Kanye West has mastered flipping what would usually be a negative into a positive. Ranging from his lyricism to his public outbursts, his antics continue to elevate him.
When he released his album Yeezus in 2013, the work was widely panned because many listeners found it to be self-absorbed. What many did not realize is that the album would be prophetic. The angst and paranoia of the work were not Kanye’s self-victimization but rather a reflection of the emotions that have haunted the African-American experience.
The era never reached its full potential because of Kanye’s perceived contradictions—impregnating the non-black Kim Kardashian and peddling haute couture in Paris. Yet just two years later, one of the issues he pushed is now at the forefront of debate.
Kanye sent shockwaves when he began wearing and selling the modern Confederate flag emblem. The symbol has been revised several times over the course of 150 years, but its representation is the same—keeping the black race oppressed as a means of ensuring white supremacy and economic power.
The emblem has been a wound for generations, but it has become a condition people just learned to “live with.” Every now and again, symptoms would flare up (as they did in Mississippi in 2001), but few felt removing the symbol was really worth the headache. Kanye was criticized for engaging in a mundane subject and race baiting. Now after the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina carried out by Confederate flag-proponent, the topic is inescapable.
When Kanye was asked why he wore the flag, he responded,
“You know the Confederate flag represented slavery in a way – that’s my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag. Now what are you going to do?”
Kanye seems to be advocating a “reverse reappropriation” of sorts. He is reminding those who attempt to use the symbol as a means of oppression that our struggle is a parallel to their elevation. Therefore, our existence and subsequent endurance cannot be separated from the flag.
This position differs from those who beg the public to “commemorate” the slaves who served on the Confederate side during the Civil War or insist that the symbol only celebrates the “liberty” of Southern heritage. Instead, Kanye deglamorizes the emblem for white supremacy by showing that it is inclusive of the black experience.
Kanye even addressed the adage “The South Will Rise Again” by countering with “I Ain’t Comin’ Down.” Kanye understands that the fight to recognize black humanity is just as intense as was 150 years ago. His song, “New Slaves,” sheds light on how new methods have been implemented to turn black bodies into chattel. Racial oppression has been reinvented in the forms of materialism, the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration. The only way to not come down is to remove the blinders on how institutionalized racism works.
Be mindful that THE is not advocating for black people to display or wear the Confederate emblem in the style of Kanye West. But what we are noting is that the benefactors of the flag cannot be solely educated on its horrors by detractors. We must educate them that the perceived supremacy that they hold dear is a result of the black forbearance.