What we know about Dean Blunt is never as interesting as what we project. This is confirmed by his contradictory artistic mission statements and elusive catalogue. But there is something undeniable about his new video for "Mersh." He is cool in a way that's more recognizable and accessible than ever, but to a noble end: to address how critical acclaim and a devoted fan base for artists of colour are rarely the boon they seem.
In the clip, Blunt reclines in the strobe light, smoking weed and occasionally leaning forward to rap at the camera. He is flanked by a beautiful white woman (as he has been throughout his entire career, and it's no less of a statement now). The shot, static and uninterrupted, lets nothing new in but allows Blunt to vanish off the couch in the last few seconds, like an alien teleported from an insufficient planet. His rejection of this hellish, oppressive, and very cool setting aims for the gut of anyone who spends the video's duration regarding it as a sort of royal court.Absurdity can be a great coping mechanism. For the entirety of his career, Blunt has been performing for an audience that hated his blackness in a different life: "All I can say is… The same kids asking for me to sign their records be the same kids holding their girl tight when I used to walk past them, and that's a joke I'll never stop finding funny."
It's also a joke that these kids might not know they're a part of, which is why Blunt has been known to bring a Fruit of Islam looking footsoldier to stare through the crowd and raise the number of black people at the gig from one to two. It's a defence against overwhelming and inconsiderate whiteness, as much a confrontation as the "Mersh" video, and like all of Blunt's work it's easier to regard with bemused puzzlement than to absorb the message. It's been a problem since before he released Black Is Beautiful with Inga Copeland, his repeated accomplice in exposing the horrors of black fetishization both in their former experimental pop/performance group Hype Williams and outside of it.
All I can say is… The same kids asking for me to sign their records be the same kids holding their girl tight when I used to walk past them, and that’s a joke I’ll never stop finding funny.
Even if the album with Rough Trade announced (and now deleted) in the video's YouTube description is a slight of hand, Blunt wants us to know that his actions, whether ironic or part of a great love story, are the actions of a man with agency. If you view him as a unique or interesting artist, your relationship with his race demands reflection on why he meets that category. He's not to be viewed as some indie Bagger Vance or the exception to the rule. Allyship is not bought with concert tickets. In describing his classes with black children to "rebalance and reclaim privilege," Blunt summarizes: "Maybe you don't see the closed door, cos it's closed but made of clear glass." His art is a map for how his audience may one day fully shake his hand, even if Blunt is above extending it obviously.