Speaking Thursday on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon took it there, calling Kanye West’s performance in the White House yesterday a “minstrel show.”
“Him in front of all of these white people, mostly white people, embarrassing himself and embarrassing Americans, but mostly African-Americans,” Lemon said.
Others have noted Kanye’s much-discussed mental health struggles to explain what he did Thursday, and what he has been doing for months—embracing a president who led the bigoted birtherism movement and has been using open bigotry and racism, unlike any other modern politician. This is where people have crossed the line. Mental health issues shouldn’t become just another political football. There are plenty of people suffering from mental-health struggles similar to Kanye’s but have not acted as he has. As Kanye himself would likely say, he is choosing to act this way.
It’s wrong when people have too quickly chalked up mass shootings by young white men to mental-health concerns—given that the mentally ill are more likely to be harmed by others than harm anyone—and it’s wrong to give Kanye that same out for his outrageous behavior.
Still, others chalk up what happened in the Oval Office on Thursday to Kanye’s fragile ego never having recovered from hearing the nation’s first black president call him a jackass.
Barack Obama then repeated the charge, saying Kanye “is a jackass, but he’s talented.”
Kanye hasn’t gotten beyond that slight.
“I’m your favorite,” West told Charlamange Tha God earlier this year, referring to Obama. “But I’m not safe. But that’s why you love me. So just tell me you love me! And tell the world you love me. Don’t tell the world I’m a jackass.
“You know, he never called me to apologize. The same person who sat down with me and my mom, I think should have communicated with me directly and been like, ‘Yo, Ye, you, you know what it is,” West said. “I’m in the room and it was just a joke.”
Whichever of those theories you choose, it does not negate another disturbing reality—that Kanye is only doing what too many of us have long accepted from hip-hop artists and other black personalities. He is prioritizing his personal celebrity, no matter the damage his actions might cause. That’s why many hip-hop artists, and other black celebrities, were either friends with, emulated or rapped and sang approvingly of Donald Trump long before Trump became president—even after Trump helped railroad five young black and brown young men into long prison sentences for a rape they did not commit. That list reportedly includes the likes of Russell Simmons, Mike Tyson, Puff Daddy, Don King, Herschel Walker—and even Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Before Snoop Dogg’s recent spats with Trump, he and the New York City real estate developer were friendly. He wasn’t alone. Black rappers have spoken well of Trump since the 1980s.
It was Trump’s supposed swagger that made him so appealing. Never mind his history of bigotry or his awful treatment of women. He was considered a real man because he talked tough and had a lot of bling.
That, by the way, is one of the primary reasons white conservatives I know here in South Carolina believe the charges of racism being leveled against Trump are fake and phony. No matter how many times and in how many ways I detail his well-documented history of racism, they dismiss everything I say and point to old photos of Trump and King and Sharpton and others smiling together like the best of friends.
“How can he be a racist if he has all those black friends?” they’ve repeatedly asked me. “Why did we only start hearing about his supposed racism when he started running for president as a Republican?”
That’s the view from this Black Man in Trumpland. A lot of the things we overlooked and excused are now being used against us.
So let’s be real. Kanye’s embrace of Trump is not the exception among black rappers; it has long been the rule. The same is true of his excusing Trump’s horrific treatment of women because hip-hop too often has done the same.
It should be noted that Jim Brown was also in the Oval Office on Thursday. Brown has been celebrated because of his legendary NFL career and his work on the issue of gang violence—all of which has overshadowed his long history of abusing women.
That Kanye was cool with Brown and Trump—who has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly two dozen women and was caught on video bragging that he casually sexually assaulted women because he was a celebrity—says something disturbing about him.
That we—black men—have been cool with the behavior of such men for so long says something disturbing about us.