Why Eminem’s Super Bowl kneel missed the mark

Feb 15, 2022 at 11:31 am
Eminem takes a knee during Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show performance. - Screengrab via NFL / YouTube
Screengrab via NFL / YouTube
Eminem takes a knee during Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show performance.

It was 2016 when former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick made people uncomfortable when he began to kneel during the National Anthem — a silent protest against police brutality with a loud message that ultimately led to Kaepernick’s shift from NFL quarterback to social justice activist.

Fast forward to this past Sunday and the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show. For millennials, especially Black millennials like myself, it was amazing to see the people we have identified with for years — Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar — on center stage at one of America’s most watched television broadcasts.

For the first time, hip-hop was the star of the show and it felt great — until it didn’t.

During the performance, Eminem kneeled. While many are singing praises of Em’s gesture, there are few, like myself, who are quite unimpressed with the whole ordeal.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the still images that were shared to news sites and blogs after the performance, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it. It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in time, overshadowed by Dr. Dre playing the piano chords to Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha.”

But the news of Slim Shady’s kneel took off, and many took it as a sign of solidarity from the rapper in homage to Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement. Rumors swirled that Eminem was told by the NFL not to do it, and many took his doing so as radical. Dr. Dre told TMZ that Eminem taking a knee was “Em doing that on his own” and the NFL didn’t have a problem with it.

While many are doting and further extending cookout invitations to Eminem, I have to ask: why?

Granted, despite his controversies, I do feel like Eminem handled inserting himself into Black culture with care. While gimmicky, he never felt like he was emulating or mocking a culture in the same way newer non-Black performers have, like Awkwafina and Bhad Bhabie. In his 2002 movie 8 Mile, he made sure to show love to local, lesser-known rappers from the scene, and boosted even more performers in his 2014 track “Detroit vs. Everybody.”

All of that doesn’t mean the Super Bowl stunt was any less performative. It has people talking, but what’s next? It’s the same feeling as when the House Dems kneeled draped in kente cloth to remember George Floyd and introduced a police reform bill. It’s the same energy as when cities across America painted Black Lives Matter onto roadways. The theatrics are cute, but what comes after?

Some feel that Eminem put his career at risk by kneeling during such a public event, but he hasn’t done anything he hasn’t already done. When Em very publicly dissed former President Donald Trump in a BET Awards freestyle, what happened after? Nothing. President Trump didn’t respond, and never gave Eminem the same energy he gave to journalist Jemele Hill or Jay-Z.

We’re at a point where we have to stop celebrating and accepting the bare minimum just to say we have support. Fish shouldn’t be rewarded for swimming, and as someone who has made an entire career off Black culture, Eminem supporting Black culture, politics, and social movements should be an expectation, not a celebration.

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