Kanye West, Black Popular Culture, and the Current Agenda of American Empire
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African American audiences cheer a TV show that glamorizes a real-life Black woman who played a key role in putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and “helped clean things up for the Republicans during the Iran-Contra Scandal.” Kanye West unfurls the Confederate flag. Black faces in high places are descending to the lowest moral depths – the Obama Effect gone wild.
by Pascal Robert
“They tryna lock ni**as up
They tryna make new slaves
See that’s that privately owned prison
Get your piece today”
– Lyric from Kanye West’s 2013 single “New Slaves.”
Popular culture in American society serves multiple functions. Viewed by many as simple artistic expression seeking to provide entertainment for its audiences, throughout American history popular culture has been deployed by the ruling elite as a means to solidify the imperatives of American capitalism and empire in the minds of the nation’s citizenry as well as the world abroad.
“President Dwight D. Eisenhower helped lead the foundations of global jazz diplomacy in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education--a decision that provided impetus for a world wide United States Information Agency (UNIA) propoganda campaign.” – ”Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America During the Cold War Era,” by Lisa E. Davenport
Black Jazz Musicians were recruited by Eisenhower and subsequent administrations to be the ambassadors to American Capitalism in third world countries that were recently gaining independence and flirting with Communism as a political and economic model at the height of global Soviet prominence. These Black musicians were being recruited at a time when America was only making slight overtures to crack the walls of Jim Crow Segregation. Yet, the recent Supreme Court Decision of Brown vs Education led some in the Black community to naively believe that a transformative victory had been won as opposed to a judicial policy choice to improve America’s image abroad in the face of Communist expansion.
“Starting in the 1950's, the U.S. State Department solicited jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and Louis Armstrong as ‘cultural ambassadors’ to third world countries and the African continent to try to ‘rehabilitate’ America's racist image and offer the American way of life as an alternative to the increasing post-colonial popularity of Communism. Armstrong was performing in the Katanga Province in the Congo the same time as Patrice Lumumba's capture and torture with American complicity. He was on the continent when Lumumba was killed.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the brainchild behind this movement of recruiting Jazz artists for this purpose” – "In Search of the Black Fantastic," Richard Iton.
In today’s political age with the browning of America, the ruling elite understand the importance of having the pop culture/media arm of the Black mis-leadership class endorse empire in Black face. Politicians like Barack Obama and Cory Booker are crucial to ensuring that people of color embrace the empire’s agenda as their own. Celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson, to Jay Z swear their loyalty to the Booker/Obama types in fulfillment of a ridiculous Black redemptive fantasy. Racial kinship politics becomes a tool of empire.
Currently all the rage in the Black community, the Kerry Washington political intrigue program “SCANDAL” is about a Black Woman whose job is to help Washington DC politicos through damaging and embarrassing dilemmas. The show is an excellent example of the way Black popular culture is deployed to breed reverence for American empire and those who benefit from it. “SCANDAL” The result is a kind of female Obama Effect, shrewdly creating a sense of collective racial necessity for placing Brown faces in high imperial places. The most oppressed segment of American society is encouraged to fantasize about becoming the most effective agents of the same empire that is destroying them. Very shrewd indeed.
What’s most interesting about “SCANDAL” is that it’s based on the real life story of a Black woman who got her political start in the Reagan administration and played a key role in getting Clarence Thomas confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court despite Anita Hill’s charges of sexual harassment. She also helped clean things up for the Republicans during the Iran Contra Scandal. As recently as May of this year, the real life character behind “SCANDAL” represented Paula Deen, the White TV Cooking Show maven who outraged Black America for allegedly admitting she fantasized about “owning slaves”. So dramatically speaking, this is the woman Black America is cheering for while watching “SCANDAL.”
In a very interesting twist, another fixture of Black popular culture, Kanye West, has used his membership in the elite star chamber to write a song called “New Slaves” that essentially embraces the agenda of the ruling class elite while unfurling the Confederate Flag. The song acknowledges the rise of mass incarceration and private prisons, corporate dominance over peoples lives, and even suggests the role of class as a source of contention within the Black community. West critiques “those in their Hampton Houses” while bizarrely singing the refrain, “I know we the New Slaves….I know we the New Slaves...We the New Slaves.” However, in true elite fashion, West admits that this agenda can’t touch “HIM” because he can “fly [his] family out the country.” But what about the supermajority of Black Americans who will never be able to fly their family out of the country as they face the five pronged merciless agenda of American Empire: 1) Finance Capital Hoarding of Wealth; 2) Neoliberal Privatization of Prisons, Schools, and government services; 3) Austerity cutting of social programs like Social Security and Food Stamps; 4) Mass Incarceration; and 5) Growth of the Surveillance State via NSA, Homeland Security, etc. This is the agenda that Obama and the Cory Booker types have been assigned to lay on Black America and the rest of the country while people cheer and scream, “That’s my president!”
If Black redemption is premised on showing White Imperialists and oppressors that we are equally competent at managing their evil affairs, then we are also morally bankrupt – maybe even more so than those who truly control American empire. Hypocrisy and duplicity are always the more repellant treasonous crimes.
“African Americans have been rendered redundant and more valuable in prison than as a functioning part of the functioning economy.” – Ajamu Baraka, Public Intervenor for Human Rights in the Democracy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.
Pascal Robert is an Iconoclastic Haitian American Lawyer, Blogger, and Online Activist for Haiti. For years his work appeared under the Blog Thought Merchant: http://thoughtmerchant.wordpress.com/ You can also find his work on the Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pascal-robert/ He can be reached via twitter at: https://twitter.com/probert06 @probert06 or thoughtmerchant@gmai l.com.