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American African

Blog No. 1
 
American African
 
In a compelling piece of literary journalism titled "I'm not black I'm Kanye," Ta-Nehisi Coates compares Kanye's need of whiteness to that of the god of his child childhood, Michael Jackson and draws some consequences. Those consequences of the piece are what I found most interesting to unpack. Here's is what he writes: "It is often easier to choose the past of self-destruction when you don't consider who are taking along for the ride, to die drunk in the street if you experience the deprivation as your own, and not the deprivation of family, friends, and community. And maybe this, too, is naïve, but I wonder how different his life might have been if Michael Jackson knew how much his truly black face was tied to all of our black faces, if he knew that when he destroyed himself, he was destroying part of us, too. I wonder if his life would have been different, would have been longer. And so for Kanye West, I wonder what he might be, if he could find himself back into connection, back to that place where he sought not a disconnected freedom of "I," but a black freedom that called him back—back to the bone and drum, back to Chicago, back to home."
 
For an American African of my kind (note that I didn't write African American), it is interesting to see that African Americans are still fighting for freedom four hundred years after the first slave ships docked in the New World. After all these centuries, neither the drum, nor sports, nor academia has been able to set the black man free in America. Regardless of how famous, or educated, or wealthy black people still want to be white and Ta-Nehisi analyzes this preposterous position of African Americans in a masterly fashion. Though I'm just getting to learn about Kanye through his declared endorsement of President Trump, I remember clearly the Jackson Five of the 1970s as opposed to the 2007 Michael Jackson. I remember the pride I felt as I watched "big nose" young Michael in mini-Afro dancing and singing along with members of his family, just as I remember the disgust I felt at the "white face" Michael had after years of re-engineering his body to make us forget about the "big nose" Michael.
 
I begin to feel the pain of my African American brothers and sisters who are conditioned to loathe themselves because of the color of their skin and consequently seek to whiten themselves. I feel all the more pain for them because I do not have the same need to be white. As an American African, I am quite proud of the features of my body. Certainly, there was a time in my early adolescence when I wanted to look like Yul Brynner but my need to emulate those white American actors were limited to the prowess with which they carried themselves, and not the color of their skin. Perhaps I'm lucky that my subconscious mind does not carry all of the scars of slavery, of the hideous work under the sun, the cruel lashing, the splitting of families, the endless humiliation of black people through lynching. My subconscious is filled with images of freedom. Freedom to be raised in a functional family, freedom to seek and secure an education, freedom to grow up within a healthy cultural framework, freedom to learn from the living libraries of senior citizens. Even though I grew up in a country where people live with less than a dollar a day, I have come to owning up to Franz Fanon's argument when he writes that from a black man and only from him can it be demanded that he renounces the pride of his color.
 
Renouncing the pride of one's skin is what Michael and Kanye and countless African Americans have done over the centuries since they were brought to America through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I call it freedom as a mean to an end. That kind of freedom is opposed to the one that I have enjoyed: freedom as an end in itself—a way of being one with self. The Michael Jacksons and Kanye Wests of America have had the privilege to transform themselves, they were given the privilege to ignore history so as to re-engineer their bodies to the likeness of the master; they have secured the means to curse nature and reshape it for the purpose of being "liked." They are the black people who remain trapped in the filthy bellies of the slave ships, forever traveling in the Atlantic Ocean. Kanye is not black indeed. He is Kanye. He has the means to ignore that he is in the belly of the beast just as Michael earned the means to change the shape of his nose and bleach his skin in order to forget about his goal-less existence in the slave ship. Ta-Nehisi isn't naïve asking himself the questions that conclude his comparative personal essay. Both Michael Jackson and Kanye West would be different characters if they could find their way back "home." They would be more like Bob Marley. But then again, like Marley, they would have been killed by the CIA so as to leave the American hegemony unquestioned.

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