After listening to Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech I decided to see if I could find a speech by President Trump on racial issues to do some comparing. While Barack Obama’s eloquent 37-minute speech was filled with compelling ideas on how to come together as a nation, Trump’s 7-minute interview on “the O’Reilly Factor” was loitered with uncertainties, false equivalences and straight up absurd comments (the title was sarcasm if you couldn’t tell). To kick the interview off, O’Reilly asks trump if he believes that there is a problem with race relations in this country. The first thing he does is mention the shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas. While the shooter should be condemned, highlighting this instance when asked if there is a problem in the United States with race relations frames it as if black people are the problem. He uses this instance to push his white supremacist ideology that he espouses through dog whistle politics such as this and ignores the hundreds of years of oppression beforehand in an attempt to shift the blame to black people. O’Reilly goes on to ask him whether he believes that black people are systematically at a disadvantage in this country. “Well I’ve been saying even against me the system is rigged…” While the struggle of being born a white male into a millionaire family in the United States of America must be unbearable, talking about his “struggle” in a reply to a question about black disenfranchisement is an insult to the black community. When asked if whether he believes that it is a problem within the police department that facilitates discrimination towards black people, he responds in a convoluted, clueless manner. “I don’t know.” “It could be.” “I don’t know if whether its bad people, training….” “I think its training.” He then goes on to say he believes that “99.9 percent” of police do an “incredible job,” and that he is a “big fan” of the police. Not only does Trump bring nothing of value to the discussion of these critical issues, he undermines them and often ends up praising the perpetrator as we see not only in this example but in scenarios like the protests in Virginia when he said, “There were very good people on both sides” (The other side were Nazi’s). Make no mistake. He is not genuinely this clueless. Donald Trump is a white supremacist who distorts and undermines racial issues in order to tap into people’s inherent biases to garner support.
Kanye West has been making news lately for his comments that many people are considering to be absurd. In a series of tweets and an interview with TMZ, Kanye has expressed his love for Donald Trump, his advocacy for “free thought,” and that “Slavery is a choice.” While I think that the media is oversimplifying his thoughts in order to bash them even more, I still think that many of Kanye’s ideas are wrong. Kanye’s affection for Donald Trump is difficult to interpret. While I would like to believe that he is expressing a sort of “love your enemy” type of approach, I do not think this is the case. Kanye has expressed that he does not “agree with everything trump says” but he has not been specific about anything in this regard. Kanye proudly touts his red “MAGA” hat in a picture on twitter but says nothing about any of Trump’s policies and makes nothing but vague statements when questioned about it. I believe that Kanye admires Donald Trump in the fact that he likes his demeanor, and the fact that he came from virtually nothing in the political world to becoming the President. Its hard for me to believe that Kanye could actually support what Trump stands for considering many of the politically charged lyrics he’s written in past works, and a comment on the then-president George Bush saying that he “doesn’t care about black people”, but who knows… maybe Kris Jenner broke out the tea cup one night and really did send Kanye into the “sunken place.”
Kanye has vehemently been expressing his advocacy for “free thought.” I think that Kanye is viewing his statements and controversy as a free thought issue, and making it seem as though his comments are revolutionary and everyone who speaks out against his antics are “mentally imprisoned.” I don’t think that this is what the controversy is about. Most rational people would support this concept of “free thought.” What most people don’t support, however, is when someone is supporting a president who uses racially charged rhetoric and is implementing policies that are detrimental to the black community in particular. If Kanye gave legitimate reasons for supporting some of the things that Trump does then maybe people would respect it. But when you post a picture in a MAGA hat and tell the world that Donald Trump is “Your boy”, and give no semblance of an elaboration then yes, you will receive backlash and rightly so.
The most controversial statement that Kanye has offered us recently is the idea that “slavery is a choice.” While I think that this idea is being simplified and misconstrued by the media, I still think that the idea that he is trying to convey is wrong. Kanye is not simply saying that Africans decided one day “Let’s go be slaves.” He is not saying that slaves could have just walked away from the plantation if they didn’t feel like working that day. Kanye is trying to say that slavery is mostly psychological. He is trying to say that if slaves knew their power they could rise up and overthrow the plantation, given their advantage in numbers. This idea completely ignores history. There were many documented slave revolutions and instances of resistance. The question is: what happens after they overthrow the plantation? Organization between plantations is already extremely difficult, and even if a few plantations manage to overthrow and kill the plantation owner, what happens then? Where do they go in a majority white country with a white military enforcing laws that institute slavery? The narrative that Kanye is expressing is not a revolutionary idea. This idea of complacent, docile slaves is a narrative pushed by many on the conservative spectrum in order to frame the black struggle as a “personal responsibility” issue. Kanye being a black man and expressing this idea does not make him a “revolutionary who escaped the democratic plantation.” Prominent figures such as Bill Cosby and Ben Carson have expressed similar sentiments.
The idea that black people HAVE to think a certain way or support a certain party is wrong, and maybe that is what Kanye is trying to get at. Black people are not monolithic. But there is a reason that conservatives generally get less support from black people. There is a reason that Donald Trump is called a racist. That is not to say that black people can’t be conservative or support Donald Trump. But if you are going to express ideas that are viewed by many as having a negative affect on the black community then you need to, as Professor King would say, come with the receipts.
With the recent release of Childish Gambino’s new single This Is America, and last years album DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, specifically the song XXX. I started thinking about how different political music about advocating for civil rights has changed. My first experience with music with a similiar message to these two songs would be Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday which was released in 1939. The songs lyrics are:
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
Don’tcatch you slippin’up (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ’em
In the wake of an incident involving the police being called on two innocent black men by a Starbucks employee, every location of the store will shut down on May 29 for anti-bias training for every employee. This decision, though, has brought people to ask if trainings like this can actually eliminate any bias. While sitting through a couple hours of a company-mandated training might not actually do anything to change the ways of bigoted employees, it does do a couple broader things. First, it makes a statement. A massive, nationwide company is standing up and doing something about racial profiling, and while this might not be much, especially considering police brutality that’s happened outside of Starbucks, it is something. A step. As long as this one-off event isn’t actually a one-off event, as long as other companies and Starbucks itself keep pushing for unbiased spaces and behavior, then there is the chance for actual change to happen. Another thing this does is it introduces accountability. It’s still to be seen if Starbucks will actually follow through on any complaints after these trainings, but these trainings will make it possible for customers or other employees to call out trained employees on their behavior without them being able to say that they hadn’t had that training. This is, as long as it’s enforced, a great step forward for the company. And again, if it is continued by Starbucks and other large companies like it, there is the chance for a larger scale change in how our country operates day-to-day.
The other day, a group of friends and I were having a discussion at dinner that turned into something really interesting and worth talking about. A conversation about language in some TV shows brought up old cartoons, such as the first few years of Disney shorts or really old Loony Tunes shorts, and we found out there are some Loony Tunes shorts that Warner Brothers won’t allow to be showed any more because of how overtly racist they are. None of us really knew how to feel about this. We were, of course, all glad that the company no longer held those views and were ashamed that they ever made these shorts. However, this felt a little too close to covering up history for us to be completely okay with that decision. Yes, having these videos out in regular circulation is probably not the best idea, especially if the company does not want to promote those values anymore, but sealing them away forever sounds like censorship. In fact, these shorts are called the Censored Eleven. We talked a lot in this class about looking at history from a historical perspective and not falling victim to presentism, and this feels to be in a similar vein. Honoring the horrible ways of the past is wrong, but they happened and they should be talked about as having happened, especially because they were wrong. Censoring the bad parts of the past does not help anyone learn or grow, and only obscures the rest of history.