A Maryland school district is investigating a pro-slavery account on SoundCloud, after receiving a tip that the user was posting songs with racist lyrics about whips and picking crops.
A student at Mardela Middle and High School in Mardela Springs, Maryland, recently uploaded two tracks to the music streaming service, titled “Whips Don’t Hurt Them” and “Whip Hands Free,” according to WBOC, a local news station that first reported the incident. The account was associated with another user, Big John, who had uploaded a parody of SoundCloud star Juice WRLD’s chart topper called “All Slaves Are the Same ‘Juice WRLD’ Remix.”
Lil Plantation’s songs, which have since been deleted, included lyrics like, “Whip my plants and the slaves keep screaming, ‘please don’t whip me, please don’t whip me,’ Yeah.” WBOC reported another line, involving racial slurs: “The whips won’t hurt them. New n----ers keep picking my crops, but the slaves can’t touch me so I’m not worried. All alone, living on my own, so I show no mercy.”
The account’s avatar features a picture of a tree-covered, yellow plantation house. “Don’t get offended,” he wrote in his bio, “these songs our [sic] just for entertainment purposes only.”
The tracks were getting passed around the combination middle and high school late last week. The student who produced them (he has not been named because he is a minor) played the songs in class, on the bus, and encouraged kids to blast them audibly from their cellphones, according to Jamaad Gould, a local activist, author, and graduate of the school.
Gould first heard about the SoundCloud account on Friday, when his younger sister texted him. Many of the activist’s family members still attend the school, and they reached out about the songs because “they didn’t know what to do.”
That same afternoon, Gould called the school administrator who oversees the student’s grade. The principal, Gould told The Daily Beast, promised to take immediate action. The administrator alerted the Wicomico County Public Schools, who opened an investigation.
On Facebook, users weighed in on the question of whether the tracks constituted free speech. “The school has nothing to do with it, nor the power to force a child to remove the song,” said a man named Thomas Rosati. “Freedom of speach [sic] works both ways unfortunately.”
“It does,” Gould wrote back. “You’re free to say anything, but you’re to be held responsible for what you said after you do it.”
The spokesperson declined to confirm whether the songs in question were flagged, reviewed or determined to have violated SoundCloud standards.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the Wicomico County Public Schools wrote: “WCPS learned of the songs with racist lyrics on Friday. Wicomico County Public Schools immediately started an investigation, identified the source, and any discipline to the student is being handled in accordance with the school system’s code of conduct.”
Mardela is a small, suburban school, with graduating classes of fewer than 100 students. But the school has long been fraught by racial tensions, according to Gould. When the activist, now 27, was enrolled at Mardela for middle school, he was once suspended for an altercation with another student, after the other boy told him he “should be in the barn with the cows,” and used racial slurs. Gould’s younger brother had a similar experience. “He had a student say—excuse my language—‘I fuckin’ hate n---ers’ in the middle of class,” Gould recalled.
The school administration has responded well to the present incident, according to Gould. “It’s definitely a change from when I was at the school,” he said. “Typically, this stuff would be swept under the rug at the school in the past.” Even still, he added, students were hesitant to contact the administration about the incident, because they feared inaction or punishment themselves—that’s why Gould stepped in.
Tierra Pinkett, a Mardela parent, said the incident left her daughter anxious about returning to school. The eighth grader told Pinkett that kids had been playing the songs in the hallways, and that many were now upset that the producer would be disciplined.
“She was scared that [the producer] was going to come back and do something,” Pinkett told The Daily Beast. “I said, you need to go to a guidance counselor. You shouldn’t be scared to go to school. With all these shootings and stuff, you don’t know who’s capable of doing what.
Pinkett, who attended Mardela herself in the 9th and 10th grades, said that the school has a pattern of racism in the student body and administration. While enrolled at the school, a group of white students tried to force her to pick up their trash. “I said, no, I’m not a janitor I’m not going to pick up your trash,” Pinkett said. “I don’t get paid to get trash.” She ended up leaving the school.
Gould said that most of the school’s incidents went unreported. “These kinds of things tend to go by the wayside,” he said. “It’s just another student getting suspended for fighting.”
But a few conflicts have made the news.
In 2017, Taylor Dumpson, a graduate of a nearby Wicomico high school, made national headlines when she became the first black student body president at American University in D.C. In her TEDx talk, Dumpson revealed that part of her motivation came from experiencing a pattern of racial hatred at Wicomico high schools (the next year, after receiving an onslaught of online racist taunts, she resigned as student body president).
Then, in early 2018, an auction house in Wicomico County turned up a Ku Klux Klan robe and cap in pristine condition. The area’s original KKK chapter was active up until the 1920s, but a second chapter opened in the 1960s, and a third was opened as recently as 2013, by a man named Richard Wilson Preston Jr. (Preston Jr. was jailed after firing a pistol at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia).
“Wicomico County in general has a very dark history,” Gould said. “There’s a lot of racial tensions and racial problems that are underlying the Shore, so [the SoundCloud account] wasn’t a huge shock.”