May 2, 2018 Abdul Haqq

Kanye West: The N*gg* you love to hate!

The N*gg* ya love to hate[1]

Kanye West’s latest comments regarding transatlantic slavery have caused a furore that is unlikely to disappear any time soon – and that is not necessarily a bad thing. His comments should be addressed while, at the same time, examining the import behind their intended meaning:

‘When you hear about slavery for 400 years…For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all…’[2]

The context surrounding this somewhat outlandish statement will be discussed shortly; however, it is important to examine the implications – though unintended – of such comments.

To suggest that millions of slaves chose to remain subjugated for generations under what is considered among the worst human rights violations in history is to belie the suffering, oppression and abuse they endured. Slavery’s legacy continues to cast a shadow over black communities in the West today. It also ignores the inhumane economic, social – not to mention religious – apparatus constructed by the western (predominantly white) world in order to perpetuate the slave trade and develop its societies:

‘While the abominable buying and selling of human beings had been abolished some 200 years ago, the nefarious impacts of that practice were still present in everyday realities…Secretary-General António Guterres recalled that the slave trade constituted the largest forced movement of people in history.  “It was inhuman.  It was shameful,” he said.  “Yet, it was legally sanctioned — conducted and condoned by leaders and countries in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere.”[3]

Britain even became the market leader and supplier of slaves to the rest of Europe and subsequently, the world:

‘Within fifty years, Britain became the leading slave nation in the world, the foremost supplier of slaves for the rest of Europe, and the financial heart of the triangular slave trade.’[4]

Kanye’s unfortunate choice of words suggest that, due to their inability to emancipate themselves, slaves made a conscious decision to remain in bondage. This assumption is inaccurate and in contrast to what is known from the annals of history, which recount numerous stories of revolts and attempted escapes to freedom:

‘Nat Turner was an African-American slave preacher in Virginia who led the bloodiest slave rebellion in American history. On August 21, 1831, Turner led a small army that used axes, hatchets, knives, and muskets to kill 55 white Virginians. By August 23, the revolt was suppressed and his followers were apprehended. Turner escaped and hid in the woods for two months until he was captured and taken to the jailhouse in the county seat of Jerusalem…On November 5, 1831, he was sentenced to death for “conspiring to rebel and make insurrection.” On November 11 he was hanged.’[5]

This is only one account of slave resistance. There are many more; however, the above is sufficient to illustrate the reality of slaves neither being content nor acquiescent regarding their awful and sustained predicament during that period. It is certainly contrary to any assertion that they chose to remain in captivity for 400 years.

Passivity & silence = Compliance?

It is equally important to distance oneself from Kanye’s initial comments. When considered in isolation, the intimations behind this aspect of his speech are frankly, quite dangerous. For instance, women (or men) who have suffered domestic or sexual abuse in silence for years have not chosen to do so; vulnerable children who have been subjected to paedophile or violent abuse, yet failed to alert third parties to intervene, have not chosen to remain in this environment. Passivity, non-resistance or silence can never equate to choice in these circumstances and this must be made unequivocally clear in light of Kanye’s misplaced comments regarding slavery. The horrific story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight should suffice as a stark reminder of this fact:

‘The woman’s voice was frantic and breathless, and she was choking back tears. “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry,” she told a 911 dispatcher. “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”’[6]

Nobody in their right mind would ever suggest the three victims chose to remain in such harrowing captivity for so long and in one instance, give birth to a child (as a result of repeated abuse) from the perpetrator.

Context is everything, isn’t it?

On closer examination of Kanye’s outburst, the import of his subsequent comments provide a clearer context to what he may have actually meant:

‘It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word prison because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks. Slavery is to blacks as the Holocaust is to Jews. Prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites, that we’re the human race.”’[7]

His reference to mental imprisonment holds a degree of legitimacy insofar as it relates to the lack of academic, educational and socio-economic progress among many black communities in the West today. At a systemic level it is not too difficult to identify that:

‘Structural, deliberately orchestrated disadvantage is intergenerational, passed down through families, in just the same way as those born into privileged families inherit wealth.’[8]

The issue of institutionalised racism, evident across US and European societies, is not therefore, Kanye’s apparent focus. Instead, he appears to be alluding to a type of self-imposed inertia among some black communities resulting in a failure to thrive. He is possibly attempting to spotlight issues of self-loathing that continues to manifest itself in a manner that inhibits progress. In contrast, it breeds the type of nihilistic culture that we continue to witness among some black communities today. Douglas reflected upon the uncomfortable reality of black self-loathing within a predominately white western environment:

‘The issue of black self-hatred is something I am supposed to pretend does not exist. However, the great French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote about this issue in his groundbreaking book ‘Black Skin White Masks, in a chapter called “the Lived Experience of the Black Man.” According to Fanon…the black man internalizes the perspectives of white society and its negative thoughts about blackness affect his psyche…[He] discusses a white child calling him the “N word” and how he becomes cognizant of how he is different and viewed as someone people should fear…”’[9]

Many of us can relate to Douglas’ observation that; ‘There is so much negativity and criminal suspicion associated with being a black male…’[10]

 In Afua Hirsch’s very informative book, ‘Brit(ish)’ she provides data that concurs with Douglas’ observations, remarking that:

‘…in Nigeria 75 per cent of women use skin-lightening creams; in South Africa, the figure is 1 in 3. The number of black British women lightening their skin is unknown, but it’s been reported as a billion-dollar industry globally, predominantly among women of African and South and East Asian descent. One manufacturer of British-made skin-lightening creams claimed in 2014 to have 100,000 clients across the UK alone.’[11]

She also pointed to the fact that in the UK:

‘One group stands out for having by far and away the biggest number of interracial relationships: black British people. People from both black Caribbean and black African backgrounds are forming interracial relationships, predominantly with white British people, in some cases in greater numbers than they are forming relationships with each other. For example, one study found that 90 per cent of black men aged twenty and in a relationship have a partner who is not black…’[12]


‘There are now more mixed-race black Caribbean and white children in England and Wales under the age of five than there are children of this age with two black Caribbean parents.’[13]

Slavery & The Holocaust

Before departing from Kanye’s speech, brief mention should be made regarding his pertinent observation about Slavery vis-à-vis its psychological effect on black populations – particularly in the West – compared to the Holocaust as it relates to Jewish communities. In contrast to the latter, the attention given to the legacy left by slavery and its generational impact; alongside legitimate claims for reparations, have been contemptible to say the least.[14]

Conclusion: Socio-economic empowerment

Admittedly, my initial thoughts to Kanye’s comments about slaves were and remain critical. I share the sentiment of many that he should not have made such inflammatory comments. It would have, perhaps been more prudent for him to contrast the absence of choices slaves had historically with the opportunities available to today’s generation and yet despite this, the latter choose to enslave themselves mentally, academically and economically. Subsequent reference to former luminary figures, like Malcolm X, could have then been made to elaborate upon a message of self-empowerment and community development. Had this type of approach been taken, it is unlikely he would have faced the current barrage of criticism.

In conclusion, it is fitting to cite a speech that is relevant to Kanye’s intended message. He has certainly evoked discussion and this must be acknowledged. Hopefully, ensuing discussions will be more constructive. The following excerpts from Malcolm X still resonate today and may be a good platform upon which to continue such dialogue:

‘The economic philosophy of black nationalism is pure and simple. It only means that we should control the economy of our community. Why should white people be running all the stores in our community? Why should white people be running the banks of our community? Why should the economy of our community be in the hands of the white man? Why? If a black man can’t move his store into a white community, you tell me why a white man should move his store into a black community. The philosophy of black nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics. Our people have to be made to see that any time you take your dollar out of your community and spend it in a community where you don’t live, the community where you live will get poorer and poorer, and the community where you spend your money will get richer and richer.

Then you wonder why where you live is always a ghetto or a slum area. And where you and I are concerned, not only do we lose it when we spend it out of the community, but the white man has got all our stores in the community tied up; so that though we spend it in the community, at sundown the man who runs the store takes it over across town somewhere. He’s got us in a vice. So the economic philosophy of black nationalism means in every church, in every civic organization, in every fraternal order, it’s time now for our people to become conscious of the importance of controlling the economy of our community. If we own the stores, if we operate the businesses, if we try and establish some industry in our own community, then we’re developing to the position where we are creating employment for our own kind. Once you gain control of the economy of your own community, then you don’t have to picket and boycott and beg some [white man] downtown for a job in his business.

The social philosophy of black nationalism only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other evils that are destroying the moral fiber of our community. We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, the standard of our community to a higher level, make our own society beautiful so that we will be satisfied in our own social circles and won’t be running around here trying to knock our way into a social circle where we’re not wanted. So I say, in spreading a gospel such as black nationalism, it is not designed to make the black man re-evaluate the white man — you know him already — but to make the black man re-evaluate himself.’[15]




[1]Ice Cube: ‘The Nigga Ya Love to Hate, ’ Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, 1990:

[2]Guardian Music: Kanye West on slavery: ‘For 400 years? That sounds like a choice,’ The Guardian, Wednesday 2ndMay 2018:

[3]United Nations: ‘Nefarious Impacts of Slavery, Transatlantic Slave Trade Persist Today, Speakers Stress as General Assembly Observes International Day amid Calls to End Racism,’ United Nations, General Assembly Plenary, Seventy-Second Session, 80thMeeting (PM) 26thMarch 2018:

[4]Hirsch, A: ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging,’ (Kindle Locations 828-829). Random House. Kindle Edition, 2018.

[5]Fornal, J: ‘Nat Turner’s Slave Uprising Left Complex Legacy,’ National Geographic, 5thOctober 2016:

[6]Associated Press: ‘Three Girls Missing for 10 Years Found Alive,’ People, 7thMay 2013:

[7]Guardian Music: Kanye West on slavery: ‘For 400 years? That sounds like a choice,’ The Guardian, Wednesday 2ndMay 2018:

[8]Hirsch, A: ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging,’ (Kindle Locations 1015-1016). Random House. Kindle Edition, 2018.

[9]Douglas, O.L: ‘Why I hate being a black man,’ The Guardian, Saturday 9thNovember 2013:


[11]Hirsch, A: ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging,’ (Kindle Locations 1774-1778). Random House. Kindle Edition, 2018.

[12]Ibid (2518-2520)

[13]Ibid (2484-2488)

[14]Bowcott, O & Cobain, I: ‘UK sternly resists paying reparations for slave trade atrocities and injustices,’: The Guardian, Monday 24thFebruary 2014:

[15]Malcolm X: ‘The Ballot or the Bullet,’ Social Justice Speeches, [transcript] Cleveland Ohio, 3rdApril 1964:

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