I have several problems with Mr. Coates recent piece on Kanye West, starting with the title: “I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye.” First, after a little searching, I couldn’t find a single instance where Mr. West actually said such a thing. In effect, Mr. Coates put those words in Mr. West’s mouth, so it’s not West saying it. Rather, it’s Coates who is saying that Kanye isn’t black. It’s not a good start when the very title is dishonest.
I’ve seen this kind of othering before, and usually it applies to black conservatives. When African Americans hold certain political views, they’re no longer black or they’re traitors to their race, as deemed by the black liberal establishment, and it’s been going on for awhile. I remember when Clarence Thomas was depicted as a far right lawn jockey over two decades ago.
And here’s the subtitle to Mr. Coates’ essay: “Kanye West wants freedom—white freedom.” I have issues with that, too, but I’ll get into that later.
The second problem I have was Mr. Coates’ desire to deify Michael Jackson and Kanye West, in part because of the color of their skin. It’s a little interesting that Coates would use the term God–with a capital G no less–in his reverence for two popular and successful musical artists, because Coates is an atheist. This reminds me of an essay by the late Michael Crichton on environmentalism, but is applicable to atheism, liberalism, communism and other isms.
I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.
People gotta to believe in something. In that vein, I think Mr. Coates put his faith in the wrong people. Jackson and West are just men, with all the faults and sins and poor decisions and problems that come with the human condition. Maybe that’s why this SNL sketch has some humor in it.
Coates’ final paragraph also rankles:
It is often easier to choose the path of self-destruction when you don’t consider who you are taking along for the ride, to die drunk in the street if you experience the deprivation as your own, and not the deprivation of family, friends, and community. And maybe this, too, is naive, but I wonder how different his life might have been if Michael Jackson knew how much his truly black face was tied to all of our black faces, if he knew that when he destroyed himself, he was destroying part of us, too. I wonder if his life would have been different, would have been longer. And so for Kanye West, I wonder what he might be, if he could find himself back into connection, back to that place where he sought not a disconnected freedom of “I,” but a black freedom that called him back—back to the bone and drum, back to Chicago, back to Home.
This is nothing but tribalism, and anything in support of Trump means excommunication from Coates’ liberal melanin-infused tribe. The Atlantic writer didn’t just question Kanye’s judgment (I don’t agree with Kanye’s support of Trump either), he went an unnecessary step further and questioned his race, that somehow West is only free when ascribing to Coates’ version of “black freedom”.
I don’t know Kanye at all, but I’m sure the man is reminded of his skin color every time he looks in a mirror. Maybe Mr. Coates needs to do what Kanye does (no, not support Trump), which is to not look at every single issue in American society through a racial prism all the time.
Ben Shapiro has a similar observation, finishing with this:
In attacking West in this fashion, Coates actually proves West’s larger point. West argued that he was an individual, capable of making individual decisions and thinking individual thoughts; he argued that there were many Americans who wanted to box him in, deliberately prevent him from thinking outside that box. Coates’ response: Stop thinking outside the box, or I’ll call you white.
It’s not West who’s got a hidebound view of freedom. It’s Coates, whose view of freedom is ethnic loyalty — ethnic loyalty apparently defined by willingness to fight more traditional definitions of individualism and freedom on behalf of a racial collective.
And Ben Shapiro reminds me of a piece by Bari Weiss (and worth a full read), because she identifies Shapiro as one of the “renegades of the intellectual dark web” and it points to a larger issue:
Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”
I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.
Today, people like them who dare venture into this “There Be Dragons” territory on the intellectual map have met with outrage and derision — even, or perhaps especially, from people who pride themselves on openness.
It’s a pattern that has become common in our new era of That Which Cannot Be Said. And it is the reason the Intellectual Dark Web, a term coined half-jokingly by Mr. Weinstein, came to exist.
But they all share three distinct qualities. First, they are willing to disagree ferociously, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject: religion, abortion, immigration, the nature of consciousness. Second, in an age in which popular feelings about the way things ought to be often override facts about the way things actually are, each is determined to resist parroting what’s politically convenient. And third, some have paid for this commitment by being purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought — and have found receptive audiences elsewhere.
If Kanye were considered an intellectual, then maybe he’d also be a member of that dark web for his so-called heresies, and Ms. Weiss’s piece has a Kanye reference.
But as the members of the Intellectual Dark Web become genuinely popular, they are also coming under more scrutiny. On April 21, Kanye West crystallized this problem when he tweeted seven words that set Twitter on fire: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.”
Candace Owens, the communications director for Turning Point USA, is a sharp, young, black conservative — a telegenic speaker with killer instincts who makes videos with titles like “How to Escape the Democrat Plantation” and “The Left Thinks Black People Are Stupid.” Mr. West’s praise for her was sandwiched inside a longer thread that referenced many of the markers of the Intellectual Dark Web, like the tyranny of thought policing and the importance of independent thinking. He was photographed watching a Jordan Peterson video.
Mr. West is a self-obsessed rabble-rouser who brags about not reading books. But whether or not one approves of the superstar’s newest intellectual bauble, it is hard to deny that he has consistently been three steps ahead of the zeitgeist.
So when he tweets “only freethinkers” and “It’s no more barring people because they have different ideas,” he is picking up on a real phenomenon: that the boundaries of public discourse have become so proscribed as to make impossible frank discussions of anything remotely controversial.
Maybe that’s where Kanye has come up with his dangerous ideas. I just saw Ms. Weiss on Morning Joe, and Dr. Eddie Glaude tried to pick a racially-tinged argument with her. She held up pretty well. I dare say that if NYT employees try to oust her like The Atlantic folks did with Kevin Williamson, she could easily land in a place like the IDW if she wanted.
Update: About this “white freedom” that Mr. Coates talked about, David French says it as good as anyone;
And what is white freedom? The definition may surprise you:
freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, p*ssy grabbers, and f**k you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas.
Look at the list above. It’s a laundry-list indictment of American history, with every single negative characteristic attributed to whiteness. Moreover, it describes a “freedom” utterly alien to virtually every white person living in the United States. It’s reductionist, and it’s wrong.
Where to begin? He can’t truly believe that white people live without consequence or criticism. Does he not now know how many of his fellow citizens, though white, are struggling immensely, dying deaths of despair at such a rate that it’s decreasing American life expectancy? Does he not understand that for each terrible movement he identifies, there was white opposition — sometimes white opposition to the point of death?
When Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment faced William Oates and the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment on Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, which white man was exercising “white freedom”? And when he talks of the “rape buttons” and the other hallmarks of #MeToo, does he not remember Bill Cosby and Russell Simmons?
P.S. For the record, I didn’t realize I had 23 Kanye songs in my iTunes library. Most of them aren’t bad, but none are in my Top-Rated playlist. It’s just not my favorite kind of music.
In checking out Coates and West, I couldn’t help but notice their similarities. Coates’ dad was a Black Panther, and so was West’s. They’re roughly the same age, they grew up in urban settings, and neither grew up in a traditional nuclear family. Coates’ dad had seven kids with four different women. West’s parents divorced when he was three.