As a historian, appreciator of all forms of art, and an American given the right to free speech/thought, I agree with Kanye West.
Here’s my Twitter because I know you already have feedback for the above statement. But take time first to read through my argument and my thoughts before you meme attack me on the internet.
Kanye is really good at making subtle statements with loud activities. His support for strong black women (Beyonce vs. Taylor Swift) was focused on celebrating other artists than the same one at every award show. Sure, every person nominated for that VMA worked hard for their spot, but MTV has always been underlyingly racist. The network took almost ten years following the launch of the platform to play a black artist’s song. The Taylor Swift incident not only shed light on black artistry, but kickstarted a conversation for the VMA’s to transition out of bias (Moon Man is now gender neutral).
Was it “appropriate” for Kanye to jump on stage and literally steal the mic? It wasn’t the best tactic, but it started a conversation. A conversation that has lasted over five years and has dragged the Chicago native through the mud, more recently than ever before.
This conversation stems to not only strong black women going unrecognized, but that black men are predestined professionally. Our country has upheld the belief that in order to be a successful black man, you must either be a Lebron James or a Drake. We are not teaching our children to learn about entrepreneurship or self-sufficiency in title I schools, America is actually saying you have to be an artist or an athlete to matter. But once you get there, you still aren’t allowed to stand for your beliefs. No matter the money in your account.
in school we need to learn how magic Johnson built his business not always about the past. Matter fact I’ve never even heard of a high school class that presents future ideas
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018
Not only are we as a society unsupportive of business-driven individuals, we still have a stigma towards aspiring artists. In the first few minutes of his interview with Charlamagne, Kanye discusses the racism between using “artist” and “rapper” (an ideal I never considered before). From a journalist’s perspective, I have always used artist as a general term for individuals who rap and sing; unless I am specifically talking about a rap track. Deciding to become a musical performer is more times than not an dark dream because of the saturation within the industry. Record deals mean nothing now when RIAA counts streams. But more specifically calling yourself a “rapper” opens the doors to financial instability and abandonment conversations towards what an individual is “supposed to be doing”. Newsflash y’all, college isn’t required, nor is it for everyone.
But for those of us that take on student debt and head to the “hallowed halls” of Texas State University like I did, I chose to follow the career path and become an American historian. My goal then and even now, is to tell a story unbiased, present facts and hopefully teach my readers something about the topic in writing. While I choose to focus on music now, my degree spent countless semester hours debating the impact of Cortez and Andrew Jackson on minority races across the globe. I wrote analytical papers on the design aesthetic of slave ships in order to produce more plantation workers in the new world. As a historian, I am more than prepared to prevent such travesties to take place in my lifetime; but as a white female, I am in constant reminder (and in guilt) of experiences I (nor my Irish ancestors) had any control of. So, as Kanye told TMZ that hearing about slavery for 400 years was “a choice” I agreed with him. I would rather spend my life improving our societal relationships and moving forward as best possible, than living in constant pain of the past.
For Ye or myself, that does not make us less empathetic for any community who is connected to slavery, racism or discrimination. We are not sweeping history under the rug or discrediting individuals who have been affected by such events. We are finding ways to change the conversation to benefit the future, not make the grey skies darker.
In the same interview, Charlamagne is surprised that Kanye is frustrated with not being included in mainstream culture, saying “you’ve always been the creator of the flow, not a follower of the flow”. This entire series of tweets proves just that. Kanye is leading a charge away from conformity of thought, and celebrating what America is supposed to be, a country full of free speech.
We have spent the past week or so attacking Kanye West for his comments on Trump, Jay Z and others, because his beliefs do not fit into the black community has decided is the appropriate mindset. Of course it’s wrong to celebrate a president who has been nothing but racist and degrading, but before the White House, Donald Trump was a pillar of success as a business owner and mogul. He was looked up to and celebrated for his money by artists, as recently as SremmLife, where Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy yell “up like Donald Trump” referencing the empire he built.
The Root published a piece about why Kanye needs to read books so he’ll understand Free Thought better, stating that his politics are an attribution of the mental health he’s “apparently dealing with”.
And GQ went as far as to call Kanye’s *breakthrough* a radical performance, saying “…he has forced his more progressive peers to articulate their politics explicitly in public forums, forcing them to draw lines around what’s acceptable and what’s not, to reject his galaxy-brain takes and call them out for the disingenuous bullshit that it is.”
His entire career, West has pushed the envelope on what’s acceptable to discuss in hip hop. From producing radio hits about Jesus, dropping out of college, his grandmother almost dying (and the importance of family dynamic), to the downside of fame and fortune (read 33 1/3rd). Kanye has openly moved towards fashion to gain respect as an artist and stray from just being remembered as a rapper, and has publically reacted to POTUS 43’s work with Hurricane Katrina efforts. As a member of multiple communities, Kanye has taken advantage of his status to speak more than when it’s convenient. While some celebrities are only speaking out following the 2016 election. Kanye West has embodied vulnerability, and now humility following his mental breakthrough.
So tell me what exactly is so wrong that Kanye once again forcing people to talk about the bigger picture? Or is that the true problem in America, that our society still lives in a “white picket-fence” dream so brutally, that any chip on the suburban house, makes the whole foundation crumble? The problem with America is not that we enslaved Africans 400 years ago, it’s that we in modern society are too afraid to talk about the details and the repercussions, and ultimately move forward together. We say enough to fill a tweet or poster but it’s the exact message everyone else is saying, that racism is wrong. Female empowerment is right. We “deserve” success because we had a hard childhood. Our conversations are selfish and singular, and Kanye West is proving that the only way to succeed as a nation, is to be as uncomfortable as possible first.
Photo | Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho / Getty Images