A week ago (which with today’s news cycle seems like a year ago) Kanye West said that slavery was a “choice,” blaming enslaved black people for not freeing themselves sooner.
He said putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill made him want “to use Bitcoin,” because,
“It’s like when you see all the slave movies: Why you gotta keep reminding us about slavery?”
And he said that icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are
“just too far in the past and not relatable and that’s what makes them safe.”
I know. Eyes were rolling down the street. But going beyond the usual STFU on Twitter, and the usual snarky clap back, Ta-Nehisi Coates penned this biting essay in The Atlantic, I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye, which according to The Washington Post,
“reads like a eulogy for something lost at the same time that it is a takedown of West for his ‘ignorance,’ which Coates described as ‘not merely deep, but also dangerous.’ He compares West to both President Trump and Michael Jackson. And he laments West’s evolution from a hip-hop revolutionary — ‘a god’ who ‘made music for them, for the young and futuristic’ — to a revolutionary who is also a blustery ‘mouthpiece’ for the types of theories and beliefs that play down racism in America.”
Coates joined Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae, Jordan Peele, John Legend, Samuel L. Jackson and others in blasting West’s comments.
“Kanye West, a god in this time, awakened, recently, from a long public slumber to embrace Donald Trump. He hailed Trump, as a ‘brother,’ a fellow bearer of ‘dragon energy,’ and impugned those who objected as suppressors of ‘unpopular questions,’ “thought police” whose tactics were ‘based on fear.’ It was Trump, West argued, not Obama, who gave him hope that a black boy from the South Side of Chicago could be president.
‘Remember like when I said I was gonna run for president?‘
Kanye said in an interview with the radio host Charlamagne Tha God.
‘I had people close to me, friends of mine, making jokes, making memes, talking shit. Now it’s like, oh, that was proven that that could have happened.‘
There is an undeniable logic here. Like Trump, West is a persistent bearer of slights large and small—but mostly small. (Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Barack Obama, and Nike all came in for a harangue.) Like Trump, West is narcissistic, “the greatest artist of all time,” he claimed, helming what would soon be “the biggest apparel company in human history.” And, like Trump, West is shockingly ignorant. Chicago was “the murder capital of the world,” West asserted, when in fact Chicago is not even the murder capital of America. West’s ignorance is not merely deep, but also dangerous. For if Chicago truly is “the murder capital of the world,” then perhaps it is in need of the federal occupation threatened by Trump.
It is so hard to honestly discuss the menace without forgetting. It is hard because what happened to America in 2016 has long been happening in America, before there was an America, when the first Carib was bayoneted and the first African delivered up in chains. It is hard to express the depth of the emergency without bowing to the myth of past American unity, when in fact American unity has always been the unity of conquistadors and colonizers—unity premised on Indian killings, land grabs, noble internments, and the gallant General Lee. Here is a country that specializes in defining its own deviancy down so that the criminal, the immoral, and the absurd become the baseline, so that even now, amidst the long tragedy and this lately disaster, the guardians of truth rally to the liar’s flag.
Nothing is new here. The tragedy is so old, but even within it there are actors—some who’ve chosen resistance, and some, like West, who, however blithely, have chosen collaboration.
West might plead ignorance—
‘I don’t have all the answers that a celebrity is supposed to have‘
he told Charlamagne. But no citizen claiming such a large portion of the public square as West can be granted reprieve. The planks of Trumpism are clear —the better banning of Muslims, the improved scapegoating of Latinos, the endorsement of racist conspiracy, the denialism of science, the cheering of economic charlatans, the urging on of barbarian cops and barbarian bosses, the cheering of torture, and the condemnation of whole countries. The pain of these policies is not equally distributed. Indeed the rule of Donald Trump is predicated on the infliction of maximum misery on West’s most ardent parishioners, the portions of America, the muck, that made the god Kanye possible.
And he is a god, though one born of a different time and a different need. Jackson rose in the last days of enigma and wonder; West, in an accessible age, when every fuck is a tweet and every defecation a status update. And perhaps, in that way, West has done something more remarkable, more amazing than Jackson, because he is a man of no mystery, overexposed, who holds the world’s attention through simply the consistent, amazing, near-peerless quality of his work.
What Kanye West seeks is what Michael Jackson sought—liberation from the dictates of that we. In his visit with West, the rapper T.I. was stunned to find that West, despite his endorsement of Trump, had never heard of the travel ban.
‘He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it don’t reach him,’
T.I. said. West calls his struggle the right to be a “free thinker,” and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, pussy grabbers, and fuck you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas.”
There’s more, a LOT more. You can read the full essay here. Get a cocktail (or two) it’s a long one, but the best thing you’ll read all week I’ll bet.
free thinking is a super power
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 8, 2018
(Illustration, Glenn Harvey; via Washington Post)