09 September, 2005

Kanye West And The Modern Minstrel Show

There.

I said it. Flame me, send me hate mail, whatever.

I'm just skeeved out at all the people who are grooving on his remarks from last week. He said something utterly ridiculous and inappropriate to the venue. Yet Egalia and others go on about how he Spoke Truth To Power (as if the viewing audience on NBC Friday Night is "Power"), rejoicing all the while about how cool it is to finally have the Facts out there.

People who fancy themselves open-minded are warmed by having him pander to their core beliefs with what was essentially a showman's patter.

Someone please tell me how this differs from the minstrel shows from 175 years ago.


1. You have people with a set idea about race and racial stereotypes. In this case, that rich white men don't care about black people.

2. You have entertainers who get on stage and mock those people by using the stereotypes to entertain. In this case a well-thought-of black entertainer who flouts the stereotype to gain approval from the intended audience.

3. You have an audience who is eager to hear their beliefs confirmed in an entertaining and amusing way. 175 years ago it was men in blackface eating watermelon to the hoots and cheers of an audience who believed that was all there was to black people. Nowadays it is a self-satisfied audience who are falling over themselves in their eagerness to believe the worst about white men with money.

18 Comments:

At 2:49 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. His statement was ridiculous and totally inappropriate; and he got exactly what he wanted -- lots of publicity.

Lacy

 
At 3:06 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Muffy said...

It just proved to the world that he's dumb.

I listen to his "music" but I sure as hell do not support what was said. It was speculative and uncalled for.

 
At 6:34 PM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Aunt B said...

Where has my brilliant comment gone? Did you not find it brilliant? Did Blogger eat it?

 
At 8:03 PM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

blogger must have eaten it.

I wish I'd seen it.

I need some brillance

 
At 8:33 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Preston said...

An angle I hadn't considered. Well done and well put. When you hear some boneheaded sycophant say "I agree with everything Kwame West said," just go back and listen to the actual speech he gave. Incomprehensible drivel followed up by an out-and-out lie, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." The fact that it's generated so much support tells you how dumbed down society has become.

 
At 8:36 PM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Sharon Cobb said...

I'll be glad to forward you my hate mail from last week about the Kanye fiasco. Some of it is entertaining.
BTW, did you notice on the concert this evening they had Kanye on a delay? I know this because they had to use it! Other than that, the show was flawlewss this evening.

 
At 8:57 AM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Aunt B said...

I don't know if I can recreate my brilliance, but I'll try to hit the high points.

1. It's precisely because I agree with Preston that I don't think this was about showmanship or publicity. He was rambling and nervous and practically incoherent. To me, that was the behavior of a man who just then decided to go off script and was utterly unsure what he wanted to say, but felt like he had to say something.

2. I remain confused about the critique of him not acting properly. I experienced last week as an utter breakdown in the social order. The people in power, with resources, are supposed to act swiftly and decisively to help people without power and without resources. What more improper thing can happen than the breakdown of that? What could possibly constitute "proper" behavior in the face of that? How does "proper" behavior still exist?

3. He did take his plea to the powerful. The people of America are supposed to be the locus of our power. We're still supposed to have control of this country.

4. I appreciate your point--though, obviously I disagree with it--that Kanye West doesn't know what's in George Bush's heart and those of us who appreciate his sentiment (even if we don't totally agree) don't know what's in George Bush's heart either.

But your analogy fails in two places, I think. One, Kanye West wasn't talking about all rich white people. He wasn't stereotyping a whole group. He was talking about one man--George Bush, who is, ultimately, supposed to be in charge.

The other is that, I think, to conflate any kind of entertainment that is based, in part, on using and exploiting racial stereotypes with minstrelcy really ignores the peculiar pernaciousness of that form of entertainment.

Rich white men can get jobs, even in the entertainment business. Black men are not being paid big money by people who rarely see rich white men to masquarade around as rich white men. Rich white men don't have to paint their faces white and act "white" in order to get the very few entertainment jobs available to them.

To equate the occassional discomfort rich people face when the illusion that--besides having great wealth and power--everyone likes and respects them is shattered to the constant and ongoing grostesqueness of the minstral show is really unfair, I think.

 
At 3:21 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Glen Dean said...

BS. My boss is black.

The reason there are less black people in high paying jobs is because less black people stay in school. Less black people have MBA's and Law degrees. That aint the white mans fault. The reason more black people are in prisons is because a lot of black people commit crimes. That victimization BS is what keeps them from achieving. As long as black people hear that message and believe it, they will continue to be down and they will continue to be the constituency of the Democratic party. That is what this is really all about, keeping black people from achieving so that they keep voting Democrat.

These black singers who run around rapping about bitches and hos and drinking a forty while ripping apart the English language are embarrassments to their race. They are in a effect a modern day minstrel show. You turn on MTV or BET and what do you get, a bunch of clowns making fools of themselves and the fact this they don't have to. They want to embarrass themselves and embarrass their race.

If people in this country, be them white black or whatever, want to know how not to be poor, they should listen to Walter Williams
. Specifically he said:

"Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. If you graduate from high school today with a B or C average, in most places in our country there's a low-cost or financially assisted post-high-school education program available to increase your skills."

He then goes on to say, and btw Walter Williams is black:

"How much does racial discrimination explain? So far as black poverty is concerned, I'd say little or nothing, which is not to say that every vestige of racial discrimination has been eliminated. But let's pose a few questions. Is it racial discrimination that stops black students from studying and completing high school? Is it racial discrimination that's responsible for the 68 percent illegitimacy rate among blacks? The 1999 Bureau of Census report might raise another racial discrimination question. Among black households that included a married couple, over 50 percent were middle class earning above $50,000, and 26 percent earned more than $75,000. How in the world did these black families manage not to be poor? Did America's racists cut them some slack?"

Listen to Walter Williams and black people can get out of the plantation that government has enslaved them in. Listen to Jesse Jackson and the poverty pimps and black people keep dropping out of school, having a bunch of babies, and they stay poor.

That is the truth. Everybody knows it. I am just the only SOB that has the balls to say it.

 
At 3:53 PM, September 10, 2005, Anonymous Sarcastro said...

With all due respect, Glen, you are just the only SOB to cut and paste some Walter Williams quotes.

WW makes for a great source on all things racial. His insights are always controversial, and those who don't know his background want to call him racist. Back when the City Paper ran his column without a photo, there would always be a letter the next day from some panty-wadder, upset about the anti-Black Walter Williams.

 
At 5:09 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Aunt B said...

Glen,

I'm not sure who you're calling b.s. on, but I think it's me, though I don't understand how you think what you've said refutes what I said.

But instead I have just two questions for you.

1. How can capitalism work if there aren't poor people?

2. How often do you watch, say, CMT and think that what you see on there is an embarrassment to your race?

 
At 5:28 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Ahh. B.

It's precisely because I agree with Preston that I don't think this was about showmanship or publicity.

-----

If it wasn't about showmanship or publicity he would have said it over the phone to his cousin Janet. Or in a bar with his friends. Or maybe on a blog. It's naive to assume that someone standing on a stage in front of millions of people is not driven by showmanship.

I remain confused about the critique of him not acting properly.

Re-read Sharon's piece about it. She said it as well as I could and there's no need to retype it. There is a time and a place. That show was neither. Not to mention that it was a spectacularly bone-headed remark to begin with. He may THINK that George Bush etc. He may FEEL in his marrow that George Bush etc. However, he cannot speak with absolute certainty that George bush etc.

How does "proper" behavior still exist?
Because this is a SOCIETY. Proper behaviour is the foundation of that. Without proper behaviour people wouldn't be contributing, donating, taking others into their homes. Did you read that bloviating piece by Tim Williams in LA Weekly, where he blew a gasket about what some suit said at La Paz? The suit was apparently (we have only Tim's word for it) going on about how the people of NOLA were 'zoo animals', that they should be shot, etc. Now, that was SUIT's reaction to the events of last week. If we parsed Suit's behaviour using your logic, it would be just as okay for Suit to say those things as it is for KW to bloviate about Bush.

He did take his plea to the powerful. The people of America are supposed to be the locus of our power. We're still supposed to have control of this country.

Make up your mind. Are the people in power Bush etc. who didn't respond quickly enough or are they the teeming masses in Reebok with Tivos? Speaking Truth to Power is telling your state senator to quit riding the fence or he'll get splinters in his ass. (Me to Dan Quayle in 1987.) Speaking Truth to Power is not standing in front of people on TV and spewing inanities. Otherwise our main social heros would be Howard Cosell and the old lady from Golden Girls.

Kanye West wasn't talking about all rich white people

Not at that moment in time. Which is why I didn't write this piece then. But over the last week, in websites, blogs and that stupid dance track it has been conflated into that. Check the comments section anywhere. Check Kos, Egalia, etc. That's why I wrote this a week later. Because the "power" people have made it about that. About whitie and his ill-gotten privelege.

Rich white men can get jobs, even in the entertainment business

Tell that to Tony Danza.

Black men are not being paid big money by people who rarely see rich white men to masquarade around as rich white men.

Aren't they? Aren't they being paid big money by people who have pre-conceived notions about RWM to make albums about the Great Unfairness Of Their Situation? Aren't there scores of angry people out there forming opinions on society based on the highly-paid black men in the rap business? Have you ever been next to a car with scrawny white teenagers blaring music about the Plight Of The Niggaz? Aren't people everywhere using this to form their own misguided opinions about RWM, up to and including the ill-fromed idea that life is somehow an easy thing for white men? That white men spend all day eating watermelon and still get rich?

To equate the occassional discomfort rich people face when the illusion that--besides having great wealth and power--everyone likes and respects them is shattered to the constant and ongoing grostesqueness of the minstral show is really unfair, I think.

Due respect, I don't think so. I think that classism is the thing that will tear this country apart. It is the racism of the twenty-first century. I think the cracks widen when we fail to understand the basic humanity of one another--rich, poor, black, white, gay,straight. With the hoi polloi cuttin' dance moves to Kanye's stupidty, they think they're scoring points against The Man. In reality they destroy their own humanity by failing to understand others. And that was the crime of the Minstrel Show, and that's the crime of this foolishness.

 
At 5:32 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Glen Dean said...

Sarcastro, I think you meant to say that I wasn't the first person to paste Walter Williams quotes.

Aunt B, Here are my answers.

1. Yes in capitalism there will always be poor people. The people who work hard and get an education never end up in that class though and if they do, they don't stay there long. The problem with socialism and communism is that in those systems everybody is poor.

2. As for CMT, I don't know what percentage it is that I find embarrassing, but there are quite a few.

This is the comment that I considered BS, "Rich white men can get jobs, even in the entertainment business." That pretty much implies that black men can not, which is false.

 
At 5:47 PM, September 10, 2005, Anonymous Sarcastro said...

What system doesn't have poor people? Except for the system where everyone is equally poor? Hey, there's an idea! Let's divide the global GDP by the global population and redistribute the wealth so everyone makes $7,200 per year! Yeah, that would be great.

Glen, no that isn't what I meant to say. What I meant to say is that if you are quoting ol' Walt Williams, then you aren't the only SOB with the balls to address the issue, you would be at least the second SOB. Walt had the balls first. Or you could be possibly further down the list, if the rest of us SOBs who have been using WW as a cornerstone of our socio-economic arguments start taking numbers.

Miss Kitty, the poor beleaugered soul who can't enjoy his chips and cheese dip without frothing at the mouth about someone else's opinion, and their right to state in publicly in La Paz, is Tim Wise, not Tim Williams. The Williams family regrets your error.

As to CMT, the only embarrassment I feel, is when someone catches me watching a Sara Evans video with a stiffy.

 
At 5:56 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

As to CMT, the only embarrassment I feel, is when someone catches me watching a Sara Evans video with a stiffy.

TMI, perhaps?!? 8-p

And yes, sorry. Wise. How aptly named. How could I forget?!?

 
At 5:59 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Poor.

I've been poor. Washing my underwear in the sink of a public bathroom poor. Eating one meal every three days poor. No electricity poor.

Thing is, I didn't blame anyone but myself and I got an education that I just finished paying for, worked scummy jobs dealing with toilets, didn't have sex if I couldn't pay for the birth control (ironic now that I can't get pregnant. Life is funny.)

I'm not poor anymore. I may have financial problems in the future, because there are always years where the crops don't come in. Taint no one's fault and I'm not gonna blame the guy who had a better year for my problems.

 
At 7:03 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Aunt B said...

I'm going to bow out of this conversation after this because I'm taking it too personally. But when I read through these comments, I feel it as a real lack of compassion towards poor people. We can argue about whether or not that's a fair perception, but that's how it feels to me.

And so, when Kanye West says that he doesn't think George Bush likes black people, as he's watching bunches of them suffering on TV--whether or not that's a fair perception--I believe that's how it feels to him.

And when I think of my nephew with his jackass father and his crack whore mom, I hope he'll be able to raise himself above his circumstances. But if he can't, I don't think that will say anything about what he "deserves." And that seems to be an underlying sentiment, that if poor people can't raise themselves out of their hellholes, then they deserve them.

I refuse to accept that. I know that makes me a liberal and even too liberal for the Democrats, but I refuse to accept that people suffer and that's just the way it is.

 
At 8:47 PM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Glen Dean said...

Sorry for my misunderstanding you Sarcastro. I know there are plenty of SOB's out there.

In case Aunt B. comes back. I just want to say that compassion for poor people is exactly what I have. Thats why I hate the fact that government has turned them into slaves. I want them to be free. You know, like a drug addict breaks free from his codependent mother.

 
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