Kanye West: Black people’s Natalie Portman

  • Howard Feldman 2018
Kanye West, the African-American rap artist, seems to have placed his well-pedicured feet right in it. “Slavery,” he suggested last week, sounded “like a choice” to him. And then he doubled down and said something about having achieved economic freedom. And intimated that others should do the same.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | May 10, 2018

All this from a guy who is married to Kim Kardashian and just a few years ago, tried to hit-up Donald Trump for a loan of a few hundred million dollars.

The African-American community was, unsurprisingly, not very impressed. In fact, so angered were his followers that there were those who decided that he is no longer black. This is an extreme measure, given that even in the USA this is still not a choice one can make.

Indeed, one might be able to reject the gender you were assigned at birth, but race is not yet in that list of options.

Kanye was branded a traitor and a sell-out, and there were real live threats made against him in a Twitter language that I won’t even pretend to understand. In short, Kanye is having a hard time. And that’s without even considering that he still carries the burden of being married to a Kardashian. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Kanye West is to black people what Natalie Portman is to Jews. Kanye is the ANC’s Makhosi Khoza. He is the Afrikaner’s Max du Preez. He is an insider who speaks out.

And right or wrong, that makes it harder to hear and more painful to listen to. Especially because even if it is an accident of birth, the inside critic carries more weight than an outside one.

It is for this reason that the BDS movement loves Jews who criticise Israel – even if they are a marginalised, sorry lot who could never get anywhere near the cheesecake at the shul kiddush. And even if they were never invited to participate in the inter-synagogue soccer or netball league. Even if their connection to Judaism is in name only.

The reality is that victims of oppression are often blamed for their own mistreatment. Since shortly after Adam, women have been blamed for their own rape. Jews have been blamed for the Holocaust (ask Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas) and blacks in South Africa for their own oppression.

It is also not uncommon for this to become internalised – where women can be misogynistic, Jews anti-Semitic and blacks racist towards other blacks. This week on my morning radio show, I was told two stories of black South Africans who, when working at a bank, were asked by black customers to refer them to a white assistant. Internalised racism.

South Africa is a unique environment in that the victims of racial abuse were not in the minority, as is so often the case. The system was designed to subjugate the majority, and it did so very successfully. The result is that, following liberation, the damage inflicted has significant reach and victims cannot be comfortably argued away.

And whereas the victims of any situation do bear the responsibility of taking steps towards recovery, blaming victims in any way for what befell them is plain and simply not helpful.

The lesson in all this is to look at context and circumstances. It serves no one to be accused of being a sell-out by their own. All it will do is to entrench the position further and create more of a sense of isolation than even before.

It’s not easy, but maybe if we can cut Kanye some slack, we can do that to our own as well. After all, the guy is married to Kim Kardashian.


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