Seven days ago, Kanye West stated on celebrity news site, TMZ, that “400 years of slavery sounds like a choice” and people lost their minds. The feverish intensity and speed at which many have unanimously elected to evict Kanye West from the village are dizzying. A man that once graced the cover of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” is now the subject of Internet memes fashioned after, for example, the infamous “sunken place” scene in Jordan Peele’s brilliant breakout film, “Get Out”.
“The media said he's way out of control
I just feel like I'm the only one not pretending
I'm not out of control, I'm just not in their control”
– Kanye West, “Saint Pablo”
This behavior is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s decision to denounce and cut his ties with black liberation theologian and family friend, Dr. Jeremiah Wright and his teachings only when the media sensationalized the story during his bid for the presidency.
Think pieces have been written, death threats have been delivered, and Twitter fingers have been triggered.
Where there is fruit there is root. If one bears the fruit of intolerance, doesn’t it also reason that they are rooted in intolerance?
I don’t have any intimate knowledge of Ye so I’m not going to pretend that I do, but I did watch and listen to him and Charlemagne converse for 1 hour and 45 minutes and what I was witnessed were two brothers having a cogent dialogue about music, mental health, family, society and culture, and also fashion.
Is he narcissistic? I don’t know. He calls himself the “greatest artist of all time” up until this point, but is that narcissism or is it just his confidence speaking? Hell, if I were an artist and entrepreneur performing and producing on a global scale, I’d be on some “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” shit, too, in order to buffer myself from a mob mentality that crowdsources its self-esteem from social media and will attempt to assassinate yours in 280 characters or less.
He mentioned being on medication and made references to changing the stigma of crazy and mental health and I thought him courageous for doing so because sharing your darkness knowing in advance that it’s going to be critiqued by those with the emotional density of one-ply toilet paper is no easy feat.
History tells many stories of men and women who were excommunicated and even executed because their thoughts didn’t align with popular opinion only for them to be revered posthumously. Were they actually extreme, delusional, or were they just different?
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius tells Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Sadly, a lot of people are unhappy and mentally and spiritually bankrupt because they are living under the guise of false pretenses yet are claiming to be keeping it real.
Regarding Kanye’s viral interview on TMZ that was at first shared in abbreviated form and then later in full-length, he stated, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison.”
I definitely believe he should have articulated himself better so his message wouldn’t be lost in translation because chattel slavery was absolutely not a choice for Africans stolen from their homeland and stowed away on floating dungeons en route to points west. I chose to eat the meat and spit out the bones and err on the side of caution, though, believing that he was speaking in the abstract. Did the enslaved have agency? Sure, they did. But when faced with the potential of physical death in the event of capture and maybe even spiritual death in the case of suicide, depending on what they believed, continuing to live under the crack of the whip just as long as they were able to live to see another day in hopes of being freed and reuniting with their loved ones, isn’t something we should be critiquing because we weren’t there. Instead, today, we should be focused on liberating our minds. For many, discussing the topic of slavery rips Band-Aids off of wounds that were never healed and that needs to change if we are ever going to evolve.
Four hundred years later, we buying our own chains
The light is before us brothers, so the devil working hard
Real family stick together and see through the mirage
The smokescreens, perceptions of false reality
Who the real owner if your boss gets a salary?
-Kanye West, “Saint Pablo”
While the institution of slavery has been abolished for over 150 years, the psychology of slavery has not. Its vestigial vice grip is stifling the way many of us think, interact with one another, and posture ourselves spiritually. Sometimes I wonder if our collective identity is steeped in the draconian traditions of white supremacy.
Hate and intolerance have become the weapons of choice in the mental arsenals of many. They've proliferated like metastasized cancerous cells slowing eating the body politic from the inside out.
American psychologist and philosopher William James once said, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
What Kanye was proposing wasn't something novel. His message of love and being free to think for self as opposed to being controlled by the whims of the media wasn't unique, but it was refreshing juxtaposed to the racial radicalism and political pissing contests in America right now. “People don’t want to accept forgiveness and love” because we have been conditioned to blame and shame than to reveal and heal. It’s popular to tell your enemy to go f*ck themselves, but what does it change especially when your ultimate goal is to move not only the culture forward, but the country, too?
Some have inquired about the whereabouts of the old Kanye, but I don’t want Backpack Ye to return. I want the Ye of today to continue to believe in himself and God knowing he doesn’t owe me or anyone else anything. Barriers need to be broken and if he’s willing to separate himself from the crowd and bulldoze through the darkness to let the light shine through, I’m all for it.
“It’s a bigger plan and I’m doing what the Universe told me.”
– Kanye West