Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 8, 2013

Kanye West — what a schmuck

Filed under: african-american,capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

Kanye West leaves Barneys wearing a jacket with a rebel flag. Here is the explanation.

20 Comments »

  1. Fellini’s Roma.

    Comment by Scott Edwards — November 8, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

  2. You’re probably not aware, but many black people in the southern US fly the confederate battle flag and have been wearing it on clothes for years. That includes numerous musicians. Kayne West and hip hop just happen to be a lot more mainstream now then they were in the past, plus the internet spreads the info, photos and engineered outrage faster than ever.

    Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz put out an album in 2001 called “Put Your Hood Up” which prominently featured confederate battle flags. Google image search the cover. It sold millions of copies. Just in case you think the fire on the flags meant they were protesting them, here’s what Lil Jon himself had to say: “I’m from the South. That’s what it represents to me…We’re Southern-born and raised. The flag is part of us. We look at it as just being proud to say we’re from the South.”

    Comment by Marcus Banahasky — November 9, 2013 @ 7:59 am

  3. Oh, and Atlanta-born Andre from multi-platinum Grammy winning group Outkast on why he wore a belt with the flag on it about a decade ago: “I don’t take the Confederate flag that serious as far as the racial part is concerned.”

    Comment by Marcus Banahasky — November 9, 2013 @ 8:03 am

  4. I don’t take the views of hip-hop musicians at face value. It is far more important to me what Black activists have to say, like Pascal Roberts:

    http://blackagendareport.com/content/kanye-west-black-popular-culture-and-current-agenda-american-empire

    In a very interesting twist, another fixture of Black popular culture, Kanye West, has used his membership in the elite star chamber to write a song called “New Slaves” that essentially embraces the agenda of the ruling class elite while unfurling the Confederate Flag. The song acknowledges the rise of mass incarceration and private prisons, corporate dominance over peoples lives, and even suggests the role of class as a source of contention within the Black community. West critiques “those in their Hampton Houses” while bizarrely singing the refrain, “I know we the New Slaves….I know we the New Slaves…We the New Slaves.” (The lyrics can be found here.) However, in true elite fashion, West admits that this agenda can’t touch “HIM” because he can “fly [his] family out the country.” But what about the supermajority of Black Americans who will never be able to fly their family out of the country as they face the five pronged merciless agenda of American Empire: 1) Finance Capital Hoarding of Wealth; 2) Neoliberal Privatization of Prisons, Schools, and government services; 3) Austerity cutting of social programs like Social Security and Food Stamps; 4) Mass Incarceration; and 5) Growth of the Surveillance State via NSA, Homeland Security, etc. This is the agenda that Obama and the Cory Booker types have been assigned to lay on Black America and the rest of the country while people cheer and scream, “That’s my president!”

    Comment by louisproyect — November 9, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

  5. Is this political correctness in reverse?

    A white guy in New York dislikes a flag because he says it represents slavery and hatred of southern blacks. Southern blacks then say we don’t think the flag means that, we don’t mind it. Who is right? With the disappearance of official racism written into law in favor of subconscious racism of everyday life, is the question of what is or isn’t racist objective or subjective?

    In South Africa the apartheid regime is gone along with its symbolism. Sometimes that symbolism will reappear on some remaining white farmers little corner or earth. Then it gets attacked as the worst thing in South Africa. Meanwhile the ANC government continues on with pats on the back from the invisible hand of the market, doing society-wide damage. Since they fly the flag of Mandela it’s not really talked about. Sure they fuck people over just the same, but at least they are the same skin tone, right?

    My personal view is nowhere near the views of the aforementioned rappers, but I think they’re perfectly capable of expressing themselves and what they mean. They can do it so well and so creatively in fact that they can make a living from it. Since there is no more confederate army the confederate battle flag can only represent what the people flying it want it to represent. For a lot of white people that’s out and out racism and a desire for a return to the reactionary past. For millions of others though it doesn’t mean that.

    Meanwhile the US flag — representing a still existing power — which has flown high over more deaths and destruction than any flag in human history keeps waving in the rockets’ red glare. Which musician will be criticized for flying that or putting it on the sleeve of their jacket.

    Comment by Marcus Banahasky — November 10, 2013 @ 6:19 am

  6. Marcus, interesting about Lil Jon and Andre 3000. But Kanye’s from Chicago. What’s his deal?

    Comment by Poppa Zao — November 10, 2013 @ 7:43 am

  7. Me, i think Black people wanting to fly the Confederate flag is weird. but it’s the sort of thing I’d leave them to discuss amongst themselves. On the other hand, i think it’s pretty well established that he’s a bit of a douchebag, and more important, I don’t like his music.

    Here’s a current hiphop artist I think is pretty good, just in case anyone is interested: Theesatisfaction.

    Comment by godoggo — November 10, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

  8. Frantz Fanon & Paulo Freire would label Kanye’s behavior as a manifestation of “internalized oppression.”

    His behavior also reinforces the miseducation K-PhD. which censors the study of scholars like Fanon, Freire, Marable, Walter Rodney, Dubois…

    But then again, such miseducation pays well.

    Comment by Karla — November 10, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

  9. What next, Jews wearing the Swastika?

    Comment by The Man with No Name — November 11, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

  10. Marcus wrote:

    “Since there is no more confederate army the confederate battle flag can only represent what the people flying it want it to represent.”

    Wow.

    Post-modernist crock-o-shit par excellence: “All that matters is ME!”

    I guess that’s why a black man being called “nigger” or “boy” by some white cracker doesn’t bother you, hey? It’s all just the opinion of the cracker, while all that’s really important is YOU.

    Comment by Todd — November 11, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

  11. Heh! Kismet for those who find flying the Confederate flag so harmless:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/06/1244705/-Holocaust-Denial-Libertarianism-Charles-Koch-Gary-North#

    Looks like those Jews wearing swastikas are coming down the pipe . . . .

    Comment by Todd — November 11, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

  12. I think there a couple different ways we can look at this.

    The first arises out of the immediacy of leftist perception and says Kanye West has internalized the oppression of Black people. This is a rational response. The incongruency of a Black person displaying one of the foremost symbols of Black oppression on their clothing is initially quite shocking. Nonetheless I do think we should push past this initial revulsion to see if there’s something else going on here. As Marxists we understand that judging phenomena by their immediate appearance is rarely a path towards true knowledge.

    Another way of looking at this would be to take Kanye’s explanation seriously, i.e. rather than simply internalizing the oppression of Black people, he’s trying to “take back” a symbol of Black oppression in a way not dissimilar to the way many in the hip-hop generation took back the n-word. Now, for a moment let’s leave aside question of the wisdom of this approach and at least acknowledge that there is historical precedent here to this attempt at re-appropriation and also acknowledge the sincerity of the intent instead of merely going into a stance of reflexive cynicism. The attempt at re-appropriation here, as with the re-appropriation of the n-word, stems from a deep spirit of defiance and is a way of trying to tell the oppressors that they don’t get to define the oppressed just as they please, that the oppressed will take the venom out the oppressor’s words and symbols by re-contextualizing their use.

    Now, as to the effectiveness of the approach, there’s certainly room for debate. There is an argument to be made that these words and symbols carry such a negative historical burden that any attempt at re-appropriation is bound to simply reproduce oppression. And while I can understand this argument, I wonder if it is itself the product of a now reified anti-oppression framework. And as someone who thinks that one of the things that hobbles the left the most is its willingness to incrementally cede ground to both the right and to petty-bourgeois left-liberalism and, more generally, accept the bourgeoisie’s framework, I’m very interested in an approach that at least attempts to refuse to play by this framework.

    As for West himself, I’m mostly indifferent. He strikes me as a rather typical celebrity in the age of late neoliberal capitalism. And I think Louis’ focus on the person of Kanye, on his schmuckiness, is part and parcel of the very culture that is supposedly the focus of his criticism, i.e. it’s a kind of left Perez Hilton-ism.

    Much more interesting to me is the obviously growing political consciousness of hitherto apolitical artists since the crisis began. In this Mr. West is a symptom. Now let’s be clear, the overall level of consciousness displayed by most of these artists is still low. And that’s frustrating. But the movement here is fascinating and undeniable. It carries progressive potential. And despite the obvious contradictions on display I think the job of revolutionaries is to nurture this rather than ridicule it or rush to enumerate specific errors.

    The lyrics in West’s “New Slaves” strike me as a serious attempt to grapple with the world. Now obviously the perspective is quite limited at this point, but 6 years ago, before the start of the crisis, even this would have been unthinkable. The left talks a lot about how it believes people can transform and rightly so. But when confronted with the actual contradictions that are involved in such transformation the kneejerk leftist response is to count up and catalogue “errors” instead of taking what’s progressive in the process and encouraging its further development. Part of me thinks that there’s a part of the left that enjoys its marginalization into talmudic sects with virtually no influence on real world politics. The undeniable satisfaction in one’s own correctness on display in so much of today’s leftism is just another expression bourgeois hedonism. Perhaps it also expresses an unconscious fear about what being taken seriously would actually entail, a fear of becoming what it is, the spearhead of a systematic, world-historic sublation.

    Comment by RF — November 12, 2013 @ 2:30 am

  13. Todd wrote:

    “I guess that’s why a black man being called “nigger” or “boy” by some white cracker doesn’t bother you, hey? It’s all just the opinion of the cracker, while all that’s really important is YOU.”

    I don’t think you are listening at all. Marcus is saying that when a black man says ‘nigger’, it is different than when a white man calls a black man nigger. Same with the confederate flag.

    You validated his argument exceptionally well with that example.

    Comment by Babak — November 12, 2013 @ 5:27 am

  14. Kanye West Net Worth
    Random Celebrity Profile
    How much is Kanye West worth?
    $100 Million

    Comment by Karla — November 12, 2013 @ 6:47 am

  15. Miseducation pays well.

    Comment by Karla — November 12, 2013 @ 6:48 am

  16. The Holocaust Museum timeline states:

    1966-67: American historian Harry Elmer Barnes publishes articles in the Libertarian periodical Rampart Journal claiming that the Allies overstated the extent of Nazi atrocities in order to justify a war of aggression against the Axis powers.

    General Eisenhower insisted that photographic evidence of the Holocaust be gathered because he knew that the Holocaust would be denied.

    Comment by Karla — November 12, 2013 @ 6:55 am

  17. To “Marcus Banahasky”:

    You attempted to post 3 comments today as “Macrus Banahasky”. Not only did you spell your first name wrong, you also used a different email address for each version of your name, neither of which is a legitimate email address I would bet. I generally am fairly tolerant of bogus names/email addresses but in this instance I felt like someone was playing games. So your comments were treated as spam. I have been kicking around the idea lately of moving to the paid version of WordPress just so I can implement a commenting policy in which you have to register using a legitimate email address. I have no idea why people would want to jerk around using bogus names and email addresses. Afraid the government would know that you are posting to a Marxist blog? Have you heard of the NSA? They keep track of you through your IP address, which is captured both by WordPress and the NSA.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 12, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  18. Babak wrote:

    “I don’t think you are listening at all. Marcus is saying that when a black man says ‘nigger’, it is different than when a white man calls a black man nigger. Same with the confederate flag.”

    Babak, I know you’re not reading at all.

    My point was that Marcus’ position is so atomizing that the _only_ thing that matters is the opinion ie narcissism of the subject; history, context, harm, etc. mean nothing to his post-modern subject. Within the proper context, this stance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but West’s elevation of the Confederate flag (and Marcus’ apologetics for it) serve only to make West (and probably Marcus) feel good about himself, ignoring what that flag means outside their own subjectivity (kind of like the way capitalism appropriates “rebels” into the system in such a way that they’re backing it, whether they intend to, or believe that’s what they’re doing, or not).

    As for your example of the use of the word “nigger” between African-Americans, don’t kid yourself: from what I see there’s still lots of ambivalence surrounding it.

    (If you’re a cartoon or Boondocks fan, I recommend watching the “Return of the King” episode in the Boondocks animated series; it encapsulates my point quite nicely [especially my second one].)

    Comment by Todd — November 12, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  19. “The lyrics in West’s “New Slaves” strike me as a serious attempt to grapple with the world.” RF

    check out the lyrics on Google & judge for yourself.

    Comment by Karla — November 12, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

  20. Hi Louis. The misspelling of the name was a simple typo that I didn’t notice at the time. Surely you can see that the letters were just switched around. As to the email I (and I imagine a lot of other computer literate people) don’t usually use my personal email for things like commenting on blogs. While I do think internet anonymity is valuable to whatever degree it can exist, in this case it has more to do with not wanting more unsolicited emails to deal with. I see no legitimate reason to give over my email address to make a comment on a public website. I don’t know why that would necessitate deleting my comments, which were serious and to the point — obviously not trolling or spam. I’m of the opinion that political positions can be debated on their own merits, regardless of the personality they emanate from. Thanks and I hope to be able to continue commenting on this blog.

    Comment by Marcus Banahasky — November 14, 2013 @ 6:31 am


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