Kanye vs Kimmel: Racism

*This piece was co-authored by Olivia Quin.

After Kanye West publicly called out Jimmy Kimmel for his skit on his show, twitter and the internet exploded. The skit is trying to spoof an interview that Kanye recently gave with the BBC. It was a rare in-depth and personal interview in which he bared his dreams and insecurities for the first time in a long time. His newest album, the critically acclaimed ‘YEEZUS’, deals with issues of racism and the lack of acceptance of black people in culture, even after they have made it far in society. In both the interview and the album, Kanye brings up how he is never taken seriously in his life, by the media and as an artist and a creative person because he is a man of color. An extremely passionate speaker, Kanye repeatedly brings up how his passion for his art and life has been mocked by others and the media, exactly what the Kimmel skit did.

Instantly people began to take sides, people saying Kanye couldn’t take criticism and that Kanye was basically overreacting. Several articles have appeared on the internet, discussing the issue, however most of them just scratch the surface. Most of them focus on the disrespect Kimmel threw at Kanye and how Kimmel’s skit focused on ignorance and highlighted Kimmel’s ignorance of pop culture. None of these articles, from what I have seen, highlight the deep racism behind the Kimmel skit.

The name of the skit alone emphasizes the initials KKK. This may be a play on Kanye’s single, BLKKK SKKKNHEAD, however there are major differences between a black man taking a hold the acronyms used by a massive hate group and using them in self-empowerment and a white man using the acronym against a black man. Not only using them against a person of color, but using them to demean him, emasculate him, say he is a child, and rip apart everything Kanye has worked towards in the name of tasteless comedy. There is nothing harmless behind the message.

In the opening, fun is poked at Kanye’s dreams and attempts to be a fashion designer. Kimmel mocks Kanye for talking about leather jogging pants. Kimmel insinuates that that is such a weird thing and that is uncommon, which is extremely untrue. Kanye himself wears them, but artists like Rhianna have also been seen wearing them.  They might seem weird to Jimmy Kimmel as a middle aged white man, but that just proves his ignorance. This also highlights on the discrimination that Kanye faced as a man of color, and not being taken seriously and being laughed at and mocked his entire career for his ideas. This portion of the interview was about that fact, and is exactly what Kimmel proceeded to do in his skit. Kanye’s passion for fashion is seem as humorous since Kimmel has not personally experienced Kanye’s impressions on the fashion industry, that just makes Kimmel ignorant. You would think before going after such a mainstream media figure, they would do at least minimal research, especially if their entire skit hinges on this fact.

Kimmel poked fun at how Kanye is his own promoter, how he is his own hype man. Yet, in the same interview, Kanye talks about his issues with self-hate and how he has his own self-esteem issues. Kimmel cherrypicks the interview for a brief soundbyte in order to paint a negative picture of Kanye. However, if a white artist was to self promote and self hype, they would be confident. They would not be arrogant. They would be praised for their confidence and self-love, while if a person of color engages in the same behavior, they are arrogant, full of themselves, and it is a problem. In the hip-hop and rap industry it is actually a relatively common practice to promote ones self and to be very confident to the public for publicities sake. Kimmel just can’t handle when an artist of color is so honest and open about discrimination that he has faced, so he belittles Kanye for promoting himself.

Kimmel also tries to say how rap artists are not really artists or stars, by taking Kanye’s rockstar comment out of context. Rap and hip-hop are the most popular and fastest growing genres in the music world currently. Kanye could be argued to being one of the biggest names right now as well. He has had such an influence on the rap scene even since his first album. His production and variety of lyrics has made it possible for different subgenres of rap to gain prominence. Even after all of his influence on music, he is still not seen as a ‘rockstar’ because he is a black rap artist. Kanye goes on world tours, is is one of the most sought after producers in the world, has his own label that manages other huge artists and Kimmel still makes fun of him calling himself a rockstar. This can also be expanded on in the idea that rap and hip-hop are seen as inherently bad and destroying society. Many genres, such as rock and metal, focus on the same themes in their music. Drugs, sex, objectification, and violence are major themes that run through all major streams of music, however rap and hip-hop are the ones that are inciting violence. This plays on the idea that people of color, especially black males, are inherently violent and aggressive people. It also places on the sexist trope that women of color, especially black women, are hypersexual and aggressive beings. There have even been people, such as Moynihan, that have said matriarchal black families are the reason for oppression and racism faced by people of color.

The notion that hip-hop and rap are against mainstream ideals and that black culture is destroying society and black families is racist. Kimmel’s sketch touches on this idea in the denying of hip-hop as music and as Kanye as an artist. Kanye cannot be an artist for rap and hip-hop are not real music like rock is. Music that has themes that focus on sex, drugs, and other ‘immoral’ themes cannot be real music, despite the fact that this is something found in all music, from hip-hop, to rock, to pop. However, this problem is only highlighted in hip-hop and rap because, as I mentioned earlier, black culture is bad for society. Thus, music made by people of color, is seen as something that is negative and goes against the white supremacist society that continues to enforce racist ideals in music and industry.

However, the brunt of the comments are focused on Kanye’s anger and reaction. Many people have said he is overreacting, being butthurt, being a baby, as well as many grossly sexist comments I will not mention here. Simply put, saying Kanye’s anger is inappropriate is racism. Controlling the anger and emotions of a minority, is a form of oppression. People of color are constantly seen as dangerous and that their anger and emotions are dangerous, especially to white people. bell hooks outlines these problems in her essays Killing Rage and Beyond Black Rage. Anger is an appropriate and understandable reaction to the wrongs faced by minorities in their lives. However, to maintain the status quo, these things are constantly monitored and policed by the majority and privileged.

Kanye’s struggle with racism has been a theme from the beginning of his career. The evolution of the anger can be seen and noticed, obviously mostly in his newest album, which highlights how racism is ingrained in every aspect of culture. Kanye is told that his emotions are inappropriate, no matter the situation. He is not allowed to express anger at the racism he’s faced in his life, through Kimmel, or any other outlet. He’s not allowed to be prideful of his work, since that is something that is seen as egotistical. Basically, no matter what, he will be in the wrong because in our white supremacist society, a person of color cannot express emotion, especially intense emotion that goes against the idea that they are victims of their circumstances. The only appropriate expression of struggles against racism are sympathetic to the oppressors and paint people as color as the victims, as opposed to people who can actively fight against the system and take their own lives into their own hands, people are in charge and this threatens the very idea of how society, dominated by white people, should function. Emotions are seen as dangerous because emotions, especially those experienced due to the hand of oppression, are used to spur change against the status quo.

To those who believe that people are looking too hard for racism in this interaction, race permeates every interaction between people. This includes media portrayals of others, especially when they are made to show someone as childish, crazy, egotistical, and all around a bad person. Media is seeped in race problems and politics, especially since the media is run by white people, especially those with money and privilege. We do not live in a colorblind society where people look past the race and ethnicity of others. Every interaction in our society is partially dictated on race, both explicitly and implicitly. Media and societal portrayals and stereotypes shape our interactions with others, sometimes without us even being aware of it. This even includes dictating to how someone should react to perceived discrimination and oppression, especially if the statement is coming from someone who is privileged.

Saying Kanye is overreacting has historical roots in tone policing rage expressed by people of color. Rage has a place, an extremely needed place, especially when expressed at oppression and marginalization. This is something that is a constant trend in Kanye’s music and interviews, something extremely personal and has deeply affected him and his art. He has also experienced ridicule at the hands of others his entire career, as well as constant doubt at his intelligence and ideas, the exact thing that Kanye was explaining in the segment Kimmel cherrypicked. Kimmel did the exact thing that Kanye was discussing in his interview; refusing to take Kanye and his ideas seriously because of his race and the institutionalized ideas that people of color cannot be gane changers and creators.

I want to thank Twitter user, @pushinghoops, for helping highlight and explain better than I could. Check out her TL for an even more in-depth discussion.

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