Ladies and gentlemen, Kanye West is in the building.
Kanye West has spent the better part of the past two weeks expressing his support for President Trump, conservative YouTuber Candace Owens and what he has called “free thinking.” To be fair, the lyrics that proceed West’s verse in “Lift Yourself” are objectively beautiful, though they may be controversial, as they are reminiscent of Booker T. Washington’s famous speech at the Atlanta Exposition, in which he urged the first generations of freed African Americans to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
This newest song echoes West’s thoughts as he expresses that African Americans are trapped in a victim mentality and need to focus on lifting themselves up out of it. After facing some backlash over his support for Trump from fans and critics alike, West’s prodigy and BET Humanitarian Award recipient, Chance The Rapper, came to his defense in a tweet saying “black people don’t have to be Democrats.”
No matter how you feel about Kanye West right now, his recent tweets might have provoked a dialogue about how the political process works for poor African Americans who live in the inner-cities. Perhaps if the African American vote was not so assured for democratic candidates, elected officials would have to invest in actual changes to their communities rather than keeping their support gated behind walls of rhetoric.
“Democrats do a good job of propping up the disenfranchised as a way to get votes and muster support, but support for the black community has always come itself and not political parties,” said english senior Kaleb Michael Clark.
Kanye West’s’ tweets have done what they always do — anger people and provoke a response. It’s hard to imagine that a man who once claimed on national TV that former president George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people” now pledges his support to a president who claims that there were “very fine people on both sides” of Charlottesville protests.
West’s remarks — while inflammatory — might not be all that surprising. Clark himself says he sees a lot of similarities between the two figures.
“They both became rich and famous by extorting the lower classes, they are both married to exotic women and they both have scores of die-hard supporters that prop them up in the face of well-deserved criticism,” Clark said.
When asked if he believed the criticism would stick to West this time Clark said Kanye’s fan base would forget in a week.
It might be hard to imagine that black people today can experience enormous success, they can still be the victims of racism despite it happening every day in ways that can really only be felt and are too difficult to articulate. Even with so much support from our 21st-century allies and people who understand the necessity of equality and equity, minorities are still the victims of institutional and casual racism.
But expressing the pain of that experience, exposing that reality and demanding better for the nation that we love, does not mean we are trapped in a victim mentality. It makes us Americans who are fighting for a better union.
This is not the first time that Kanye West has been controversial, nor will it be the last. West has made some of the most influential rap music in the world, but in the United States, being black and influential is a unique responsibility. As much as your celebrity status can be used to ignite change, it can also be used to suppress it.
Sometimes life for African Americans can be, in the words of West’s song, “poopy-di scoop,” whether it is from the reality of police brutality to the hidden relics of segregation and discrimination. But I have faith that it will continue to lift itself, without his help.
Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior and can be reached at [email protected].