Dear Mr. Kanye West,
Should you find this letter after your San Jose “Saint Pablo” tour stop, I hope I can ultimately accomplish but one task. I hope that this letter can convey to you, plainly and without any elitist, academic jargon or tongue-in-cheek rhetoric: we, and to quote you, “I mean specifically Black people,” are tired of your bullshit.
I’m not going to lecture you about your violent sexism, your anti-blackness, or the fact that you’ve done all this from the comfort of an elevated platform that rests upon the spine of Black America. You don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve someone who looks like us taking the time to explain to you just how much you’re hurting yourself and those who — like I foolishly did when I was 10, listening to your debut album — hold you in higher esteem than you merit.
Kanye West tonight speaking on racism in America. “Specifically to black people, stop talking about race so much.” pic.twitter.com/HTWlJgdq7E
— Brandon E. Patterson (@myblackmindd) November 18, 2016
I won’t attack your talent as a producer or a rapper, because unlike you, I strive to not be a hypocrite. I have purchased many of your songs, though now I mourn the fact that my money, stamped with the faces of the dead white men responsible for raping our mutual ancestors, lined the pockets of someone who worships their contemporary equivalents so eagerly. It’s not that you haven’t had a significant impact on rap music. No, rather, the problem is just how integral you are to telling hip-hop’s story. You’re a stain on a genre that, like other things dominant culture promotes, perpetuates the very ills that destroy it from within. It’s fitting that a black man has taken a stance so contradictory to what the genre is supposed to be about.
No, you deserve nothing more than to be told exactly how pathetic your last 11 years (and your last two albums) have been. When you went on television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and called then-President George W. Bush a racist for his complicity in the deaths of thousands of black people in New Orleans, nobody told you “to stop talking about race so much,” because unlike you, the rest of us don’t openly welcome our destruction. No, in fact, we held you down, like black folk always do. We defended you even years later, when more and more people started hurling words like “arrogant” and “classless” in your direction after run-ins with Taylor Swift. And nobody told you that your last work, The Life of Pablo, sounds and feels like a Coloring Book first draft. You honestly deserve to know both.
See fam, the thing is, lots of black kids came up listening to your first three albums. For those people, who were told they had “smart mouths” or were told were too arrogant, watching you endorse the candidate who ran on a platform of violent white nationalism is odd. It is perhaps less jarring considering you’ve been clear about your love of whiteness and your desire to nurture it as you reject the testimonies of people who look more like Donda and less like Kim.
Donald Trump, the candidate (and now president-elect) who unmistakably resents everything that you represent and embody, is supported by the white skinheads who think so little of you that the little song you made of the same title now reads less like any kind of subversion and is much more apparently the desperate plea for acceptance that it is.
To be honest, none of this is even newly covered territory. Scores and scores of black women have gone — as they unfortunately almost always do — unheard and ignored. But they’ve been telling you your shit has been stinking for quite some time. Were it not for the pervasive, seemingly immortal existence of misogynoir (okay, I lied, there’s some academic jargon) that you, and I, and all the other straight black guys too wrapped up in ourselves for our (or anyone else’s) own good contribute to, a lot of grief could have been saved.
So this is me, a black man refusing to shield you from accountability by claiming that you don’t “belong” to Black America and that we erroneously expected that you “spoke for” us. I would suggest you take your own advice and simply accept the fact that as a highly visible, impactful black person in the United States, you don’t get to simply belong to yourself, and you are (for reasons that you ironically don’t place much stock in) representative of more than yourself, were it not such stupid f*cking advice. The outward defiance to authority and the status quo that you personally championed on the very first song on your very first album is the same authority and status quo you have been bowing and scraping in deference to for the last decade. You’re scared like we all are, but unlike the rest of us, you have abandoned the only people who ever cared enough about you to even consider defending you worthwhile. This is why Jay-Z and Beyoncé don’t want to be bothered with you.
I don’t care if I sound bitter; perhaps I am. Perhaps I should have been too jaded, too aware of all the terrible things black men have done to other black people since time immemorial, but again, when you went on television and nervously said what the rest of us had been thinking for days, 11-year-old me just saw another black kid unafraid to be loud, so long as he was right. Now that moment clearly stands as more about your need to be right, so that you can always be loud. I won’t bother to eulogize you, because I know how much you hate endlessly focusing on things that don’t matter. You aren’t a god, or the president, or even someone I necessarily care to hear from when it comes to issues of identity. (After all, we can still rely on the counsel of the great and wise Ja Rule.) No, Mr. West, you’re just a black guy who, like me, as different as we are, lives in a country that was founded and continues to operate on our oppression.
What I will do, however, is correct the fallacy that your hypothetical support of Trump — this is all hypothetical, since you chose not to vote in the first place — wouldn’t mean that you implicitly don’t think black lives actually matter, or that women’s civil and reproductive rights are important, and if you can’t see that, you don’t deserve to have it explained to you. Which, truth be told, is difficult, because I don’t believe in not taking the time to educate members of our community — I just don’t think that community should include you anymore.
Sincerely (hoping Hedi Slimane continues treating you like the help),
Miles Johnson is a writer from DC. His published work can be found at blackandoutside.com, and the rest of his (mostly) coherent thoughts at @blackandoutside across all major platforms.