With the country’s divisiveness as of late, one thing we all can agree on is that Kanye West is a bit much. Even President Barack Obama agrees.
Once again, the controversial Chicagoan has made headlines for tussling with a paparazzo for his camera outside the LAX airport, because the pap broke Kanye’s golden rule: do not talk to him…ever! Now, ‘Ye may be facing felony charges for attempted robbery. On the surface, this is a classic case of someone trying to get a little cash for his troubles (it’s reported the cameraman also suffered injuries), but from another vantage point, Kanye’s scuffle, along with his other countless antics over the years, speaks to a larger issue.
Black men are under attack in America (and have been since, well, we arrived here).
As illustrated by the country’s division over the murder of Trayvon Martin, men of color remain a much feared species. With that fear comes the burden of Black men having to always disprove the misguided idea that they’re a natural menace to society—a myth perpetuated by the news media and arguably glorified by hip-hop culture at times. The burden of that can be to0 much for some of us to bear, particularly when you consider the stereotypes and systematic trap holes designed to ensure our struggle. Black men are expected to fail long before their first stumble. This country’s social infrastructure was set up that way. It’s as if we have a target on our backs from the moment we emerge from the womb.
Then there’s Kanye West. A multi-millionaire and musical genius, who often finds himself representing just what many White Americans want him to be: the Angry Black Man.
This country feeds off of vilifying Black males, and you don’t have to look far for proof. Just look at the slandering of Trayvon’s character both during and after the George Zimmerman trial, as well as the verbal assaults on President Obama for his recent speech on race. Conservatives, and the like, accused him of instigating a race war, while one looney Fox news reporter called for his impeachment. History tells us that in America, the Black man is the enemy by default—and for Kanye it’s no different.
No matter his status at the bank, in the eyes of the White and privileged, Kanye is just another dangerous Negro in America with no sense of regard for anyone but himself. While his celebrity may prevent him from ending up shot and killed like Trayvon, it doesn’t make him any less vulnerable to the racial wounds this country continues to inflict on Black men. Forget the millions of records he’s sold, his gold chains and lavish trips; no matter how many times he goes to Paris, he's still a n*gger in the eyes of many. No amount of commas on Kanye’s tax return can override the fact that race trumps everything.
You can be sure that many of the White people who sing along to Kanye’s tunes, are the same who are glad to turn around and crucify him like they did when he snatched the microphone from Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Awards. Some may think he’s above race and white privilege because of his social mobility, but he’s just as much of a “New Slave” as the rest of us.
Recent polls conducted by TMZ reveal a majority of respondents agree that Kanye is a “danger” to Kim Kardashian, so dangerous that they deem O.J. Simpson and Alec Baldwin far less threatening. In addition, over 70 percent said that he should be in jail, which isn’t surprising considering America’s remedy to Black aggression is always incarceration rather than reparative therapy, which is what Black men really need.
Yes, we, Black America get Kanye. We understand his aggression is a part of his rugged exterior, one that, underneath all the anger, is a lot of hurt and pain from the loss of his mother, nearly losing his life in a car accident and the complexities of growing up young, Black and gifted. But the rest of America doesn’t get that. When they see Kanye, they see the very same thing Zimmerman saw the night he murdered Trayvon: skin color. And it’s going to take a hell of a lot more to shake America’s rooted bias than a few Grammys and a padded bank account.
Unfortunately for Kanye, in the eyes of far too many people (even some of us), everything he does is a reflection of African-American men. It may be unfair to give him that kind of responsibility, but we live in a country where, as Black men, we don’t have the luxury of doing whatever the hell we want to do. Not when our own are being gunned down for one simple offense: being a Black man in America.
If mainstream America expects the worse from a millionaire like Kanye, what does that say about the rest of us?
It’s a tragedy that in the “land of the free,” Black men like Kanye are still prisoners of the mind. Kanye clearly has a lot of built up rage, but rather than trying to understand him (and Black men in general for that matter), white America sums it up as something to be feared. It’s not a walk in the park navigating this country as a Black man. I cannot count how many times I get stared at by older, presumably wealthy white men in the locker room at Equinox gym when I put on my du-rag after getting out of the shower. I can nearly smell their sense of fear and discomfort. Sometimes I want to snap and say, “No, I’m not going to stick up the joint and steal your prized possessions…I simply want to lay down my BLACK hair so I can look presentable!” I pay the same membership fee as the next guy, and yet I’m treated like I don’t belong…and in turn I often feel like I don’t.
When you’re White and privileged, you don’t have to consider the feelings of Black men. I, and nearly every man of color can relate to Kanye, who is often misrepresented and casted for a role he never signed up for. Kanye may be a lot of things, but one thing he’s not is understood. Can he handle situations better? Sure. As a new father, Kanye has a responsibility to his daughter to be more aware of the consequences of his actions. But Kanye’s macho persona runs far deeper than paparazzi pointing cameras in his face. Sometimes being a Black man in America feels like you’re trapped in a glass snow ball, where the world is constantly turning you upside down, just waiting for you to self-destruct. And when you’re Kanye – perpetually ridiculed by the outside world and harassed by paps all for a quick buck – it’s not surprising that he would lose his cool. Who wouldn’t?
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a freelance writer in New York City and a graduate of Morehouse College and Columbia University Journalism School. Read more of his work on his website, MrGerrenalist.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MrGerrenalist.