Kanye West has decided to write his own history. He claims slavery was a choice.
Kanye West is, in many ways, the black version of Donald Trump. So, it should surprise no one when he is a Trump fan, claiming that the president “is my brother.” Which means that his appreciation of not only the black condition, but also the white condition is passably skewed. West recently made headlines when “he told the entertainment site TMZ that American slavery was a ‘choice.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Choice (in US culture):
The foundation of personal identity, every American’s existential ground zero, the exercise of choice being the key to becoming an authentic human being
West mirrors Trump and other successful people like him who have profited from white privilege but refuse to acknowledge that it exists. West’s privilege, of course, cannot be “white privilege,” but rather belongs to the category celebrity privilege. That is, the attribute of America’s super-elite, those who — irrespective of their ethnicity — have “earned” their status through assertiveness and who have attained a level of wealth that is taken as proof of the value of their talent.
In the tweetstorm surrounding West’s remarks on the choice of slaves and his expression of admiration of Trump, he tried to distance himself from the president with the statement, “I don’t agree 100% with anyone but myself.” Celebrity privilege empowers those who exercise it to impose their opinions as often as they choose. It dispenses them from taking into account other voices. It is enough to agree with oneself, since it proves that someone successful holds the same opinion/
Perhaps West is familiar with America’s very first rapper, Walt Whitman, who wrote, “From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines / Going where I list, my own master total and absolute.”
In his way, Whitman expressed his own version of white privilege (and extreme racism), but also exemplified the young nation’s spirit of creativity. Kanye West would still have trouble with the lines that immediately follow:
“Listening to others, considering well what they say, / Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, / Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. / I inhale great draughts of space…”
Kanye West is both an exemplar and a victim of the consumer society. His career choices made him a celebrity, validating in his eyes the lessons of a culture that stresses individual effort, self-reliance and assertiveness. Incapable of critiquing the culture that made him as famous as he has become, it’s natural that he would see all personal destiny as a question of choice.
my wife just called me and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone. I don’t agree with everything Trump does. I don’t agree 100% with anyone but myself.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
The notion of freedom lies deeply ingrained in the mindset of every citizen of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Initially it arose around the daring, collective creation of a new order, a new constitution and a new government. Free from tyranny, a newly defined people (excluding Native Americans and African slaves) could create their institutions, build new institutions and define their civilization. The US Constitution radically limited the constraints the national government could impose on local governments (states) and on the citizens themselves, opening the doors to their creativity, including how they would manage and discipline their very unfree slaves.
Over time, US culture reduced the abstract notion of freedom to one of choice. Democracy itself now consists of choosing which of two parties will make all the critical decisions affecting the community. Choice thus effectively replaces the creativity of decision-making to define political freedom.
The notion of economic freedom has also been reduced to choosing rather than deciding what to consume. Privately-owned enterprises make the decisions concerning the items that can be consumed. Consumers simply exercise their right of choice.
Kanye West shows no more serious interest in history than most Americans, who have assumed their role as consumers. Focused on the present and future, they pay little attention even to their own past. American are more than ever focused on making a living in order to enjoy the maximum number of opportunities to exercise their consumer choices.
West can thus choose the version of history that suits his personality. He imagines that in any situation people with a sense of their self will choose what they are to become, with the corollary that what they become reflects their choice. That’s the way American society works today, so that must be how it worked in the past. West’s ancestors were lazy and chose to remain slaves!
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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