I really tried not to care about these Kanye tweets. I tried not to care when he posed for a photo with white supremacists throwing up white power symbols. I tried not to care when he showed us his MAGA hat or when 45 gave him a Twitter shout out. I tried not to care when a friend played his new song, Lift Yourself, in the car. “Poopy-di scoop Scoop-diddy-whoop Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop” is a literal lyric. What? But when I heard what Kanye said on TMZ I could no longer pretend that I don’t care.
Among other questionably factual things, Kanye said, about slavery “You hear about slavery for four hundred years. For four hundred years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for four hundred years, and it’s all of y’all?”
There is so much wrong with this comment, and so many thinkpieces will undoubtedly be written, but what surprised me the most when I heard it is how hurt I felt.
I took it personally.
Which is strange, because I’ve never been more than a casual listener of Kanye’s music; his opinions, and the opinions of most celebrities, don’t tend to impact me emotionally.
As I interrogated my reaction, I realized that it has little to do with Kanye and more to do with the betrayal I feel when prominent Black people, in any field, use their platforms recklessly.
As strange as it might sound, the pain and anger I experienced felt connected to the pain and anger of the ancestors. I spent last year reading almost exclusively literature by Black women and I felt, for the first time, a personal connection to those stories of enslavement and the longing for and pursuit of freedom.
It was deeper than the experience of approaching the horrors of slavery academically. I felt a shadow of the hope that gave them the strength to survive; the hope that future generations would be free. It’s a hope that has animated me in my work for justice and in my commitment to my own unapologetic expressions of Blackness. To hear Kanye, an early model of unapologetic Blackness for many, lay the responsibility for oppression at the feet of the oppressed in the name of “free thinking” was jarring and painful.
Kanye has an absurd amount of influence, yet he apparently feels little responsibility to say things that are true, much less socially responsible. He had the audacity to suggest that my ancestors, our shared ancestors, did not struggle or fight against their enslavement; that they accepted their subservient, subhuman status until a benevolent white man came and set them free.
He said this to the hundreds of millions of people who follow him, listen to his music and his commentary, defend him, hang on his every hook, buy his products, go to his concerts; many of whom are also Black and therefore share that history of enslavement and suffer the continued impacts of enslavement and systemic racism.
He uses his influence in a way that spreads lies and provides cover for the president’s racist agenda while many Black artists, creators, writers and musicians with much less influence strive to speak truth to power and use their platforms in ways that are responsible and even uplifting.
Kanye seems to believe that since he has earned his clout, he can use it however he wants and shouldn’t be held accountable for the impacts. I, on the other hand, tend to agree with Van Lathan, the TMZ reporter who stands up at the end of the video and addresses Kanye directly, saying “The rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that’s come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice.”
After speaking that truth directly to celebrity and power, and admitting his own disappointment and pain, he ends by saying, “Bro, you gotta be responsible, man…your voice is too big.” I couldn’t agree more, and I hope that we can find ways amplify prophetic, truth-telling voices when those with influence show themselves to be unworthy of the mantle.