Mom, actress and autism activist Holly Robinson Peete first came across the lyrics to Drake's song, "Jodeci Freestyle," when her 15-year-old son, R.J., showed them to her. R.J. has autism and asked his mother to explain a specific, highly offensive line performed by rapper J. Cole, she said in a Friday interview on Access Hollywood Live.
The line that has Peete and many, many others up in arms, is: "I'm artistic, you n****s is autistic, retarded." Peete, who appeared on Access Hollywood with blogger Segun Oduolowu, said her son is a fan of both Drake and J. Cole -- and she "had to read [the line] like five times" because she was so devastated that she hoped there would be an explanation apart from the obvious.
Echoing words she wrote in a letter to 50 Cent last year, after he used the the terms "autistic" and "special ed" as insults in tweets, Peete said (coming close to tears):
I just don't know that these artists understand ... the power that they have. Because my son is struggling to fit in. And I mean struggling. So when I see an artist with this kind of following, who is writing not just 'autistic,' but trying to make it the new R-word, it's not going to happen on our watch. Because we struggle every day. And I couldn't even write about it or talk about it for a long time... Does he know that one in 50 school-aged children are suffering with autism? This is not something that is some random little niche issue. This is a big issue.
"What 50 Cent did, to me, is like a Martin Luther King quote compared to this," she said.
Peete called on J. Cole to apologize and remove the lyric from his song. On Sunday, the rapper did issue a long apology on his blog, explaining that while he didn't always think rappers should apologize for lyrics others found offensive, this was a special case ("a tweeted apology wouldn't do," he added on Twitter). "This letter is sincere. This apology IS necessary," he wrote, going on:
In a recent verse on the song "Jodeci Freestyle," I said something highly offensive to people with Autism. Last week, when I first saw a comment from someone outraged about the lyric, I realized right away that what I said was wrong. I was instantly embarrassed that I would be ignorant enough say something so hurtful. What makes the crime worse is that I should have known better.
To the entire Autism community who expressed outrage, I’m moved and inspired by your passion, and I’m amazed at how strong you are as a unit. I have now read stories online from parents about their struggles and triumphs with raising an Autistic child and I admire how incredibly strong you have to be to do so. It’s touching. It also makes what I said even more embarrassing for me. I feel real shame. You have every right to be angry.
Read the full apology here.
Cole did not mention in his post whether he intends to remove the lyrics in question from the song.
Blogger Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, whose 7-year-old son has autism, wrote on Babble of the lyrics:
When anyone uses autism or the r-word as an insult it perpetuates the stereotype that individuals with disabilities are worthless and stupid. You discredit every single thing that so many parents have fought for, shut every door that has been opened. You squash a dream. Break a heart.
Pointing out the extent of Drake's social media influence, she added that the problem was particularly urgent in minority communities: "There is still so much stigma within our community about autism and intellectual disabilities. ... Drake and J. Cole’s lyrics do nothing to strengthen our community or our children, they only weaken it. They have disrespected many families and their loved ones."
In a HuffPost blog earlier this year, Peete discussed raising a son with autism, from the day in 2000 when R.J. was diagnosed through the learning experience of puberty. "[T]he main issue for me, the one that keeps me up at night," she wrote, "is will my sweet 6-feet-tall, lanky, milk chocolate 15-year-old be able to self-advocate in life. Who will protect his heart when I am not around? How will his survival skills work for him in real world situations...?"
Clearly, she is devoted to stamping out the prejudices that stand in his way.
UPDATE July 23 -- In a blog post on Monday, Drake seconded J. Cole's apology, and said they planned to remove the offending line, writing:
I share responsibility and offer my sincerest apologies for the pain this has caused. Individuals with autism have brilliant and creative minds, and their gifts should not be disparaged or discounted. ... J. Cole and I believe that it is the right, responsible, and respectful decision to remove the lyric from the song.