviour) are racists, neo-nazis are racists. The Stones are a fucking good band.

    If you are black; please funnel your energy into embracing wealth and helping further the black race on instead of bitching about such a low rent subjet as this! Why not learn to argue the case for a black lord for example?

    If you are white and have written this; please stop discracing one of the great bands by labelling them racist and scaremongering other white people into thinking that you can't mention someones race without being halled up in front of the politial-correctness juror.

    I, myself, am half and half. And, very proud to be ;0)

    The lyrics are a bit edgy, they do spike ya just a little bit and they might offend some people. Welcome to rock my faithful chellovets.

  64. dear gentleman S,

    you're a little unnecessary. speaking of irony.. look at your choice of name.. =\

  65. I am a proud black woman and I love this song. You have to look into the context in which it was written and the message they were trying to pass across. Mick Jagger was in no way trying to promote slave rape,however, what he was trying to promote was his facination with balck women and sadly, how they have been overlooked in American society.

  66. 1. I like the Stones' music. But I don't own "Some Girls" (1978?) or "Sticky Fingers" (early seventies) for reasons that others have stated. The Stones' more recent music is far less offensive--old and sober writes and plays better than young and stoned.

    2. I think some of the commentators above are giving Jagger too much credit. He didn't write the lyrics to "Brown Sugar" to deconstruct racism or to express racism--he wrote them merely to shock an audience that had become too jaded to be shocked by "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Mother's Little Helper." Shocking the audience sells records, and that was Jagger's only purpose.

    3. I think that some of the commentators above are missing the point. It does not matter whether Mick Jagger is a racist. We all have the individual freedom to hate anyone we like, no matter how stupid the reason. What IS an issue is whether it is good for anyone, of any race, to listen to anti-black lyrics, even popular ones. The answer is 'no,' and we should select our musical purchases accordingly.

  67. Oh God, is this real? This isn't like a fake video and song? I am so horrified. This is sick in every way possible.

  68. I am black, I like this song. I think some people who are offended are being too literal. Every time a pop/rock singer uses the word "girl" he or she, is not necessarily meaning someone under 18--same thing for the word "boy." Just recently, well a year or so ago, a "study" was done that "determined" that black women were less attractive than white ones, and 13,000 people liked it on Facebook. To have a song that celebrates the sexual attractiveness, desirability of black women, makes me happy. I have always seen this song as a "calling out" of historical abusers--instead of dehumanizing the slave women, they should have admitted that they desired them, hence the chorus. And, btw, Ram Jam is not the original artist for "Black Betty." Black bluesman, Leadbelly is.


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