Is Slavery a Choice? A Kanye West Controversy

Nigus Getahun, J1 Staff Writer

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Kanye – once again – has captured the attention of  the nation over the past few months. Starting with a picture of him with a MAGA hat to a comment about slavery being a choice,  it is very clear that he has started an ideology war in America, especially in the black community. While many immediately disagreed with what Kanye has said and done,  others agree with or support, in some way, his actions and his words.

Kanye West  has been described as a producer, rapper, genius, fashion designer and  prophet. If you appreciate rap music, you cannot deny that Kanye is one of the most talented artists in rap history. His first trilogy of albums, The College Dropout Series, were  both critically and commercially successful, and  totally changed the course of rap music in the 2000s. The shift away from gangsta rap and artists like 50 Cent was ALL Kanye. This alone proves that  Kanye is brilliant.

So, what is Kanye trying to promote? He has never failed to surprise us, and that’s what makes Kanye, Kanye. Sure, the way he articulates and approaches an audience might make him  seem vulgar and hostile, but Kanye has always been for the people and the truth and the truth hurts. Kanye has always spoken out on everything he has problems with, and it seems like one of the things he does not like is what he perceives to be the victimhood mindset black people hold. He wants black people to move on from the race relations topic, move ahead and think for themselves.

Before I go further, let’s stop and take a look at what took place in Kanye’s appearance on TMZ on May 1st. Kanye appeared on the show with conservative commentator and activist Candace Owens to talk to about his support for President Trump, and race relations in America. Then he made a claim that was shocking to many.

What Kanye said could really be interpreted any way you wish.  The point Kanye was trying to make – and people missed this because they took it on an emotional level only rather than on an intellectual level – is that, at some point, talking about slavery becomes a mental choice. This is like any other action or behavior, that enslaves for long, has a way of making one adapt to its suppressive mindset. West never said that slavery was a choice. Rather, he said that bringing up slavery for 400 years “sounds like” a choice. His words were misinterpreted due to poor journalism skills and lack of critical thinking in our American society. Kanye’s argument wasn’t that slavery was a choice. You don’t  need to read his later clarification to understand that, that wasn’t what he said.

In possibly the most bastardized TMZ episode, West made the following remarks, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…for 400 years? That [sounds] like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all? It’s like, we’re mentally in prison…” If you try to understand it from the context of what was said, Kanye is trying to parallel it to the black community in the present. There are many blacks in America who can’t succeed and don’t try because of fear that someone is out to get them and because of the idea that they’re being oppressed. According to Kanye, this is  dangerous thinking and significantly holds someone back. West goes on to imply more boldly that the genuine enslavement with regard to this subject is the extreme attachment of too many blacks in the United States to victimhood narratives by left-leaning figures who tell the general public what to believe without understanding the complexity of the situation at hand. West then states that people of today, more generally, are mentally imprisoned and are not thinking for themselves.

A closer look at Kanye’s intent reveals his point. You have two choices: you can keep focus on the slave narrative or you can realize that Black Americans weren’t the only people in history who were enslaved. However,  Black Americans may be one of the only people in history whose past continues to be excessively over emphasized. That it makes it impossible for our current reality to get past that. How long will black Americans remain hurt about our history? How long are we going to stay enslaved to this mindset of victimization? Slavery is not a choice. However, remaining in mental bondage is.

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