Why You Probably Can’t Be Mad At Kanye West’s Use Of The Confederate Flag

Why You Probably Can’t Be Mad At Kanye West’s Use Of The Confederate Flag

Why You Probably Can't Be Mad At Kanye West's Use Of The Confederate Flag

In the photo above, Kanye West is seen leaving a Barneys store wearing a jacket with the Confederate flag on the sleeve.

This move by Kanye could have been seen as a symbolic gesture in light of recent stories surrounding employees at Barneys engaging in racial profiling that have infuriated many and even lead to calls for Jay-Z to take a stand, but it hasn’t.

Instead, the latest fashion choice by Mr. West has come under fire and has led to some accusing the Hip Hop artist and fashion designer of making a mockery of Black oppression for profit.

Before we go forward, let’s take a look at how we got here.

The Confederate battle flag was used by Confederate armies during the Civil War and was later adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, which came into existence shortly after the war ended. There are also hundreds of other hate groups that use the so-called “Southern Cross” as a symbol.

What some view as a symbol of pride and heritage is viewed by others as a symbol of racism and hatred, and a representation and reminder of our nation’s horrific history of slavery.

There are also varying voices in this conversation, like Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University who also writes and studies about race. He is quoted by KTAL as saying:

When people say that the Confederate flag represents slavery, I ask them, ‘If you look at the importation of slaves to the United States from Africa, what flag did they fly under? It was the United States flag.  People say, ‘Let’s get rid of the Confederate flag because it’s a symbol of slavery.’ I say, ‘What do we do with the American flag?’

The latest to-do surrounding the controversial symbol.

Why You Probably Can't Be Mad At Kanye West's Use Of The Confederate Flag2

Kanye West decided to not only incorporate the Confederate flag in his personal fashion, but to also use the symbol on Yeezus tour merchandise.

This has upset many including Al Sharpton whose National Action Network is calling for a nation-wide boycott of all stores selling West’s ‘Confederate flag apparel’.

Kanye’s response to the criticism came in true Yeezus fashion: defending his right to express himself and take a stand on issues in whatever way he chooses.

It’s colorless also. It’s super-’hood super-white-boy-approved at the same time.  The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way.  That’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right?  So I wrote the song, ‘New Slaves.’  So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag.  It’s my flag now.  Now what you gonna do?

All of the backlash over Kanye West’s latest personal choices and business moves remind me of the ongoing debate about the use of the word “nigger” or, as others prefer, “nigga”.  Some people seem to think the variant spelling alters the meaning, but it doesn’t. It’s not the spelling that determines the full meaning of the words we use – it’s the context, the intent with which it is said.

People give words power.  And, in my opinion, the same is true for symbols.

I don’t know Kanye West personally so I can’t speak to what his true intention is behind the use of the Confederate flag on clothes and tour merchandise.  But it appears to me that all he has merely done (aside from pissing people off) is take something viewed as a negative and attempted to turn it into a positive — just like so many of us have done with when saying the N-word.

Opting to use the N-word is a personal choice, and the same is true for art and fashion as well.

I find it hilarious that people who say “nigga” or listen to Hip Hop or watch ‘Gangster movies’ or ‘slave movies’ are actually mad at Kanye West right now.

The truth is that both the Confederate flag and the word “nigger” were and still are symbolic of hatred, dehumanization, and racism – to some people.  It is also true that music and film depicting various segments of Black culture are also exploiting the pain and suffering felt by those who actually live(d) it.

You can’t be okay with one and not the other.  You can’t partake in those activities and also vilify Kanye West and accuse of making a mockery out of slavery without also calling out all who are responsible for those art forms, too.

Al Sharpton has decided to boycott stores carrying the Yeezus Tour Confederate merchandise, but I don’t recall hearing about him boycotting Donal Trump’s properties or TV show for his acts of blatant racism toward President Obama with his ‘birther’ nonsense.  If he did, I clearly missed it.

Why have all of these people decided to target Kanye West?  It’s because he’s eccentric and boisterous, and his tendencies don’t make him a sympathetic figure.  It’s too easy and convenient, and the proposed boycott is ultimately something that I can’t support or respect.

If I may offer an analogy here:

It’s like the professor said about the Confederate flag being used as a symbol of slavery while it was the American flag that hovered over those who were forced to board slave ships.

Kanye West is the Confederate flag in this latest blowup and the American flag is  representative of the institutions and politicians and corporations that manipulate, demonize, and exploit Black culture.

Kanye is the target where his attackers are aiming the anger and resentment and helplessness they feel but aren’t able to unleash on the people responsible.

If you’re interested in preserving the magnitude and historical relevance and importance of slavery, take on those who are playing a role in diminishing the harsh realities of slavery like those in favor of redefining slavery as unpaid internships in textbooks or combat it by teaching kids the truth about our nation’s history. Don’t attack Kanye West over his clothes.

Too many of us seek to be self-righteous when we should try to be more compassionate towards others’ point of view and less judgmental about their personal choices.

Until the people attempting to censor Kanye West (and many others) confront the real symbols and institutions of disenfranchisement and dehumanization, I can’t take them or their boycott seriously.

Miya W.

Living, working, and writing anonymously in the Chi.

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