What Kanye West Has in Common With Susan Collins

Yesterday Kanye pulled his struggle bus into D.C. for a stop at the White House where he proceeded to deliver a cringeworthy soliloquy where he asked Donald Trump to love him like the daddy he wished he had in exchange for absolute fealty and an iPlane. The bizarre moment was broadcast live, sometimes with a split screen of communities wiped out by Hurricane Michael because America.  Kanye’s rant was so full of crazy soundbites it broke the internet like Kim K’s….nevermind. Clickbait?  For sure.  But don’t dismiss Kanye’s diatribe as meaningless.  Kanye, clearly, is struggling with his recent bipolar diagnosis, but what Kanye is saying is actually a window into how the elite think as they play human chess with ideas, disconnected from the material effect of oppressive ideologies on you or me.

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Kanye’s recent epiphanies about the black community aren’t crazy original, or even just plain crazy–they’re conservative talking points, Fox News’s daily mainline of ignorant and ahistorical bullshit regarding black people and the black community.  Its the elite, not the Illuminati, that fertilized Kanye’s mind with fantasies of black people living high off the welfare hog.  So before you cancel Kanye (wait till the end of the post) and erase all that he said, I suggest you take a listen to it, and a lesson from it.  Everyone is lining up to condemn Kanye (valid) but Kanye is just cutting samples from the ideas that circulate among the wealthy and white–the people he is around every day.

If you can’t stomach–or follow–the long winding tale of the tape, here are some of the highlights of Kanye’s lowlights: racism is a liberal invention to foster victim mentality in black people–effective in Kanye’s word because “we are an emotional people”; blacks are overly reliant on welfare; black on black crime is the real problem of the black community; some stuff about the 13th amendment that even I couldn’t make sense of. Painting black people as poor, violent, and not totally deserving or able to be free is a page out of the Willie Lynch playbook.

Kanye also had a lot to say about the captains of industry and their mythic position as the heroes of America.  He painted Trump as a lonely warrior on a Joseph Campbell-esque quest to make America great again.  These are not the random musings of an outlier, this is the sacred text of America’s holy trinity of capitalism, white supremacy and masculinity.

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What we’re hearing from Kanye is raw uncut American hegemony. Think of hegemony as the net of ideas that produces and normalizes the social, political, economic and cultural relationships and processes that make up the world we live in.  In order for any culture to function, we have to have a shared understanding of what is happening, but what if someone decided to write the world in their own favor? One way that people in power remain in power is they set up the rules of the game for the rest of us–and ensure that they conserve the best resources for themselves. They hide the strings of the puppetry behind stories, myths ideas, and beliefs that normalize the structures we have as the only way that things could or should be.  In a word, hegemony is the process that determines “just the way it is”.

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But it’s not just the way it is.  Science tells us every day of the expanding boundaries of our universe, a million stars with their own worlds.  Developing nations around the world develop in ways different than the colonization process that sprouted our own country. In a world where Kanye West and Donald Trump are hugging over the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, we must concede that anything is possible.  Hegemony is the factory where our current imbalanced and unsustainable systems to keep mashing up young black and brown men in the prison system, and where the response to #MeToo is ‘so what’ and where American dream is deserved only by the wealthy and not by the millions of Americans who generate that wealth with sweat and blood and time and life energy.

We don’t have to want that anymore.  It is right and proper to reject people who parrot the tales of a dying empire built by slaves on land stolen from Native Americans and nurtured by women and wave after wave of immigrants.  It’s cool to cancel Kanye (ready..now!).  While we’re at it, let’s vote out Susan Collins who would rather vote for her senate majority masters than stand up and vote for her sisters.  Like Kanye, she allowed her desire to align herself with power to be more important than standing in solidarity and unity with women across the country demanding justice free from patriarchy.

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Kanye’s comments are mostly shocking because he is black, and not just black but George-Bush-doesn’t-care-about-black-people. We expect that all people of color are woke enough to know when their own interests are being trampled but that’s not true.  Members of oppressed groups drink the same hegemonic kool-aid that everyone else does and have to do the work to free their mind from the ideas that bind them.  Susan Collins is also speaking kool-aidese, her hour-long speech echoing of the statements of her male counterparts.  Shocking because she is a woman. But both of them are seeking to be in close proximity to power, and it is power, not identity that drives their madness choices.

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When we get angry at the paper tigers or dismiss them as irrelevant outliers we forget it is the hegemonic ideology they are spouting that is the real villain.  Kanye is symptomatic of an elite celebrity class living disconnected from history and reality even as they cast the net for the rest of us. In addition to auditioning with Trump to be the mouthpiece of ‘Murica, Kanye is also a person who is struggling to accept a diagnosis, who needs the time and space to learn how to take care of himself.  He doesn’t need cameras, he needs care.  The kindest thing you can do for him is cancel him.

Anyone can ring the bell of hegemony–whatever your race or gender, you can parrot the ideas of a culture that oppresses people who look like you.  But the reverse is also true: anyone can join the resistance and seek new ideas to build a better more perfect union. You can say no to the Davey Crockett version of Trump.  You can tell people that it’s not just Kanye or Susan Collins, but the culture that they represent, the culture of power, and money, white supremacy and toxic masculinity, built on the backs of everyone that’s not them that creates these deplorable ideas. You can work with us to dismantle that castle in the sky, brick by brick.  Call out every person who stands up for oppression.  Vote them out. Stop buying their shit. Stop covering their antics. Don’t be their supporters. quit being their friend. Unfollow, block, delete. And of course, stay woke.

Black (Celebrity) Lives Matter (more)

Weeks of protests across the country have been missing lots of your favorite black pop stars, including one formally pink-haired princess.  Nikki Minaj has been silent on the issue of police misconduct and brutality.  Turns out, even though she has assured us that she is both a monster and a boss bitch, that she is worried about taking a hit in the pocket if she stands up for black lives.  Not so tough now…

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In a recent interview in Rolling Stone Minaj said that she feels like she can’t speak out about racism in society without her career taking a hit:

“I feel like when Public Enemy were doing ‘Fight the Power,’ we as a culture had more power — now it feels hopeless,” Minaj says. “People say, ‘Why aren’t black celebrities speaking out more?’ But look what happened to Kanye when he spoke out. People told him to apologize to Bush!”

Minaj must not have notices tens of thousands of  people around the country participating in die-ins:  laying on cold streets, in traffic, on highways, and across the sticky floors of malls.  These people– many young people squarely in Minaj’s demographic–have been unafraid to speak out and to literally lay down to stop the world and make people hear their chants of black lives matter.

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Some of these people left work or class to participate in protests risking all kinds of consequences.    But most of the protesters are not famous, and few are likely to have a corporate record deal, so admittedly, most of us have a lot less to lose than our favorite rapper.

141124_seattle_maclemoreThen again, look at Macklemore who has made a career in rap speaking out.  From celebrating thrift store swag to same sex rights, Macklemore has made millions, topping charts and hearts with his uber-unity rap.  Even Eminem, the bad boy of rap, has spoken on on a variety of social issues like suicide and poverty.  Em didn’t get black balled, he got put in car commercials .

What could possibly be different between Kanye and Nikki and Macklemore and Eminem?  Black artists don’t get the same pass, don’t get to play the same parts that their white counterparts play, even in the land that blacks created–hip hop.  Black artists can easily be labeled as radioactive for the same stances that we swoon to see white stars in.  Bill Gates can dump money wherever he wants, but when Dr. Dre gave a massive donation to USC he was criticized for not giving black enough.  Critics questioned Wyclef’s work in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.  And of course, there’s Kanye.

Of all the spheres for black celebrities to orbit, hip hop was supposed to be the genre where black lives–and voices–really did  matter.  Truth is, there is lots of great hip hop talking about these issues, but to Minaj’s point, that is the game of mainstream media.  Market forces determine the lowest common denominator for pop stars to aim at, hoping to please the bland palate of the masses while ignoring the issues of the smaller classes in the audience.  the risk is real, but is that an excuse?LeBronJames1

Despite having offered an apology to George Bush, Kanye persists. Despite the potential backlash, dozens of sports stars have made their voices heard.  Despite the cold, Black Lives Matter Protests persist.  So what’s up, pop princess?  In the face of racism we each have to chose how we will respond.  When we choose to sit on the sidelines and not risk what we have despite our best intentions, racism persists.

Minaj bemoans the hoplessness of these times–I feel her.

“[Kanye]was the unofficial spokesman for hip-hop, and he got torn apart,” she says. “And now you haven’t heard him speaking about these last couple things, and it’s sad. Because how many times can you be made to feel horrible for caring about your people before you say, ‘Fuck it, it’s not worth it, let me live my life because I’m rich, and why should I give a fuck?'”

We create these stars when we buy their shit, but they cannot be bothered to say in public that your life matters.  Go ahead, Nikki and live your life, because fuck it, it’s true–you’re rich and why should you give a fuck.   Selling out pays well.  But if you ever want to see what a real star looks like, look at the bodies dotting the pavement.  They’ll be out there, holding you down.