On February 3rd, 2019, Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage was arrested by ICE agents for overstaying his Visa. It was revealed that the rapper is originally from the United Kingdom and was brought to the United States with his parents when he was 7 years old. Like millions of other children, he had no say in what became of his life after his Visa expired, living life with no legal status in the US and virtually no resources to help him. In the hours following his arrest, the internet reacted with shock: creating and sharing memes about the fact that 21 “from the gutter” Savage was in fact born in the UK. These memes ranged from depicting him writing his rap songs with a quill and ink, to describing his “shooters dressed in all red” as British redcoats from the Revolutionary War. The following day, pop star Demi Lovato tweeted about the subject, joining in on the fun: “So far 21 Savage memes have been my favorite part of the Super Bowl.” Despite the masses indulging in the same humor as Lovato, she was met with massive backlash on Twitter, leading her to delete her account.
Not only has the backlash that Demi Lovato received been incredibly harsh, but it has been quite irrelevant to the subject at hand. In the past, Lovato has struggled with substance abuse issues, leading to an overdose and subsequent rehabilitation. Reactions to her tweet included attacking her for facing this issue, calling her “crackhead” and things of the sort. This simultaneous understanding of family separation issues and insensitivity to a person’s personal struggles with addiction is incredibly hypocritical and obtuse. This is a completely separate issue, serving only to hurt and attack, instead of educate and instruct.
21 Savage’s situation is, like many others facing deportation, incredibly tragic. However, the memes Lovato refers to do not make light that situation, instead they focus on the incredibly ridiculous fact that this rapper, a figure almost synonymous with modern Atlanta rap, is actually British. The posh stereotypes that typically go hand in hand with Britain are completely contradictory to the sort of lifestyle the rap community has seen 21 Savage live. That sort of bizarre juxtaposition is inherently funny. What is not funny is the fact that 21 may have to leave the country he has lived in for the majority of his life, leaving his friends and family behind.
Those arguing that 21 Savage deserves to be deported could say that in the time that he has lived in the US, he has been violent and has served as a bad role model for many kids listening to his music, thus making him exactly the kind of person who should be deported. While I agree that his actions have certainly not been admirable, the fact is that he is a product of the environment he spent his formative years in, the United States. Not only this, but 21 Savage has done some great work for the city he grew up in, leading community outreach programs such as financial literacy for underprivileged youths. This situation highlights two possibly corresponding issues prevalent in our country. 21 Savage’s current predicament is both an issue of lack of support for at-risk youths and inadequate bureaucratic empathy for families trying to better themselves with the resources available in the US.
By Owen Hudson