Listen Up, Kanye. Slaves Didn’t Choose Their Shackles
You can’t play the race card when you lose at the Grammys and then act like systemic racism is black people’s fault.
Kanye West might be the most maddening celebrity alive right now. In the past, I only found him overrated and slightly irritating. This week, he’s straight-up infuriating.
Last week, I could live with his OTT admiration for Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again.” That’s between him and his conscience. A couple of years ago, I could live with his going after Taylor Swift. That was between him and Tay-Tay.
But when he goes after African-Americans by suggesting that we chose/choose to be slaves, then we have a huge problem. Kanye can’t play the race card when he or Beyonce lose out on a Grammy Award or an MTV VMA and then turn around and basically say there’s no race card to play.
Here is what the 40-year-old rapper said during his May 1 interview in the TMZ studio (!!!) that has Twitter fuming (not hard enough, in my opinion, because we all know that if, say, Justin Timberlake said this shit, his career would be over).
“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of you all? You know, it’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word prison ’cause slavery goes too — too direct to the idea of blacks. So prison is something that unites us as one race, blacks and whites being one race. We’re the human race.”
In addition to being curiously inarticulate for someone whose fortune is based on his way with words, Kanye showed an incredible lack of awareness about African-American history, which, by the way, is also American history. (Next year will mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slave ships in the colonies, but slavery as a legal institution in the U.S. lasted less than 250 years.)
Does he really think slaves chose to remain in shackles because they didn’t rise up en masse against the white masters who had weapons and the law on their side? Does he also think women have chosen to be abused and raped by men for centuries? Do gays opt to be bashed? Did Jews pick out their Holocaust concentration camps?
The fact that many slaves rose up, revolted, and won their freedom underscores the bravery and heroism of black people throughout history. Of course, Hollywood won’t tell those stories because white audiences are more comfortable with the historic view of blacks as helpless victims who had to be saved by the Northern army’s white soldiers and a white President.
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman underscore the historical heroism of black people. The Civil War underscores the historical heroism of black people. The white version of U.S. history gives Abraham Lincoln most of the credit for freeing the slaves, but the slaves contributed to their own emancipation.
The North could not have won the Civil War if Lincoln had not opened up the armed forces to black soldiers. They tilted the scale in favor of the North. In a nutshell, without them, the United States would have lost the war, and America as we know it today would not exist.
Can the black race that supposedly chose slavery get a little credit for that? Despite the attempts by whites to keep blacks down after the war, blacks continued to do great things. The only American who wasn’t a U.S. President whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday is Martin Luther King. Did he represent the imprisoned black mind?
Did the Kanye West who once said that President George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people represent the imprisoned black mind? Our minds are no more imprisoned than we are. From Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey to Kendrick Lamar, black people continue to accomplish great things.
But those great things won’t save you when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat facing a racist white cop who’s carrying a gun. They won’t save you when you’re sitting in church and a white supremacist walks in and opens fire on the congregation. Do the black victims of trigger-happy policemen and white terrorists choose their fates?
It actually sounds like something Kanye’s hero, Donald Trump, would say. Kanye defended his Trumpianism to TMZ reporter Van Latham by citing hip hop’s admiration for Trump in his pre-politician days.
What he didn’t mention — and might not even realize — is that President Trump is not the Trump who at one point merely represented gross American materialism (a hip hop standard then and now), and he’s not the Trump who used to be a Democrat.
He’s changed, and so has Kanye. Sadly and perhaps tragically, neither has changed for the better.