Kanye West represents: The “Can’t Tell Me Nothing!” Culture of America
May Day of 2018 brought another Kanye West controversy. While being interviewed on TMZ the rapper made statements that were meet with surprise, anger and in some cases strange agreement regarding African Americans during the 400 years of chattel slavery.
“When you hear about slavery for 400 years ... For 400 years? That sounds like a choice." The rapper went on to add: "You were there for 400 years and it's all of y'all. It's like we're mentally imprisoned.”
The statement caused quite the uproar and ruckus. Other celebrities responded to West, and many Black and non-Black people, fans and otherwise, reacted negatively to Kanye’s statement. Oddly, there was a union of; radical right-wing Blacks and Whites, Faux Afrocentric influenced Blacks and a whole bunch of people who feel that the villain Killmonger’s speech in the 2018 Marvel Black Panther movie somehow agreed with Kanye’s willfully ignorant ramblings. Surprisingly; to any person who understands the basic history of the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of chattel slavery in the Americas and specifically the United States, people began to debate actively in tacit agreement with West. There were 3 arguments being made concurrently:
The Radical Right Wingers: That Kanye was using hyperbole to speak about the “Democratic Party plantation that Blacks are part of;
The Faux Afrocentric Blacks: That Kanye was referring to mental slavery; &
The I watched Black Panther “the Edutainment woke” crew: That Killmonger (The Villain) was right, and the Africans should have just fought and jumped off of / or taken over the ships.
These arguments have been going back on forth on social media and at the water cooler over the last week. And of course, people are holding on to these positions in spite of facts. I have addressed each of these arguments often, however; I will surmise those counter arguments here.
Living in the Chicago land area, I have seen the City of Chicago and Cook County have Democrat dominated governments over the last 50 years since the Civil Rights movement. African Americans have voted staunchly for the Democratic candidates for local, county, state and federal elections. Part of the reason for this loyalty to the DNC is that while Blacks were Republican after the Civil War, as the Southern Democrats became Republicans from WWII through the Civil Rights movement and opposed the Civil Rights movement African Americans left the GOP. At the same time, Democrats like FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ championed the equal rights of Black people in various ways, which helped Blacks became increasingly Democrat.
Compounding these facts, was the reality that the Republican Party began to cater to disenfranchised Whites, some who opposed Civil Rights for Blacks and some who simply felt abandoned by the DNC who shifted from being the party of labor to the party of identity politics. The DNC looked at the model of the Civil Rights movement and used that pattern to create a coalition that became their base that focused on issues regarding race, gender, sexual orientation and later sexual identity. While the Democrats took the lead on equal opportunity legislation, over the 50 years from the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the reality in predominately Black cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit, the Black community for the most part have faced higher unemployment, less economic opportunity, higher crime rates, poorer schools, etc. In spite of these outcomes, Blacks remained committed to the DNC. This many talking heads on the right use as examples of the “Democratic Slave Plantation.”
At first glance that argument looks valid; however, the greater problem is the fact that the Black portion of the electorate, often the majority in these communities, isn’t holding who it elects accountable. Seeing as this is reflective of a sociopolitical problem in the larger American community, it is not logical to assume for the sake of the argument of the Right, that Blacks voting for Republicans would yield any different results. So much for the “Democratic Slave Plantation” argument. Moving on to the “Mental Slavery” defense of West’s ridiculous statement.
This is where the so-called “faux Afrocentric woke” crowd kicks in with their nonsense. Trying to project their ideas of Blacks being held in Mental Chains as if those could have been arbitrarily broken. The fact is that Africans were brought here in physical chains, but remained bound by physical, psychological and emotional chains as well. It can be argued that modern African Americans bear the scars from these bindings till today. To the original point, the “woke” ones tend to project that Kanye meant in his statement that he meant “choice” as if they “chose” to remain in the mental chains. They state West was just using his "free" (unchained) thought to forward this idea.
That idea is not free thought, it is lazy thought. If someone is under mental chains, then it is a form of collective brainwashing, and damn sure is not so easily shaken by “choosing” to not be shackled. Worse yet, it is an insult to our ancestors who did endure that and still had force of mind to fight for and want better for their descendants. I would encourage people who think like this to read Dr. Nai’m Akbar’s book: Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery
Moving on to the “Edutainment Woke” crowd. This is the “I would do like Killmonger said in the Black Panther move did” crowd.
This thinking betrays a serious willful ignorance when it comes to the realities of chattel slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. And actually, illustrates the point of the “Cant Tell Me Nothing” culture that Kanye represents. After Kanye’s statement that slavery was a choice, and after the justifiable rebuke that he received from a significant portion of the Black community, this “Killmonger” crowd went on to defend West and his statement by saying that Kanye meant the same thing as Killmonger did, that they should have died, jumped off ships as opposed to submit to slavery. This exemplifies when people exchange actual knowledge for pop culture feel good quotes. Wakanda, and the story of Black Panther, while entertaining and inspiring as works of fiction and fantasy can be, is a fictional story. While the point that Killmonger made facilitated powerful imagery, it reflects a truth wrapped in revisionism. The TRUTH is quite easily found:
"Conditions on board ship during the Middle Passage were appalling. The men were packed together below deck and were secured by leg irons. The space was so cramped they were forced to crouch or lie down. Women and children were kept in separate quarters, sometimes on deck, allowing them limited freedom of movement, but this also exposed them to violence and sexual abuse from the crew.
The air in the hold was foul and putrid. Seasickness was common and the heat was oppressive. The lack of sanitation and suffocating conditions meant there was a constant threat of disease. Epidemics of fever, dysentery (the 'flux') and smallpox were frequent. Captives endured these conditions for about two months, sometimes longer.
In good weather the captives were brought on deck in midmorning and forced to exercise. They were fed twice a day and those refusing to eat were force-fed. Those who died were thrown overboard.
The combination of disease, inadequate food, rebellion and punishment took a heavy toll on captives and crew alike. Surviving records suggest that until the 1750s one in five Africans on board ship died."
This is actual historical record, a record that paints a real picture of the horrors of those ships. And even with this horror there were slave rebellions on the boats and people who took opportunities to fight or jump off ships, when the opportunity presented itself. The thing is that opportunity didn’t present itself often. And that is what these pseudo-intellectuals refuse to acknowledge. It is a bit of hubris for them to assert what “they would have done” not acknowledging the actuality of the situation that our slave ancestors endured. In their minds, they reject facts in order to believe they would have done this, that or the other thing and escaped or died by jumping off ships. This underlines the ridiculousness of the clearly expressed opinion of Kanye West that by simply “choosing” to not escape the physical, psychological and emotional chains and restraints that held our ancestors, that they chose to be slaves. Which brings us to the whole premise of the “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” culture.
Cleary, this “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” culture is not limited to African American culture, this is and has been a problem in greater American culture. Books like: “Anti-intellectualism in American Life” by noted historian Richard Hofstadter and “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why…” by famed academic Tom Nichols, discuss the reality of the American proclivity to shun intellectuals; and how this reality is being multiplied in todays information rich society. Ironically, the incredible and almost limitless access to information today is a blessing but also a curse. Modern Americans have cellphones and tablets that have access to the collective information of humanity that has been accumulated since ancient Mesopotamia. Because people have access to information without being taught the skills of being able to discern and divide credible sources from fake or to assimilate and apply the knowledge to gain a true understanding of the subject they are researching, everyone thinks they are a google search away from being an expert. And, the people who spend 8 to 12 years dedicating themselves to understanding specific disciplines simply have an opinion that is no greater than theirs.
While it is true, many of the lecture series on any given discipline from the local junior college to Ivy League schools is available often on YouTube and other online sources, and that someone could utilize these to become knowledgeable on any given subject. It is unfortunate that people are generally choosing to accept information only from sources that reinforce their own beliefs and worldviews regardless of any facts to the contrary. Which brings us to the assembly of willful ignorance of this intersection of people in the African American community who have these fantastical beliefs about the “choice” of slavery, as it were the "Can't Tell Me Nothing Culture."
Again, this assembly of willful ignorance consist of: The Radical Right Wingers, the faux Afrocentric Blacks and the I watched Black Panther Edutainment “woke” crew. This intersection of what is generally very separate worldviews using Kanye’s ignorant rant as a common ground to forward their intellectually fraudulent ideologies. And Kanye’s rally cry of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” symbolizes the glee in which this assembly rejects the actual historical narrative regarding the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in the Americas.
This is particularly disturbing as for these various reasons and a few others, many African Americans buy into false narratives that ignore, mitigate or trivialize the realities of the horrors our slave ancestors endured for us to be here. This is a culture that embraces ignorance as long as it agrees with their reality. This goes back to the post Civil War world of Jim Crow, where Blacks were only allowed to be educated as Preachers (not theologians), Teachers and Farmers. Before the wave of Black intellectuals who were able to get trained in the social sciences and physical sciences, many myths were made to compensate for the loss of actual history African Americans experienced under slavery; however, it is time for the actual social scientist to step up in the public intellectual sphere and enter the public discussion of these issues to forward truth. The idea that all opinions are equal must be combated, there are things called facts, and quantifiable and measurable truths cannot be allowed to be up for debate. Opinions that are rooted in willful ignorance are not equal to opinions rooted in facts.
 Kanye West, “Words Are Important.” Can't Tell Me Nothing: Album, © 2007 accessed May 6, 2018, https://genius.com/Kanye-west-cant-tell-me-nothing-lyrics
 Harmeet Kaur, “Kanye West just said 400 years of slavery was a choice” CNN.com, May 4, 2018, accessed May 6, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/01/entertainment/kanye-west-slavery-choice-trnd/index.html
 History of the Slave Trade, “Life on board slave ships” International Slavery Museum, © 2018, accessed May 9, 2018, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/middle_passage/