So I wrote about Beyoncé’s “Formation” video a couple of weeks ago and got an overwhelmingly positive response from a surprising number of readers.
And it felt amazing because I’d never gotten so much attention for my writing or been told by so many people outside of my actual circle that they enjoy what I do.
Still, as my boyfriend says “haters gon’ hate,” and I got one commentator that had to make the point that a “white girl’s anthem” or “White Lives Matter” movement wouldn’t be tolerated in American society. That there is a double standard.
To which I responded–
1– The song is written from the first person POV–she uses “I”–so if “Formation” is a bigoted anthem then so is fucking “Roar” by Katy Perry or “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift;
2–Nowhere in the song does she degrade, deride, or even discuss white people, so even if it were an official anthem, so what? It’s not inciting black people to do anything but appreciate their hair, noses, Southern roots, and cultural customs a bit more and pursue material success as a means of social aspiration, i.e. the American Dream. There’s nothing morally wrong, criminal, or discriminatory about that; and
3–Since white people have hegemonic power over the US, and their legitimacy as citizens of this country has never been in question (as all the Constitutional framers were white men), then the banner “white lives matter” could only reasonably be perceived as saying “(only) white lives matter.” Its superfluity makes it a statement of exclusiveness.
(The only reason there is a #blacklivesmatter movement is because black people have been systematically devalued as human beings since being trafficked to America back in 1619. It comes out of the compulsion to “remind” people that we are in fact citizens of the United States, and entitled to the same rights as all other citizens that are not black, since we’re being shot in the streets for crimes like selling loose cigarettes and playing with toy guns of playgrounds (neither of which are punishable by death according to the law). Nobody needs to campaign about the importance of white lives because white people are the majority in America and hold the most political and economic power. They’re the only ones in the position to oppress others; no other race can oppress them. So they don’t need to protest to anyone about how they shouldn’t be unlawfully murdered or profiled by police or have their churches burned down in the night or be negatively sterotyped in the media or made the object of exclusionary housing laws, I could go on and on. White people don’t have to tell anyone that they matter because the powers that be are white and pretty consistently work to preserve their lives, protect their bodies, and ensure their rights. The question of whether or not they are worthy human beings is never begged on a large scale in our culture; no one ever questions whether they “deserve” to, say, be the President or whether they got into college on their own merit. Most white people assume that other white people are worthy people. And if the racially-based occurrences that we see in the news are any indication, then white people DON’T assume that black people are worthy people. So we say to you all: #blacklivesmatter. Whether you want them to or not. Whether you like it or not. Whether you like us or not. )
Then I rather confidently blew on my smoking index finger.
But the comment still got me thinking about Americans and all the false analogies we throw around about race.
It got me thinking about the actual double standards that govern our perceptions and help to perpetuate so much of the misunderstanding between the races.
It, weirdly, brought me around to Kanye and Donald Trump.
Not directly–but still–let me explain.
Donald Trump is white. Cis. Straight. Baby Boomer. New Yorker. Father was a real estate developer. Went to Fordham and Wharton. Graduated with a worth of $200,000 (*coughprivilege*). Joined his father’s firm Elizabeth Trump & Son right out of college (*coughnepotism*). Built himself over the next 40 years, through real estate investing and “entertainment,” into the institution we see now, running for President.
He has built his campaign and political persona on what he and his supporters label as “telling it like it is,” and even though a large segment of the American public appears to think he’s not qualified to be the next President, and may even be a bigot, he has enough legitimacy in our society to be the front-runner for the Republican presidential candidacy.
This–despite the fact that he has jumped back and forth between political parties since 1987 in a most opportunistic fashion (Democrat up until 1987; Republican 1987-1999; Reform Party 1999-2001; Democrat 2001-2009; Republican 2009-2011; Independent 2011-2012; Republican 2012-now).
Despite the fact that he was fired from the TV show he created (“The Apprentice”) in 2015 for his controversial remarks against Mexicans.
Despite the fact that he said Mexicans “[bring] drugs . . . crime [and] rap[e]” to America.
Despite the fact that he has called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Despite the fact that he has called Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Press, a “dummy”; Megyn Kelly of Fox News a “bimbo”; Ana Navarro of CNN a “flunkie”; Clare O’Connor of Forbes Magazine a “dummy,” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post “one of the dumber bloggers,” and global warming a “total hoax,” and he has claimed that the American people “know nothing.”
Despite the fact that he’s been married three times, and Wife Number Three once posed for British GQ on a fur rug in Trump’s private jet butt-naked in a diamond necklace.
He is still treated like a serious contender in the presidential race. He is still regarded as someone that could potentially run our country.
Kanye is black. Cis. Straight. Gen X. Migrant Chicagoan (via Atlanta, Georgia). Father was a photojournalist. Mother was a professor and department chair (English). Started writing poetry at 5. Started rapping and recording at 13. Started making beats at 15. Got his first musical production credit at 19. Won a scholarship (*coughmerit*) to the American Academy of Art in 1997. Studied English at Chicago State University (maybe a little nepotism here–Ms. Donda was the head of the English Department). Dropped out of Chicago State at age 20. Produced on The Blueprint (Jay-Z) in 2001. Broke through into mainstream culture. Survived a near-fatal car crash in 2003. Put out his debut album The College Dropout in 2004.
Still, even though he willed himself into existence as a celebrity and icon through creativity, work, and sheer confidence–he is a high achiever, artist, businessman, husband, and father–Kanye is regarded as “crazy.” He has been literally called a “fool” in news headlines, and even the President called him a “jackass” in an interview.
People regularly speculate in the media that he has a mental illness and depict him as everything from a traitor to the US (for saying that George W. Bush didn’t care about black people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina) to a sexual assailant for disrupting Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech in 2009 and calling her a “bitch” on his new album “The Life of Pablo.”
With six Grammy awards and five Billboard awards, he is perceived as a joke. A punchline. A one-man minstrel show.
Now–I don’t condone a lot of what Kanye does. I think it’s in extremely poor taste and insensitive to both his wife and ex-girlfriend Amber Rose when he makes disparaging comments about Amber Rose in the press. I don’t think he should be making profane and/or sexual lyrics about Taylor Swift. I don’t necessarily think it was appropriate for him to disrupt Taylor’s speech, although I think his claim that Beyoncé’s video was much more deserving of that award at that time was correct. I don’t think it was necessary or kind for him to say that Beck didn’t deserve his Grammy win last year.
I’m not saying Kanye is a “normal” guy or the grandiose claims he makes about his level of talent or the range of his abilities aren’t off-putting and/or narcissistic.
What I am saying is–or rather what I am asking is–how is Kanye so different from Trump? Why is Trump taken more seriously than Kanye?
Trump has had multiple business failures. He’s made multi-million dollar mistakes in what is supposed to be his area of expertise. He’s had bankruptcies and foreclosures.
He’s so painfully out-of-touch that he actually said that starting out in life with “small loans” of $1 million from his father and $1 million from his grandfather was tantamount to starting from the “bottom.”
He has that ridiculous hairstyle. He insults people like a five-year-old. He obviously has problems with maintaining intimate relationships. He even once claimed he’d date his own daughter if she weren’t his daughter because she’s so good-looking.
He has also said things that made him sound, alternately, like a xenophobe, homophobe, and flat-out asshole on the journalistic record and repeated many of them multiple times when pressed about them. He’s verbally gone after every one from Rosie O’Donnell to Whoopi Goldberg to President Obama.
Yet he’s respected enough in our culture to be a presidential hopeful. Let that sink in. A viable candidate for the fucking presidency.
And all Kanye wants to do is make sweatshirts and records, and people skewer him in the press like his antics are single-handedly responsible for sending this country to hell in the hand-basket. He’s “psycho.” He needs “help.”
That is a double standard. Right there. Where the white man’s “individuality” is the black man’s “illness.” Where the white man’s “honesty” or “opinion” is the black man’s “insanity” or “blasphemy.”
Where the white man’s “confidence” is the black man’s “delusion” about who or what he is and he can do.
When Dave Chapelle went on “Inside the Actors Studio,” he talked about all of the people calling him “crazy” in the media after he left his show on Comedy Central. He said calling someone “crazy” is the worst thing you can do because it’s dismissive. It ignores what might actually be motivating the person’s behavior, and it measures his or her behavior by your lack of understanding, not necessarily its lack of logic or causality.
None of us knows what goes on behind closed doors–behind the curtains–in show business. We don’t know what people have said and/or done to Kanye. We don’t know what might have happened to him physiologically and psychically after that car accident or the loss of his mother or anything that’s ever happened to him.
He might very well be mentally ill. But he’s also incredibly talented. And he makes no less sense than Donald Trump and a score of other white male celebrities that are given a ton more respect than he gets.
And this is not an encomium to Kanye because he’s not a personal favorite of mine. I like some of his songs, but I don’t like the things that I’ve read about the way he treats women or the things I’ve heard him say in interviews about Amber Rose, who is a personal favorite of mine (sue me).
But I write all of this to say that there is a huge double standard in America when it comes to race. That black people regularly get vilified for things for which white people do not get vilified.
That black people are almost always laboring against a pervasive perception that they are in the wrong.
And that is why we have and need a Black Lives Matters movement.
Because when people assume that you are in the wrong, they never pause to think about whether or not they are right to punish you, castigate you, block you, ban you, dismiss you.
They shoot first and ask questions later.
You die for being in the wrong skin, at the wrong time.