“Did I hurt you.” Kanye West asked TMZ producer Van Latham after Latham rightfully repudiated the artist for making spurious, revisionist and misguided remarks about Black people in general and US slavery. The answer is yes! West’s “selling out” either consciously or unconsciously, hurt Black people, as his misinterpretation of slavery has the potential to cast Black people in the light in which they can be blamed for its own victimization, which effectively would let this government and the economic structure that benefited from the “peculiar institiution” off the hook, from any responsibility for righting this historic wrong..
The self-anointed “free thinking” West, ignited a controversy after his recent appearance on TMZ, in which he asserted that since Blacks were enslaved for 400 years, they apparently desired slavery over freedom. “When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” he said. And for good measure, he added that Black people don’t care about Black lives, unless victimized by Whites.
Incidentally, the rapper’s timing could not have been worse. It comes just as the museum on lynching (National Memorial for Peace and Justice) in Montgomery, Alabama is forcing recognition of that crime, as well as a national reckoning for the savagery once visited upon Black people by White America. And lynchings were not limited to the South, but occurred “upsouth” as well, reaching as far North as Duluth, Minnesota. This holocaust of sorts, this campaign of terror, was one for which most of White America because of its silence, bore complicity and guilt, including its church.
So in the midst of this very sober and sobering moment, West has given ammunition to those who always find ways to blame Black people for their own oppression. Some folks struggling with the revelation of the systemic barbarism that was lynching, are whispering ‘surely the Blacks must have done something to deserve it, ‘surely those accused of crimes were guilty.’
And there are people nowadays, who almost always insist that every time a Black person is victimized by the system,( especially in the case of police violence), ‘they (Black folks) must have done something to deserve it.’
“I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought,” Latham told West. And he was right! West is an entertainer, he is not a thinker, or social theorist. Yet he has such an out-sized platform that the system trotted him out to puke fake and conservative analysis and inane tropes about Black folks, serving as a distraction, requiring us to take time and energy from the real battlefield against capitalism and White Supremacy to denounce his “coonery.”
Malcolm X called this foolishness out in an interview in 1963.
“Show me in the white community where a singer is a white leader, or a dancer, or a trumpet player is a white leader. These aren’t leaders. These are puppets and clowns that have been set up over the Black community by the white community and have been made celebrities and, usually, they say exactly what they know the white man wants to hear,” he said.
Folks have to stop assuming because someone is Black and wealthy and/ or famous they are automatically authorities on politics, racism or Black people in general. Who the hell goes to LeBron James for heart surgery? So why would anyone go to Kanye West for advice on race or politics, or for a treatise on slavery?
Lathan makes this point when he told Kanye, “you’re entitled to your opinion, but there is fact and real-world, real-life consequence behind everything you just said.
The TMZ producer even rejected Kanye’s efforts to inject so called “Black on Black” crime into the conversation, invoking the right wing narrative that Black folks only care about Black lives, when victimized by Whites. Referencing Chicago, he said Black people feel “its ok for Blacks to kill Blacks.”
“That’s a lie.” Lathan told West. “You gotta be responsible. Your voice is too big.” But West is being responsible to his bottom line, it’s either that, or he is confused or both.
Ironically, Kanye made money off music which spoke to the Black experience. He would not have made a dime from Black people had he started out rapping, “slavery was a choice,” He tried in vain on twitter to clean up his mess, but he only added to his idiocy, as he continued to place the blame on the slaves for their condition, by accusing them of being victims of a “slave mentality.” But by placing the blame on slaves for their oppressed condition, rather than the oppressing master, it is Kanye that is demonstrating a slave mentality.
And the amateur historical revisionist was wrong about the slaves. Though absolutely and thoroughly terrorized (they witnessed and were told stories about indescribable barbarity and savagery on the part of the Europeans and their slave breakers) and despite being in a foreign environment, nevertheless, they resisted.
The slaves living under chattel slavery in the US ran away so often that the so-called Founding Fathers had to account for it in the US Constitution. Article IV, section three of the Constitution includes a “Fugitive Slave Clause,” which in essence ordered states to deliver up fugitives from labor (slaves) to their Masters.
Some historians suspect that one of the motivations for the states wanting to maintain a “well regulated militia” as referred to in the controversial 2nd Amendment, was to put down potential slave revolts.
The stolen Africans so adored their condition, that the slaveholders were forced to pressure the United States Congress into passing laws in 1793 and 1850 (Fugitive Slave Act) to help retrieve slaves who were “choosing” to run away. The laws were passed to not only to discourage the “slavery loving” captives from saying ‘F– this, I’m out,’ but also to discourage abolitionists,(White and Black) from aiding the fugitive slaves.
The would be social theorist, should have saved his disdain for the victimizers, rather than the victims. This is just proof of his very deep self hatred.
Kanye most likely feels he can say what he wants, because he likely doesn’t believe that he owes the Black community anything. And incidentally, responding to the backlash he has received, he tweeted that he is under attack for “presenting new ideas.” No rather he is being challenged for spewing out the “same ole” “same ole” racist tropes about Black people, that can be found on any White Supremacist website.
And twitter rightfully clowned him!
And West does owe his share of dues! James Baldwin long ago set the standard for Black artists, declaring that they had the “obligation of representation.” Kanye was nurtured by a Black mother in a Chicago Black community that nurtured and supported his musical and artistic genius and bought his earliest works, which effectively launched his career.
West qualifies as an Uncle Tom, because he is trying to separate himself from the group that nurtured him, which by birth and skin color, he is still a part. If he doubts that, he should try walking with Mrs Kardashian in Forsyth County, Georgia after the sun has gone down. Or rather try asking for directions in Rochester Hills, Michigan, or try just entering a back yard in Sacramento, California after dark.
And there is no such thing as a Black conservative, it is oxymoronic. What does Kanye have to conserve; White Supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, this parasitic social/political/economic system? Because the working definition of a conservative is someone who wants to conserve conditions as they already exist.
And someone should remind him of his true status, as Saul Williams once rapped in the song “Telegram,” “this system ain’t for us. It’s for rich people. And you ain’t rich, dawg, you just got money.”
Somehow Black folks especially, have to find a way to get a return on what it produces. Too often great talent springs from its bosom, only to turn around and spit on it.
Hopefully, Kanye gets the help he clearly needs. He is pitiful, but he is also dangerous. Many young people who would not ordinarily be exposed to this kind of sophisticated hatred and sophistry can be swung to the dark side, because the messenger (Kanye) is so appealing.
In the meantime, we should double our efforts to build real institutions and support artists who are actually accountable and provide real benefits to the Black community and the community at large, not just Nike and Sony BMG, Universal Music Group or Warner Music Group.
justice then peace