Parallel thinking about rap and injustice

On Cardiff’s academic blog, Tareeq Jalloh blogs about his work on drill music and epistemic injustice. The post summarizes a recent paper of his about the way that, in the UK, lyrics from drill music are interpreted as confessions of criminal activity. In the US context, this has been called the rap on trial mentality. Evan and I take it as our speciment example in our recent paper.

Ethan Nowak also has a forthcoming paper arguing that the the treatment of drill musicians in the UK amounts to an epistemic injustice. The three papers were under submission at about the same time, so we independently came to use this kind of example for similar purposes.1

Nevertheless, there is a substantive difference between us—

Jalloh organizes the wrong under existing labels (testimonial injustice and contributory injustice), and Nowak introduces the cute phrase poetic injustice. Importantly, all of these are understood as varieties of epistemic injustice. On this construal, the musicians are wronged primarily in their capacity as knowers. For example, as Jalloh puts it, “extreme measures are being used to prevent drillers and those within the drill scene from contributing to shared knowledge.”

Evan and I argue that this misses an important dimension of the wrong. If a rapper is not believed when they say that their lyrics are not assertions, then it is a testimonial injustice— but it is wrong to presumptively take their lyrics as assertions in any case. And musical activity can be valuable for its contribution to shared knowledge— but that is typically not the primary value of music.

We argue instead that it is important to distinguish the wrong done in not allowing musicians the space to create and perform. They are wronged not in their capacity as knowers but in their capacity as artists. So we distinguish art-interpretive injustice as something akin to but distinct from epistemic injustice.

A man browses at a German record store.
Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F079073-0006 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
  1. I was alerted to the other papers, only because Jalloh sent me a kind e-mail after my paper with Evan went on-line.

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