Kanye has repeatedly stated in past interviews this year that he coined the “denim on denim” look- little does he know (or maybe he does) that really pop stars Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears tried and failed that look years ago
At best, Kanye is regarded as the purveyor of Black male resistance to contemporary popular culture, at worst an egotistical rap caricature whose performance elicits the “comedy” from liberal late-night talk shows. However you like to slice it and dice it, Kanye West is easily one of the most controversial rappers/pop artists in mainstream American culture. The platform he has built for himself through his various artistic endeavors: rap, music production, fashion, art, is one that is undeniably wide reaching. His audience is unflinching, some would easily call them intellectual “stans”, ready to defend ANYTHING he produces as innovative.
Innovative is not how I would describe his use of the confederate flag and dead native images on his “Yeezus” tour apparel. Controversial yes, innovative, not even in the slightest sense. Nevertheless, fans and art critics alike, shy away from direct critique of his merchandise, in blind belief of a higher consciousness and moral racial authority they believe Kanye West emulates.
The racist semantics behind the confederate flag and inappropriate use of native headdress in the United States is not denied, but instead trivialized by white supremacists and racial apologists alike. Usually, their discourse around the use of those images surround various interpretations of culture, nationalism, and marginalized white working class histories. None of these discussion though, address the relationship between this imagery and genocide. That is, both groups that Kanye has decided to target, have undergone genocide in the United States and continue to suffer from that legacy. Genocide, that has been historically masked as legal regulation, and determine as necessary for the common good of the United States. Scholars such as Frank Wilderson, who work with themes surrounding anti-blackness, argues that the black body in relation to society is that of non- human, while the indigenous ontology is centered around genocide. Resounding, similar scholars such as Orlando Patterson and Sadiyah Hartman, further argue that the relationship between both groups and white supremacy is not just merely a ploy on hierarchical material realism, but rather the historical infliction of severe terror to subdue both groups in their respective diasporas. Simply put, its not just power (whether represented by capital or culture) that allows for injustice to continue in both communities. It is the unrealized amount of terror done by white supremacy.
Kanye argues that flag is his, now. He stated that he is reclaiming the flag, from white racists- and is in turn juxtaposing the implicit oppression of antebellum slavery in today’s society. I would have been willing to read a little deeper into his analysis of slavery and moreso his ideas on the replications of systems from slavery, IF, he did not say this- “classism is new racism“, while speaking with Jimmy Kimmel. It is as plain as day, that he along with various successful people of color in mainstream white culture, believe that oppression is not race based, but instead resides within capital. M.I.A., Sri Lankan born, London raised, hell raiser, and all around powerful pap goddess, made a poignant point on a recent interview with NPR. She exclaimed that even with all the work she did, including securing a spot at the Super Bowl performance of 2012, she still could not get a legitimate discussion about civil war in Sri Lanka, a situation that directly affected her alongside victims to the violence, to happen in the States. Nevertheless, a campy film by the non-profit “Invisible Children” narrated by a white filmmaker named Jason Russell went viral- it gained 83 million views on youtube and Oprah’s support although the film did not even present an adequate explanation to the situation in the Congo.
Is it short sighted to negate the power that Kanye may have in terms of race relations in the United States? I say naw, as legal catastrophes such “Stand Your Ground” also known as the modern day lynching law has taken young black women and men (such as Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin) from their communities, and just as Baby Veronica was stolen from her father via a new interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare by the Voting Rights Act being deemed unconstitutional (we can talk about how that has hindered voting from marginalized communities another time), its time for folks to come a bit harder with their analysis if they want to come at all.
Is Kanye’s reclamation of confederate replicas going to inspire the masses? Even if they are the “hypest of beasts” in the South- I doubt it. The relationship of that flag and racial terror is an all too well known lived/living experience. Today, as various southern white organizations, such as the Sons of the Veteran Confederacy, attempt(fight hard) to legally have the confederate flag flown on institutions meant to serve the public (cough, cough: THE UNION) at large in places like Texas, I have a feeling that Kanye’s “reclamation” of the flag is not going to offset the historical memory of violence one feels as they watch white folks hold tight to the flag of their heritage.
Further Readings to Check Out:
Curry, Tommy J. “You Can’t Stand the Nigger I See!: Kanye West’s Analysis of Anti-Black Death —Or a Black Man’s Refutation of the Bourgeois-ization of Black Cultural Criticism.” 2013. TS. Texas A&M University, College Station.Academia.edu. Web. 07 Nov. 2013
Wilderson, Frank B. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
Chief Boima’s “Kanye West on the Commodity Fetish.”