When someone apologizes for making a mistake, we forgive them so they can learn and hopefully grow into a better person. However, the responsibility is on the forgiven to put in the work, especially when this person is a public figure with a lot of influence.
Unfortunately, some celebrities don’t seem to understand this process. They’re setting a dangerous precedent by trying to excuse criminal offences committed by their peers through artistic statements, even when those in question haven’t changed or shown remorse.
A recent example of this trend is Kendrick Lamar’s inclusion of rapper Kodak Black on his newest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.
To the surprise of no one, Mr. Morale is an excellent, thought-provoking addition to Lamar’s already legendary discography. The record explores how experiences of systemic oppression make Black communities especially vulnerable to toxic relationships and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
However, the inclusion of Black, who pled guilty to sexually assaulting a minor in 2017, would be jarring misstep even if it adding something to the project.
Lamar wants us to sympathize with Kodak Black as a victim of flawed systems, but neither of his appearances on Mr. Morale—“Rich – Interlude” and “Silent Hill”—demonstrate the accountability we’d need to forgive someone who should still be in prison.
If Black isn’t sorry for his actions, then why should we forgive him?
We shouldn’t, simply put. Lamar, for all his positive artistic impact, completely missed the mark by featuring Black on his record.
Attempting to redeem Kodak Black is a curiously egotistical move by Lamar on an album otherwise beautifully focused on abandoning ego. Giving a known abuser a platform on a project where he discusses sexual violence in his own family is also a strange choice.
What’s even more frustrating is that we’ve seen this before.
The always outspoken Kanye West has recently struck up a working relationship with Marilyn Manson, despite the rocker’s long-list of heinous allegations.
West gave Manson writing credits on his album Donda, which sparked controversy when “Jail” was nominated for Best Rap Song at the 2022 Grammys. The credit was ultimately revoked, but West has seemingly continued to work with Manson on subsequent music.
While the nature of Manson’s involvement on Donda and Donda 2 is less intrusive than Kodak Black’s appearances on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, there’s credence to the argument that West, always the provocateur, is trying to manipulate public perception on Manson’s behalf.
In November 2021, West defended his decision to perform with Manson and rapper DaBaby—infamous for yelling homophobic slurs and getting away with murder—by portraying the pair as victims of a hyper-aggressive ‘cancel culture’ determined to ruin their reputations.
Even if Lamar and West had noble intentions, encouraging the public to forgive celebrities who have abused their privilege only serves to invalidate the real victims.
Their status as world-class musicians should never cancel out the misdeeds of public figures like Kodak Black, Marilyn Manson, and DaBaby. Society doesn’t owe those three anything, especially not before they get serious about redeeming themselves the honest way.
Let’s remember that forgiveness, like celebrity, is a privilege.
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