Imagine for an improbable moment that you are Kanye West. Months ago, you tried to create a conversation around Blackness and power with your philosophy, essentialism, in tow. It didn’t go well. You chose this time in American history to side with reality-star-now-President Donald Trump, your fellow Gemini, as he committed act-after-act of callous disdain for the working class, immigrants, minorities, women, LGBTQIA folks and everyone who was not wealthy and white.
You watched as he lied about Hillary Clinton; as he made a mockery of the rights of the powerless; as he gave tax cuts to the very wealthiest among us (including himself); as he called a hotly fought event wherein an innocent woman was murdered by a Neo-Nazi one in which there were “bad people on both sides.” You went on TMZ and said something akin to “slavery was a choice” when the very definition of slavery is coercion. And you did all this to free yourself.
You inferred this much in an interview with Charlamagne Tha God after he asked you what caused your previous mental breakdown. “Fear,” you said. “Stress. Control…being controlled. Manipulation, like being a pawn in the chess piece of life. Stressing things that became like…validation that I didn’t have to, ah, worry about as much.” Oh.
Tweet after inglorious tweet would bring everyone around you into a frenzy. You are Kanye West. To some, you’re the greatest star in the known universe. You are the man who once shook the Bush administration to its core with the words “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Now, though, you have come to link yourself inexorably to Donald Trump. You have a lot in common, after all.
You told friends it was he who made you feel you could be president, not Barack Obama. You’re both braggadocios, sensitive, reality-shifters prone to fits of pique. You are both hyperbolic world builders who use words as currency. For Trump, it was to build his real estate empire through the licensing of his name. For you, it was to build a music empire through a melange of your dreams, your talent, and your determination.
So when you went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and found yourself defending Trump. I wasn’t surprised. He’d just taken your wife’s call to help get Alice Marie Johnson out of prison. And, well, you love being contrarian when it suits you.
You gathered yourself and explained. Said it took you “a year and a half to have the confidence to stand up and put on the [MAGA] hat”. That you “as a musician, African-American guy out in Hollywood—all these different things—everyone around me tried to pick my candidate for me and then told me every time I said I liked Trump that I couldn’t say it out loud or my career would be over, I’d get kicked out [of] the Black community, because Blacks, we’re supposed to have a monolithic thought. We can only be Democrats.” That you were now coming from a place of “love.” That we’re “all a family.”
But this kind of double-speak is typical of the Gemini. They take an idea and flip it on its head for leverage, for freedom, for an opportunity. Because there is nothing loving about ripping families apart at our southern border. And there is nothing loving about Muslim travel bans or turning Walmarts into refugee camps. Nothing at all loving about inciting hatred toward every person under this sun who is not white and wealthy.
Kimmel called you on that quadruple-consciousness. He’s been outspoken about his disdain for Trump, and found yourself blindly in his crosshairs. He said, “I think that’s a beautiful thought,” to your gambit about the “nuclear bomb of hate” that divided Americans. Then followed it up with, “But just in literal terms, there are families being torn apart at the border of this country…as a result of what this president is doing, and I think that we cannot forget that whether we like his personality or not, his actions are really what matter,” he said. “You’ve so famously and so powerfully said, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.’ It makes me wonder what makes you think that Donald Trump does, or any people at all?”
You sat there with the all of the lights on you and thought and thought and thought. Four crucial seconds of excruciating airtime went by and you said nothing. Mercifully, Kimmel cut to a commercial break. Yet when we returned to the action, the question was somehow lost among his papers. You went on to talk about other things; other challenges. You chatted about mental health and your “breakthrough,” one you mentioned in that interview with Charlamagne. I don’t doubt that you had one, mind you. I just think you—in this age of Gemini—are a double-sided die for us.
We, your adoring public, have consistently held you up. We protected you through that Taylor Swift debacle—another person who you seem forever attached to. We stood up for you when people said you were more arrogant blowhard than unquestioned genius. You’ve been atypically public, even for a celebrity in the overshare era. In a way, you are the father of this modern era. Constantly bouncing ideas off anyone and everyone around you. Yet you can’t help but hold on to an old, tattered American belief of raucous individualism, of an Emersonian Transcendentalism.
You are looking to become more than Kanye West. That is to say, you are looking to transcend Blackness. You want, it seems, most of all, a fair shot at being the greatest individual to ever live. You wish to bend the careful plotting of racism to your will. You wish to wash ashore on the beach of an alternate universe where Black people are not the ever hunted, ever present, ever copied scourges of the Earth. That you’ve found yourself alive at this time, in this place, may be the most unfortunate thing. But what else is there but us? Whatever else but this?
Maybe you are right to want another world for Blackness and for you. Maybe we trail behind you because that’s what we all want. But, it would seem, to be alive and full in Black hearts is no longer enough. If so, there may already be a winner in the ever-present debate on Kanye versus Kanye.