I recently wrote an article called, “Harry Belafonte Was Right About Jay-Z.” The article went viral, generating a huge response from the Black community and beyond. A few readers were puzzled when I stated, “Kanye West…often laments about racism but strives to uphold the same materialistic values that help drive economic disparities.” Now, I will explore this more thoroughly.
There is no denying that Kanye West has had a tremendous impact on the music industry and pop culture. From the beginning of his mainstream career, Kanye has been critical of issues dealing with racism and the structures within it. His infamous, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” statement caused a media frenzy and solidified the general sentiments of the Black community during the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.
Yet it seems with more fame and popularity, Kanye’s commentary has shifted from calling out racism because it’s wrong, to calling out racism because he didn’t get a seat at the table. This is the bigger issue.
The distinguished psychiatrist Frantz Fanon addressed this line of thinking in his 1961 classic Wretched of the Earth. In this literary masterpiece, Fanon deconstructed the colonized mind.
“The gaze that the colonized subject casts at the colonist’s sector is a look of lust, a look of envy. Dreams of possession. Every type of possession; of sitting at the colonist’s table and sleeping in his bed, preferably with his wife. The colonized man is an envious man.”
One cannot deny the lasting effects that slavery and colonialism has had on African Americans and people of African descent around the world. In a recent interview, Kanye vehemently states, “We’re all slaves!” I understand him to a certain extent. Indeed, there is a systematic glass ceiling that prevents people of African descent and people from low economic classes from upward mobility. Even when some rise up the ranks, there are still many barriers that prevent them from attaining certain goals because they do not come from a certain class (the old money class). This is where I understand Kanye on the fashion industry. They don’t want him and they never will. He will forever be categorized as “urban,” a description he is desperately running away from because he knows that this is another way of being pigeonholed and prevented from making a significant impact (beyond blackness and urbanism) in the fashion industry.
In some ways it coincides with W.E.B Du Bois’ description of double consciousness:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
However, Kanye has time and time again demonstrated that he is displeased with the system solely based on the fact that he wants a seat at the table. His anger is steeped in envy rather than reform. And this is dangerous because we get away from transforming these hierarchical structures, to unknowingly reinforcing them.
For example, this is evident in his almost complete dismissal of Black models for his runway shows in Paris. He doesn’t seem too concerned about the pains of racism unless it’s affecting his own progress. Instead, he went with the flow and continued to allow for Black models to be denied a chance at equality. He also cheers on fashion brands that are known for their lack of diversity. The fashion brand Céline, was recently boycotted by the supermodel Iman, because of their refusal to hire Black models. Meanwhile Kanye West orders full wardrobes of Céline clothing, attends their shows and sports their brand.
Furthermore, he has a lack of respect for African American history. Much like the N-Word, no matter what way you look at it, the Confederate flag represents the deep rooted oppression of African Americans. In fact, it was used as a tool to remind us of our “place.” After the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling, the state of Georgia started using the Confederate flag as a sign of the good ole’ days.
The painful past associated with the symbolism surrounding the flag and what it represents is no laughing or fashion forward matter. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, about 500 extremist groups still use the cross on the Confederate Flag as a symbol of white superiority. This example is tired and old but I can’t imagine someone wearing a Swastika for fashion. I wonder if Kanye will start wearing symbols promoting the South African apartheid era next.
When Kanye speaks about racism or slavery, he’s not doing it for the ordinary people, but instead for sensationalism. He is using the Confederate flag to generate buzz, no matter how hurtful it may be.
He also has an incessant belief that Paris is the only fashion mecca and it has to let him in. Kanye recently wanted to help the Louis Vuitton brand with his “influence.” They promptly rejected the offer.
Kanye has an obsession with getting acceptance, but not the “colored” kind. When the radio host Sway tried to encourage him to maybe create his own way, Kanye gave the now Twitter famous reply, “ You ain’t got the answers Sway.”
Indeed none of us may have the complete answers to racism and upward mobility. However, given his track record and current behavior, Kanye simply can’t be taken seriously on racism. With every new Kanye rant we are witnessing a public display of internal conflict consisting of Fanon’s “dreams of possession” and Dubois’ double consciousness. Ultimately, he cares more about having a seat at the table with the same people he accuses of racism and classism, than bringing about change.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.
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348 thoughts on “Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex”
First and foremost Kanye is an artist, and as an artist his job is to polarize to elicit thought- within the context of social experimentation he has crossed no lines. Frankly, I can’t recall another person (not just a black person) who’s recently created such thoughtful dialog across the country. This is especially important in the time where it’s a primary goal of media to pretend we are completely behind racism.
He is responsible for elevating the intellectual discourse in mainstream black culture. The other day Jay-Z was interviewed and asked about Yeezus on power 105, and I’m paraphrasing but he said, “It forces you to have an opinion because it’s polarizing and that is the hallmark of progressive art. Some things he got right and maybe some things he got wrong. Now the next person can come and correct what he got wrong. In that sense he’s a pioneer”. Before Jayz and Kanye, this level of criticism was not spoken on mainstream radio about rap music.
Secondly, there are two predominant reasons why the whole baggy-jeans, self-marginalizing “thug” culture is not so popular: (1) the dress code in the NBA, and (2) Kanye West. Hiphop went from empowering the marginalized up to the early 90s to glorifying gangsters, black-on-black crime, self-hate, etc up to the present. Kanye has corrected this significantly, and looking forward, rather than going back to empowering the marginalized, he is taking hiphop to empowering the intellectual, and not the wanna-be-thug.
If he never does anything again for the rest of his life, these are major accomplishments.
PLEASE LETS NOT CONFUSED TALK WITH ACTION. KANYE TALKS A GOOD GAME AND MY DISAGREEMENT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH NOT LOVING THIS BROTHER, I LOVE HIM WHOLE HEARTLY. BUT, WE MUST BE CONSCIOUS OF THE TALKING AND THE ACTION, WHICH FOR KANYE IS SIMPLY A CONUNDRUM…NOT THAT MUCH DIFFERENT FROM JAY-Z. THE TONGUE IS THE SHARPEST OF BLOUNT INSTRUMENTS, BUT BECOMES A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD WHEN PEOPLE LIKE KANYE AND JAY-Z FALL VICTIM TO THEIR OWN WORDS…WE MUST LIVE WHAT WE SPEAK AT ALL TIMES. OK, SO LETS SAY HE GETS AT THE TABLE, THEN WHAT?… ARE YOU GOING TO CHANGE THE POWER STRUCTURE’S MIND…”NO”. HIS ACTIONS ONLY “DEMON”STRATE HIS WILLINGNESS OF SELF-SACRIFICE TO APPEASE THE VERY POWER STRUCTURE WHO’S OBJECTIVE HAS NOT ONLY BEEN TO OBJECTIFY BUT, EUGENICALLY ANNIHILATE GENETICALLY OUR PEOPLE. THE TONGUE MAY BE MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD BUT, THE ACTIONS OF BROTHERS LIKE THESE TWO AND MANY OTHERS ARE VERY REVEALING.
:DEYDANYU NESTA AARUNGAH MONROE
well said, dey.
“All the time” is shall I say …humanly impossible.
Major accomplishments for sure and Kanye’s artistic capabilities are undeniable if not unmatched. Still, that in itself is not an armor from hipocracy and often utter nonsense. He still influences people and I have to agree that his comments on race and actions don’t align whatsoever. So…does he make great clothes and music, absolutely. Is he materialistic and partakes in the brainwashing of our youth, no doubt in my mind. I understand it is hard though and he is a person with an agenda. It is not his job to educate us, unfortunately, it is his job to entertain us. I simply take it with a grain of salt. I look up to him for inspiration but try not to take his statements too seriously since he is in a unique position and will say some unique things that frankly don’t apply to anyone else in the world.
“unmatched” artistic capabilities…….
Thank you so very much. I was having a rough day and needed that.
Now I’m doubled over in appreciation of the art you just created. You sir, are undeniable. If not unmatched.
Reblogged this on Young African Pioneers.
Invokes Frantz Fanon’s most famous work which calls for revolution as the only means of truly eradicating racism. Criticizes Kanye for not advocating reform to allow for upward mobility, and for having the envious gaze of the colonized subject. Doesn’t see the deep irony in holding this position of a liberal “selfless” envy that there might be more opportunity for the possibility of black representation at the colonist’s table.
Time to re-read Fanon.
You missed the whole point of The Wretched of the Earth, and worse you are spreading a gross misinterpretation of his thought.
Jumping on this train and throwing mounds of coal into the fire. Please re-read Fanon or trash the secondary source you used to research this article. Lewis Gordon writes a wonderful secondary source that also highlights the concept of the double consciousness abd breaks down how adding words like “potentiated” to the concept of the double consciousness conversation can extrapolate the nuanace of a sessile concept and that of one in motion.
Goood post. I absolutely love this site. Thanks!
Very interesting perspective. I must say, however, that Kanye understands the importance of getting a seat at the colonizer’s table. One can instigate change at the table of the colonizer and not just outside of the colonizer’s table. It’s not the colonizer’s table that Fanon despises as much as colonized people falling in love with the colonizer and his table. I’m not sure that we can accurately say that this is what has happened to Kayne. I do agree with you, though, that we need his strong public voice protesting the racism at play in Ferguson, Missouri.
You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really
something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely
broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post,
I’ll try to get the hang of it!
Beautiful article – Frantz Fanon inspires me as well as Du Bois. They seem to speak to my spirit from the grave. As far as for Kanye, he doesn’t inspire nor enervate my persona; but, then again I read. Perhaps, we shouldn’t look to these entertainers to define our cause and focus on our plight from the common man’s perspective.
Reblogged this on Legally Suited and commented:
Interesting piece, not 100% sure I entirely agree with everything described but this is definitely an interesting perspective that can be used to understand part of the effects of colonisation and the de-colonising process and the issues now facing all those born into a climate with a history of western suppression. Must read!
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Why are you overlooking the historical fact that America’s racist barriers (structural, institutional and otherwise) are broken by exceptional individuals first? Kanye’s agitation for racial equity and justice is individualistic because he is the exceptional person that can lay bare the racist underpinnings of Black exclusion in his proven field of excellence.
In fact, HE is taking the risk of being an agitator that could (and has) undermine his mainstream popularity and access to resources. There is nothing more revolutionary than risking everything to speak the Truth.
I will skip writing a “that’s the problem with Black people” paragraph.
Maybe Kanye’s methods annoy you. However, when you minimize racial justice issues because you don’t like how these issues specifically apply to Kanye West, you also minimize racial justice issues overall.
Objectively, Kanye is not the Enemy.
You’re speaking gibberish. No where did I overlook anything about America’s racist barriers. This article is about how Kanye laments about those barriers and yet upholds them at the same time when it benefits them. But stay caping Mr Niggas in Paris.
Lmao. Although your a good writer. I fear that you misunderstood this article. What has kanye done to promote change in this country. Every word out of his mind is controversial to promote his own fame. His actions of stupidity also to get more attention. And lets not forget he married a drama queen to further his career. Next time you want to look up to someone how about choosing someone who has more actions than words.
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