deaf culture, Hearing Loss, Personal

Why Eminem’s “Tone Deaf” Is Harmful to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

A few days ago, Eminem released his new song, “Tone Deaf.” This song responded to Generation Z calling for Eminem to be canceled due to his controversial song lyrics. The main song that Generation Z were concerned about was his collaboration with Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie.” This song is about being in an abusive relationship. It was made stronger by having Rihanna sing parts of it, given her history of abuse with the musician Chris Brown.

The controversial lyric that Generation Z is questioning says, If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I’ma tie her/to the bed and set this house on fire.”

While this lyric may be difficult to hear, context is everything. In the context of this song, I believe the lyric Is appropriate because the song was designed to bring awareness about an abusive relationship. How else can one properly show what an abusive relationship looks like without recounting some of the awful things that made me said, or even thought, in said abusive relationship?

Take a listen to “Love the Way You Lie” below and let me know what you think. Trigger warning: The following song may be a trigger and highly upsetting for those who have been through an abusive relationship.

When I first heard that Generation Z was attempting to cancel Eminem, my first instinct was to ignore it. I never liked Eminem. I think that his lyrics are disgusting and inappropriate. I don’t like the way he talks and the subjects he discusses in most of his songs. I believe that many of his songs encourage violence, hate, disrupt relationships, and encourage drug use. However, as much as I do not like Eminem’s music and believe we’d probably be better off with Eminem being canceled, I do not encourage this movement because I think there’s a dangerous line between “canceling” things and censorship. I am strongly opposed to the idea of censorship because I support the notion that artists need to be free to express themselves.

I also want to point out that I am very well-rehearsed in most of Eminem’s music catalog. As much as I do not like Eminem’s music, my sister, Noel, is a huge fan. Growing up, and even to this day, she practically worshipped him and his music. Whether I wanted to or not, I heard Eminem practically on repeat until Noel moved out when she was 18.

Since Noel moved out, I, fortunately, don’t have to listen to Eminem as much, and I try to avoid hearing his music whenever possible. But when several deaf and hard of hearing people posted in Facebook groups that they were upset by the new Eminem song, “Tone Deaf,” I knew I had to listen to it myself to find out why. I was appalled by his new song, and as a deaf woman myself, I took extreme offense to it. Here’s why:

1.    It Makes Fun of Ear Infections

The opening chorus of this song says:

I have an ear infucktion, and I cunt finger it out.

First off, the language in this line is disgusting. Was it really necessary for him to use the phrases “infucktion” and “cunt”? I understand that this is rap and a form of the rap style/genre conventions. A friend of mine also pointed out that the phrase “ear infucktion” was a popular slang term in the 1980s that people would say in response to criticism.

When I Googled the term, I did not find many examples of it outside of Urban Dictionary. Regardless of what Eminem’s intentions were, this term is outdated and offensive. Anyone who has ever had an ear infection knows that they are extremely painful and not something to joke about. What’s more, ear infections are known to cause hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss. Fortunately, it is often temporary and can go away once the infection clears up. Sometimes it needs to be treated by inserting tubes in the ears to drain the infection. This is especially common in babies and young children. Temporary or not, most people would not find it funny or something to make light of.

2. It Pokes Fun at Hearing Loss

The above-mentioned line is probably my least favorite part of the song. A second close is the opening three lines of the song, which says:

Yeah, I’m sorry (huh?)
What did you say?
Oh, I can’t hear you

If you are a hearing person, these three lines probably won’t upset you. You won’t understand how deeply upsetting they can be to a deaf or hard of hearing person because you cannot possibly understand unless you yourself are deaf or hard of hearing.

These three lines make me cringe as they take me back to my grade school days. Growing up as a deaf girl living in a hearing world was far from easy. My classmates, including even people I thought were my friends, often made fun of me for not being able to hear. They would whisper things, knowing I wouldn’t be able to hear it, and then when I would ask them to repeat it, they would often respond by saying, “What? Huh? I’m sorry I can’t hear you”, AKA all of the things I just said to them.

My sophomore year of high school was especially bad. When I was a new student at West Deptford High School, I got in a fight with a couple of girls, leading to my suspension. One of the things that set me off the most that day was comments made about my hearing loss. I remember the conversation between two girls like it was yesterday:

Girl 1: Hey, do you want to go to the mall after school?

Girl 2: Yes, I need to go and get hearing aid batteries.

Girl 1: Maybe I can find some straight-edged potato chips. (For context, I was straight-edged during this time. I was very much opposed to drinking and partying, which was partly why I didn’t fit in and get along with many of my classmates, including these girls).

Girl 2: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.

Girl 2: I left my hearing aid in my locker.

Girl 2: What? What did you say?

Hearing Eminem’s words in “Tone Deaf” brought back many bad memories I would prefer to forget about. But I can’t simply forget about these bad memories. I remember them because they hurt. I remember them because they were important. I remember them because I want to fight to make sure that other deaf and hard of hearing people don’t have to go through the same things that I went through.

Let’s face the facts, Eminem is known for producing catchy songs, and “Tone Deaf” is one of them. This song is full of potential to make the lives of deaf and hard of hearing children and teens a living hell. I know what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world. I know what it’s like to be the only deaf kid in school. I fear that the lines “Yeah, I’m sorry (huh?)/What did you say?/Oh, I can’t hear you” will be catchy and repeated by many and used as an insult towards deaf and hard of hearing students. That makes me cringe. It feels like, with this song, whether intentional or not, Eminem further encourages hearing people to make fun of or marginalize deaf and hard of hearing people, as if we don’t get tormented or marginalized enough as it is.

3. It Discourages People from Treating Hearing Loss

In the third verse of “Tone Deaf,” Eminem says:

I can’t understand a word you say (I’m tone deaf)
I think this way I prefer to stay (I’m tone deaf)
I won’t stop even when my hair turns grey (I’m tone deaf)
‘Cause they won’t stop until they cancel me (yeah, yeah)

The line “I think this way I prefer to stay (I’m tone deaf)” is especially troubling. This verse could be taken to mean that Eminem is okay with not being able to hear. If Eminem were deaf or hard of hearing, that would be fine; one could assume he has chosen to become a part of Deaf culture and live in the deaf world.

But, as we all know, Eminem does not suffer from hearing loss.

His words are harmful and dangerous to those who do, those who may be considering treating their hearing loss but who perhaps are feeling self-conscious about doing so. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there are 1.5 billion people living world-wide with hearing loss. Out of these 1.5 billion people, only 17% of those who could benefit from hearing devices such as hearing aids actually use them. They also explained that untreated hearing loss could lead to difficulties in school, struggles with communication, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Eminem should not be glorifying the idea of not being able to hear unless he is a member of the Deaf community and wants to use that as his platform like Sean Forbes does. As a hearing person, he has no right to discuss deaf culture, and we know that was not his intention with these lines. These verses are both inconsiderate, insensitive, and harmful to those who may be considering treatment for their hearing loss.

Is It Time to Cancel Eminem?

As I stated at the beginning of this blog post, I don’t think we need to cancel Eminem. When we start censoring art, we begin to limit freedom of speech and expression, which I am vehemently against. Instead of canceling Eminem, let us give Eminem the chance to apologize to the deaf and hard of hearing community. I cannot speak to all members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, but I would like to see this awful song be used for the greater good. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community should use this as an opportunity to educate Eminem and others about hearing loss and why this song is hurtful.

As a bonus, it would be great if, along with an apology, Eminem used this song to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Ironic? Yes, but he can make right by it if he uses even a percentage of the profits to donate to charities or for resources for the deaf and hard of hearing. There are many charities he could choose to donate to, but some of my favorites are The Hearing Loss Association of America, Aid the Silent, Hands and Voices, Deaf Ministries International, and The Starkey Hearing Foundation.

We all make mistakes, and sometimes our mistakes cause us to hurt others, even if that is not what we ever intended to do. The best thing to do, other than apologize, is to learn from our mistakes and strive to do better in the future. By donating to any of these charities, Eminem will help to provide resources to the deaf and hard of hearing and show his support for these marginalized communities.

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