Was Kanye West Right to say 400 Years of Slavery was a Choice?

Predictably Rapper and Entrepreneur Kanye West has copped a great deal of flack for his TMZ interview, 1st May 2018, where the headline take on it was simply “slavery must have been a choice.”

One of the issues with the reception to the interview is not so much that he was misquoted, but that his comments have detracted from the overarching message of the 30 minute interview which was a positive, constructive one. The slavery quote was an aside, it wasn’t even the main point of the interview. However maybe it can be defended.

I accept it could have been better articulated by Kanye West in order to avoid the controversy that surrounded it and for a superstar as media savvy as he is, he should have foreseen that a comment like that without context and succinct explanation would be easily misinterpreted. Nonetheless, I don’t subscribe to the mass criticism he’s received when considered in the overall context of the full interview.

His point was that people, be they African-Americans, or White Americans need to free their minds from “mental slavery”, think for themselves and exercise freedom of thought and being. It would be easy to follow the herd of instant popular opinion and criticise the man without taking the time to figure out what lay behind the seemingly odd comment. Some of course might still call think of him as an idiot and perhaps argue that Kanye’s breakthrough album, ‘The College Drop out’, is most apt. Perhaps he dropped out before the slavery lessons! Or maybe not. Walk with me!

It is clear that as he was promoting freedom of thought, speech, unshackling from mental slavery, he was wondering aloud what took many generations of slaves 400 years to overcome their slave masters. If you consider that the lifespan of slaves over 400 years ago is reported to be around 36 (compared to 40 for white Americans), crudely (allowing for increasing life spans after 1865), that’s around 9 generations of families , then surely Kanye has a right to question that.

Numerically his terminology referring to “400 years of slavery, that must have been a choice” is questionable as slavery “officially” lasted for 246 years (1619 – 1865 when it was abolished). However if he’s considering that slavery, physical and mental, in America has still not ended then I can see why he said 400 years. In fact, some in America are looking to mark August 2019 as the 400th year since American slavery started. Some may feel it’s gross ignorance on Kanye’s part, but to give him his due, I would contend that he’s looking at it from a deeper and more spiritual level, as well as an historically accurate stance.

Another way of looking at it, is that the bible talks about slavery lasting for 400 years and prior to its onset African’s had a choice – obey God or face the consequences. They didn’t and the consequence was 400 years of slavery: “Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” Genesis 15: 13 If he was alluding to that, then Kanye was right as you can see how this could easily be referring to the USA.

Why shouldn’t Kanye question why it took the slaves and the free citizens so many years to abolish slavery? Not all African’s were enslaved. What were they doing to free their brothers and sisters? What were non-African’s, non-enslaved people, of all nationalities doing to end this monstrous, inhumane practice? Did they have no empathy for their plight that motivated them sufficiently to bring this to a close?

It’s so stereotypical to let the mass media control the narrative of this interview. I suggest you watch it in full and focus on the core message, which is actually an uplifting, refreshing message of positivity for the African-American community and indeed the wider American society as it contends with police lawlessness, out of control gun crime and even, dare I say it, modern day slavery.

He repeatedly stated the we need to love our fellow man and woman. Let love conquer all. This wasn’t a wishy washy statement and he demonstrated how that can be done during the interview. He was verbally challenged by Vas, a very passionate and angry TMZ Staffer, who took great offence at how Kanye, whom he highly rated and often defended when TMZ wanted to just run negative stories on him, could come to his studio and say slavery was a choice. Rather than mirror Vaz’s anger and engage in an aggressive war of words, Kanye walked right across the studio to him, immediately apologised for the hurt caused by his comment, said he loves the man and offered him a hug. He sought to show love for his critic, explain himself, hear what his critic had to say and by so doing, confront and defuse a tense situation.

Ironically the power of love is something that Bishop Michael Curry focused on is his world famous sermon at last month’s wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan. I think his sermon deliberately addressed Kanye’s slave comment for it referenced “a balm in Gilead to heal”, recalling a line from the bible [Jeremiah 8:22 “Isn’t there a balm in the land of Gilead? Isn’t there a Doctor there? So why aren’t the hurts of my people healed?”] an old African-American spiritual sung by slaves. The point he was making was that in spite of being enslaved, these slaves didn’t allow any possible, entirely natural and understandable feelings of bitterness and hate to prevent them having love for their fellow man. If they can show love for their captors in such horrible circumstances, who are we in our lives to allow everyday circumstances to prevent love shining through?

Kanye and Vas continued to debate, but it was done in a respectful, articulate way. It was powerful to see them calmly and peacefully resolve their disagreement. Too many times in American life and over here in England, people, especially men, are resorting to violent means to handle challenging situations. These men showed it doesn’t have to be that way. By the enriching, empowering, power of love as opposed to the destructive, negative energy of hate they rose above it. Two men got into a showdown. Love and respectful reasoning, not hate, won the day and we all tuned in.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links:

  1. Bishop Curry’s Sermon Too Hot To Handle – Tiemo Talk of the Town – 25th May 2018
  2. Facts Proving why the “so called” African-American Struggle is Really Real – Jubilee Hosanna-Praise Jackson – 16th May 2017
  3. Why the 400 years of African-American History Act is so Important – Senator Tim Kaine
  4. After Ferguson, How Far Has the Civil Rights Movement Progressed in America and Britain? – Tiemo Talk of the Town – 11th November 2015
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