I grew up in a black neighbourhood where people who looked like me were white until proven otherwise. You might have heard that in the United States, there’s something called the “one-drop” rule: the (previously legal, now social) rule that mixed race persons who are Black and White, should identify as Black. But in my neighbourhood, no one seemed to know about the “one drop” rule. I was bullied for listening to ‘white music’, wearing ‘white clothes’, having white heroes, reading white books, and speaking ‘like a white person’. My hair was considered ‘white girl hair’, and I never liked Kanye.
In university, I learned about systemic racism. Seeing beautiful white women on every screen and poster makes beautiful girls with dark skin feel ugly. Go figure. So ok, I don’t take it personally. I may be a “white girl” but I pride myself in not being a racist girl.
Then Kanye West is reported saying he’s a God.
First reaction: He’s a celebrity, he’s just saying things to get media attention.
Second reaction: He has a point. Does anyone believe Bush cares about black people?
Conclusion: Wow. This guy really thinks he’s the best in the world.
After watching some interviews with West, my conclusions were affirmed by his media madness. Then I saw him speak “like a white person” while being interviewed by a white journalist. Then, I saw him speak “like a black person” on a rap radio show.
You can *insert South Park reference here*, but South Park never explained why he switches accents. I started searching for interviews with Kanye, and it became obvious: the great Yeezy isn’t treated like other rich, eccentric celebrities. In front of different audiences, he speaks whichever way gains him the most respect. Kanye West, the God, is subject to racism.
West is among the richest producers of this century, but he was rejected from the high fashion industry and relegated to mass-market sneakers. Meanwhile, eccentric white men like Donald Trump, glide their way through entrepreneurial disasters before running for the 2016 Presidency.
Donald Trumps on with the reputation of a successful business man, even after he claimed bankruptcy on a company that sold steaks out of electronics stores.
This Fall’s New York Fashion Week showcased the Yeezy line of women’s clothing by Kanye, but there wasn’t one high fashion investor who thought he could do women’s clothing just a year ago?
Lady Gaga, who once wore a meat-dress to an award show, was asked to be the Creative Director of a Polaroid specialty line where she made Polaroid camera sunglasses. In comparison, Kanye spent one year and $13 million trying to get into the fashion industry, while making the most valuable sneakers of 2015, but was rejected after “thousands of meetings” with fashion investors. In other words, thousands of meetings and millions of dollars can’t buy you an “in” to the fashion industry if you’re an eccentric black man. But at least we’ve won some room for eccentric white women.
Like most people, I get upset when people compare themselves to Gods. I’m not religious, but I was angry when Kanye compared himself to Michelangelo, Picasso, Andy Warhol and Shakespeare. His delusions of grandeur are reported in pop media often. His ambitious self-comparisons are routinely ridiculed by media.
As someone who hated Kanye, I began to wonder if the media, and myself, were being unfair. Are we not angry that a rich, black musician compared himself to the best creative minds in history? This is where each of us needs to get real about what we’re thinking, and if we’re not ok with saying it out loud, we need to figure out why we thought it in private.
What I pictured when I thought of “creative genius” was a list of famous white men. I said to myself “who does he think he is?” But who should he think he is? A crazy, dumb black celebrity? Saying “who does he think he is?” is saying creative geniuses are white.
Truman Capote, Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Andy Warhol — the best known creative geniuses in the Western world are all, if not mostly, white. The creativity of an artist is difficult to measure while they’re still alive, but this truism holds today. Despite Woody Allan’s reputation as a pedophilic abuser, members of the film industry still value his creative vision. He recently released another multi-million dollar film, Café Society. Should he decide to direct another film, few would hesitate to produce it.
I’ve changed my mind about Kanye. I have to ask (no matter how much it hurts my feminist heart) what would we do without Yeezy? Despite West’s sexist lyrics, it’s still true that black people, mixed people, and some borderline-racist white people have yet to learn that eccentric white men don’t have the monopoly on creative genius. And women can benefit from that, too.
After all this soul searching, I still don’t have much sympathy for Kanye (no more than I have for Donald Trump). But the key word to examine in this article is hate. If everything you say about someone is against them, could it be hate? Because hating the only ridiculous black dude in a sea of ridiculous white dudes: that is racist.
By Sandra C. Hannebohm, @
In the September issue of the Journal, the incorrect version of this story was published. This is the correct one. The Editor-in-Chief apologizes on behalf of The SMU Journal for this error.