5

Beat me, hate me
You can never break me
Will me, thrill me
You can never kill me
Jew me, sue me
Everybody do me
Kick me, kike me
Don't you black or white me

It's from MJ's track, my favorite one. I understand the meaning that he wants says 'NO' to racism but then are words black and white used as verbs here?

Also,

Everybody do me?

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    You can verb every noun in English. (although verbing weirds the language). – SF. Jan 6 '14 at 13:23
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    Curb me, perturb me; in the end you'll verb me. – Kaz Jan 6 '14 at 21:03
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about interpretation of song lyrics - which aren't necessarily representative of normal English, and which don't necessarily have an unambiguous meaning (they certainly don't in this case). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 6 '14 at 22:53
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    @Maulik V: I never suggested it wasn't possible to provide meaningful answers. But does "the" verb (or is it two?) reference racism, pigeon-holing in general, polarised/extremist thinking, some combination of all those and/or other elements? It's hopelessly subjective, and (maybe not in this particular case, I don't know) it's not uncommon to discover that even the author of song lyrics won't/can't specify exactly what they mean. Particularly when wordplay & rhyme are significant factors in the (non-standard) text. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 7 '14 at 12:25
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    @FumbleFingers This particular song had drawn everybody's attention as it has meaningful lyrics I guess. Also, as suggested in answers here, the line black or white is in flow conveying the message of very carefully written lyrics. You only said ....maybe not in this particular case which means this question is quite askable. Anyway, I got the answer and chose as well. Thanks for your view though. – Maulik V Jan 9 '14 at 5:09
5

The way I would interpret black-and-white (when used as a verb) would be:

Don't put everything into [two] absolutes when you're talking with me.

Two common idioms are:

It's black-and-white.
It's not black-and-white.

When something is either morally right or morally wrong, it's often said to be black-and-white, meaning that there are no shades of gray. For example, one might argue that stealing is wrong; it's simply not right to take what doesn't belong to you.

Someone else may counter, though, by pointing to the legend of Robin Hood. Though a thief, he was lionized, because he didn't steal for his own gain. Rather, he stole from the rich, and gave to the poor, who were being oppressed by the rich.

Some folks tend to see a lot of things in black-and-white, meaning they leave little wiggle room for "it depends on the circumstances." Others have more of a "shades of grey" worldview, meaning they understand there are exceptions to every rule, and certain situations call for going outside the lines.

NOAD reads:

black and white adj. (of a situation or debate) involving clearly defined opposing principles or issues


In a cry against racism, "Don't you black-and-white me" has a nice dual meaning. On one hand, it says, "Don't judge me simply by the color of my skin." But it also can mean, "Don't be looking at the world like there is never any room for compromise." Those two thoughts feed off each other pretty well.

That said, song lyrics and poetry aren't always easy to decipher; people have been inserting meaning that wasn't every intended into song lyrics for a long time. I believe one of the Beatles once quipped that whenever someone offered some interpretation of one of their songs, they might go along with it if they liked what the person said – even if those ideas were never in their minds when they wrote the lyrics. So there's really no way to know for sure, unless the author happens to be a member of ELL, and wants to chime in.

That said, the dictionary meaning of black and white can be ascertained, so I believe this answer may still be of some use for the English learner, even if I've read too much into the songwriter's work.

  • There comes the question: black AND white and black OR white! Do they mean the same? – Maulik V Jan 6 '14 at 11:49
  • @Maulik - They could mean the same (if one is a variant of the other), but they wouldn't necessarily mean the same in all contexts. (Imagine buying a new car, and the dealer asks, "What color do you want? Black or white?") – J.R. Jan 6 '14 at 11:56
  • J.R. I'm concerned about the lyrics there. Does black-and-white there mean the same (black or white)? – Maulik V Jan 6 '14 at 12:06
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    @Maulik - That's the problem with lyrics – not everything's black or white. :^) See what I did there? I used "or" instead of "and", but I'm guessing you still understood what I meant. But I think "and" is the better way to say it; go to OneLook.com to look up black and white, then change the search to black or white and see what happens. – J.R. Jan 6 '14 at 12:10
  • With or in the lyrics, I think it's open to the reading "don't black [me] or white me" as well as the reading "don't black-or-white me". – snailcar Jan 6 '14 at 13:07
4

Part of the meaning of "don't you black or white me" here is likely something like: "do not make me and my personality, style, behavior or my art the object of categorization by race." In other words "Be more concerned with who I am than with whether I'm black or white, or whether I'm 'trying to be white' or 'trying to be black', or whether any aspect of my personality has to do with conforming to racially motivated expectations." It also likely has the double meaning of "do not make me the object of rigid 'black and white' categorization in general".

The first interpretation is strongly supported by the appearance of Kike in the previous line, and Jew before that. "Kike me" is a play on "kick" in the same line, and is probably a metaphor for name-calling. "Kike me, but don't black or white me" may be something like "go ahead, call me something; it doesn't bother me as long as you're only mouthing off (to be shocking or whatever), and are not adopting the underlying categorization as your actual mode of reasoning (even when you're silent)."

3

I agree with you. I'm familiar with black and white, and I think it can be used as a verb. (Isn't it amazing that I can say I "google" every day in English?) I think the black or white in the lyric, Don't you black or white me, can be interpreted as either Don't you (black or white) me or (Don't you black me) or (Don't you white me).

As for Everybody do me, it sounds pretty much like the use of do in the title of the movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America to me, thought it should be does. But then again, this is a lyric. (I think I get his sub-text about everybody is not just one person, and do is not just about one single doing.) In this context, I interpret this line as: Everybody [did/does/can do/and might continue to do] all the mentioned nasty things mentioned in the previous lines.

  • Oh, you made me miss him and his great works. RIP, MJ. – Damkerng T. Jan 6 '14 at 10:33
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    You mention that it's the same as the movie title, but don't share your interpretation of the title. I interpret the title as a nod to Debbie Does Dallas, an interpretation bolstered by the central plot point in Beavis and Butt-head Do America being a confusion over the meaning of "do" with regards to a character named Dallas. I think "do me" in the MJ lyric is ambiguous between sex and the sense of "do you", i.e. be yourself and disregard detractors. – Tyler James Young Jan 6 '14 at 19:01
  • @TylerJamesYoung I agree. My own interpretation of this do me was that it was about the same as wrong me, and in more than one way. And I was too shy to mention them explicitly. – Damkerng T. Jan 6 '14 at 19:20
  • I think your edit is a good one. – Tyler James Young Jan 6 '14 at 23:53

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