Dear Kanye West


Courtesy of Time

Julia Chang, Print Opinions Editor

Dear Kanye West,

Let’s recap. You claimed that 400 years of slavery “sounds like a choice” in an interview with TMZ. Despite being immediately called out for your statements by TMZ staffer Van Latham, you did not recant what you said, but instead tweeted to clarify, “My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.”

It is not only appalling that you assert and continue to defend your position that it was a choice for slaves to continue to be beaten, lynched, and raped, it is plainly incorrect. Kanye, have you ever heard of Nat Turner? In fact, slaves staged “about 250 slave revolts and rebellions from the 17th to 19th centuries in North America alone,” according to an article by The Guardian. Yet, up until the Emancipation Proclamation, black people were still considered property to most of the U.S. After being subjugated to one of the most vindictive, merciless systems to ever impact America, it is a feat that people even survived enslavement. Slavery was never about the number of bodies on either side; it was about power, something which white people had all of and black people in the South had none of.

More than misinformation, your words emblemize a mindset of ignorance. You are a rapper, a business owner, a self-dubbed “free-thinker,” but as goes along with these things, you are privileged. You sell $1000 sneakers and $500 t-shirts that people flock to buy because your name is etched onto the tags. You are a part of the Kardashian family and the upper one percent. You have wealth, fame, and power. Believe me, I understand you worked hard to earn these privileges. But what is important when you make as charged a claim as you did, what you refuse to acknowledge, is that they have ensured that you live a life that is vastly different from the average person of color’s.

Unfortunately in today’s society, the color of your skin still means that you have been confronted with racial discrimination at some point in your life. However, your words prove that you no longer think about the systematic oppression tormenting most people of color as they seek education, as they interview for jobs, as they grow up in lower-income households. You cannot see that the institution of slavery still has its roots in our country, that black people still face the repercussions of that dehumanization today.

Your celebrity status effectively shelters you from the effects of what you articulated in that interview, but there are real humans out there who now must deal with them. You have delegitimized slavery and, by doing so, invalidated the experience of millions of black people in America. You have blamed the slaves, the victims, for an inhumane institution forced upon them by people who believed a certain skin color demarcated inferiority. Your historical revisionism is the epitome of entitlement, of ignorance, of apathy. Kanye, you cannot trivialize slavery when it does not stare you in the face every day.

I do not mean to say that privilege is a bad thing. You earned your lifestyle, and you worked against odds to become an international icon. But as a person of color, as someone who can relate to a disadvantaged community of people, you can use your privilege to uplift those who do still feel the painful reverberations of 400 years of slavery. You literally and metaphorically have a microphone to your lips. Use it to be a mouthpiece to the voiceless. To quote Van Latham, who spoke with you once more after the incident, “You’ve got to be responsible… Your voice is too big to not be.”

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