On Kanye West, Azealia Banks and a call for a deeper reading of their rage.
By Jay Dodd
Kanye’s narrative has been riddled with often sloppily generalised tantrums. While we must hold him accountable to his “seat at the table aspirations,” we often, as consumers of his frequency of Blackness, only hear him as whiny child begging for attention. In 2009, when Kanye stormed theMTV VMA’s to call out the injustice of Taylor Swift winning Best Female Video over Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, official lines in the sand were drawn in the Kanye Fan Club. Some supported him: critics fetishizing his Black Boy rage, BeyHive stans who wanted to do it themselves, and me, clearly (sorry bout it). Others saw this act as yet another temper tantrum from the oft caustic and flippant egoist Mr. West.
Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive.
In the time since, we have seen him marry into a pop cultural case study of race, class, and positionings of Blackness, all while trying to negotiate his own. And since the birth of his daughter he has taken on new forms and new languages for his work. Last night he performed both his recent homage the lineage of woman in his life , and his conversation about respectability with Rihanna (“Only One,” and “FourFiveSeconds,” respectively). Kanye, his mouth, (his dick) and his whole brand are constantly seen through a lens of anger. But recently, he has shared with us smiles and some thought things were “safe”, however: Kanye West absolutely cares about Blackness and artistry.
As part of the anti-black violence “some call cultural smudging” in the popular culture, we see this trope of the Angry Black Folk. They speak out the mouth, they clap back, they embarass & destroy. Kanye has screamed out at varying levels of injustice, and at each of them we should attempt make a space to hear it. While often misread as infraction, Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive. While this violence on Kanye is a child like caricature and salivation at his smile, this violence is compounded for Black women.
From the grave understating of Janet Mock’s byline, to the racist vitriol from Rosie O’Donnell this week against Lauren Chief Elk; rage and clap back on Black women is shamed and essentialised. While several Black female artist, there is a particular defense available for emcee and teen witch Azealia Banks. Our conversations often position Banks as angry Black girl. Her language, often without nuance and absent critical construction, can read has “terror”-inducing and occasionally complete reproduces problematic violence. However, that explosive narrative, she also calls out the racism of the cis-queer community and resists notions of submission. In her rage, critics are quick to strip her of her openly queer identity. It appears folks want to sanitize her queerness to delegitimate her critiques.
While her responses are flippant, the accusation of Azealia’s “homophobia” seem unfounded because she has been openly queer since her first big hit“212”. Her interactions with Perez opened a flood-gate of Twitter beefs combating the racism (internalized and otherwise) in Hip Hop and the language-policing of Black artist. She has tuned her outcries toward the cultural erasure happening in Hip Hop and connected it to the larger conversation of anti-Blackness in America. There is a productive space for Azealia’s resistance. So, how are we to take these complicatedly justifed angry Black folk. For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility. Though aspirations of validation are varied, there is a consistent desire to be seen .To be seen by your own, to be seen as human, to be seen as worth something. Banks and West cry out to be seen, and reserve the right to.
For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubbling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility.
Mitigating Black anger is an often used as tool in the erasure of Blackness in popular culture; capitalizing on its sub/superhuman quality, why pathologically killing Black people in the flesh. To quell, or quench or smother Black rage is an often tried tactic of institutions built around language and media. In the ways that, Martin Luther King Jr. can be painted as soft or easy or unradical, he outcried with such rage he too was target. Anger on Black bodies circumvents any performance of respectability, they will be read as dangerous in life, and eviscerated in death.Kanye decided, last night, to mitigate his own anger. He, whether premeditated or knee jerk, did not throw a tantrum on stage. He spoke to a center of pop culture in America. He laughed and smiled through crying injustice. He negotiated rage into a language he has been attempting to acquire seemingly since his debut.
If Kanye has learned anything in his fame’s trajectory, it is subversiveness breeds conversation. He juxtaposes personal understandings of class, sexuality, and most often race in culturally accepted locations. His sex-tape capitalizing wife on his the cover of Vogue, his capsule collection of jeans and t-shirts; these subversive dichotomies are revealing of his new languages of resistance. Academic and Activist, Zoe Samudzi recently tweeted that: “Black Skinhead” from 2013’s Yeezus,is “a dissonance of being conscious and seeming to so desperately to want [to be] this king of the world artistic genius celebrity.” These cultural paradoxes are sometimes frustrating with his brand of brash messaging but he consistently has wanted Blackness and artistry to be linked and celebrated. He is more than just saying what we think, he is rattling our notion of popularity and disarming what we rely on as the angry Black man trope.
The Grammy’s, like other growingly archaic award shows, have made it clear that Blackness is not valued only “profitable”. Many argue that outrage against the consistent erasure and rejection of Black art is not productive. We must consider that Kanye, like Ava Duvernay in her Oscar snub, know their artistry exists whether or not these “academies” recognise it or not. While Black artists all choose to push back or respond to such dismissal differently, we need to make a space for frustration and anger that comes along with being framed as unworthy. There is a place for Kanye, and angry Black folk.
This post originally appeared on VSnotebook