Kanye West, who spoke with Power 105's Breakfast Club this morning, may or may not be a New Black. In this interview and others, he's recently suggested that Classism Is the New Racism, as if police brutality were truly so indiscriminate.
"Racism and the focus on racism is a distraction to humanity," Kanye recently told Style.com. "It would be like focusing on the cousin from your mom’s side versus the cousin on your dad’s side. We’re all cousins. We’re all the same race."
My nigga, what?
As a demographic category—nay, as a lifestyle—New Blackness, as defined by its founder, Pharrell, is a state of racial transcendence, in which class-mobile blacks pretend that racism is nothing but a cosmetic hurdle in American life. Here's the mission statement of New Blackness, in Pharrell's own words:
"The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues. The New Black dreams and realizes that it's not a pigmentation; it's a mentality. And it's either going to work for you, or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're gonna be on."
To be fair, Kanye's racial theorizing is hardly as conservative and delusional as what Pharrell is suggesting here. Still, there's lately no shortage of black celebrities discounting the perils of blackness, even in 2015. From Kanye West and Pharrell, to Kobe Bryant and Raven-Symone—me and Triangle Offense editor Elena Bergeron bunkered down this afternoon and attempted to work through our frustrations with transcendent black celebrities and their Cult of New Blackness.
CHARITY: Do you have rich black friends?
ELENA: I have a lot of rich black friends. I went to Howard. Get your mind right.
Are any of your rich friends New Blacks?
Um. I haven't stayed in touch with the New Blacks. We just don't hang out in the same places. They like brunch. Brunch is not my jam. I don't need an excuse to get drunk in the daytime, if that's what I want to do. I'm an adult.
So do you relate to this stuff that Kanye and Pharrell say about how race and racism are limited, outdated concerns?
I can't speak on behalf of Howard as a university, but I've definitely encountered those attitudes. It kinda makes me laugh.
There's this very public wrestling with being able to self-identify, so you get to this level of maturity and creative freedom, and you want the ability to define yourself as you would like. I'm not against that. But you get to this point where you want to shrug off the blackness and the responsibility of being viewed as a black artist.
You can do that to a certain extent in your work. But you can't change how people view that work. You can't change the fact that you inherently bring a black perspective to your art.
Even people like Kanye, who wouldn't guess would endorse the idea of post-racial anything, even he seems to be shedding the understanding that racism is a very powerful, structural force that dominates American life in many ways. Yet he'll go into an interview and illustrate racism as like, the force preventing him from selling me a $900 sweater.
kanye will go into an interview and illustrate racism as like, the force preventing him from selling me a $900 sweater. —CHARITY
I wish there was a way to better synthesize what Kanye sometimes says in his music versus what Kanye sometimes says in his interviews. It's hard to understand what he's trying to articulate at all times.
To hear somebody record "Black Skinhead" and then come back and say, "I'm not being accepted by this dominant white cultural elite," I'm thinking, well: Are you seeking justification from the wrong sources? Is that partially because of society's racism that you value those opinions so highly?
That's the consideration that even Charlamagne tha God has tried to get at [in Power 105's two Breakfast Club interviews with Kanye]. Do you fetishize the approval of elites because it's white, or because it seems so different from where you're from? Is that part of the allure?
To me that's the underlying struggle with all the stuff he has coming out. $900 T-shirts—but why tho?
At least with Kanye it's interesting because he's one thing in his music but then another thing in his public life, and that complexity is interesting. Whereas Pharrell or Kobe Bryant, their foremost assertion is that they're not gonna rally behind black issues, or that they're not gonna blame social disparities "on other races," as Pharrell put it.
Maybe it's a class and upbringing thing. Of all the shit you can talk about Jay Z's politics, for instance, I could never imagine him co-signing New Blackness. Jay Z, in his lifetime, has interfaced with the U.S. justice system in a way that makes it implausible, if not impossible, for him to pretend that racism is some distant abstraction of the previous century. Shawn Carter can't roll out of bed like, "I'm a multi-millionaire now, I guess racism ended."
Jay has spoken out about how it can't just be on him to speak on black issues. I feel like Jay Z is a capitalist activist. I'm going to amass this large amount of money so that you can't ignore when I want to push the system on certain things.
I'll be right here with a box of CHurch's chicken and an naacp image award. —elena
And he doesn't push the system by just saying whatever he wants to say. Instead, it's making one of the best rap albums of the year and having "Murder to Excellence" on it. Or working behind the scenes—and it's never publicized—where Jay Z is financing or using his private jet to fly people to protests, but not being at those protests himself. It's this weird puppetmaster way of [getting shit done] like the white man does.
Whereas I feel Kanye is so emotional, and his gift to the world is him stomping his foot and saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Is New Blackness a mindset shift that's just inevitable once you attain a certain level excess? Do you worry about waking up one day and having become a New Black? Am I going to be a New Black one day? Somebody's gonna give me a check and—
I'm not worried about becoming a New Black because I've watched what happens when you consider yourself a New Black.
You was real, real cute when hip-hop was popular, and the second it slides off the Top 40, they don't invite you to the Grammys no more and they don't broadcast your awards. HA-HA-HA!
Or when you talk about Kobe not wanting to speak up about shit, but oh: You was real New Black in them McDonald's ads till you had sex what that white girl—ha-HA!—and they sent your ass back.
There's a return-to-sender that happens, and as an Old Black, I'm not allowed to not take you back. So you go deal with your New Blacks. I'll be right here with a box of Church's chicken and an NAACP Image Award.
I respect people wanting to assert their power and creativity to its fullest form, and to not be limited as a black entertainer, or as a black person speaking on black issues. I understand that. Every person of color struggles with the fact that your race is not monolithic, so your voice is not automatically the voice of all black people.
That's an error of misrepresenting black perspective that I'd typically attribute to clueless white people. But Kobe Bryant, when he talks about black activism, seems just as guilty of believing that because he doesn't view, say, Ferguson the same way and in the same language that Black Twitter regards Ferguson, that he's gotta completely disavow the notion of black perspectives on Ferguson. When he could just be one black guy who has a different take.
You can have a difference of opinion and not necessarily be speaking on behalf of your community. The fact that other people interpret it as you being the voice of your race, you shouldn't let that define you and what you do.