Will hip-hop vocalist / producer Kanye West, as one blogger has insightfully observed, become the next African-American male to live his public existence as a symbol of the race divide’s vitriol? Will he become a scapegoat for white obsessions over the threat Blackness purportedly represents?
The virtual flood of racist, expletive-laden tweets that followed the artist’s brief rant at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards suggest a strong “Yes.”
As many know, West interrupted singer Taylor Swift during her “Best Female Video” honor and acceptance speech, taking the mic to tell her, and all watching, that, “Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all-time. One of the best videos of all-time!”, referring to Knowles “Single Ladies,” which had also been nominated.
West’s rude and abortive outburst drew loud, droning catcalls from the audience, while an embarrassed and stunned Swift stood, shocked and still, before being escorted gently from the stage.
As stated on MTV’s web site,
According to reports from inside the house, once cameras cut away from the action, West flipped off the crowd and returned to his seat. Wale then said to the crowd, “You can’t blame a man for speaking his mind.” His words were met with boos, and Wale then said, “Kanye, I tried.” During the next commercial break, Pink walked by the rapper and appeared to shake her head in disgust before security escorted her away. West remained steadfast amidst the commotion as he kissed his girlfriend Amber Rose.
West was, shortly afterwards, ejected from the awards show, as he should have been. Later, on stage, Knowles graciously brought out Swift, to let her finish her interrupted statement. (Knowles ultimately won the evening’s Video of the Year award.)
West issued an apology on his blog, which was captured and posted by this journalist before the site, perhaps overwhelmed by visitors, was taken offline.
Apparently, though, the mea culpa wasn’t nearly enough. A “Kanye West is a Bitch” T-shirt, above, made an almost instant appearance on the web. (Given his penchant for self-referentialism, my thought was that West might be the first person we’ll see wearing one.)
Far more troubling, however, were racist tweets that began to pop up on Twitter, the popular social networking site, posted, as one person observed, by those “ODing on digital courage”; emboldened by the physical distance and, often, anonymity the internet provides. (Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher has also blogged about this topic, in a post that quotes this writer.) Some, like the one above, represent second thoughts by those that wrote them. Removed from Twitter’s web site, presumably by the authors, they were captured, nonetheless, by caches in other places and then saved by MEDIA ASSASSIN.
Is it legal to urge the murder of another person? Some of these posts call for West to be lynched. All of them refer to West as a “nigger.” History has frequently demoed that, when you add a blond, blue-eyed, white female like Swift to that mix, whose honor the mob is duty-bound to protect, somebody Black will inevitably water the courthouse lawn with his blood.
What is most provocative, though, is not that this is taking place in the “post-racial” age of Obama. It’s that it’s taken so little to move people to use this kind of language, and to do it so unashamedly. “Kayla Larson,” right, purportedly of the Bay Area, looks like the type of sweet, friendly, neighborhood girl that’s a cashier in that teen fashion store in the strip mall near you. (In fact, judging by the background of her headshot, she may, in fact, do just that.)
I could be wrong, but in her wording and dress, she doesn’t strike me as worldly. Certainly, she doesn’t come off as sophisticated enough to momentarily recall that, unless she’s working for her parent’s business, and plans to do this the rest of her life, posting the kind of statement she has, atop this one, is like posing nude and drunk on Facebook—the sort of activity future employers don’t want to see on your resumé.
That someone apparently so doe-like would engage in speech so rancid, though, should hardly be shocking to Black people, based on experience. As well, I suspect that those white people who say they are surprised by this level of cancer in their holds are, mostly, acting. Race is not a subject people tend to discuss truthfully in mixed company.
So, what to do about this?
Well, certainly, there’s the question of the degree to which any of these tweets violate Twitter’s own terms of service. As well, people on the service can confront, write, or write about these people.
My ongoing call, however, is for non-white people to develop an understanding of race that is meticulous, logical, and systematic. Racism has a sole, functional expression: White supremacy. Racism is not historical. It’s futuristic. It is not going away. It is being refined. It is weaponized through deceit, secrecy, and violence, in that order. Its chief tools are not clubs, bullets, or nooses, but words.
Most of all, however, those white people who say they are not racists, or that they are against racism, should be clearing race from the paths of Black people, like snowplows going through highway drifts. By doing nothing, or doing nothing effective, they cast racist suspicion on themselves through their inertness. The practice of white supremacy is a system, and it involves people giving all kinds safe harbor to racists—physical, social, financial, emotional, relational, hierarchical, psychological, etc.
A commonly noted form of psychological harbor is given, for example, when one white person refuses to confront another white person who tells a racist joke, right, while not in the company of Black people. I’ve been in situations where, later, say, after a lecture, a white person will relay details of this, or some other sort of racism they’ve observed.
“What is the name and title of the person who did this?” I say. “Um…well, I don’t really want to say their name,” they respond. “Who are you trying to protect?” I might then ask. In other words, this is just one way that secrecy works in the system of race: White people covering for each other. There are many, many, many more.
Some will offer that, if there is any consolation in any of this, it’s that most of the twitterers putting up these statements are sparsely followed. (Kayla has 16.) Of course, the fact that white people are the planetary minority, yet the racists dominate everything non-white people think, say, and do should tell you that some minroities are the Effective Majority.
I’ve collected some of these tweets for your study. This sampling, of course, is by no means exhaustive, for the web, generally, or even for Twitter. As Mediasite notes, the first tweet they were able to find was posted sometime around or after 9 pm, Sunday night. I’m fairly certain the earliest one I obtained was sent hours after that. In any event, Kanye, watch your back. As for the rest of you, like they say at the VMAs, enjoy the show.