I am not the first person to point out that Brown Sugar is a disgusting song. Jagger even admits that he would never have written in ‘nowadays’ – that it was ‘too raw’. Jagger, Honey, it is more than raw, it is rancid. It was allegedly written about Marsha Hunt: the strong counter culture mover and shaker, Berkley educated, Anti-Vietnam war marching, soul singing kick ass beautiful mother of Jagger’s oldest child, and was huge hit for the Rolling Stones. Ms Hunt deserved better than this imperialistic, colonial racist drool with a kick ass beat and dirty guitar. Ms Hunt deserved better than to be on the receiving end of Jagger’s internalized racism, his refusal for many years to support his own child or accept he was the father of Karis. All of this is well documented, and it gives me no pleasure to drag it up, but without this background, the full horror of Brown Sugar cannot be appreciated.
In my opinion, for what little it would ever be worth to the Rolling Stone Corporation, every last cent ever earnt from Brown Sugar should be tallied up and given to Ms Hunt, alongside an additional apology payment to BLM causes, because Jagger and the boys made mint out of the horror of slavery, and of Jagger’s bitterly appalling treatment of the glorious Ms Hunt.
It pains me to read the lyrics, let alone quote them. I get a deep sense of uneasiness and shame deep in my bones just ingesting this song. It hits me all wrong, makes me hang my head low and want to scream at the boys to fucking cut it out, quit it, apologize, make amends. I want to go stand next to Ms Hunt and offer my outrage, my solidarity, my fist clenched in rage. How dare Jagger and the boys have ever sung this shit?
The refrain that runs through the song of the “scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright” and later the ‘House boy knows that he’s doing alright”, with Mick positioning himself in the position of slave owner (Oh how Mick has always had a hard on for seeing himself as powerful, socially high positioned fucking upper class English toff), bestowing his platitudes that the enslaved man in the house, reduced to an emasculated vulnerable position of ‘boy’ in Mick’s parlance, ‘KNOWS’ that it could be worse, and would be if he doesn’t agree and behave, and accepts the small benefits of the position bestowed by the all-powerful magnanimous Mick. Mick doesn’t allow for dissent or dissatisfaction within this foul status quo of slavery that he is joyously singing about, but rather shuts the door on the desire and need for freedom with the snappy demand that the enslaved and abused and used accept their status.
No Mick, neither the ‘scarred old slavers’ nor the ‘house boy’ was ‘doing alright’. You can hear in his voice, the tone with which Mick delivers the line, telling people he considers his inferiors, that they are ‘doing alright’ and therefore need to accept both brutal denial of human rights, denial of freedom and physical brutality. No enslaved person was ever ‘doing alright’, Mick. The positions of so called superiority and relative safety bestowed upon certain slaves were not them ‘doing alright’, these positions must have caused so much pain to think they were relatively safer and more comfortable physically. Mick is denying the pain, and denying the basic existential suffering of every enslaved person.
Mick goes further in this lyrical positioning of himself as the master of the house – he gives himself a white ‘Lady of the house’ who tolerates him and his “English blood” running ‘hot’, yet allowing herself to wonder how far the master is going to take this obsession with the enslaved black woman he is writing about abusing, and let’s face it, raping. His behavior is excused as red blooded male testosterone fueled masculinity. Patriarchy and testosterone is no excuse, just a pathetic explanation for a vast crime against humanity.
The chorus, with it’s references to oral rape – no enslaved woman can consent to sex – alongside it’s disgusting overtone of pedophilia, is the most disturbingly catchy, riff driven, drum soaked joyous chorus in rock and roll. Not even the Zep with their swordfish groupie fucking escapades can match it’s horror. Mick is singing about a ‘young girl’ – no surprise there, Wyman infamously started having a relationship with Mandy Smith when she was only 13 years old, Rolling Stones band culture hardly frowned on such things by all outward proof.
The lack of horror, the lack of self aware realization of the abuse, the bouncy happy music, the leer on his face while he is singing, tell the listener everything they need to know. The Master/Mick had his white ‘lady of the house’ but the master in this song, was belittling the male slave in the house, admiring the ‘slaver’ who is enjoying whip (ing) the women just around midnight….and not only that…the Stones are singing about this crime, this evil with such energy and smiles and happiness. This would be shocking if it was being sung by some KKK cunts in some deep south hell hole, but in arenas across America in modern days, it is past shocking, it is absolutely unforgiveable. It is criminal, and it should never be performed again. It should be removed from albums. It should be destroyed. It currently sits on the official Rolling Stones Channel. This is not freedom of speech, this is brutal racism. It is profiteering from black suffering. It is way past insensitive, it’s criminality on an intellectual level.
Mick rounds off the song with a verse of basic disrespect, “I bet your mama was a tent show queen’ mixing misogyny and racism in a toxic cocktail of leering hatred, judgement and grotesque shaming of a woman for the abuses of men upon her. This line references Willa May Buckner, (b. 1922 in Augusta, Georgia) a touring performer of the blues, a contortionist and fire swallower, whose enthralling burlesque tent show performances made her famous, and who joined an all -black tent show when she was only 13 years old. Mick’s sneer pays no respect to Ms. Buckner’s fierce independence, her autodidact sharpness and drive. Jagger reduces her historical importance and her talents to “I bet.. all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen” – the poised and articulate woman in Jagger’s song diminished to the status of the seductress of young boys. How fucking dare he!
Ms. Hunt’s mother was a different kind of strong woman – a librarian devoted to her family. He then ups the anti telling ‘Brown Sugar’ – the woman he has reduced to the object of his raping lust and a body that he sees only for his use and abuse, to ‘get on her knees’, to ‘get on the floor’, putting her below him in every single way and demanding her submission and her body. Not mention doing all this in a hokey faux impression of an American accent. Shame on you, Mick. Young girls should not be ‘getting down’ for Mick the master, young girls like Ms Hunt go to Berkley, they march for freedom and for peace, they struggle to raise their children, and forge a life despite everything: despite men like Mick.
Slavery and oppression reduced to a riff and a driving beat by the Stones, and they continue to make money off this disgusting oppression and disrespect, off making light of rape, of the abuse of ‘young girls’, of racism, of the pain of the black American community and indeed every decent person in the USA who stands up against racism and for reparations and equality and against deadly institutionalized racism.
I believe Ms Hunt that this song was written about her – and for that I am absolutely disgusted and saddened on her behalf. I want to say I do not know her pain, I am white, but I sympathize and feel deeply that the Stones need to be called out and make whatever paltry amends they can. I don’t doubt this song was a Jagger toxic confection, but the rest of the band need to grow a pair of balls between them and do the right thing. All this brown sugar is smack jive I hear, yeah yeah, and Keef (and me) always like a good smack song, but we both know this is pure racism. I actually believe Keef is a good guy, I read his autobiography and can’t believe that he plays this song without a shred of shame or a nudge of conscience. I hope he does the right thing, and dumps this one where it belongs. The fact remains the band performed this, and still do, the band didn’t tell Mick that this was a no go, and they all profited from it. Come on, boys, I don’t like Jagger very much, but seriously don’t believe the rest of you are that bad…except Wyman…I don’t much like him either.
I fear I haven’t done justice to the disgust I feel. I sit here worrying that in my whiteness I have failed on all accounts. Any kindness that has been offered towards me and my non white half Japanese son has been from the Black community. We have been fed and sheltered, cared for and loved…and accepted. For the first time in many years I feel like I have family, I have people looking out for us, and I am humbled by the strength of the love, acceptance, kindness and sheer tolerance of the community around me. I am fiercely supportive and infinitely grateful – I was seen as a human being needing help and kindness, in my undocumented, beaten half destroyed state of being. The power of the humanity has buoyed me, when I deserved and was owed none of it. I truly feel cared for and enveloped in safety. Despite the pain white people have wrought in the USA, I have been treated on the strength of my own words and actions only, and that is some seriously beautiful humanity in action. I know my words are not needed, but in whatever tiny inadequate way I can offer my solidarity, be a good ally, and prove my worth as a member of the family that I have been treated as, I hope they are somewhere close to being good enough.
Mick….do the right thing….The Stones are genius, the living breathing embodiment of rock and roll…except this. People change, people grow up, the good thing, the decent thing to do would be to make amends rather than lame ass excuses. Sometimes white people need to own a bit of that shame – it’s the only decent humane thing to do. Where is your shame, Mick? Is it strong enough to destroy this song, and make financial reparations……
If you need to wipe away the bitterness of Brown Sugar out of your mind, here is Bob Marley with War. “Until there is no longer first class and second class citizen’s of any nation I say WAR.” Now there is a song!