I don’t want as many “chances” to f*ck up as Kanye
When you love someone, you do not let them get away with violence.
Heroes are basically destined to fall, and so I’ve made an effort to resist bestowing that honor even upon people I admire the most. Still, the recent antics of Kanye West, inarguably one of the most influential hip-hop artists of the last two decades whose music has played a huge role in my life, have been extremely disappointing—even if only because seeing another Black person so lost and misguided is always a depressing thing to witness.
So I can almost understand the people who make excuses for his ridiculous recently stated beliefs, like that seeing Harriet Tubman (whose spirit he claims to possess) on a dollar bill is regressive because it reminds us of slavery, which was a “choice,” as he reminded us in a separate interview. (There are other reasons an anti-Black government faux honoring a freedom fighter with a capitalist symbol could be seen as regressive, but we won’t get into that here.)
Many of those who have supported Kanye up until now don’t want him to be as wrong as he is. They have made him an idol, and so they must find some way to make his ramblings make sense in order to continue their worship.
Apparently, there is even a faction of Black people who have tried to intellectualize why slavery really was a choice, arguing that they would have faced death rather than be forced to work for their masters, ignoring all the ways Black labor remains forced today.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen any of these people on my timeline, which I have curated to avoid offensively basic and time-syphoning debates. But I have seen many decrying these Kanye-defenders, rightly pointing out that violent cisgender heterosexual men are given chances and excuses that others (particularly Black women and queer folks) never are.
But then there are those who use this fact to make another argument—that we should extend that same grace that Kanye receives to non-cis het men.
I understand the sentiment behind this position. It would be great if Black women and non-men were able to make mistakes and be met with grace and compassion. The problem is that what Kanye and other Black cis het men are showered with when they do violent bullshit is not grace at all. It is enabling. And if we are going to build a world through a queer feminist lens, it is extremely important to be very clear on that distinction.
I have written previously about how many of my breakthroughs and better understandings of social oppression came when people whose oppression I have participated in refused to engage my violence any longer. It wasn’t the Black women who tried to find common ground, or the Black trans people who told me their life stories so that I could try to find empathy, or the Black disabled folks expending energy teaching me about ableism who allowed me to pinpoint my assholish ways. I was forced to pinpoint them on my own when women, trans and disabled folks reinforced that my professed love for them meant I would find a way to work through my issues with their help or not.
Admittedly, this was often a hard process to stomach, especially when society reiterates over and over and over again that if you are in a position of power, those you wield it over should always cater to you and your feelings. But I came to understand this refusal as an act of love.
When you love someone, you do not let them get away with violence. You do not let them claim to be something their actions do not prove. You may refuse to dispose of them, but you won’t let them make you their garbage can either. You offer them space and that offer may remain for all of eternity, but only if they show they can and will honor that space with you. This is what accountability should mean.
Kanye and the cis het men who enable him do not love each other, and there is nothing we can learn from their bastardized show of grace except more violence. What we should honor are the ways we can learn to hold ourselves and others accountable without descending into abuse. We should honor the ways we are still learning how we can be classist, and femmephobic, and transantagonistic, despite our gender and sexual expressions. And how our own survival as non-cis het men teaches us how we can make it easier for others to survive.
A Black queer feminist vision refuses idolatry. It refuses the idea that anyone is shielded from critique simply because of who they are or how they identify. It asks us specifically not to create anymore untouchable heroes, anymore people who will not be held accountable, and gives us the tools to be okay with being held accountable ourselves. I don’t want anyone to be pedestaled like some have pedestaled Kanye, or abused like they have abused the Black women and non-men they discard in contrast. I want something more for all of us.