(Note from BGIM: If for some reason you’ve managed to somehow not know what Kanye West has been up to lately praising Trump and blaming slaves for slavery, you might want to read this and/or this before taking in Sam’s piece below)
I’ve got one last thing to say about Kanye, but before I do…
The other day I was talking to a friend about genealogy. He’s really into tracing back his heritage. His father is from Bermuda and his mother is from Maine, so his journey is taking him all over the map.
Our conversation makes me think about all the things that have to happen to get us, as individuals, to where we are. All of the war and disease and natural disasters and various other apocalypses that created villages and tribes and states and pushed and pulled migration, all the while helping us to create in groups and out groups…
There’s a whole lot to consider in how we got here, but honestly, I’ve never really cared. I’m not saying it’s without value. Don’t get me wrong. I’m deep into my own heritage. I was raised that way. I grew up eating food made from recipes that were oral traditions because the originators weren’t even allowed to learn how to read and write. I grew up learning traditional dances that were passed down father to son for generations. I was taught to play traditional music that predates all audio recording technology. I am very much of my ancestors, but I just don’t think of my history how many Americans think of theirs.
I’ve said this before, but I see a lot of white Americans talk about being Irish or French or Italian and celebrating and identifying as such. It’s real weird to me. I mean, it’s just choosing to identify with a particular moment in time. Like, there were people who existed long before anyone ever titled land masses “Ireland” or “France” or “Italy,” but you don’t ever hear anyone bragging about being ¼ Visigoth.
You ain’t never heard that shit in your life.
As a Black American who is a descendant of enslaved peoples, my genealogical timeline is not that long. A white person may talk about their people originally coming from Ireland, but I can only say my people come from Texas. And I’m fine with that. It means that my heritage is uniquely American and I embrace that. I embrace the culture I was born into, as does most of the country. Just one look at the history of the banjo should tell you that Black culture is more influential than you probably thought. Unfortunately, it also exists within a context that the country has never really been ready for.
Black American artistic expression exists largely because we, as Black Americans were not allowed to express ourselves as citizens. In many ways, we’re still not, and that is where my personal emotions are connected to my ancestry.
The only problem I face with my ancestry is the way it is viewed by those who have power over me.
I mean, I guess it could be nice to find out I was related to an African king or whatever. It’s just that none of the cops that have ever pulled me over would have given a shit. Neither would any bank that continues to deny loans to POCs . Nor would any politician that will deny me my rights.
And that’s what brings me back to Kanye…
Almost. One more thing…
If you’re white, you may not know just how varied Black people are in this country. We are not just one group. We are not only urban. We are also suburban. We are also rural.
We are not only athletes and entertainers. We are also inventors and intellectuals. Sometimes we are all of the above.
We often agree on destinations and differ on routes. We are as complex as, if not more than any group in America. But the one thing we have in common is that this country has always found it necessary to separate us from our humanity, and therefore our rights.
It doesn’t matter if you live in New York or Mississippi, if you’re rich or poor, if you were born in 1650 or at this very moment. This country values Black people as less than any other group and it has never been secretive about it.
And so, here we are with Kanye, who is primarily three things: Black, egomaniacal, and rich. And he’s real rich. Like, private jet rich. And the thing about being rich is that the struggle can become invisible to you, especially if you are an egomaniac.
Kanye is not struggling. I don’t mean he doesn’t wrestle with inner demons. He clearly does; badly.
What I mean is that his personal drivers and security team see to it that he’s not pulled over for DWB or followed around a store for SWB. He doesn’t have to worry about not being hired because his name sounds a certain way. Predatory lending, red lining—these things do not affect him.
The thing is, though, plenty of Black men who are rich enough to avoid those struggles choose to face them head-on. They realize the power of their voice and understand their inherent responsibilities. And, most importantly, they have strength.
You are required to be strong to be Black in America. It takes strength to get out of bed every single day and carry around the knowledge that the state can legally murder you. It takes strength to attempt to navigate a world in which you are viewed with constant and irrational suspicion and fear. It even takes a certain amount of strength just to acknowledge those truths.
Kanye is weak. He’s as weak as a baby. He’s as weak as his baby-handed, racist-ass massa. It’s an especially pitiful kind of weakness, because unlike slavery, Kanye’s weakness is his choice.
So, in the end, am I saying that Kanye isn’t Black? That is a complex conversation to be had, but for now, I’ll direct you to this conversation, already in progress.
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