Kanye, the Kardashians, and the Madness-Making of Chasing Whiteness
Kanye West desperately wants to transcend his Blackness, and his inability to do so may be driving him mad.
There’s a certain kind of Black person who is obsessed with Whiteness and spends every moment of their life trying to achieve proximity to it. I’ve long suspected that Kanye West is one such person, and recent events seem to have proven this out. A man whose father was a Black Panther and whose mother was an educator and an activist reduced 400 years of the oppression of his people to “a choice” — not of the slave masters but of the enslaved. And he made this utterly bizarre, ahistorical, victim-blaming declaration during a tabloid interview, in which he confessed to having liposuction to please his fan base.
Someone who can’t stand up to the social pressure to be thin believes our ancestors who endured the brutality of chattel slavery should have fought harder to attain their freedom. Does such a person possess the moral authority to make these kinds of dismissive arguments about even “mental” slavery?
Kanye’s lack of self-awareness is staggering, as is his obliviousness and ignorance of history. It was a bit frightening, watching a Black man speak so carelessly and scrape the suffering of his people off the bottom of his shoe. Particularly when we all know who would be watching, eating up his words and weaponizing them to further agendas that would harm the people he used to be, the people he is now separated from because of his wealth and fame.
Whatever you think of Kanye West, that he is a rare talent is undeniable. He’s one of the best ever to practice his chosen art form. He is exceptional. But he wants more, and access to the sort of wealth and status he seeks has never been given to a Black entertainer. He’s spoken of banging into that glass ceiling while trying to break his way into fashion and design. His design aesthetic is at odds with what you’d expect from the mind that gave us work ranging from College Dropout to 808s and Heartbreak to My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy to Yeezus. The creative, manic, self-hating dreamer we can hear in his music is missing in his fashion design. The result:
Kanye West is a mediocre fashion designer, and the world of high fashion (like most elite White spaces) is closed to Black mediocrity.
I personally think the clothes Kanye designs are the sort of depressing sartorial choices a post-Apocalyptic cult might make, but the fashion industry routinely elevates preposterous trends. If the powers-that-be chose, his “we live in an underground grain silo to protect us from the radiation” aesthetic could take off. But he hasn’t been chosen, and it enrages him. He’s allowed to participate and use his celebrity to draw attention, but he has yet to be lauded, which is what he truly seeks: to be called a genius. His partnership with Adidas has been fruitful, but he clearly wants to make a name for himself in the world over which Anna Wintour and Emmanuelle Alt preside, and sneaker culture is far too “urban” to be more than a side note.
A few years ago when Kanye went on Twitter and confessed to being 53 million dollars in debt, I believed him. I think that’s how far in the hole his foray into designing put him. Do you know who was printing money in the meantime? His wife and her family.
To say the Kardashians are mediocre at everything outside of self-promotion would be kind. There isn’t a notable talent among them. They have routinely been accused of stealing the intellectual property of up-and-coming creatives (particularly Black women) and appropriating Black culture. I would describe them as vampiric. Kanye West chose to marry into that coven.
The Kardashians have built quite the empire and have mastered the “give me attention!” game better than anyone who has ever played it. Kanye is clearly some stripe of virulent narcissist, so it was predictable that he would be attracted to the machinery they’ve built around themselves. The Kardashians also brought him closer to the Whiteness he covets and the free passes it gives out. But Kanye doesn’t read and lives inside his own head, so he still has yet to realize that Whiteness and its benefits aren’t transferrable.
Kanye tweeting out the photos of his home — a barren, white space that looks like an abandoned, haunted monastery — and unironically asking, “do this look like the sunken place[?]” captured his condition in an image. He lives surrounded by Whiteness that is undecorated, unseasoned, oppressive, and empty. The back-and-forth with his mother-in-law about the value of the property was the sprinkling of raisins in the bland potato salad.
(I wonder: What is it like to construct your entire existence around stunting on the plebeians?)
As Kanye struggled with his designing, the Kardashian empire didn’t lose a step, and it only seems to be gaining momentum. His in-laws’ mediocrity hasn’t been an impediment to their success, just as Donald Trump’s wasn’t. That is what he sees in these people: they transcend the expectations any reasonable assessment of their talents would predict. And he can’t understand why the same outcome escapes him. He is blind to the on-ramp and clear path Whiteness provides to reach certain spaces (particularly when it’s coupled with strident shamelessness). Black people can’t get away with what the Kardashians and Donald Trump do, and Kanye West despite all his fame, notoriety, and wealth is still Black.
Kanye West believes the myth of the American Dream, because he’s one of the handful of people to have achieved it. He won because he was leaps and bounds better than everyone else, and he thinks those same rules apply across the board. The cognitive dissonance brought on by watching White mediocrity be lavished with outsized rewards day in and day out is damaging him psychologically each moment he endures it. He lives behind the curtain now but can’t see the truth. He can’t accept how the sausage is made. To believe what he sees is to betray the principles that got him to where he is. He senses he needs a change, though, and the only other way of life he’s chosen to expose himself to is the Kardashians’.
What we’re watching is Kanye West trying to out-Kardashian the Kardashians. He’s watched their formula work, and he’s taken it and is running off a cliff with it. He doesn’t appreciate the danger or the consequences of attaching himself to Donald Trump. All he sees are the retweets and his name trending. His new interest in real estate development along with his aspirations to run for President signal that he intends to try and out-Trump Trump next. He doesn’t understand that his Blackness means he doesn’t have the same leeway for mistakes that Donald Trump does and that he won’t be able to hide behind White innocence the way the women in his family do when it all comes crashing down and the check comes due. He’s screaming “Pay attention to me!” and we are. So in a way, I suppose we’re complicit in the destruction he’s bringing upon himself. Us not looking is the only thing that will make him stop.
I don’t feel any sense of moral superiority over Kanye West. I’m angry about the political capital he’s given the enemies of his people, and I’m angrier at the other lost Black people co-signing him. But what I’m watching mostly fills me with sadness, because I can see that not only is he truly in the Sunken Place, but that he chose it for himself, and he’s never leaving. He’s too close to Whiteness, and he’ll never give that up.