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M.I.A. causes furor with criticism of Black Lives Matter: ‘It’s not a new thing to me’

Twitter explodes after rapper appears to criticize Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.


Catherine Scott


Published Apr 21, 2016   Updated Feb 29, 2020, 8:19 am CST

British rapper M.I.A. has earned the ire of Twitter after criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with the Evening Standard. In response to a question about Beyoncé’s Black Power-infused performance at this year’s Super Bowl, M.I.A. said:

It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me—it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.

Twitter users instantly voiced their displeasure:

M.I.A took to Twitter to clarify her position later today:

However, the Twitterverse remained unimpressed with what they saw as a failure to acknowledge intersecting movements (countless tweeters pointed out that being black and Muslim are not mutually exclusive), the implication that the Black Lives Matter movement has been granted its platform easily and without struggle, and the familiar derailing tactic of “whatabouttery.”

Although born in London, M.I.A. spent the first 12 years of her life in her parents’ native Sri Lanka while the country was severely disrupted by civil war. The family often lived in hiding due to her father’s activism with the Tamil Tigers separatist group. She returned to England with her mother and siblings as refugees, and says that she endured racist abuse daily on the impoverished London estate where they were housed.

In the Evening Standard interview, M.I.A. also commented: “I’m surprised I’m still alive, to be honest. I came from war. When I was growing up, I didn’t really think I’d live beyond about 25.” 

During today’s controversy, the irony of a former refugee criticizing the efforts of a movement representing the marginalized did not go unremarked upon.

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*First Published: Apr 21, 2016, 3:43 pm CDT