According to Kanye West, our ancestors were pussies.
Sorry for the crass language, but it can’t be more blunt than the comments Kanye made the other day to TMZ. Kanye, a day after the release of a video of an intimate discussion with Charlemagne tha God recorded in mid-April, decided to go to the TMZ offices and just rant. The rant hit a wall after he professed, “You hear about slavery for 400 years — 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”
Then, a war was waged. Not with alt-righters rallying around having a famous black guy reinforce racist sentiments (it can’t be racist if another black guy is saying it, right?), but rather a war between black folks on my timeline.
The great divide of black folks was puzzling. I even had someone passive-aggressively call me a sucker for disagreeing with Kanye’s comments by posting a quote from Erik Killmonger at the end of Black Panther — the sentiment that he’d rather die than be in bondage.
First of all, can we please not use a movie reference when we are talking about real life? (On a personal level, I’m a little Wakanda’d out.) We have to understand, and I can’t believe that I’m saying this, that slavery isn’t a choice. Was Kanye being clumsy as fuck implying that we shouldn’t be held to mental slavery? Possibly, but I’m not in the mood to try to process his intent. The idea of him rocking a MAGA hat along with them ugly-ass $1,000 Balenciaga shoes was enough for me to tune him out.
Second, as a black man in America, of course I romanticize the revolutionaries. The revolters. I salute Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Singbe on the Amistad revolt, and countless others. That includes the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in 1739, a revolt by a literate slave who recruited 60 other men to join him. Twenty-five white people were killed, and double that many blacks. The revolt also led to the Negro Act of 1740 outlawing slave literacy and assembly. I learned about this as a kid and was fascinated by the stories. The only thing that ran through my mind was: Could I have done that?
We have to be able to honor the people who chose death over bondage, revolted and ran toward freedom without spitting on the memory of those who simply survived. The survivors made it possible for me to be here.
In Kanye’s double-down fashion, he tried to clean up his comments on Twitter by saying “If I had lived 148 years ago, I would’ve been more like Harriet [Tubman] or Nat [Turner].”
I think every black person in America hopes we would’ve been. I hope I would’ve been a man who marched alongside King or held the fort down with Huey P with a rifle against the cops. Or testified against the murderers of Emmett Till when the black community of Money, Mississippi, were terrified to speak up.
I’ve seen these T-shirts that some black folks wear with the words, “Dear racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands.” The disrespect is insane. The things my black grandparents dealt with growing up in the South were unimaginable. And we have young black folks claiming they would have been revolutionary but they still don’t stand up when they see black women disrespected or still are Bill Cosby apologists (another story for another day).
Everything since the passing of my grandmother always has me circling back around to her. I mentioned in a previous column about my granny growing up as a child with her great grandmother, a slave. I remember her telling me the stories of her struggle growing up in a racist Jim Crow South.
She survived, and I’m here because of her and countless others before her. Would I have been Nat Turner? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m grateful that I don’t have to answer that question.
Preach Jacobs is a musician, artist and activist and founder of Cola-Con and indie label Sounds Familiar Records. You can hear his podcasts and read more work at FightThePower.co.