How should white people talk about Kanye West?
There are good reasons to be concerned about the very harmful comments that Kanye has been saying. But theres one catch you arent black, and Kanye is
As the entirety of the internet seems to be discussing Kanye Wests most recent ass-hattery and all of black Twitter seems to be heartily enjoying #IfSlaveryWasAChoice shenanigans, you, a concerned non-black person may be wondering how do I join in this discussion?
Maybe you were a big fan of Wests music and now you feel personally let down by how hard hes trying to be the absolute worst.
Maybe you are a decent human who recognizes that Trump and his administration are hateful trashmonsters working diligently to make marginalized populations (and like, half of the global population) more unsafe and you are concerned to see a high profile music idol sing his praises to the delight of countless racist trolls.
Maybe you have read a book or two in your life or have a shred of empathy or are not completely drowning in anti-blackness or due to being a human being walking around in the world you are able to guess that 99.9% of humans do not like being dragged across the world in chains, bought and sold, tortured their entire lives, forced to work for free, starved, raped and murdered and have realized that black people were most likely not slaves by choice.
These are all very good reasons to be concerned about the very harmful shit that West has been saying. But theres one catch you arent black, and West is.
What if you say the wrong thing?
What if you jump into a black Twitter thread and you think you are dancing on beat but then you open your eyes and stop snapping and realize that everybody is staring at you confused and disappointed?
What if you really say the wrong thing and get called a racist?
If you find yourself feeling like you should say something about West, but you arent sure how to do so responsibly, here are some helpful tips on how to stay in your lane.
First off, why do we need lanes? I hear some of you right now Isnt it all of our duty to call out absolutely everything? Oh so Im white and suddenly my opinion doesnt count? Arent lanes divisive? Do you hate freedom of speech? In short, my answers are: No, Yes, No, and Read the Goddamn First Amendment So You Stop Looking Like An Ass. But lets dive slightly deeper.
If you are concerned by what West is saying, Im going to assume that it is at least in part because you are concerned with the hate, bigotry and oppression of the Trump administration that Wests supporting, or the massive amount of anti-blackness that West is spouting when he claims that black people were slaves by choice. If either of these are true, then you should also be concerned about the power structure of systems of race and the anti-blackness that permeates our society and enables Trump and infects West. This means, that even when you are discussing how universally shitty West is being, you are also discussing a black man as a non-black person, and the way you do so can contribute to anti-blackness in a way that you may not intend, but will still be very responsible for.
There are people who will love to see you tear down West, not because what hes saying is absolute trash, but because hes a black man. There are plenty of people who will love your comments about West, not because they address Wests absolute dedication to selfishness and ignorance, but because they feel the same way about all black people.
So heres tip number 1
Know that we will collect our own. West is currently being dragged to hell and back by his own people with more love and style than you will ever be able to manage. We got this. Theres nothing you can add to that particular conversation that is worth saying.
If you think West is in the Sunken Place or an Uncle Tom or any other pejorative to describe the way in which hes sold out his own people remember that NOBODY ASKED YOU.
If you think that you get to criticize black people for selling out to the system of anti-blackness that you as a non-black person benefit from and help maintain, you need to check your privilege and be quiet for a while.
Leave Wests mental health out of this. Unless you are a licensed mental health professional who is currently treating West, you need to stop trying to diagnose his antics as a mental health crisis. You are not qualified, and your uneducated guesses are distracting from the real harm that Wests words cause. People spent a lot of time during the last election speculating on Trumps mental health, and you know what? Hes the fucking president now and maybe we should have gotten off of WebMD and worked a little harder at calling out his hateful rhetoric.
Further, I know a lot of people who are living with mental illness and various neurodiversities and they are really awesome people who are very much at risk due to the hateful rhetoric and policies of this administration that West is supporting, and who are constantly stigmatized by our ableist society and would really like to not also be lumped in with West right now.
Talk to non-black people about West.If you cant join in on the black Twitter antics, and you cant rail at West for his unapologetic ignorance and anti-blackness, what can you do? You can talk to other non-black people. For all of the speculation on why West is doing what hes doing whether its attention, album sales, a future presidential run its pretty obvious who West is doing this for, and its not us. As Kirsten West Savali astutely observed on Twitter: Hes a tool, a token, a mascot. Its 2018, and were out here explaining why slavery wasnt a choice. Explaining it to whom?
West is betting on anti-blackness to gain him power and notoriety in non-black circles. He is selling out his own people because he knows that non-black people really love to think that black people are oppressed because they want to be. Whether he actually believes that or not is beside the point. He is providing anti-black America with the validation it needs to continue to harm us in the hopes that it will pay off for him personally. He is already being rewarded for it with the praise of Trump and countless other virulent racists across the country. While sad, this is in no way unique. West joins a long line of black people who have decided that blackness is not worth fighting for. And while we know that anti-blackness will come for him in the end because white supremacy may use him but will never actually love him, the harm that he is helping to enable right now is real.
You need to be taking your dismay over Wests words and refocusing it onto the non-black people who will use these words to justify the oppression that is killing us. You need to make it known that you see their praise of West as the anti-black opportunism that it is. You need to make what he does less effective, by making sure that your people know that it is unacceptable for them to use what hes saying to cloak their bigotry. And as those spouting anti-blackness now have this great black shield to make them even less likely to listen to what we have to say, your duty to step up and speak out is even more necessary.
And if you are worried that these boundaries will leave you with little to do, rest assured: there is only one West, but there are millions of anti-black opportunistic pieces of shit who are in desperate need of you telling them that they are opportunistic pieces of shit. It should keep you far too busy to even consider jumping into black Twitter to figure out how you can make a #IfSlaveryWasAChoice meme that isnt racist.
Your lane is very, very full.
Ijeoma Oluo is the bestselling author of So You Want To Talk About Race. She is also editor-at-large of The Establishment, the recipient of the 2017 Feminist Humanist award from the American Humanist Association, and her writing on race and gender has appeared in The Stranger, the Washington Post, Elle magazine and NBC News. For more, click here, or find her on Twitter.
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