Tom Morello Rages Against Critics Who Question His 'Blackness'

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

May 14, 2019

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Tom Morello isn't afraid of controversy or of talking about sensitive issues — in fact, it's kind of what Rage Against the Machine was all about.

So when a Twitter user recently accused the legendary guitarist of "race baiting" for a Tweet in which Morello recalled an uncomfortable exchange with a hotel employee in North Carolina, Morello responded with all the visceral eloquence you might expect from a bi-racial punk rocker who graduated from Harvard with honors and a political science degree.

"Tom, you're the whitest looking 'black guy' I've seen, give the race baiting a rest," wrote a Twitter user with the ironic handle @doublegeenius.

In his original Tweet, Morello appeared to suggest that the hotel employee was paying special attention to him because he is a person of color in a presumably upscale hotel.

That doesn't fit the definition of race-baiting, but it still triggered @doublegeenius enough to accuse Morello of being white, therefore implying that Morello does not know what he is talking about.

But the bi-racial Morello is no stranger to these comments, noting via his response on Instagram that he "changed colors" between childhood and adulthood. In a lengthy caption accompanying a screenshot of the Tweet in question, the rocker noted how he was black enough growing up that he was treated differently by his white peers — and even occasionally harangued with the n-word. He recalled once being handcuffed by a police officer for just walking down the sidewalk.

Then there was the time the Ku Klux Klan hung a noose on his family's house.

"So, you see, I was BLACK," Morello wrote. "Then later on I played in a famous band. The band's music had many of the markers typically associated with "white" hard rock music, we appeared in magazines and on radio stations generally reserved for white artists, my speech and vocabulary in interviews are not stereotypically 'urban,' and lo and behold there is a segment of my audience that freaks the f--k out whenever I reference being black. To them, I must be white. I MUST."

He chalked up the contradictions to a 'cognitive dissonance' among a segment of his fan base.

"When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort (Tom you are not black! Stop talking about race as if you are!)," he added, before in a few words apologizing for "singling out this one jackass..."

"...[B]ut it's an illuminating example," he concluded. "One more example of the complex and messed up issue race remains in the US in 2019."

Recently, Morello has been urging his social media followers to support prison reform. In a series of posts over the weekend, the former Audioslave guitarist called attention to the disproportionate number of minority Americans who are incarcerated for low-level crimes.

In observance of Mother's Day, Morello partnered with the ACLU of Kentucky to draw attention to the social cost of mass incarceration of women in the Bluegrass State, which jails women more than twice as often as the national average.

Photo: Getty Images

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It’s funny. While my skin tone is the same I’ve miraculously “changed colors” as I got older. Growing up in Libertyville I was the only black kid. Everyone in town was crystal clear on that. Kids touched my curly hair, marveled over the color of my gums & palms, questioned whether I was intellectually their equal, periodically called me the “N-word”, some dads drew a hard line on dating, cops questioned me and once cuffed me for walking down the sidewalk, and the local KKK hung a noose in my family’s garage. So, you see, I was BLACK. Then later on I played in a famous band. The bands music had many of the markers typically associated with “white” hard rock music, we appeared in magazines and on radio stations generally reserved for white artists, my speech & vocabulary in interviews are not stereotypically “urban”, and lo and behold there is a segment of my audience that freaks the fuck out whenever I reference being black. To them I must be white. I MUST. This cognitive dissonance is real, pervasive, and has haunted me throughout my career. Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief (I’m a fan of Tom! Tom is white!) clashes with new evidence (Tom says he’s black!) When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort (Tom you are not black! Stop talking about race as if you are!) A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance by avoiding contradictory information (Denying my skin color, African dad, and my Twitter & Insta pronouncements) likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance. I don’t mean to single out this one jackass here, but it’s an illuminating example. One more example of the complex and messed up issue race remains in the US in 2019.

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