Kanye West slavery comments spark backlash: 'He's putting targets on our backs'

Black cultural figures from Ava DuVernay to Will.i.am and Spike Lee have condemned Kanye West for saying ‘slavery for 400 years ... that sounds like a choice’

Kanye West has caused outrage among civil rights activists and fellow musicians, thanks to comments in which he implied black people were to blame for their enslavement.

In an interview with TMZ, West said: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … for 400 years? That sounds like a choice … It’s like we’re mentally in prison.” He later clarified his comments on Twitter, saying: “To make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will ... My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.”

His comments nevertheless prompted an instant and vociferous backlash, first of all in the TMZ newsroom, where host Van Lathan told West: “While you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives.”

Other rappers castigated West, including Talib Kweli, who said: “I will always have love for Kanye West but bro out here putting targets on our backs. Slavery was not a choice.”

Musician https://t.co/LVkFhdVrGP says Kanye West's comment on slavery 'broke his heart'.#IfSlaveryWasAChoice

Read more on @iamwill's interview: https://t.co/kIy8AD60bJ pic.twitter.com/KeR7m5W7BE

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) May 2, 2018

Will.i.am told Good Morning Britain that West’s words “broke my heart … When you’re a slave, you’re owned. You don’t choose if you’re owned. When you’re a slave you’re deprived of education. That’s not choice, that’s by force. So I understand the need to have free thought, but if your thoughts aren’t researched, that is just going to hurt those that are still in conditions where it’s not choice.”

The show’s host Piers Morgan later wrote in the Daily Mail, regarding West’s comments: “Of all the offensive things any public figure could say, this strikes me as right up with denial of the Holocaust.”

Film director Spike Lee wrote: “SLAVERY... A CHOICE’??? My Brother, OUR ancestors did not choose to be stolen from mother Africa. OUR ancestors did not choose to be ripped of our religion, language, culture. OUR ancestors did not choose to be murdered, lynched, castrated, raped, burnt at the stake, families sold apart. OUR ancestors built this country (on land stolen from the Native Americans) from the ground up under the institution of SLAVERY.”

“SLAVERY...A CHOICE”❓❓❓My Brother,OUR Ancestors Did Not Choose To Be Stolen From Mother Africa. OUR Ancestors Did Not Choose To Be Ripped Of Our Religion,Language,Culture. OUR Ancestors Did Not Choose To Be Murdered, Lynched,Castrated,Raped,Burnt At The Stake,Families Sold Apart. OUR Ancestors Built This Country (On Land Stolen From The Native Americans)From The Ground Up Under The Institution Of SLAVERY. Where Is This Brother In The Picture Next To Me❓❓❓I Would Not Be Surprised If OUR Ancestors Are Not Pleased With Your Uneducated Comments. P.S. Your Retraction Does Not Undue The Harm You Cause To Our Beloved ANCESTORS. WAKE UP.🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿

A post shared by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Ava DuVernay, the director of Martin Luther King biopic Selma, wrote: “Evoking racial terrorism and murder for personal gain/blame is stratospheric in is audacity and ignorance.”

African-American novelist and essayist Roxane Gay said: “I don’t have the energy for nonsense but Kanye saying slavery was a choice reiterates my previous statements about how dangerous his trite, shallow ramblings are. He is not a free thinker. He is a free moron who doesn’t read.”

Actor Wendell Pierce, best known for his role as Bunk in The Wire, said: “To use the murder and holocaust of slavery for your own self aggrandisement is at the core of your vile appeasement of white supremacists.”

West has previously made comments about slavery in his music, including New Slaves, where he suggested a modern kind of mental enslavement by consumer culture. He did receive support from rapper the Game, who tweeted: “Kanye is a genius. People who’ve never achieved greatness are not allowed to question it.”


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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