There is not a word adequate enough to express the swelling of sick I felt from my chest as I heard Kanye West say, “400 Years of Slavery? That sounds like a choice,” during an appearance on TMZ.
Remember the Looney Tunes? When the little old lady would hit Sylvester the Cat on the head with her umbrella, and his eyes would cross, his teeth would crumble- that was me. Listening to Kanye West ramble with such a disgraceful detachment from the perils of Black History isn’t just a demonstration of sheer ignorance, but a display of shocking privilege that has afforded him the luxury of living in a bubble, unaffected by the plights of others, specifically that of young Black men who don’t have record deals or their own clothing line.
America, by comparison to other world nations, is still in its youth. History in other countries reaches back thousands of years, but the United States is still the new kid on the block. We have no castles dating back to the 12th century, or hieroglyphics painted on the walls of ancient caves, so when we talk about American History, it’s not long enough ago, especially with a beginning as dark and brutal as ours. From the slaughter of millions of Native Americans, to the kidnapping, transport and subsequent enslavement of Africans by Christian colonies to the ongoing racism that still stains the fabric of our society as brightly as the blood that was spilled on our soil by America’s founders, how does a Man of color become so blissfully unaware?
In the world according to Kanye, which is dimensions apart from the one we actually exist in, Donald Trump is great man, and slavery was something you could have simply opted out of. He calls himself, of possessing these beliefs, a “Free thinker.” Quite ironic, given that the ability to be free was provided to him on the backs of countless black men and women who endured a reality he will never experience. He lacks the ability to process, even by proxy of teaching, what horrific truths lay in the wake of where we sit now, as a people, and a Nation.
Kanye seems to have given himself exemption from the history that brought us here. It’s almost as if his awareness, or lack thereof, is selective. The world began turning on the day he was born, and no experiences exist beyond the reach he can see. His concept of being a “free thinker” is more equivalent a attention seeking child who will reject reason and rationale for the simple sake of rebelling against a perceived collective. In doing this, he thinks he is standing apart by creating his own reality, while in ours, he is standing alone.
Let’s be honest, his narcissism is indisputable. Kanye has spent more of his life on a throne of privilege than down here in the trenches with the rest of us. Fame, Fortune and being feted by millions has afforded him the power to see himself as God-like, untouchable. His reach and influence with its limitless boundaries has lulled him into a sense of superiority wherein he has deemed himself a sort of shepherd leading a lost flock to an ascension, free of the burdens of acknowledging a sickening and twisted history that didn’t happen because Kanye wasn’t there. He has made himself impervious to the trials by fire wherein millions lost their lives, only to declare himself somehow above it.
I am reminded of the recent landmark trial in which a young man, Ethan Couch, drove his care while under the influence of alcohol and drugs and subsequently killed four people, injuring nine others. As a defense, his lawyers argued that Couch suffered from “Affluenza” — a mental condition that allegedly rendered him incapable of determining right from wrong, good from bad, due to his wealthy upbringing and the extravagant lifestyle he’d been brought up accustomed to. He was sentenced to ten years probation rather than prison. Couch, a white young man, showed no remorse and remained unaffected by results of his actions and, of course, fled the country a short time after his trial, aided by his own mother. Now, imagine having millions of enablers telling him he is “right” and that being a “free thinker” means absolving yourself of responsibility, or even the acknowledgement of the suffering of others- past or present.
It is Kanye’s departure from our shared past and the seeming encouragement from others to do so that I find most disturbing. To shirk the fact that racism today remains one of the most damaging afflictions young men of color endure while trying to make their way in the world is negligent, at best. Does it happen, though, if it doesn’t happen to Kanye West? Is it all a thought trap? A forced narrative intended to keep people afraid of the sharp right turn society has taken, starting with the Trump reign, which has seen racism rear it’s ugly head more proudly than it has since… a time when Kanye wasn’t here?
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the famous old saying that comes to mind now, in 2018, regarding Kanye West. It doesn’t unless Kanye was there to hear it, feel the rush of wind under its branches as it collapses and he hears the moaning of roots grinding up from the unsettled earth…
However, is it so shocking anymore? Long before now, Kanye had become a perpetual internet meme called “Kanye loves Kanye” immortalizing him in a spectrum of scenarios wherein he is showing affection to himself; “Himself” usually being his face photo-shopped onto that of someone else.
Between his incoherent peacocking while taking a moment away from a teenage musician in front of a global audience, to the bizarre, conspiratorial tweets that make him appear less like an inspiring rap musician and Black icon and more like the white dude from American Psycho, Kanye doesn’t seem to love Kanye.
Kanye hates Kanye.
Known less for his groundbreaking music and more for his unstable, unpredictable antics isn’t typically the goal of someone with a thread of self respect or self love- especially when it evolves into the grandstanding indifference to your own community and casual rebuffing of a tragic history. These are not the actions of a proud man. These are the actions of a prideful, hallow human being; A consequential amalgamate of too much money, adoration and influence that allows him to shed his association with anything that’s too reflective, or too deeply unsettling for him to comprehend. We also call this delusional.
“Free Thinking” is not ignoring history. It is not pretending something we collectively recognize as canon didn’t happen in the way we know it did. It is not driving backward on the highway just because everyone else is going forward.
No, that’s not free thinking. That’s not liberation from reality. That’s blatant stupidity and a slap in the face to Black men and women who are here today only because their ancestors survived against all odds.
This is man that Kanye should take a note from rather than trying to write his own gospel:
But, stop calling Kanye a genius. Perhaps, at one time, his music reflected a man whose talent was irrefutable. However, still, just a man. An individual who was given an opportunity few will ever have, and it has warped his perceptions and world ideas beyond recognition; We cannot let his manipulation and reckless redefining of normal be regarded as genius… this is how we ended up with a Country run by Donald Trump.