Dear Kanye, you’re not helping

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Dear Kanye, you’re not helping

Kimberly Wilson, Opinion Editor

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We know Kanye loves to show off, but we never thought he would take it this far.

It’s not the first time Kanye West has dominated headlines for some questionable actions. His recent public show of support for President Donald Trump has led to media backlash from many who say he’s ignoring the president’s history of negativity towards minorities. However, his latest remarks have garnered arguably the most criticism he’s ever faced一and rightly so. They perpetuate a very damaging false narrative.  

In a recent TMZ Live interview, West spoke about numerous controversial topics. The most contentious quote came when he—rather confidently—proclaimed “You hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”

Now, if you don’t have all the facts about the history of slavery, this is not too difficult a conclusion to arrive at. Why slaves didn’t do anything to try and stop their oppression is a good question. It’s also one with an even better answer.

The reasoning behind slaves staying slaves for 400 years isn’t some kind of philosophical question we could ponder for decades without finding a suitable answer. A (400 year) long story short, slave owners made a point to catch anybody who tried to escape and make an example of them.

The term “Learned Helplessness” explains why slaves never attempted to organize a widespread uprising either. Coined by psychologist Martin Seligman, it is defined as “the tendency to fail to act to escape from a situation because of a history of repeated failures in the past.”

Seligman likened learned helplessness to some characteristics of depression such as powerlessness and hopelessness—and there’s no question slaves were probably a bit depressed, to say the least.

So we have a clear explanation as to why slaves didn’t revolt. Which makes Kanye spreading the idea that slaves chose to stay in their situation problematic for a number of reasons.

The suggestion that slaves had a conscious choice in the matter is indubitably false. Kanye is essentially adding to the extensive list of “fake news” permeating our society. And this particular addition can have seriously damaging consequences for the black community he claims he’s trying to enlighten.

Saying slaves could have done something to change their situation is a notion many have used to justify negative stereotypes about African Americans. It’s especially ill-informed when one considers the story of Nat Turner.

Turner was the only American slave to organize a mass rebellion, but his efforts backfired. An article on states “his action set off a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the education, movement, and assembly of slaves and stiffened pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist convictions that persisted in [the south] until the American Civil War.” He and 16 of his followers were also subsequently hanged.  

The idea that slavery was a choice does something even more insidious as well. It absolves the people who orchestrated and perpetrated slavery of much of the responsibility. If the only thing slaves had to do was choose to walk off the “job,” then how much can we really blame slave owners for their transgressions?

It’s also not hard to see how that line of thinking doesn’t exactly serve African Americans well.

We understand what Kanye was getting at. He’s trying to argue that African Americans must realize the agency they hold over their lives. The problem is his views are grossly misinformed and short-sighted.

His assertions fail to look at the history of slavery with sociological imagination. He’s trying to help, but his comments, in essence, do more harm than good to the cause he claims to be so near to his heart.