B Rabbit, the fictional white rapper portrayed by the real-life white rapper Eminem in the movie 8 Mile, implored the crowd at the dingy, dimly lit club to put its hands in the air, a non-verbal sign of encouragement, belief. The crowd swayed and chanted to the pulse of the beat, seemingly entranced by the freestyle rap battle taking place on stage. B Rabbit, who had just withstood 45 seconds of racially degrading lyrics in spitting range from a black rapper named The Lotto, had taken the microphone and begun to rap. In the last seconds of his turn in the battle, he faced the engrossed audience and boastfully delivered the final lines:
You see how far them white jokes get you,
Boy’s like, “How’s Vanilla Ice gonna diss you?”
My motto? Fuck Lotto.
I’ll get them digits from your mother for a dollar tomorrow!
The crowd that had, beside the occasional release of smoke, held their collective breath as B Rabbit vied to win the rap battle, erupted. For the audience watching this final scene in 8 Mile, the message seemed clear: against all odds, the lower-class white male who had been discriminated against was able to persevere and succeed in, or even assimilate into, an arena of non-whiteness. In this club in south Detroit, it seems like colorblindness, or at least the defiance of racial categorization, had been achieved.
As this movie’s trajectory closely follows Eminem’s own, one might be satisfied with viewing his life history within the rubric described above. Eminem, who has been crowned the most talented rapper of his generation by a myriad of sources, seems to have achieved an untouchable level of success in a genre dominated by non-white performers and consumers. However, focusing on his monetary success gained from selling over eighty million albums since his debut in 1999 (CNN, Online) provides us with an incomplete image of a white body in a non-white zone. Eminem’s habitual contact with non-white practices and bodies, conveyed in the movie 8 Mile and in his live performances and lyrics, makes him both a success and an exemplar of “failed whiteness,” or a white body that has transgressed enough times to be ridiculed, shunned, and hated by many. Through the analysis of Eminem’s non-white practices, this paper aims to debunk the wide-held notion that he has risen above racial categorization to achieve success, instead arguing that Eminem demonstrates that white bodies who transgress can succeed, but only if they are made to be an example of what whiteness should not be.