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Kenya Barris In Conversation With Tyler, The Creator: ‘Why Can’t We Tell Our Stories?’

4 minute read

Tyler, the Creator, and Kenya Barris both grew up in the same suburban area of Los Angeles. As an independent rapper and hip-hop agitator, Tyler has spent a decade creating music that pushes boundaries and buttons. As a writer, director and producer behind shows like Black-ish and the movie Girls Trip, Barris has won accolades from audiences and critics alike. Both share a desire to shape a culture where everyone can find the freedom to be themselves.

Kenya Barris: One of my security guards does security for your store Golf Wang [in L.A.]. I was looking at your tweet about Black fury after the storefront got smashed during protests. What did that mean to you? I’m sure you got the calls from your white friends: “Hey, man, just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Tyler, the Creator: My store is fixable. I don’t get too attached. That was a horrible time, but it had some humor: People calling, like, “You O.K.?” It’s some weird guilt they had but a lot of good intent. I got tweets and comments from white teenagers saying, “You need to say something.” I’m like, “About what?” I’m over 6 ft. I’m dark. You see these lips. These broad shoulders. How dare you tell me to say something about me?

KB: People will have an opinion about your place in this, and they’ve never had a place in this. I still have to ask for permission to do stories about my people. That’s counterintuitive. White people get to tell [their] stories ad nauseam, however [they] choose. You get everyone from Wes Anderson to David Fincher to Spike Jonze. You get so many versions of whiteness. We get five stories: crime, slavery, the hood, “I don’t have a man” and “I’m trying to get out the ghetto.”

And a biopic of a hero. Why can’t we tell our stories?

TTC: All everyone thinks of Los Angeles is lowriders and gang culture. I wasn’t from Compton. We were running around skateboarding and wearing Supreme, getting into photography and Tim Burton. We have to let people know this is a part of L.A. too. When people don’t allow you to use your voice, you make your own way. That’s what I did.

KB: I grew up skating too. But we’re not monolithic.

TTC: I love seeing Black kids running around now with orange hair and paint on their fingernails. But in 2003? No.

KB: The thing you’re a part of birthing is an acceptance of diversity and diversified ideas. You’ve helped create a lane where kids can just be themselves. It’s still forming. I did a show on Netflix this year, #blackAF, that was the best and worst experience I had in my life.

TTC: I loved the fourth or fifth episode, with that speech Tyler Perry gave. That was one of those moments where I was like, This is what I’ve been feeling since I was born. When I started out at 18, the intent was to question everything that everyone was O.K. with, because everyone’s different.

KB: What you did was lyrical satire. With my show, because the demographic was a little older, I don’t think minds were as open. It was like, “That’s not a real Black family.” I’m like, “That’s my family!” It’s a problem that we cannot expand beyond what people are used to seeing us in. That’s the whole purpose of my career—to push the conversation and the culture forward.

TTC: Everyone doesn’t realize that they live in a bubble. You doing Black-ish and making that type of Black family was very strong. Watching Black-ish and seeing Junior’s character—I related to that.

KB: We are constantly thinking, Keep your head down, stay out of trouble. White culture does allow free thought much more than ours. We haven’t really made it until we can criticize each other.

Moderated by Raisa Bruner

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