There was an exchange of words between my daughter, her cousin and my sister.
I didn’t hear what was said as I was busy coordinating the roast turkey and vegetarian options.
The fallout was that I have not spoken with my sister in six months.
I am almost 50 and this is the longest I have gone without communicating with one of my siblings.
When I was 13 I fell-out with my friend Addy (now called Elor). That was a crummy time.
I’m living through it again.
I, for my part haven’t done anything to fix the rift, I am full of good intentions and confused emotions.
My brother called me this morning and almost, but not quite did a ‘mum’ on me, nearly saying, ‘Do it for me…’ (i.e. you may not want to do something, do it for me, to make me feel better. It is a standard parental guilt-trope, one frequently played-out between Jewish mothers and their sons.)
Anyway, the subject of the initial upset at the dining table related to the language used to describe a group of people.
I won’t say what, as I don’t want to bring back bad memories; suffice it to say, it was nothing very awful although it veered into matters of race and colour. Black, white, that kind of thing.
This has been a theme with my children.
They have listened and learned the lessons taught in their schools and probably from me and their mum about gender, race and equality.
They live and breathe an openness and acceptance towards diversity that I can only hope one day to achieve.
They understand the he/him/her/they/them of gender politics, accepting people who are different to them and, the significance of words that shouldn’t be spoken or said out loud.
On Sunday we drove from our house in Doncaster to collect my daughter from the completion of her DoE expedition in South Derbyshire.
I was driving, Anne, my son and our two dogs came along for the ride.
I had actually lined-up a special Spotify playlist for the car, ‘the best of Indie 90’s’.
My son asked if he could play music. I acquiesced.
Kendrick started rapping.
My son loves Kendrick Lamar.
He talks about his music with reverence, appreciating his use of language, the rhyme and rhythm, the blend of music and meaning, metaphor and imagery. ‘He won a Pulitzer Prize, don’t you know,’ he informs me.
Me, I struggle.
‘I really don’t like this,’ I said, as Kendrick called out a series of B and N-words.
Later that night, back home, Kendrick was headlining at Glastonbury.
The previous evening we had watched Paul McCartney for three hours (daughter was in a tent at the time). We sang along, we smiled, and cheered, knowing we were experiencing what was music history. Classic after classic as Macca switched between electric and acoustic guitar, piano, ukelele and mandolin.
I love and have always loved the Beatles.
When I worked on Mallard Ward I used to play on continuous loop a USB stick containing all of the Beatles songs. I would ward-round to Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine. Those were the days.
And now Kendrick.
‘Are you going to watch Kendrick tonight? He is on at 10,’ my son asked.
I didn’t answer.
I sat through Wet Leg, IDLES and Dry Cleaning and yes, listened to Kendrick.
The show was amazing, choreographed in a way that only American megastars know how.
Kendrick wore a crown of thorns that in the final song produced blood that ran down his face and onto his white shirt.
He rapped at high speed.
For the most it was hard for me to understand what he was saying.
My son patiently explained some sections, ‘That’s from To Pimp a Butterfly,’ or, ‘This is one of my favourites from DAMN.’
That kind of thing.
And the audience, a far more diverse group of younger people than listened to Paul (although who knows, there were so many), were singing along word for word.
As I’ve said, if you listen to Kendrick’s music, it is hard to get away from the N-words.
I am not naïve, I know the rationale for the popularity of that word in rap-music is to do with re-appropriation, reclaiming its use, black identity and consciousness.
Anyway, and this was my puzzle.
I was going to ask my son last night, I thought better of it.
This morning, I put Kendrick on continuous play via my Bluetooth speaker. I pottered around the house; organised the garage and built some shelves.
I had the impression my son was grateful that I had a) given Kendrick a chance last night and b) given him a further listen this morning.
‘It’s the N and the B words, I don’t get it, I mean, I get the reclamation of use, but why the B-word, isn’t that awful? And what about all those people last night signing along to Kendrick’s music? What about the N-word then? The love of ‘my’ music is based on being able to singalong, not having to filter-out racial slurs.’
‘The people in the audience won’t have said the N-word, they will have missed it out, and, even if they did, in the context of listening to Kendrick, it is OK. And yes, Kendrick even talks about this on one of his songs.’
My son finds the song on Spotify and plays it to me. It is Kendrick spontaneously engaging and rapping with his audience explaining his use of the N-word.
I am sort of getting it.
You can sing along without certain words.
That is the sophistication of today’s young.
They get it, they understand the ins and outs of race, gender, equality; they have a grasp, a sensitivity towards others that was absent from my upbringing in the 70’s and 80’s and this, I think is the point.
This is a celebration of today.
There is so much bad stuff out there. My kids have lived for the past decade in a cold climate of Tory indifference. Climate change and the Anthropocene are their lingua franca. Heck, Ukraine then Roe v Wave last week. They see further than me, and that is great, that makes it worthwhile.
No, my falling out with my sister is not part of the equation. That is my immaturity, my smallness of mind.
Oh, to only have a tiny portion of their humility and sensitivity.
Thank you Kendrick. Thank you Paul.