How Kanye West is using his privilege to distance and other himself from the plight of black people

Kanye West pictured at Los Angeles airport.
Kanye West pictured at Los Angeles airport.

I have been trying very, very hard to ignore Yeezy ever since he made his return to the Twittersphere. A quick round table discussion during W24’s daily editorial meeting confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who had him on mute.

From his philosophical “musings” (apparently he is writing a book on Twitter), to his tweets that clearly showcased his love for Trump, almost everything about his return had drama written all over it.  

We’ve known for years that Kanye is the type of person who has pretty much built his brand on controversy.

He tweets and says what he wants because he knows he can get away with it. He also married into a family whose livelihood is dependent on them revealing as much of their lives as possible (although usually in what seems like a calculated and timed fashion that suits them), so no one has ever been surprised by his outspokenness.

Most of the time people even laugh it off.

I mean, sure there are people who called him out and the media often has a field day by questioning his mental health (a point I’ll get to in a bit), but most of the time we often roll our eyes because while his comments have always been outrageous, for the most part, and as far as I can remember, he has never expressly said something that has managed to do damage to an entire group of people.

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At least not until now.

Not only has he recently shared a series of tweets that expressed his love for Trump and his ideals, but in a recent in-office interview with TMZ he suggested that slavery was a choice.



We kid you not.

There’s a lot to unpack in the segment – in which TMZ staffer Van Lathan challenged and hit back at West – but the one thing that strikes me is this: he values the concept of free thinking more than he understands that centuries of bondage of people against their will has yet to be eradicated.

Just because there’s progress (and frankly not a lot of it given that black people can’t even walk outside without being racially profiled or particularly in the US shot even when they’re unarmed), does not mean that there’s freedom.

Slavery may have been abolished in name, but underneath the surface, and particularly within the Trump climate, and here in South Africa, many people are still fighting to get access to things that others don’t even question.

The fact that Kanye talks about free thought as a form of defending his opinion (which, Van Lathan freely adds that he is entitled to), says to me that here is someone whose wealth has so far removed him from the plight of the common folk, that he doesn’t realise that voicing that kind of dissent is not only dangerous, but that it gives racists the excuse they need to continue selling their brand of racism and justification for slavery.

Because if a wealthy black man thinks that people could have easily walked away from slavery, then surely he is not only a) right, but b) that other black and other people of colour whose roots and very ancestry lie in slavery must secretly think this way too, right?

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Listen, I’m not here to give you an intellectual and emotional discourse on slavery. 

What I am here to do is to echo and magnify the sentiment that Van Lathan pointed out to West in the now viral video segment – as a celebrity Kanye has a voice and massive platform and the way he uses it matters.

Not just to his fans, but as representative of a community that constantly fights to have their humanity acknowledged.

Of course, Twitter has been ablaze with this thread, many questioning his mental health, which brings me to another point. The assumption that one should be allowed to get away with spewing hurtful and damaging vitriol because they’re mentally ill is a bit of a cop out.

Mental illness already has so many stigmas attached to it. And while some people’s behaviour could be a clear indicator that they need help, constantly using it as a means to excuse someone’s words dismisses the inherent level of damage they’ve done.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never actually been confirmed whether or not Kanye has a mental health illness, so that as an argument falls flat to me. And it devalues what real sufferers go through.

Kanye also later took to Twitter in a thread, backtracking and talking about the fact that we’ve chosen to be “mentally enslaved.”

But let’s just get this out there for once and all – any analogy that uses slavery as a selling point for an argument, is never a good idea.

And distancing yourself from that because of your financial status – because you as an individual presents yourself as an exception – makes you look like a traitor.

No Kanye, we don’t begrudge you your privilege, but that doesn’t mean you get to use it to suddenly bathe in ignorance and pretend history doesn’t exist.  

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