Dear 'Ye: The Manifestations Of Black Masculinity And The Commodification Of Black Cool In Kanye West

Dear 'Ye: The Manifestations Of Black Masculinity And The Commodification Of Black Cool In Kanye West

By Arissa Hall

Do you mind if I call you 'Ye? I like to think we know one another, as you were an instrumental figure in my adolescence and an interesting bright spot in my journey into Black consciousness. I’m writing this letter today as a sort of finalization of my past loyalty to afrocentric and conscious Black men who have no loyalty to Black women or no understanding of intersectionality.

This is my start to a New Year of intersectional feminism and a politic that honors my social and critical positioning as a Black queer woman and feminist. I would like to address the “old Kanye” circa 2007 and before, as most of your previous fans know that there was a significant change, or we would like to believe so, in our beloved rapper.

I am writing you today 'Ye, as a Black girl from the future who wants to explore your misogynoir*, erasure and willful ignorance. As a Black girl that should’ve known that your Black power was only reserved for Black men, but here I am, brave. Brave enough to recognize White supremacist capitalist patriarchy in Black men and call it out. Brave enough to read you back your own lyrics and make you look yourself in the mirror that you so desperately wanted to avoid.

Dear 'Ye,

You are and have been since you dropped the classic album the College Dropout, the epitome of Black male cool. Boys everywhere from Westminster to West Harlem were rocking polo shirts and Louis Vuitton backpacks, even if they weren’t able to truly afford it. You were our bougie materialistic Black boy from Chicago who was unapologetically Black and unapologetically himself giving the rest of the Black kids something to be proud of as we saw us in you.

You once spit:

"All my niggas that’s drug dealing just to get by/ stack your money till it gets sky high/ we wasn’ t supposed to make it past twenty five/ but jokes on you we still alive/ throw your hands up in the sky/ cause we don’ t care what people say"

Well, I made it past twenty-five proudly, and I’ve seen you go from not caring about what (White) people say, to being succumbed by the White gaze. Now that you care, we don’t know you anymore, but they do. You let your access to wealth and capitalism which was built on the backs of people that look like you, become your gift and your curse. Black patriarchy coupled with wealth and resources that allows you to disassociate from Blackness while profiting from it.

I now understand that you weren’ t exempt from commodification, capitalism and exploitation, but your pro-black materialistic persona was edgy and a divergence from the usual banter of money, clothes and hoes. But I should have known better when I heard a lot of race talk but nothing particular or uplifting about Black women except your mama. I ain’t your mama.

I should have known when you spit this line in "Good Morning” : “ I’m like a fly Malcolm X/ buy any jeans necessary/ Detroit red cleaned up.” (2007)

Barbara Ransby and Tracye Matthews put this commercialization and glorification of "pro-Black” rap into perspective in their essay, Black Popular Culture and the Transcendence of Patriarchal Illusions:

Similarly, the rap music industry, including rappers with exclusively political messages, has enjoyed considerable commercial success. But a careful scrutiny suggests that the more commercially successful an artist are- the ones whose music- like the pervasive images of Malcolm- has been sanitized and diluted, or at least sufficiently jumbled, as to be safe for mass consumption. (1993: 528)

You were safe even with your bravado and swagger, knowing that although you spoke some of that Black conscious shit, your love for capitalism and Alexander Wang would make everyone feel better and buy more. You are patriarchal, but you were no Malcolm. Your transformation would happen for the worse not the better.

You spit: "Even if you in a benz/ you still a nigga/ in a coup” (All falls down:2004) 

You said this line in one of my favorite and beloved albums of yours, College Dropout critiquing capitalism and the anti-Blackness that is intrinsically tied to it. It was a poignant verse because as many of the rappers during that era and still, gloats about their products of wealth, which can be attributed to many of them coming from a low socio-economic background.

But here you are recognizing that regardless of the materialism gained from rappers commercialization and exploitation, they are still Black. And in a world where anti-Blackness reigns supreme, their Blackness is deemed inferior in spite of capital success.

My 14-year-old self loved your simple yet profound analysis on race and capitalism. Something that I hadn’t quite grappled with at that point but knowing in spite of everything, I was still a nigga.

Dear 'Ye,

What ever happened to your race analysis intersected with your analysis on capitalism? I would also ask about your analysis being intersected with gender, but I recognize that your Black masculinity along with your wealth has left you in a place of power that usually excludes Black women instead of include.

Again, I recognize that your Black power was only for Black men.

You began to branching out from the music world and go into the fashion world, allowing your hostility and rage for the lack of acceptance from the predominately White industry to show. You began doing interviews on capitalism and your exclusion being one dictated by an upper echelon and gate keeping that would disallow someone from your nitty gritty world of rap to enter into the posh clean society of fashion.

"It’s not about racism anymore. It’s classism.” You would say in a 2013 interview with The JV Show. This was your reasoning for the exclusion you were receiving, you were a rapper not a designer in addition your spouse was a reality show star, which made you an outcast.

How 'Ye? If you knew better than perhaps you would do better. Because you would know that economic justice and exploitation is directly tied to racial justice and exploitation. Racism and classism go hand and hand. Black people globally get paid less than their White counterparts whilst Black labor is often cheapened and exploited.

Slavery for an example, created the superpower economy of Euroamerica that White people continue to benefit from.

Intersectionalilty, which is a term coined by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, is an analysis of our social positioning from the framework of multiple lens’ such as race, class, and gender would’ve been useful in your class analysis. There can be no discussion of class without the discussion of race, as there can be no discussion of race without the discussion of gender.

But you would soon remember race again, it would be the new reason you were not afforded access, in addition to you being straight in a world filled with White gay men and White women. How ironic. All the Blacks continue to be men and all the women would continue to be White. But I’m brave.

I guess Black girls wouldn’t fit into your plan, Mr. Race man.

Dear 'Ye,

I just remembered you did speak about Black women.

You spit: "Had hair so long that it look like weave/ now she cut it all off now the she look like Eve/ she be dealing with some issues that you cant believe/ single Black female/ addicted to retail”

 (All Falls Down: 2004)

You would only talk about Black women in a derogatory sense going along with the Black rap male tradition. Interestingly enough, your patronizing demonization of the single Black female that is addicted to retail sounds eerily familiar to right wing politics and racists. It aligns with the trope of the welfare queen who is an unwed mother of multiple children while living off of the welfare state.

Who knew your politics can align so well with the people who despise you the most? It is that Black masculinity, innit?

 That allure the privilege of manhood allows you that taunts you with the power of your White male dreams, leading you to subjugate Black women.

Patriarchy at its finest. I will quote Audre Lorde and say, "The master’s tools will never dismantle the masters house.” But I’m not sure if you truly wanted to dismantle the house in the first place.

Ransby and Matthews speaks so poignantly of you and your conscious rap counterparts again: 

That is, if Black power is defined as redeeming Black manhood, and Black manhood is defined uncritically as the right to be the patriarchal heads of Black families, and the exclusive defenders of the Black community, Black women are, by definition, relegated to a marginal status. (1993:533)

 

You continued on your seductive marginalization of us through catchy songs like "Gold Digger” , discussing a woman assumed to be Black as were the women in your video, who dated wealthy men for money. Feeding into more tropes. But at the end you eventually told on yourself.

You spit: "And when he get on he leave your ass for a White girl” (Gold Digger: 2005)

Dear 'Ye,

It seems like you would finally get what you wanted, which is the ultimate prize for a lot of Black men, a White woman. But she wouldn’t be just any kind of White woman this particular one, Kim Kardashian, will have the phenotypic features of a Black woman, a big butt, hips, and lips but it is accompanied by the privilege of Whiteness that affords her success and which one can arguably say is built on her sexual and intimate exploitation of famous Black men such as yourself. Isn’t it interesting that you would have a song about gold digging Black women?

bell hooks discusses this concept of appropriation and sexual exploitation in her essay Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance. She states, "Certainly from the White supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the desires for the "primitive” or fantasies about the Other can be continually exploited and that such exploitation will occur in a manner that reinscribes and maintains the status quo.” (1992)

Kim’s essential eating of the other through ethnic consumption by way of cultural appropriation and sexual exploitation of the hyper masculine primitive trope of Black men is essentially racist. She uses her White womanhood as a tool and a canvas to try on ethnic aesthetics that would make her more alluring and appealing for mass commodification while dating Black men which has historically been seen as taboo, making her more seductive and alluring. These intimate relationships with the other ultimately serve as the stamp of her commercialized exoticism.

You spit: "They see a Black man with a White woman/ at the top floor they gon come to kill King Kong/ middle America packed in/ come to see me in my black skin"(Black Skinhead:2014)

But you should’ve known your Black male cool was up for consumption by your wife and others. In fact, I believe you know.

Les Back in "The White Negro Revisited: Race and masculinities in South London" speaks to the manipulation by Black boys and men of the racist macho myth and ultimately how although these tropes are oppressive, they provide an in for Black boys and men that isn’t necessarily afforded to Black women and other marginalized groups. Everyone wants Black male cool and therefore the holders of the cool is seemed more acceptable when being the semi-purveyors of it. That’s you, Kanye.

Back concludes: Moreover, the processes which result in the "fear” and "desire” couplet have important implications for the partial muting of forms of popular racism, and help to explain why young Black men can win inclusion among young White youths. (1994:181)

Though I disagree, with the idea of muted racism, as White domination is a form of racial subjugation, it is still evident that Black men and boys hold more access due to the meaning and projection of their masculinity.

Dear 'Ye,

And here is the end of my note. It is apparent that you are on the path of your conscious Black forefathers in your patriarchal masculinity, subjugation of Black women and yearning for acceptance from the White gaze.

Though I did eventually give up as a fan as part of my political intervention and practice of self-care as a Black woman, I wanted to let you know about yourself. And that maybe you can actually do better by divesting from the White supremacist patriarchal society that hooks and others speak of, and free yourself.

I come to this conclusion with a heart lighter than I started as I no longer am invested in the idea of the benevolent Black patriarch as they has always disappointed me as a woman.

But I must leave you with this question that is especially important in the times of the Movement for Black Lives and the gratuitous violence being faced by all Black people in the U.S. and beyond; you once said that former President George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, do you?

 

*Misogynoir is a term coined by Moya Bailey and Trudy,