Why is the Rolling Stones song 'Brown Sugar' 'stunningly offensive'?

Guitarist Keith Richards said he isn't sure why people want to 'bury' the song

The Rolling Stones have dropped their hit 1971 song 'Brown Sugar' from their US tour following controversy. AP
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The Rolling Stones have phased out their hit Brown Sugar from the set list of their US tour, after controversy about the song’s references to slavery.

Brown Sugar has one of the most recognisable guitar riffs in rock history, and has been a set list staple for the band for five decades.

The song’s lyrics, however, have long been slammed by critics for being “gross, sexist and stunningly offensive towards black women,” as Lauretta Charlton wrote for Vulture in 2015.

“Ostensibly the song is about Africans who were sold to New Orleans plantations and raped by their white masters,” wrote critic Tom Taylor for the UK’s Far Out magazine last month.

Mick Jagger said the band had performed 'Brown Sugar' every night since it was written. AFP

“The connotations of this horrific overture were then played upon to impart the metaphorical double meaning of being a slave to the narcotic demands of brown heroin.”

“The subject matter is two-fold, and neither brings any light to the other.”

Brown Sugar has come under scrutiny again as The Rolling Stones started performing live again for the first time in two years. While guitarist Keith Richards confirmed the band’s decision to temporarily do away with the song, he said he was confused as to why people want to “bury” it.

"I don't know. I'm trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn't they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery?" he told the LA Times.

Singer Mick Jagger told the newspaper that the band has been performing Brown Sugar “every night since 1970”.

“So sometimes you think, ‘we’ll take that one out for now and see how it goes’. We might put it back in," he said.

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger admitted he wouldn’t be able to “write that song now”.

“I would probably censor myself. I'd think, 'oh God, I can't. I've got to stop. I can't just write raw like that'."

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Updated: October 14, 2021, 8:25 AM