About that time U2's Bono called Elvis a "White Nigger"



Did you know that Bono once described the singer Elvis as a 'white nigger'?


U2 wrote the song Elvis Ate America in 1995 and released it under the moniker of Passengers. In the song’s lyrics Bono referred to Elvis as a White Nigger.

This was before the internet was mainstream or an every day thing. This was the era where if you had the internet, it was connected by dial up modem and you probably paid by the hour. All this means that it’s easy to see how calling Elvis a white nigger missed the consciousness of media.

You can well imagine what would happen today if U2 dropped such a phrase into a song.

THERE>WOULD>BE>OUTRAGE amongst the keyboard social justice warriors.

It's an interesting use of the so called N-WORD. People are so afraid to use it in the appropriate context. If Bono had of called a black person a nigger, one could understand the outrage. Guns N Roses were accused of racism (amongst other things) for their song 'One In a Million' but one seemed too upset over a drunk Irishman calling Elvis a white nigger?

Why is that?

We understand that the Passenger’s Elvis Ate America’s lyrics were part of a 14 minute in length poem called American David that Bono wrote. A few years ago he offered up during a radio interview the following snippet from the larger poem “Elvis, the white nigger / Ate Burger King and just kept getting bigger.”

So why is Bono describing one of the greatest singing icons in history as such? First of all, Bono is not employing an attitude of bigotry or racism. It’s very clear that Bono loves everyone – his work for Africa with people like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tuto and his support for AIDS victims and debt relief clearly demonstrate he is no racist. 

What he is doing is offering a commentary on Elvis’s musical roots. He was a white man that got the ‘blues’ and that a lot of his music was inspired and borrowed from black music – does anybody remember Elvis’s gospel albums which took both elements from Christian and Church music?

There is also a different meaning of white nigger that Bono may have also been trying to convey. It’s a religious slur used in Northern Ireland to refer to Catholics.  The term was also directed at Irish Catholic’s who had immigrated to America. Bono, being Irish would be keenly aware of this term and so it could be directed Elvis in that sense. 

The only problem with that was Elvis was not an immigrant to America nor was he raised a Catholic at all rather Pentecostal. His religious foundation can be summed up by his own quote “All I want is to know the truth, to know and experience God. I’m a searcher, that’s what I’m all about.”

Bono may have simply used the term to push the envelope a bit and get some attention – similar in a sense as to when he swore when giving a speech about Frank Sinatra at the 1996 Grammy Awards

Either way, it's clear that Bono had a deep respect and admiration for Bono - indeed, Elvis Ate America was not first song U2 wrote about Elvis, The Unforgettable Fire of course featured the song Elvis and America.

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