The Cultural Significance of Kanye West's Comments

The reaction to Kanye West's interview speaks volumes about our culture. If we're honest, sharing an opinion, belief or philosophy in today's world can be costly. We've seen 'regular' folks lose their jobs, athletes stripped of their livelihood, sponsors pull endorsements, and anyone on the wrong side of public opinion dragged on social media. 

 

Kanye West hijacked the collective consciousness

For the past few days theories have swirled about the timing of Kanye's return to Twitter, and his recent activities being a ploy to increase record sales. It's possible. After all, controversy sells, and it wouldn't be the first time someone employed shock marketing for profit nor is it lost on me that attention is the new currency in today's culture.  But, let's set those thoughts aside for a moment. Instead ask yourself, if Kanye West disrupted our regular programming with some good points about group thinking, the tendency to squelch people who bring different views, being free or one's mindset? 

Speaking of slavery or racism is akin to walking through a minefield and very few people can navigate that terrain without setting one off. Kanye wasn't able to bring it all together in a way that others could digest. But, I give him credit for trying to share his point of view. Most of us never would. We wouldn't invite that much trouble into our lives. It's one of the reasons we take (very) long pauses before speaking and contemplate our posts; writing and editing numerous times to avoid anything that could offend. We wait (and wait) before hitting publish or delete.  

 

In proportion to how critical you have become of others, you will recognize the severity of your inner critic. 
— Unknown

You could lose everything you hold dear if the mob cries out for their pound of flesh. So, we spend a lot of time considering if our opinions, beliefs or perspective will be welcomed, tolerated or rejected outright. If the possibility of fallout does exist? Often the things that need to be shared go unsaid and unpublished because the cost is deemed too high. That's the reality of today's cultural climate - hypertribalism and partisanship.

 

A PERSON'S MIND(SET) CAN BE A PRISON

Isn't it true that we all live in our heads? I know I do (way too much). Most people have either read or heard the statistic that 85% of the things we worry about will never happen, yet we expend mental energy torturing ourselves - creating anxiety and fear, questioning our value or worse. To me, that sounds like a prison for your mind. How we perceive things to be, the monologue and questions we ponder and our view of the future; all of it takes place in our heads first. The mind is where we try to make sense of the world.

 

There's a need to master our minds and to understand what we feed ourselves is what will grow. If we worry, we produce more worry. The same is true of the slave narrative. 

 

I can tell you slavery took up a lot of space in my head for many years. Along with tension and anger that lived just below the surface. There came a day when I had to release it because the emotional, physical, and psychological toll was too high. That doesn't mean I let go of the history and respect for my ancestors; those that endured slavery, fought the good fight against it, escaped or died trying, I hold them in the highest place of honor. But, how I related to slavery had to change because it was consuming me.

 

Within yourself, deliverance must be searched for, 
because each man makes his own prison.
— Sir Edwin Arnold

It bled into everyday things, colored the future, and at times my opinion of others. My view of the present day and vision for the future, outside of the context of slavery and racism were (in some ways) malnourished in comparison. It was no small task, but I had to make peace with the past, and the generations of injustice to move forward. 

 

Headlines Change, often

The 'slavery was a choice' story will fade from the spotlight, eventually replaced by something else. There's always a new story. But, I hope we all pause to consider some of the points made in the TMZ interview, not everything said should be dismissed. Your perspective may be different from mine or Kanye West's or the cat down the road. That's healthy. We don't all have to follow the same path or see things the same way, but everyone deserves a place in our culture. We need to move beyond shaming, shouting down, and crucifying each other. Let's leave that behind and start listening again. I'm advocating for uncomfortable conversations, not only with other people groups that have different views, but also within the community of color. The need to come to terms with the impact of slavery, to release anger, to move onward and upward is a collective one.  

Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine his. But, we are both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.
— The Alchemist