In Defense of Free Thought: Kanye West

I am not particularly a fan of Kanye, sure I like his music, but never bought an album, went to a concert, or listened to anything other than the singles on the radio. But for transparency I would consider myself a “fan”. Always thought his lyrics were insightful and covered a broad range of topics. I appreciated his perspective, though I thought he was a bit crazy even before this TMZ interview.

I first heard Kanye’s TMZ comment in a written transcript, which was very damning. Reading it on paper I had no way to take it other than literal. In the article, which funny enough was from a conservative news site, the statement was separated from the rest of his interview. That being:

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years – for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years, and it’s all y’all? You know, like, it’s like we’re all mentally imprisoned. I like the word “prison” [because] “slavery” goes too direct to the idea of blacks. It’s like “slavery,” “Holocaust” – “Holocaust” is Jews, “slavery” is blacks. So, “prison” is something that unites us as one race. Black and whites being one race, that we’re one race. That we’re the human race. “

His interview I saw later on Youtube was a short 3 minute clip that also edited him down and ended with that statement then cut to TMZ’s Van Lathan criticizing him. Again with that statement clipped out it is hard not to take him literal. But what confused me was Van Lathan’s response was not about what he just said, it was about representation, marginalization, being a role model. He mentioned slavery, but only to relate to modern black people today, which Kanye’s sound bite sounded like he was talking about black slaves that lived 400 years ago in oppression. I was confused why Lathan did not say outright slaves 400 years ago did not have a choice, it was slavery, death, or become a lifelong fugitive, which to any reasonable person is not much of a choice. I thought maybe he was being polite because Kanye was a famous guest, but he outright said, “you’re not thinking anything” and called him fake, so he could not be holding his tongue. Something wasn’t clicking. Sure Kanye is a bit eccentric, so maybe he was crazy and thought that slaves had a choice, but then I thought it could just be editing and false narrative.

I went and watched the full interview, which is a 30 minute interview. Literally the next sentence after the statement about “slavery being a choice” was him clarifying he does not mean literally, but was talking about people’s choice to mentally let slavery hold them down now. Stating:

“Right now, we’re choosing to be enslaved.”

then talks about a conversation with Ebro Darden where he says,

“You’re choosing to enslave people’s minds, you’re choosing to not let the truth be free.”

Which explains why Van Lathan’s response, 17 minutes in,  was about modern blacks. If you actually think about what Lathen said, he in fact proves Kanye’s point. Where Lathen states:

“the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice“

Here he points out that they have to deal with “marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery”, which is black people choosing let slavery mentally hold them down today. He then misrepresents what Kanye meant by saying “You said for our people was a choice”, taking him literally when he in fact heard him say one sentence after he meant figuratively and with modern blacks.

Also funny he accuses him of being fake and absent of thought when his entire statement was pure rhetoric about representation, marginalization, threats to black lives, and slavery.

I applaud Kanye for standing up and speaking his opinion in a room where arguably everyone disagreed with him, maybe even against him. Standing up for free thought because of the value in it. In the interview he began to ramble and cobble some ideas on the fly after the 8 minute mark, which he admitted openly to clarify not all his ideas are concrete or fully thought out. But that is what free thought and free speech are for. They are tools for each of us to figure out what we believe and what is true. We should express ourselves to either teach someone or get taught when they correct us. Whether or not they agree with us this open dialogue is good and necessary for positive growth. You cannot really get a feel for your ideas if you do not express them and test them out in the world. It is a very scary thing to put yourself out there, especially when essentially everyone already disagrees with you, which is probably why most people would not stand up and say what they think. It is very demeaning when outside parties seemingly purposefully edit and misrepresent your statements, as seems to be the case here. I Think everyone that actually believes Kanye said something wrong or offensive should go and watch the entire interview to see what he actually meant. Also it is pretty entertaining and insightful.

Let me add, taking his entire interview into context, he actually is correct. A lot of people choose to let things hold them down, after a certain point it is your choice to let that burden effect your life.

Frankly, if you are an adult and you are holding on to things from your childhood and letting it effect how you act and live your life, I would say your being silly and need to take some responsibility for your life and seek some therapy to get over your issue. But if you legitimately believe and think that something that did not even happen to you, but your people, hundreds of years ago, has a direct cause in the events in your life today, you are being stupid and using it as an excuse. If you think your great grandfather being a slave is a actual reason why a black kid cannot pass the twelfth grade, cannot keep a job, or had a baby at 16 years old. you are just looking for excuses to cover bad personal choices. These lives will never get better until they accept their responsibility in their decisions in their own lives. If you truly believe slavery 400 years ago is why you cannot do well in today’s society, you are choosing to be enslaved.

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