April of 2018, by far, might be the wildest month. Ever. Bill Cosby has been convicted (yes.) South and North Korea are talking again. Saudi Arabia opened it's cinemas, Meek Mill has been freed (another bonus), and Cuba is no longer being led by someone with the last name Castro, among other weird and I don't-know-how-to-feel things have occurred. Can April get anymore odd?
This week's weirdness is served up courtesy of Kanye Omari West. Now, we are used to odd behvaiour coming from him, but he might have outdone himself this time, when he broke Twitter earlier this week. His praise for the transphobic and white supremacy-apologist Candice Owens was truly the beginning of a multi-hour tweetstorm that included praise of Trump and a photo of West in the hottest, must have racist accessory, a “Make America Great Again” hat.
As a Kanye fan since birth, I was angry, even apoplectic. Most Yeezy fans were. But you know who ate it up? The very people who claim to not need anything to do with mainstream celebrity culture who now apparently share taste in headwear with West. Yes, right-wing media basically had a collective orgasm when Kanye West expressed his newfound love for their movement and it's leader. Liberals hated it because, well, it was Kanye! A man whose greatest hits include All Falls Down and Black Skinhead (my personal favourites), songs that have intense social commentary on race and capitalism, was embracing Donald J. Trump- a man whose obsession with "African American Unemployment" and the previous President's birth certificate knows no bounds. Not to mention that Trump's brand of conservatism actively and aggressively goes after the most economically vulnerable by gutting health care and giving tax cuts to the wealthiest. Conservatives loved it because, finally, a celebrity agreed with them and scratched the "need for validation" itch folks like Kid Rock just couldn't. For years, conservative media and people have claimed to feel like they are on the outside of pop culture, and not represented in the “mainstream media”. At the same time, they capitalize on this by claiming they are better than the “elites” that won’t support their views. While the Right claims to be indifferent to pop culture and enjoy their status as outsiders, it was sort of surprising to see their quick jump to claiming Kanye as a “free thinker”. This Kanye incident perhaps may be an example of the Conservative need for high profile celebrities for their political agenda. And as if to prove this, before you could even say "trickle down economics!" conservative commentator and professional Islamaphobe, Ben Shapiro went on his talk show to state “if Republicans won 15 percent of the black vote, they’d never lose another election.” Yikes. Conservatism has now apparently embraced not just Kanye, but his Blackness as well, because in their eyes, he is Black America and speaks for all Black folks.
The new Kanye + Conservative combo cannot be the definition of Black politics, because conservatism has never been good for Black people (in memory, "Law and Order" policing, The War on Drugs, Bush 41 using a Black man in his political ads using his opponent's stance on crime, Bush 43 failing to act during Katrina and it's aftermath), and to be frank, neither has Democratic idealism. It is important to remember that Black community has (and is entitled to) diverse political opinions. Many Black folks saw Kanye's embrace of Trump as a direct middle finger to the Democratic establishment that has for decades depended on the Black vote yet has failed Black men and women in key areas. Let's not forget that it was a Democratic President (Clinton) that made Mandatory Minimums a thing, a piece of legislation that has heavily responsible for the mass incarceration of Black men and women. And on multiple accounts, Democrats have yet to help curb the high mortality rate of Black mothers, and the educational set-backs faced by Black children in communities across the US.
The most interesting part of this episode of "2018 Is Basically A Simulation" is that many equated Kanye's obsession with MAGA to his embracing of conservatism as a whole. But if you saw Trump being embraced by Kanye as that, you might be missing the point. Mr. West made it a point to tweet that he isn't sure he wants to join the conservative way of thinking. This incident doesn't show us Kanye's politics so much as it shows us his psyche. When Barack Obama was President, hip-hop was in his corner. Beyonce, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamarr, and others had their love reciprocated by 44. Some can say that Kanye wants his own President, and in Trump, found one. And it's no secret that the rapper is a fan of being controversy, and is no stranger to shock value. Incidentally, he also dropped some politically tinged music right after his tweetstorm ended.
And while there is not enough time in the world to go through every "has Ye finally Lost It?" think-piece, there are a few things we should steer clear of. To those crediting Kanye West's behaviour to the loss of his mother, his breakup with Amber Rose, or his marriage to wife Kim Kardashian on the basis that she is a white woman: let's underscore the fact that protecting Black men from taking responsibility, and blaming the women in their life is a trope that is not new to the Black community, or to women. Kanye West and Kanye West alone is responsible for what Kanye West says.
my wife just called me and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone. I don't agree with everything Trump does. I don't agree 100% with anyone but myself.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
Where do we go from here? Well, here are the key points to take away from this moment in history, 1) Conservatives, despite what they preach, are actually high-key obsessed with celebrity and thrive on affirmation from pop culture, 2) Not all Black folks subscribe to the label "Democrat", or are obligated to support that party, 3) Men are responsible for their actions, not the women in their life.
While we expect celebrities to be the moral conscious and speak truth to power, and we expect that even more from the hip-hop community. It is important to remind ourselves that our favourite figures, at the end of the day, are humans who carry their own baggage, issues, and agendas. They also can be problematic, and the things I mentioned can make their problematical behaviour even more apparent. For this Kanye incident (and there is sure to be more), we can only wait to see what he does and say and bear in mind the mortality and flaw-filled of our icons. Call out problematic folks and their behaviour: even if they're on your Spotify playlist.
Banner Photo via Andrew Kelly / Reuters