Editor's note: This column includes mentions of sexual assault and harassment.
By the time rapper duo Run the Jewels finished their second or third song, the crowd was lit. The chemical scent of fog machine smoke mingled with plumes of vaporizer smoke (after all, the crowd seemed squarely made up of people in their late 20s to early 30s).
I was acutely aware of the space I occupied — the sweat that rolled down my neck, the carefully calculated distance between my feet, the arms and stances of the men next to, behind and in front of me.
Between songs, the duo took some time to greet us. Their self-aware, curated rapper personas gave way to two regular, nice dudes who wanted to make sure that their fans had the best time possible in the warm, densely packed confines of OKC’s Diamond Ballroom.
“We usually give this speech later on in the set,” noted El-P, but we were a particularly lit crowd. He instructed us to make sure we were having fun while staying aware of the people around us — if someone looks like they’re not doing so great, help them out of the crowd. The next rule, though, is what affected me even more: “Keep your hands to your f—in’ self!”
Keep your hands to your f—in’ self.
It made me smile. I laughed with the rest of the crowd, a genuine laugh that came from hearing something truly unexpected.
I didn’t just laugh it off, though. It felt like a weight had been lifted off me when I heard his proclamation. When surrounded by strangers (or walking down the street at night, or taking an Uber, or navigating a bar, or, or, or...), I always feel hyper-aware of who’s around me and where their hands are, and I’d imagine most women and nonbinary people do as well.
It’s a weight that we sometimes forget we’re carrying on our shoulders, a constant muttering in the back of our minds reminding us to glance down every alley and stride past men with more confidence than we feel. It’s the knowledge that something bad could happen if we let our guard down — and even if our guards are up, someone might still put their hands where they aren’t wanted.
But when Killer Mike promises to personally punch out someone who touches you without consent, it’s pretty empowering.
It’s frustrating that artists even need to point this out at shows, but it also feels especially important following high-profile Hollywood sexual abuse cases and months of tongue-in-cheek references to grabbing women by the p—y.
Over the past week, scores of survivors have posted the same simple statement on social media: Me too. For many of them, crowded places like concerts were the public venues of these intimate violations — ass grabs, unsolicited hugs, unwanted conversations turned belligerent by a man’s wounded ego.
Even campaigns like these, however, still rely on survivors’ willingness to come forward with their own traumatic experiences. Little emphasis, if any, is put on holding perpetrators accountable, especially cisgender men and white people in positions of power. That’s why Mike and El-P’s instructions were so unexpectedly heartening. The message wasn’t “Watch your surroundings.” The responsibility wasn’t on me — a woman standing by herself, minding her own business.
We are each other's surroundings (quite literally, at a concert). We are responsible for our own actions. Touching someone without their consent is incredibly easy to not do: Just keep your hands to your f—in’ self.
Why is it, then, that the topic of conversation is always the victim? Why are we so eager to dissect her clothing choices or blame his alcohol consumption? Why is the victim scrutinized, when it was the perpetrator who chose to violate someone else’s boundaries? Why does it take a rapper explicitly telling the audience to keep their hands to themselves for the women in the crowd to feel comfortable?
I wish that curing centuries of rape culture would be as easy as reminding everyone to respect consent. I wish that the attitude of these two woke, dope-as-hell rappers would be the default perspective in popular culture. I wish that we would stop pointing fingers at survivors and demand that predators look at their own hands, instead.
The start of all this radical change, though, is a simple reminder for all of us: Keep your hands to your f—in’ self.
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