Monday, October 28, 2013

Kanye West's Confederate Sympathizer Tour

Kanye West

David Dennis writes in an article published by The UK Guardian entitled, "It's really hard to be a Kanye West fan at times: The Confederate flag is one of the most racist symbols in American history. Kanye West shouldn't put it on concert shirts, on 25 October 2013 --  It's really hard these days to be someone who roots for Kanye West. On one hand, when he's just being himself, he's rightly pushing against the glass ceilings for minorities and the stereotypes of rap entertainers in America. He's inspirational (sometimes unintentionally) when he speaks his mind or creates brilliant music – or has a grandiose marriage proposal.

But when West really tries his hardest to spark a revolution or "rage against the machine", he often misfires. His latest album Yeezus is an attempt to fight against corporate America and racism, but he falls into contradictions and non-sequitur detours on sexual depravity that didn't garner much acclaim or sympathy. He undermines his own efforts.

Which brings me back to the frustration of wanting to support Kanye West. Two weeks ago, when he vented to the BBC about how the presumed glass ceiling in preventing him from stretching his influence to the fashion industry, it was easy to see the broader issues playing out in his head.

But then he turns around and tries to peddle merchandise adorned with the Confederate flag (and skulls with Native American headdresses on them) to his Yeezus tour concertgoers. The shirts, designed by artist Wes Lang, are provocative to say the least and counterproductive to any revolutionary message Kanye would hope to perpetuate.

Kanye has yet to explain exactly what he was hoping to accomplish with the use of the flag, but he's not the first to try to appropriate it in some sort of ironic or subversive manner. In fact, rappers have been wearing Confederate flags in various videos and album covers for years in attempts to somehow change the flag's original meaning, transforming it into something that goes against its racist symbolism.

There's been a long-standing debate over the Confederate flag and its place in modern America. To some, the flag symbolizes a rich southern history dating back generations. For these people, the Confederate flag is as much a part of the south as shrimp and grits.

For others, though, it's impossible to separate the Confederate flag from a dark history of slavery in America. The Confederacy and its flag also represent a time when half of the country would rather become its own separate country than give up the "right" to own slaves. The Confederate flag is as much a symbol of slavery as it is a symbol of southern culture. Which is why appropriating it is a seemingly fruitless endeavor.

In fact, the idea of appropriating racist symbolism is a worthless endeavor generally. For years, rappers have argued that they're using the n-word to lessen the word's impact, as if there's an offensiveness bank that would eventually run dry after enough withdrawals. This attempt to de-power the n-word hasn't achieved much – I don't imagine too many people laughing off being called an n-word any time soon.

It's probably best to let offensive words and phrases die on their own, as it seems impossible to take away a word's innate ability to offend if said with the proper confrontational intention. There will never be a time when racist, homophobic, or misogynistic words completely lose their meaning. History is too potent and tangible to be able to overlook.

So no matter what Kanye West is intending with his shirt, selling the Confederate flag image is in bad taste and ineffective in advancing any sort of faux-activist goal Kanye is attempting to champion. In the end, West is just profiting off of the circulation of one of the most racist symbols in American history.

Kanye West is pushing the envelope, as he tends to do, with his Yeezus tour – I haven't even mentioned his use of a guy dressed as Jesus to help him rap his lyrics on stage – but he's falling again into the trap of inciting controversy and outrage without a true connection to any deeper purpose.

Using the Confederate flag for shirts trivializes its history and creates yet another morally vapid revenue stream for yet another celebrity. If Kanye West is indeed seeking to lessen the impact of the Confederate flag, he should know that he'll fail. Certain words and symbols will always hurt, no matter how hard and in what manner we try to change them.  (source: The UK Guardian )


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