Kanye as a Victim
As a fan of Kanye West, I find his recent politically controversial words and actions personally disturbing. Like many others who connect with and enjoy his music, the beating that he has taken from the media stirs up a complex mix of feelings. On one hand, I condemn his support of Donald Trump and find most of his recent, uncontrolled interactions with the press to be disturbing and immodest. At the same time, however, something almost maternal inside of me wants to defend him. Here is my best attempt, not at a defense, but at an exploration of his behaviors, what they mean for us, and how media coverage affects his image.
Before the M.A.G.A debacle, Kanye was embroiled in a few memorable media scandals. Even his first album, The College Dropout, earned him a place on a long list of black musicians with ‘edgy’ reputations. Recorded shortly after a nearly fatal car accident, his jaw injury restrained his voice and caused (and continues to) an inability to smile. I remember in middle school, hearing the adults in my life talk about how standoffish and selfish he was for not smiling. Looking back, I see the old timey racism in these comments: the judging of a black man based on how appealing he is to his white audience. This sentiment; that Kanye is an ungrateful and self-absorbed individual, was furthered when he dropped his 2013 album, Yeezus, with a track entitled “I Am a G-d”. Despite how a myriad of media outlets wanted to spin his lyrics, he eloquently explained the reasoning behind his repeated self-deifying lyrics and gave a nuanced take on racism. Self-deprecating racism, he says, is “the real estate” of racism meaning that when black people buy into racist narratives and begin to define themselves in a way designed to make white people more comfortable, they become instruments in a racist agenda.
His blunt refusal to work within the system is a characteristic trait of West’s career that has recently taken over the previous anti-racist, black positive messages in his music. I believe that West’s support of Donald Trump demonstrates an unforeseen outcome of modern racism. Success and wealth corrupted Kanye, causing him to lose sight of the struggles he once identified with.
In another track from Yeezus, “New Slaves”, he prophesied his own future. Enslaved by the desire to keep up with and succumb to white expectations, Kanye has become the butt of his own joke.
Currently, Kanye has retracted a few of his racist and inappropriate statement and has not caused any social media mayhem. Even if he hadn’t gone back on his words, I believe that we cannot blame him. Like he said himself, black people have been enslaved once again by a vicious, capitalist cycle that requires African-Americans to constantly undermine their own interests. As fans, many of us are disappointed that he succumbed to what he used to fight against. But, as African-Americans, we should not be surprised.
**It is also important to note that mental illness plays a role in the severity of his statements.**