Tyler, The Creator: banned for your own good

Ferdia Carr

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Topics Free Speech

Is it acceptable to use the word ‘faggot’ in contemporary rap? No need to get lost in thought, the Home Office has made that decision for you. Hip-hop’s avant-garde darling Tyler, The Creator (his comma) yesterday revealed he had been banned from the UK for three to five years, due to the ‘homophobic’ and ‘violent’ content of his lyrics.

Tyler’s button-pushing rhymes about violence, suicide and rape regularly anger censorious petitioners. In July, an Australian feminist group called Collective Shout called for his visa to be denied due to the allegedly ‘misogynist’ content of his lyrics. A similar, unsuccessful petition in 2013 called for the rapper to be taken off the bill at Glastonbury.

Demands to silence offensive musicians are becoming depressingly common. But what should really alarm genuine liberals is the fact that, in this case, the ban was passed down not by a students’ union or a PR-conscious promoter, but by the British state. In its statement, the Home Office reminded us that ‘the home secretary has the power to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good’.

The use of these powers to ban an artist from entering the country, purely because of what they have said, is a chilling reminder that in modern Britain expressing the ‘wrong’ opinion can still put you on the wrong side of the law. And the policing of what we can hear, read and listen to has been willed on by the belligerent campaign groups who have, for years, been trying to picket offensive individuals like Tyler out of public life.

If you genuinely find Tyler’s lyrics discomforting, you probably agree with the Home Office that banning him is ‘conducive to the public good’. In this instance, you and the government agree. But what happens when it’s a rapper, a preacher or a politico that you like who is having their visa revoked? If you justify censorship in one case, you have no cause to complain when it comes back to bite you.

What this boils down to is that no one is qualified to tell us what speech is and isn’t ‘in our own good’ to hear – certainly not Theresa May. Even if you hate Tyler’s guts, the fact the Home Office thinks it knows best should offend you more than any crass rap song.

Ferdia Carr is a writer based in London.

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Topics Free Speech

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