Kanye West’s TMZ “Slavery Was A Choice” Rant Is Stupid; Why Is Ta-Nehisi Coates Upset?
The reaction to Kanye West saying on TMZ that “slavery was a choice,” reminds me of something that happened after the Oakland Raiders introduced Jack Del Rio as Head Coach in 2015. A group of media representatives, including myself, were standing around talking about the press conference that had taken place. Then, one of the people said to me “This is bad.” “What is?,” I asked. “This,” he said, and looked at us.
He was saying in a joking way that what was happening, a group of black media folks talking together, was not something the white culture would allow.
My response was that what he said was not funny. That we should not fear, as blacks, to meet as one.
It was a jarring moment for me, because I really didn’t think that blacks believed that anymore, because I did not. Then, I realized I was the only person, the only black person, who owned and ran his own media company in the room. I thought what he was reflecting was a kind of modern day slave point of view. I hated it.
From that perspective, I could see what Kanye West was saying (I think). But then, and for the same reasons as the press conference incident, I thought he was being silly. Again, the product of a modern slave mentality, but turned inside out. But if that’s the case, why are people like Ta-Nehisi Coates so upset about it?
I think it’s because, sadly, what Kanye West has poked at, is the very fact that many of us tend to identify being black in a way that’s less than; not enough money, or clothes, or sense for time, or less clean or pretty much less that those who are white. It’s not that Kanye wants to be free like a white person, but that he actually hates being black in the way he and many have been brainwashed to think being black is. Ta-Nehisi Coates is no better in that he would seem to put down someone white in the process of defining his blackness.
I am just plain trying to make it through the day. I lost my best friend for over 40 years, Lars, as he died in his sleep two weeks ago. He’s white. He and my friend Bill Boyd started the Bret Harte Star Trek Club way back in 1975. We were a diverse club then, and in perfect Star Trek ideology. My point is, our group gave us a personal identify beyond race – we had and have a worldview that’s more comprenensive. But within it, it allows us to be ourselves. I know who I am as an individual beyond being just black.
In that context, it occurs to me that both Kanye and Ta-Nehisi have not figured out who they are as people. They’re still trying to figure it all out. In fact, I think many of us as blacks still are. That’s sad. That’s a crisis of thought. It’s a crisis of identify.
I think it’s also born of not getting black history as a small person – I got it in Chicago. The Black National Anthem, for example. I knew what I was as a black person at 6, so I was free to be who I wanted. I admired what Walt Disney wanted to do in making Walt Disney World. So, at 8, I wanted to go into city planning. I got my degree at Berkeley as an adult.
What helped me was being grounded in black history but being able to travel on United and see and meet white people who treated me as if I mattered. That was my childhood, and thanks to my Mom. Mom worked for United Airlines.
So, there is it: racial isolation is the problem. Lack of knowledge of your historic base is the problem. Then trying to figure it all out – on the fly – got us to this place.
Slavery is a crime of exploitation. The exploited person generally does not know a better way. Kanye is wrong. But he can remove himself from the modern slave mentality that traps him – and so can Ta-Nehisi and that reporter guy at the Raiders Press Conference in 2015.