I love hip hop; I support Chicago artists even when I don’t fully like their music. Back in 2004, I was in Germany and Kanye West released his debut album the College Dropout. With zero hesitation I bought the album, I listened a couple of times and put it away in my CD case. The following year, I did the same thing when Kanye dropped Late Registration. Then in 2007, I purchased my last Kanye West album. At that point I figured he has made enough money and has enough cultural influence to no longer need my hometown assist. The unfortunate truth was, the music was cool, but I never liked Kanye West as an artist because he had what I considered to be a “diva like” personality. What is really unfortunate is he has never given me a reason to truly re-think my opinion of him. He has only made it worse.
The day before I saw my neighbor’s post on the Nextdoor app, that I touched on in last week’s post, I saw an article about Kanye West. Before I could get through the second paragraph there was a picture of him and Candace Owens, both wearing “White Lives Matter” shirts. This couldn’t simply be a different perspective; this is a deliberate act of subverting the narrative. Sure, Kanye has a totally different perspective than I do on life. I even respect many of the things he has been able to do, and I respect his determination and conviction to the things he believes in. However, this shit here comes with an asterisk.
Let’s Be Clear
Let me first say yes, the lives of White people matter, along with every other socially constructed racial group on the planet. In a vacuum, free of context, the statement “White Lives Matter” would be 100% cool with me. However, there is context that we aren’t free of that is being thrown out the window in favor of making a “gotcha” statement that Republicans seem to thrive on. I ran across a Ben Shapiro video and watched a clip of him talking about something which led to another clip of this guy asking, “what is a woman”? Initially, I thought it was a joke until I watched about 2 minutes of it. The premise was to discredit trans women and to make people who blindly follow the trans conversation look like idiots. Mission accomplished. This approach to making an argument is effective and it is what these right wing extremists thrive on…overly simplified arguments devoid of context.
Imagine for a second, you’re in a grocery store and you see a guy in a suit and a hat. He’s walking up to woman after woman grabbing butt cheeks and saying ridiculous stuff that rhymes to them. At face value, this dude is sexually assaulting these women while saying nonsensical poetry. If we add more context the picture becomes a bit clearer. You’re in a grocery store in the hood, this guy in a lime green suit and lime green Stacy Adams shoes to match is walking up to scantily clad women saying “The front is full of sugar and the back is all spice, two hands full of yams we making pies all night”. Some people may understand from the added context that this guy is a pimp and these ladies are his workers. Some people may not understand regardless of context, but no one truly understood properly without context.
When Trayvon Martin was murdered while returning home from the store, I was in Afghanistan. I saw the article and was immediately ready to fight someone out of the anger and frustration I felt. The conversation in the office, me being the only Black guy and everyone else being White southerners, was tense as well. I heard “he shouldn’t have been out by himself”, “Wearing the hoodie at night is suspicious”, “he should’ve complied” and all kinds of idiotic responses to this child being shot to death by this grown man. The other part that angered me was that George Zimmerman was questioned and released with no investigation into the matter. Even with this being Florida, I assumed they have to at least do that. They always seem to dig as deep as possible when the accused is a Black person. When George Zimmerman was acquitted for murder, despite doing everything wrong in that situation, the phrase Black Lives Matter, became a hashtag.
At face value, there is nothing offensive about saying All lives matter, but in practice the Black ones are not being recognized. Saying Black lives matter doesn’t imply Black lives matter more than anyone else, it’s a declaration to a system that treats us as if our lives don’t matter. It’s a reminder to a system founded on White supremacy, that Black people are supposed to be afforded equal treatment and protection under the law. The sad truth is, we are not afforded equal treatment or protection, so that hashtag was upgraded to a decentralized organization of young people trying to fight racism. Black people are being murdered on camera and shown no grace regardless of age or infraction, meanwhile other people are afforded endless amounts of patience and concern even when they are wrong. There is a noticeable difference in how law enforcement interacts with Black people and non-Black people. There is history dating back to the very beginning of police units of unjust treatment towards Black people. Back in 1985, Philadelphia dropped a bomb on a building to get a Black family out if it. In the process they burned two blocks up in this Black community to do it. This left 61 families without homes to return to. Also, 11 of the 13 people in that building dead including children.
I was unable to find anything remotely close to this occurring in a White community, or to White families that were not actively threatening law enforcement. The closest thing was Waco Texas with the Branch Davidians. Mind you, Waco was a 51-day standoff, police in Philly bombed them after a few hours. All that to say, context absolutely matters when taking positions or when making a statement such as “Black Lives Matter”. I understand that there are people incapable of connecting the dots of why that phrase or hashtag would even come about. I never expect those people to be Black, because as a Black person, the discrimination is never that far away. That said, I expect even the nuttiest of Black people to know and respect the context in which Black Lives Matter is being said. Hell, even Candace Owen’s was a victim of racism, though she downplays it now as she caters to the white supremacist perspective.
Perspective is Flawed
Upon seeing Kanye in this shirt, after all the other stunts he has pulled, I had nothing else in me but “F*ck this guy”. The sentiment is the same for Candace Owens and every other person that would wear the shirt, regardless of race. Not because I feel White people’s lives are worthless, I don’t feel that way at all. My sentiment is this because the assertion of that shirt, in context, is only made for the sake of undermining the struggle Black people in America face. White lives are not generally discounted and written off by the system, Black lives are, so the shirt is a slap in the face, not a sign of equality. I believe Kanye West and Candace Owens are smart enough to know this, yet they do what they do anyway, for money or shock value maybe. Regardless of their rationale, I have no respect for either of them on this matter.
Yes, I truly believe perspectives shape the world, and having a different one does not automatically make you wrong. There may be an angle of this argument that I don’t see that would make me re-think my stance. If such an argument exists, it must consider every Black person murdered by police officers. It must consider an unfair justice system that disproportionately sentences Black people to harsher sentences than White people. The argument must also consider and show evidence of systemic issues in place to victimize and de-value White people. I am certain that there are no systemic issues that would point to that, so congratulations White people, our government already accepts that your lives matter. Maybe now we can work together to get them to see Black lives should matter too.