“Jesus Is King” is the title of Kanye West’s provocative new album, and my friend and I have argued about his promotion of it all weekend. Much of the black community, myself included, was particularly disappointed in West’s support of the proven racist, sexist, transphobic and xenophobic, that is Donald Trump. Once upon a time, I idolized Kanye as a musical genius, so it hurt me to no measure to see one of my heroes fallen; And not because of craft or politic or controversy. He fell from grace because of his allegiance to capitalism, and pursuit of power over humanity. He’s aligned himself with white supremacy and is trying to convince gullible black folks to do the same, under the guise of religion and free speech.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” -Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13
Taking the Christian faith and name of “Jesus” out of context to promote the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump is both insulting and blasphemous. It is not Christ-like to condemn immigrants to inhumane conditions, like the overcrowded cages that asylum seekers are still being imprisoned in. It is not like my God, who “loves all the little children of the world”, to separate children from their parents and then traumatize them with cruel, unsanitary and sadistic living conditions. Quite the contrary, Matthew 18:4–5 quotes Jesus saying: “4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
“The parents of Jesus had to flee their own land and take refuge in Egypt, in order to save the life of their child: the Messiah, the son of God, was a refugee,” — Pope Benedict XVI. I quote these scriptures and its context from Christian figures, because I want no one to be confused about where Christ would have stood on the matters we face today. Kanye West dancing with white supremacy, as Trump’s Whitehouse cages kids is not a dance that Christ would condone. Christ in this case might be one of those little children, separated from their families, defecating on themselves, and under the sole care of other (only slightly older) migrant teenagers. I am admittedly not a religious person, and it is for the reason of this type of treasonous hypocrisy I’ve witnessed all too often from people in the Christian church. It is not God or Christ I reject, but the teachings of these self-proclaimed followers, whose judgment and duplicity defames Christ’s name.
In the Bible, Christ actually stated that he died so that the letter of the law would be fulfilled and people could be free: Freedom from the same religious ridicule that had Christ himself hung on the cross. These people who now self-proclaim a new religion in Christ name, after his passing, called “Christianity”; Now reflect more of the religious folk, who crucified Christ, than they do Christ himself at all. Think on that: Christ was a Jew, not a “Christian”. People newly made up the Christian religion after the Bible tells of Christ death and rise again. Now, it is the Christian church’s judgment that’s feared the most by people; People who’s true needs are compassion, understanding, advocacy, and activism against systemic oppression: all the actual actions of Christ life. But extremist Christians instead, are represented by white supremacists who wield guns and threaten lives synagogues, Sikh temples and black churches.
Kanye claims to want to bring people back into God and the church, but rejects the golden-rule of Christ, which is to “love thy neighbor as you love yourself”. Trump’s bigotry has done just the opposite of the golden-rule rhetoric, as well. His cabinet meets every marginalized community with distastes, violence and vitriol. Therefore Kanye cannot endorse Donald Trump and do so in the name of Christ, as the actions, words and heart of those two men do not align. They could not be further apart. What Kanye is instead, is a false prophet to the black community, leading the ignorant back into a slave mentality, where they bow to white masters and accept cruelty.
Kanye West is a modern-day (early stage) Nat Turner; His gift of gab and respect of the community being used to quell our rage instead of inspiring us to necessary change. For those who don’t know, Nat Turner was an enslaved black preacher from Virginia, who’s eloquent speech was relished by white-slave masters. They used him to minister “obedience” to their black slaves who rebelled and attempted to run away. The enslavement of humanity is not a natural or human thing. It is evil. But black folks trusted Nat Turner’s articulate vigor, voice, and preaching, because he was a fellow black man. He promised them freedom in the next life and taught them: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” — Ephesians 6:5
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” — Colossians 3:22
Turner preached this word around town and was paraded around from plantation to plantation to instill the message in his kinfolk (his skin-folk). Turner, however internally conflicted he felt about misleading black folks into beliefs of oblige with harsh servitude, was quelled himself. Turner was obliged to not be beat and he was given nice clothes and even some money to keep up the religious act. It wasn’t until his wife was beaten and raped by a mob of white men that the illusion of Turner’s financial security faded away. By then it was too late: In rage and in dismay, Turner finally used his influence to lead the largest slave uprising in the history of our nation.
It seems Kanye West is on an opposite life trajectory, as he once upon time was reveled for his revolutionary rhymes that inspired listeners to trample white-supremacy:
“No one man should all that power…The system broken, the school’s closed, the prisons open… In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen” — Power
“Fuck you and your Hampton house. I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse. Came on her Hampton blouse. And in her Hampton mouth.” — New Slaves
“Fuck the police. That’s how I treat them. We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom. — All Falls Down
“Black out the room, bitch. Stop all that coon shit. These niggas ain’t doin’ shit…These niggas ain’t ready for action. Ready-ready for action!” — Black Skinhead
As you can see or tell, I am no Kanye-hater. For the longest time, his rhymes were my religion. He is who taught me that it was ok to say “I am a god!”, and feel the God in me, even as a young black queer boy. He helped me see myself in God’s image. Thru his lyrics and vivacious beats I rebelled against classic religion that was historically used to perpetuate hetero-masculine racist manifest destiny, slavery and queer-phobia. He represented a relationship with God, which was relentless, honest and free. Though he touts the claim of doing that now, with “God is King”, the rhetoric that he champions has proven his message as blasphemy. That ain’t God and ain’t of God.
Aligned with Trump, he’s leading people back into a world of white supremacy, wherein women’s sexuality (autonomy) is demonized and people of color (at the borders and in big cities) are further marginalized. He’s in a pursuit of power thru the patriarchy, and doing so by trying to condemn counter culture, with this fake religious sanctity. Identity politics is what once again threatens to disavow black people from necessary rage in the face of daily injustice. We should be angry.
We should be enraged daily, and even if not for ourselves, for the sake of humanity. Why should black people be above identity politics and empathize enough to ally with other vulnerable communities against injustice? To that question, I quote an actual religious leader and hero of mine, Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” -‘Letter from Birmingham, Alabama Jail’, April 16, 1963
IGNORANCE is Bliss
Ignorance is bliss, in the sense that if we simply do not understand the magnitude of hurt being had in the world, then we may remain complacent and at ease in our own immediate realities. Those of us who are aware of the plight of injustices happening and chose, instead of activism, to ignore them, are complicit in the hurt that’s caused. To know of inhumanity and hate, and refuse to address it because it is conveniently not aimed at you, your complexion, your ethnicity, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, is within itself despicable. It is to make a conscious choice to let evil persists. James Baldwin said: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That is because as black people in America, it is nearly impossible for us to un-know the hypocrisy of this cruel country.
Humanity is something that’s seemingly so naturally afforded to black folks, as we are so used to witnessing the deprivation of it in our white oppressors. We’re used to looking at reality without a white-gaze. We see overseers with badges, that bully and brutalize our communities. White counterparts call them “police”. We see intentionally violent terrorists, white folks discount and grace as “emotionally unhinged” or “disturbed mentally”. Regardless of attempts to pacify the racist world we live in, we see it ever so clearly.
Our ancestors’ blood stains the soil, bricks and red clay that is the foundation of this nation. With money we can pretend for a little while to be beyond the experience of our black, brown and beige skin. Capitalism is the tool that draws us apart by first drawing us in. “They make us hate ourself and love they wealth.” — Kanye West, All Falls Down (2004).
But if we dare not to give up our moral compass then and only then, maybe we can win. We are stronger together, and it seems the powers-that-be know that, as they employ a “divide and conquer” tact. Quelling the anger of black consciousness misaligns us with fellow minorities. Successfully separated, each community is individually more vulnerable and can be picked off into whatever direction the power-elite see fit. It is up to us to remain a conscious and united front if we want to stand a chance at beating our common enemy: white supremacy.
We ought to learn to trust our gut and let empathy lead us to activism. God gave us the full spectrum of emotions so that we could feel and move on those feelings: Inspired. Sadness, anger, rage, rebellion, joy and peace are capable feelings within all of us because they are from our creator. We should not be afraid to feel those things, but rather trust that they’ll thrust us in the direction of where the world needs fixing. Identity politics leads us to deny ourselves and our spirits the truth, based on malign words of someone who looks like us. Our complacency with compassion is what lets ignorance win. Evil, in the human condition, must be given permission, as it takes time to energize and fester. When we stand by idly while others are dealt terribly, we lose our moral authority and gravitas. We must not give that up.
We’ve seen identity politics work out terribly in the most recent case of R. Kelly: So many young girls were hurt and sexually abused over the years, and our beloved black community was complicit. Complicit because we knew it was happening, saw all the signs, heard the testimonies, even heard it in the music, but as a community we continued to make excuses for the artist. We enjoyed his music more than we cared about those young girls’ well-being.
The example I’ll give, which is more personal to me, is that of Bill Cosby. He was another hero of mine. The Cosby Show represented the black family wonderfully, and I felt it so heartfelt intrinsically that I thought one day that family would be mine. When it came to light that Cosby was indeed drugging women and sexually assaulting them, it was a hard pill to swallow. I already had my image attached to his. In our mutual black history, I admonished the idea that he may actually be guilty.
Being a black male myself, I’m immediately reminded of the many fake sexual assault allegations that black men have faced over the years. The Jim Crow era in our country was full of black men’s bodies hanging from trees, after they were falsely accused of raping (or even eyeing) white women. In the case of Emmitt Till, which we’ll never forget, (and our country has never made amends for) a young boy was strung up by his neck, dragged behind a truck into the woods and beaten until his face was no longer recognizable. The 14 year old young boy was brutally murdered by a mob of adult white men, for allegedly having whistled at a white woman. She later admitted, in her old age, that she lied.
That story of Emmitt Till stains the hearts and minds of every black male in America, and it informed my judgment of Bill Cosby. Identity politics crept in and clouded my ability to see something for exactly what it was. My hero, Bill, compromised his own integrity by drugging those women. He was a rapist and did not deserve my defense. Justice would finally, rightfully, see those women believed and defended by our justice system. The same needs to be dealt of defamed film director Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump, who have been accused of similar sexual assault and predatory behavior.
In all vulnerability, I will admit that I became envious of the benefit of doubt that the aforementioned white men (Trump, Weinstein, Kavanaugh) were afforded. Bill Cosby was quickly brought to justice but all three other predators remain at large, un-compromised and in their positions of power. Conviction came from some of the closest and beloved black women in my life: “Right is right and wrong is wrong. What Bill Cosby did was “rape” and despite the realities of historical and structural racism, we must hold him wholly accountable for his own actions. These are separate issues and we cannot conflate then. More importantly, I understand the anger towards racism and the desire for equal treatment in the eyes of the law but we ought not aspire to equality if it means defense of despicable acts of violence against women.” — Thank you, Cin.
White folks, and society at large, must deal with why its treatment of women is so bad that it refuses to believe, defend or protect women who testify in assault cases against white men. That disdain for women is not our own responsibility within the black community, as we are working to hold black men accountable for violence against women. It’s important that we not aspire to our own allowance of evil, but instead insist that we be and become nothing like our oppressors. With and in all black pride, let’s try and remain copasetic with our own moral compass; Holding true and proud that justice should be served to any man who commits a crime.
After minute 7 in the final Chapter X of Dear White People’s Volume 3, we see the hardships of accountability that come with black hero-worship. When you trust someone, when you grow to know and love someone, and you look up them, it is difficult to disassociate those qualities, and recognize them as a complex being, capable of also doing despicable things. Alas, it is necessary to call out evil when we see it and hold ourselves accountable. That is the only way that we are truly our brothers’ keeper: Helping one another navigate the soul to achieve goodness.
Drop the Mic
Lastly, I’d like to state and address a simple fact that women (even, and especially, in the black community) are not met with the same grace and support as men. Azealia Banks is arguably a musical genius, like Kanye West. Her lyrics go off and she raps fast on top of hards house beats. Just like him, she says some wild, obnoxious and problematic things outside of her music. Unlike Kanye, she is never offered a level of compassion, understanding or identity by black people. Why? Her talent is undeniable and literally inimitable; So why isn’t she presented with the defense of “artistic genius”? Why hasn’t Chrisette Michelle been redeemed since she committed a lesser cultural crime than Kanye West? She performed at Trump’s inauguration but hasn’t endorsed him, his policies or stated that “slavery was a choice”.
Chrisette Michelle and Azealia Banks have sat on “cancelled” forever. Meanwhile, Kanye, Daniel Caesar, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Bill Cosby and innumerable famous athletes are given grace and admiration in their careers. This is ultimately why I do not fully believe in “Cancel Culture”. It doesn’t distribute judgment or opportunity for redemption fairly.
I do appreciate the culture for increasing awareness and social responsibility of artists, athletes and businesses that we buy into. What the culture has done is actualize a power that we have in collective consumerism. Talent and art without our support is profitless and literally irrelevant. There is where our power lies.
It’s just unfortunate and unfair that this social media collective voice is, it is not powerful enough to steer and stamp general consensus to consistent momentum. Therefore some brands and artists are still supported while others unfairly remain permanently impacted by cancel culture. Also, I must ask: Are we really holding them accountable, if we aren’t doing more than offering ridicule, and not an opportunity for the accused to educate and redeem themselves?
I think Cancel Culture needs a prelude that presents the problems prior to a call to action, or a post-production, that offers them an opportunity to rectify their problematic behaviors in a real way. That’s how we go about fixing issues, advancing society and creating general consensus with everyone understanding and moving forward together, instead of being left to choose whether or not the specific issues are important enough to jump on the bandwagon of cancelling.
I’m also not certain that every twitter apology, written by a professional publicist should suffice for settlement. Let’s find a way to engage and educate our heroes in conversation, and allow them to advance themselves and the rest of their fanbase. Some artists I’d like to see questioned and possibly redeemed are: Sabrina Claudio (colorism), Azealia Banks (mental health, hurtful and angry rhetoric towards gays, middle-eastern people, Nicki Minaj, music industry, etc.), Kevin Hart (homophobic jokes and hetero-mansplaining the importance of “coming out”), Eddie Murphy (homophobic jokes), Chris Brown (domestic violence and assault), Cee Lo Green (rape tweets), Lauryn Hill (transphobia in a song), SZA (homophobic tweets), City Girls (homophobic radio interview), Nicki Minaj (support of registered offenders and boyfriend), Daniel Caesar (ridicule of black sympathies).
I’d love to have members of the aforementioned vulnerable communities have the opportunity to address their grievances with these artists, and speak directly to their hurt. Creating a platform wherein both the artists and their fan base can reach understandings better all of our humanity and gives an genuine opportunity for self-reflection and self-correction.
Speaking specifically to the queer-phobia and violence against women that seems prevalent in black artists, I sympathize with the understanding that in our communities these behaviors were far too normalized. In neighborhoods wherein elitism and survival were an uphill (often times literal) fight up our very own social structure, we did not acclimate to the new standards of tolerance, acceptance and healing as mainstream society did. As gentrification occurs and more of mainstream society takes interests in our culture, it is important that our artists have an opportunity at a learning curve; particularly in areas where they may have possessed blind spots thru different cultural norms and survival demands.
Please do not mistaken my tone for that of an apologist, who makes excuses for bad actions. Rather, what I insist on is real productive conversation and social change. Conversations must begin with grace, of two opposing or even just one ignorant party seeks to come into understanding one another. More importantly, there in those conversations is how we speak to the hearts and minds that herald these celebrities. I’d call the program “Drop the Mic”, and welcome these upcoming or famed artists, a real opportunity at real talk with folks from the community. Let them hear stories of how their problematic rhetoric or behaviors may have contributed to some persons real hurt, and offer them the opportunity to fully understand the consequences of their actions.
I believe that “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). I also believe that technology, talent and social media now work together to create overnight idols, who may not have had the opportunity to learn the impact of the powerful influence they wield. No one man or woman should have so much power that they are beyond reproach and accountability. That is the message here: That people are flawed beings, capable of greatness (both good and evil) and that regardless of celebrity or identity politics, we should hold them accountable to their impact on the world.